APA Magazine, January/February, 2022, Vol. 55.1; reprint courtesy of American Polygraph Association, copyright reserved
In order to maintain their cover, particularly during deployment, Intelligence Officers and Special Operations Forces must always be alert to seemingly innocent contacts with people who, in fact, are hostile intelligence agents. Casual inquiries initiated by such individuals are defined within section 9-20 of U.S. Army Field Manual 2-22.3 as “elicitation”, i.e., interaction with a human source where the source is not aware of the specific purpose for the conversation. Unsuspecting Intel-officers and Operators can be vulnerable to compromise of their identities, their teammates’ identities, mission objectives, and operational security.
Elicitation oftentimes occurs in public places such as airports,
commercial flights, or locations deemed safe for Intel-officers and
Operators to socialize or relax with teammates. The local US embassy may
recommend restaurants or establishments which are frequented by embassy
staff where the food is good and the environment popular among
These are target-rich environments for hostile intelligence agents who may present themselves as a naive visitor to the area, a sympathetic indigenous civilian, or even a fellow American thrilled to
find someone from the United States sitting next to them at a bar.
The approach taken during elicitation is discreet, usually started through innocuous
conversation with little self-disclosure being volunteered by the elicitor who’s focused more upon being an intense and sympathetic listener. Non-pertinent questions are asked of a target source in order to conceal the elicitor’s objectives, strengthen rapport, and break the source’s concentration.
This process could occur over a span of minutes.Depending upon
opportunity and availability of time, however, the elicitor may groom a
source for days, weeks, or months through multiple “chance” encounters
that build trust and weaken a target source’s defenses. Gradually the
hostile elicitor introduces their topic of interest, interspersed among non-pertinent topics, and solicits the source’s opinions. The elicitor sustains the conversation through a variety of strategic approaches including simple compliments, polite requests for clarification or expansion upon whatever the target source may say, or even provocative challenges to the source’s credibility.
Recognition of elicitation is the first challenge. Telltale signs of elicitation, some of which have been published by the Federal Bureau of Investigation, include the following.