Identifying Elicitation: Security Awareness

Elicitation is a means of acquiring information about a target by exploiting weaknesses in human psychology and a cultural proclivity to respond to questions of strangers in a friendly manner. It may be considered an art to elicit sensitive information from an individual. Be aware of this method of drawing out details about critical assets and an individual’s life.

The art of elicitation typically presents itself in situations of casual conversation circumscribed by a relaxed environment. The hostile subject will seek to manipulate elements of the conversation, starting first with ‘macro topics’ (How’s the weather?; Watch any sports lately? etc.) and ending in ‘micro topics’ (specific details i.e. So you live where there was the most rain? Where is that at?).

In general, details that are of informational interest to the subject are gained by observing a targeted person’s reactions to queries or statements and tailoring the conversation to fit in with these reactions.

Elicitation is a surveillance tool as it may be used to gather intelligence in a lead up to a criminal operation or terrorist strike against a target.

This method of intelligence gathering is as old as ninjutsu. In fact, it is instructed in some ancient ninjutsu texts that a shinobi intelligence agent should use flattery in conversation (and even get the target to imbibe alcohol) as a ploy to get a target to leak significant details that may be recorded by the agent for passing on to a higher intelligence analyst.

Security professionals and citizens alike should be aware that elicitation can happen anywhere and for a wide-variety of purposes.

The target of elicitation may not remember what sensitive information was disclosed throughout the course of conversation, particularly if alcohol (or some other mind altering substance) was involved. Details about where you work, live, what you drive, etc. can all be compiled together to create a picture of your life that can pose threat to your well-being.

The hostile subject may try to establish rapport with a target through seemingly mutual interests after first taking notice of brands or logos of a target’s attire. False statements may be made specifically to garner a “correction” by the target, thus giving the hostile subject the “truth” on the matter of interest:

Hostile Subject: As I understand, in the event of fire I should contact security and their station is located on the 3rd floor of the building.

Target: No, you are mistaken it is located in the basement.

The elicitation process may involve multiple intelligence missions spanning over a period of days, weeks, etc. with different subjects interviewing a target with various queries and statements. It is important to draw distinct boundaries in one’s own mind regarding what information is reasonable to disclose to strangers and learn strategies to steer a conversation and maintain control of the dialogue.

One strategy is to elicit ambiguity.

For some questions, it may be preferable to avoid disclosing any “truths” by answering ambiguously. This may allow one to further assess the intent of the person questioning as he/she may or may not attempt to gain more information to clarify the matter.

For example:

Hostile Subject: You work security eh? Do you carry a gun?

Target: Depends on the site.

Hostile Subject: Oh, where do you work?

Target: All over the place, depends on the day.

Hostile Subject: Well where are you working today?

This finally query should be an indicator that this person has a more than “normal” interest in the target’s place of work and should therefore arouse suspicion (but note that the target answered the questions in a way that did not reveal any definite details).

This is it for now.

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