Thursday, March 25, 2010

Elicitation Techniques For The Intelligence Professional

Elicitation: "Acquisition of information from a person or group in a manner that does not disclose the intent of the interview or conversation. A technique of human source intelligence collection, generally overt, unless the collector is other than he or she purports to be."You don't hear much about elicitation. An element of intel operations tradecraft, many consider it the seedier side of HUMINT(or, as the business guys call it, "primary source") intelligence in the corporate world.

The best introduction to this world, in my opinion, is John Nolan's excellent book
Confidential (which you can now buy in paperback).

Another useful product came across my desk the other day, however. One of my students
(Thanks, Nimalan!) forwarded the very interesting slide presentation at the bottom of this post by Stephan Hernan who appears to be an independent analyst working health, science, and communications technology issues.

Whether you are curious about elicitation generally or are more interested in the counterintel implications of these techniques, I recommend the slide show:

John Nolan's excellent book Confidential Review

People say the darnedest things. They tell you how much money they make, how well their company did in the last quarter, what it'll take to undercut their latest bid on a government project or to undermine their marketing efforts. All you have to do is ask.

John Nolan, a 22-year veteran of international espionage who is currently involved in corporate intelligence-gathering, shows you how to ask, what to ask, when to ask, and whom to ask. The methods can be as simple as deliberately making a misstatement--"The toothpaste division sure missed its projections this quarter"--and getting someone who knows better to correct you, in the process supplying you with the information you want about his company's inner workings. Or they can be as complicated as patiently and doggedly piecing together tiny scraps of information from a number of sources. Whichever you resort to, Nolan shows a conversational method for ensuring that the person dispensing the information doesn't even remember he or she gave it out. No, it's not hypnotism; it's starting and ending a conversation with generalities, and discussing specifics only in the middle, the part of a chat that most people won't recall.

Confidential could be useful to anyone who needs information about a rival, or who needs to protect his or her own company's secrets. Nolan illustrates his points with examples from business (how Johnson & Johnson gathered intelligence that protected its Tylenol franchise from a rival product) as well as fiction (Appendix A is dedicated to the techniques used by Sherlock Holmes to elicit information). The result is an entertaining book that may take your business to a more intelligent level. --Lou Schuler --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.


"Confidential is must-reading for those who should be guarding shareholders' information assets." -- Lewis W. Lehr, former chariman of the board and chief executive officer, 3M

An easily understood and highly readable field manual that guides professionals in mastering the art of intelligence collecting. --
Tom Parker, principal, business intelligence, NIPSCO

Remarkably thorough, engagingly written and above all, useful the day one starts to read it. --
George A Dennis, Director of Competitor Intelligence, Bellcore

Product Description

Whether you know it or not, your business competes in an environment in which many Fortune 500 companies are recruiting ex--CIA officers--specialists with training in elicitation, intelligence collection and analysis, and counterintelligence. It is a world where small businesses are becoming increasingly more sophisticated at digging up information about their competitors--and are using it to beat the big players at their own game.

Welcome to the era of Business Intelligence, where staying one move ahead of the competition requires uncovering their secrets and using them to your advantage.

In Confidential, John Nolan, a former federal intelligence officer and a preeminent expert in the field of Business Intelligence, reveals how your company can gather the intelligence it needs to beat the competition, while keeping your own valuable secrets under wraps. Providing the basics of Business Intelligence, including such invaluable techniques as data elicitation and sourcing as well as higher-level intelligence gathering and counterintelligence tactics for more sophisticated corporate policy makers, Confidential reveals:

How a well-planned conversation can be your most valuable information gathering tool

Who will most likely tell you what you want to know--and who is supposedly unsusceptible

How to discover the people who know what you need to know, both inside your company and outside, inside your industry, and beyond

How studying your customers and the leaders and decision-makers in their industries can enhance your competitive intelligence in significant ways

Why trade shows present an unparalleled opportunity for intelligence--what to look for, how to obtain it

Which countermeasures will ensure that neither you nor your employees become the unwitting sources of leaks

How to translate information into action that will directly affect your company's profits

Whether you're looking to find out the design and price of a competitor's upcoming product line, or uncover the dangers of entering a new market, this comprehensive, practical handbook offers effective strategies that anyone from senior-level executives to middle managers can utilize to protect themselves and outwit the competition.

About the Author

John Nolan, founder of Phoenix Consulting Group, a Business Intelligence solutions firm, spent twenty-two years in intelligence collection and counterintelligence special operations in the United States, Asia, and Europe. He is well known in the mainstream business community for his development of integrated solutions to industrial and economic espionage, trade secrets, and other information issues. He is frequently featured in national and international media such as Forbes, George, and CNN. He can be reached via email at jnolan

Excerpt. © Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.

If people listened to themselves more often, they would talk a lot less.
--Courtois' Rule

For over thirty years, I've been collecting information for intelligence consumers--both federal as well as commercial. For the past ten years, I've run a company that specializes in collecting hard-to-find information that can be turned into competitive intelligence and then to competitive advantage. For much of that time, we've also provided courses in intelligence skills and techniques to business professionals who work for most of the largest--and many of the medium-sized--companies in the world.

How do we do this? We do it legally and ethically. We don't steal information, bribe people, bug their conference rooms and executive suites, or hack into their computers. We don't misrepresent ourselves, conduct ruse interviews, or have specially molded masks to impersonate others. We really don't need to. In America, where a great deal of our work is done--working for one firm against another irrespective of national pedigree or ownership--we encounter what we call a "target-rich environment."

This target-rich environment gets its name from the comments of a former adversary, a former Soviet intelligence officer who defected to the United States in the late 1980s. We became acquainted a year or so later and have maintained a fairly cordial relationship now that we no longer have professional constraints. He worked against the United States while I worked against his former homeland. Every once in a while, he and I get together to tell each other lies about how successful we were.

On one of these evenings a few years ago, he told me that he'd just finished a great book that really captured the essence of the East-West intelligence competition. Oddly, he said that it was written by a former U.S. Navy pilot. I had no clue what a pilot could have known about our old business. My colleague went on to tell me that the pilot recounted some of his experiences over North Vietnam. The U.S. pilots would take off for missions over the North, and large numbers of North Vietnamese aircraft would rise to meet them. The navy pilot described the aircraft as inferior Soviet export models, flown by inexperienced and undertrained North Vietnamese pilots. Rather than viewing the environment as hostile and threatening, the navy pilot commented that he and his colleagues viewed it as a "target-rich environment."
My former Soviet adversary then said that that really captured the essence of how we competed, he and I. While I worked against a xenophobic and suspicious people who were extremely hard to meet, he had free rein in the United States against an open, trusting people that never really met a stranger. For him, the United States was--and remains--a target-rich environment.
I must admit that our experience bears that out.

In our efforts on behalf of clients to collect useful information that helps them make decisions that impact their financial and technical performance, we follow a standard that requires us to identify ourselves by our true names, and by our company. We do that in every contact with a source or potential source of information.

It maybe be helpful to share a statistic with you--one that we began compiling in 1992 and that has remained fairly consistent since that time. Each time our researchers, our diggers as we call them, contact a source--whether a new one or an old one--they fill out a form that describes the person, their information, and their reactions to the approach. It's their reactions that I'd like to share with you.

Let's say we call one hundred people. We say exactly the same thing to each of them. For example, "Hello, my name is John Nolan, from Phoenix Consulting Group, in Huntsville, Alabama. I'm working on a project involving X, Y, and Z and wonder if this is a good time to speak with you." Depending on how cynical you are, you may or may not be surprised that fifty people out of that one hundred will say, "Sure, this is as good a time as any" or "Could you call back in an hour after I've had a chance to clear my desk?"

The other fifty are somewhat less cooperative. Most of these remaining fifty will ask at least one, but usually two, questions. The first usually is "Before I talk to you, what's this about?" Our answer is fairly standard as well: "We're a research firm in Huntsville, Alabama, and we're working on a project on behalf of a client." The second question is a little more focused: "Well, who's your client." Our response is consistent as well: "Sorry, I can't tell you. You see, we have confidentiality agreements in place with every one of our clients and they prevent us from being able to disclose the name of our client."

You would think that anyone with an IQ above room temperature would respond, "Hey, if you can't tell me who your client is, there's no way I'm going to talk to you." Indeed, fifteen out of that remaining fifty hang up at that point. Fifteen. The remaining thirty-five people say something like "Oh, yeah. I've gotta put up with confidentiality agreements at my place too. I understand. So, what can I do for you?" That means eighty-five people out of a hundred agree to talk to us. That's just the starting point. It's what they say afterward, knowing what they've just learned about us and our reasons for calling, that sometimes amazes us.

We'll be spending the first part of this book showing you the ways we keep those conversations going--and enjoy repeat calls to the same people in subsequent projects as well. As you adopt these methods, you'll be joining the thousands of intelligence professionals--government and nongovernment alike--whose approaches to information collection have changed radically and for the better because of the way they've added elicitation to their tool kit.

--This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.