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A descriptive analysis of the approaches and tactics used in undercover operations

Conference contribution
Authors Simon Oleszkiewicz
Pär-Anders Granhag
Published in 7th Annual HIG Research Symposium, Washington DC, 17 Oct 2017
Publication year 2017
Published at Department of Psychology
Language en
Keywords Undercover, information elicitation, interviewing, intelligence interviewing
Subject categories Psychology, Applied Psychology


The heart of an undercover operation is when an undercover officer (UC) poses as a fellow criminal and interacts with suspects and witnesses. The overarching aim of such operations are to elicit information from the subject; information that might advance an ongoing investigation and/or be used as evidence in court. By analyzing transcripts of these interactions, we identified 22 tactics used by the undercovers. These tactics were sorted into four broad approaches that served to build a relationship with the subject and elicit investigative information. Descriptive analyzes showed that the undercovers were mostly active with posing explicit questions (e.g., closed and open questions) and made many attempts to gather information unobtrusively (e.g., ‘disclosure’, ‘subtle encouragements’). To establish a relationship, the undercovers would commonly display ‘affinity’ and stress the subject’s current situation (‘emotion: affirming self’). Moreover, evidence stimulation tactics were used in almost all interactions, in which subject's were informed that new evidence had emerged on their case. Having analyzed almost 60 hours of Perkins interactions, we found that less than 0.001% of all tactical attempts used could be viewed as verbally manipulative and/or deceptive. In sum, the current study provides a first insight into the interactional elements of a Perkins operation, and suggests that undercovers use a variety of verbal tactics largely fitting within an ethically defendable framework. Methods for analyzing outcomes of the interactions will be discussed.

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