USAG Bavaria Security Office news release


GRAFENWOEHR, Germany — Be aware of elicitation. It is hard to recognize, easy to deny and has a high potential for irreparable damage.


What is elicitation?


Elicitation is the strategic use of conversation to subtly extract information about you, your work, and your colleagues. Foreign intelligence entities elicit information using both direct and indirect questioning, thereby guiding casual conversations to desired topics. They may create a cover story to explain the line of questioning in their attempts to make the discussion less suspicious.


Elicitation attempts can occur in both work and casual settings; cleared employees need to be wary regardless of the setting.


While elicitation may seem like a technique specific to spy tradecraft, we all use it at some level to gather information about our friends and family (e.g., covertly getting input on gift ideas). Because it is so common, it can be difficult to tell whether it is innocent, friendly conversation or intelligence gathering. Foreign intelligence entities look for anything from details about programs you or your colleagues work on to personal information they can use in future targeting efforts.


Elicitation requires patience and persistence. Pieces of information, collected over an extended period, can provide the final piece of the puzzle to a complex problem or save scarce research money. The aggregate of unclassified data could give the adversary a classified look at technology, programs, and processes.


Why is elicitation so successful?


Foreign intelligence officers are trained in elicitation tactics; their job is to obtain protected information. Because of this, not all elicitation attempts are obvious to the target. The trained elicitor understands human behavior and exploits natural tendencies, including:


  • The desire to be polite and helpful, even to strangers or new acquaintances


  • The desire to seem well informed, especially about our profession


  • The tendency to expand on a topic when given praise or encouragement, to show off


  • The tendency to correct others


  • The tendency to underestimate the value of the information being sought or given, especially if we are unfamiliar with how else that information could be used


  • The tendency to believe others are honest; a disinclination to be suspicious of others


  • The desire to convert someone to our opinion


What to do


In the event that you are targeted, you need to be prepared and know how to respond. Know what information you cannot share and be suspicious of those who seek such information.


Do not share anything the elicitor is not authorized to know, including personal information about yourself, your family, or your co-workers.


If you believe someone is attempting to elicit information from you, you can:


  • Change the topic


  • Refer them to public websites


  • Deflect the question


  • Provide a vague answer


  • Feign ignorance and ask the elicitor to explain what they know


End game


Elicitation is non-threatening, hard to recognize as an intelligence technique, and it is easy for an elicitor to deny any wrongdoing.


The intelligence officer’s ultimate goals are to:


  • Collect the pieces of the puzzle that will allow foreign entities to replicate U.S. research or technology


  • Find enough information to be able to entice you to provide classified or sensitive information


  • Test your willingness to talk about matters of intelligence interest and assess your suitability for recruitment


The damage


Indisputably, those Americans who have betrayed their country, regardless of whether they volunteered or were recruited, have caused immeasurable damage to the security of the United States. In some cases, lives were lost. In others, people and their families were ruined. In all cases, lives were irreparably damaged.