The Most Powerful Weapon – Asking a Good Question

Oct. 12, 2007
The most useful, effective, deterring and inexpensive weapon against criminals and terrorists is a good question

For years, security has been investing billions of dollars into hardware, weapons, technology and man power. And training. Armed security officers are required to undergo training in handling a gun and in shooting. Many of those officers go through numerous weeks of training to hone their tactical skills. But how many officers are trained to effectively use the one weapon readily available and that affords the most powerful impact in terms of protection? ... a good question.

Along the security process, the only time a suspected perpetrator is put on the defensive is when the security or law enforcement officer questions them. If you look at your own security system and evaluate your access control, surveillance equipment, security policies, or information security, you will find that all of these elements represent a defensive approach. We've all heard the expression "the best defense is a good offense" so how do we build offensive measures into our security system?

Many regard guns as an offensive measure in security. They are wrong. Guns are only offensive tools when used by the aggressor, or for example, in a military context. In security, they are used for tactical response (as an emergency response once a target is attacked). This leaves the Security Director with only one reliable and effective tool – his officers' and employees' ability to ask the right questions.

Not all questions are offensive tools. For example, for entry to many defense and government facilities a visitor is asked: Are you a U.S. citizen? This close-ended, yes-no question is not productive in terms of security. It ends the conversation and hands the answer to the potential perpetrator. The 'correct' answer in this case is obvious. To make this question an offensive tool it should be changed to, for example, "Where were you born?" The answer to that question can provide the basis for subsequent questions that will eventually determine whether or not the person is a U.S. citizen.

Most criminals and terrorists assume different identifies and invent cover stories to gain access to their target. The ability to question is the only tool available to ascertain the validity of the declared identity: vis-Ă -vis occupation, residence, nationality, culture, etc.

The best way to evaluate someone's story is by posing questions that move from the general to the specific. It is impossible for someone assuming a cover to have ready every possible answer about that cover. So our job is to first ask general questions that give us the basis from which we proceed to more specific, and therefore more difficult, questions. So for example, to ascertain if a person really works at the job he claims to, you need to question him in the following sequence:

Q: Where do you work?

A: I work for the Department of Motor Vehicles.

Q: What do you do at the DMV?

A: I am a clerk.

Q: What form do I need to use to change my address on my Drivers License?

At this point in the questioning, you evaluate the information given to you. Did the person hesitate, try to change the subject, provide a bizarre response, become defensive, or did the person provide you with a reasonable, detailed and simple answer? This example demonstrates the deterrence effect of questioning. A truthful person working for the DMV might not understand the purpose of the question, but he wouldn't mind answering. A perpetrator who is lying about his occupational identity will be put off balance and in most cases, will go on to choose another target.

So why don't we in Security invest more in questioning? There's the risk of appearing invasive. Not trusting personnel to ask these types of questions effectively. Feeling comfortable staying with a traditional, defensive approach. All of these reasons are valid. However, in the context of a security objective that aims to prevent we would do well to recognize the power of questioning.

After all, some organizations around the world use questioning as an integral if not the basis of their entire security system. These agencies and companies are world renown for their effectiveness.

---To learn more about Security Questioning and how it can be used to protect any organization, join Chameleon Associates at their upcoming seminar on Predictive Profiling and Terrorist Threat Mitigation in Las Vegas December 6 -7.