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(p. 47) ORBIT: The Basics 

(p. 47) ORBIT: The Basics
(p. 47) ORBIT: The Basics

Laurence J. Alison

, Emily K. Alison

, Frances Surmon-Böhr

, and Neil D. Shortland

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date: 25 January 2021

No researcher in the world has ever laid hands on such a haul of data before. Based on this research, they [the ORBIT team] have constructed the world’s first empirically grounded and comprehensive model of interrogation tactics.

—Ian Leslie, The Guardian (2017)

In the past several decades (and with the increased interest in forensic psychology (Damjanović & Golub, 2009), there has been a host of studies conducted on the nature of interrogation tactics, lie detection, and resistance. While most benefit from tight experimental control, there remain questions about the extent to which each has been successful in achieving ecological validity. Specifically, most authors engaged in the experimental “lab-based” arena have highlighted the requirement to replicate their findings in the field and with respect to actual high-value detainees. Despite this, in the recent review of High-Value Detainee Interrogation Group (HIG) research we found over 120 publications on interrogation (Meisner et al., 2017; see Summary). However, less than 10% of these are field-based studies—drawing the quite natural accusation that using students as a proxy for high-value detainees is debatable. A reasonable question to ask is whether a finding conducted under lab-based conditions with students, whose stakes might include small monetary gain or being found out to have been cheating, are appropriate. The issue, then, when using undergraduate students under controlled laboratory settings is the trade-off between experimentally tight research in favor of sacrificing application to the real world.

(p. 48) To be clear, this is not a criticism of specific studies or even a criticism of lab-based experimental studies; it is merely a statement of fact about the absence of field studies and the evidence base to support the idea that what has worked under these controlled conditions transfers to the field. Moreover, the overwhelming majority of student sample studies focus on deception and very few focus on engaging a detainee and getting over the hurdle of them talking at all. A very small number, indeed, showed any interest in whether a previously resistant subject could be encouraged to engage at all (a central requirement that our law enforcement colleagues asked us to look at when we embarked on our work).

Our work on ORBIT is a notable and, we argue, unique exception in so far as the data include a very wide range of detainees (in terms of religious, ideological, and political affiliations) across a significant period of time (2004–present), in significant volume (we are now over 2,000 hours of material and counting). In contrast to the plethora of studies on deception, we focus specifically on rapport building. As such, though we do have an interest in whether what the detainee is saying is true (or not), the central objective is whether they are talking at all. This focus on engagement and resistance was adopted on the basis of the many detailed discussions with individuals tasked with interviewing detainees. In our case, this began with law enforcement and then migrated to defense, security services, and, more recently, has attracted interest from the corporate world. Almost without exception, interviewers across all these sectors cared a great deal more about whether the detainee talked at all. That is, they agreed that getting initial engagement and rapport was priority number one, and whether the person was being truthful or not was secondary.

Out of the Lab and into the Real World: Real Interrogation, Real Data, Large Samples

What makes ORBIT so unique is that it is based on the analysis of real interrogations, involving real interrogators, with real suspects and real consequences. It is hard to overemphasize the rarity of this increasingly large data set. The process of securing it was laborious and involved extensive negotiation and communication that satisfied the many concerns and regulations associated with interrogating high-value detainees. It also included being able to promise practitioners something in return: an evidence base to design (p. 49) training programs that would hone specialist interviewer skills. In the end, and over 2 years and after 100 phone calls, we were able to secure a meeting with the officer in charge of interrogations in the United Kingdom. After a series of discussions, a first release was organized that included 878 hours of interrogations with members of al-Qaeda, Irish paramilitaries, and far-right operatives. The tapes themselves were housed in secure units and all coding was completed on site. Each interview was analyzed minute by minute, to examine the interactions between the detainee and interrogator, and (crucially) the yield (i.e., how much useful information they obtained). In the first iteration of the ORBIT coding manual, over 150 variables were collected per interview. Originally, these were coded every 45 minutes to reflect the length of the tapes (a standard D90 audio cassette was used at that time and both sides of the cassette were used, reflecting a change at halfway through). On subsequent iterations of the coding manual, we began coding every 30 minutes to see if there were more nuances in the data. We then tried every 15 minutes and, finally, every 5 minutes. By comparing the advantages of each timing period for coding our approximately 170 variables (and often with the same set of interviews), we settled on every 15 minutes. With coding intervals longer than 15 minutes we found that we lost granularity and the variations across interpersonal categories; with any shorter than 15 minutes we found that this increased granularity conferred no added advantage; it did not demarcate any differences in the ebb and flow of the conversation. Our more recent work has alighted on this 15-minute chunk for coding, as it is sufficient to gain insight into the atmosphere and attitude within the interview without an inappropriate focus on atomistic tics or idiosyncrasies. However, we note that some of the rapport-based strategies are coded at 45-minute intervals or at the end of a tape as they are intended, to capture the interaction at a global level.

Nonetheless, our first study, which focused on 45-minute coding intervals for all variables (Alison et al., 2013), was still very instructive. After examining the first 878 hours, we established the first empirically grounded and comprehensive model of interrogation-based rapport. We discovered in that initial study an empirical basis for what was, until then, known by some (yet refuted by others): Rapport is effective in creating engagement and eliciting information, even in the adversarial context of police suspect interviews.

Perhaps more crucial was that we had developed a clear behavioral taxonomic model of the various component parts that, together, made up rapport building. Previously, definitions were, at least to our minds, too ambiguous (p. 50) or vague (for example, rapport was defined by either too general a set of terms, such as having a “connection” or “synchrony” with the detainee) or too atomistic and superficial (for example, “detainee smiles at interviewer”). We turned to two very extensive literatures: the literature on humanistic psychology and the literature on personality and interpersonal relating (see Chapters 2 and 4). The former field appeared to get to the heart of what constituted an authentic relationship under difficult circumstances (in its original form between therapist and client). The second field covered the requirement to interpersonally respond to another person (in our case, the interviewee) in a prosocial and adaptive way so as to make the communication flow more effectively.

The Humanistic Paradigm of Rapport Building

Humanistic psychology or “humanism” emerged during the 1950s as an alternative to the two approaches that dominated psychology at the time: psychoanalysis (focused on unconscious forces that drive human thought and behavior) and behaviorism (focused on how behavior is learned and shaped by the environment through a process called “conditioning”). Humanism is regarded as the “third force” in psychology after psychoanalysis and behaviorism (Maslow, 1968). Rejecting the deterministic nature of both psychoanalysis and behaviorism, humanism emphasized the importance of taking a holistic view of people and their ability to exercise free will. Based in part on Abraham Maslow’s work published in 1943, humanism adopts a positive view of people, based on the belief that people are naturally good and are motivated to “grow” in order to achieve their full potential (known as “self-actualization”).

Building on these ideas and in an attempt to move away from interpretive psychodynamic therapies, influential humanistic psychologist Carl Rogers1 went on to revolutionize psychotherapy. Rogers pioneered a therapeutic approach based on what he had learned and observed from clinical experience, initially called “non-directive” but which later became known as “client-centered” and “person-centered” therapy. Unlike traditional psychodynamic approaches in which the therapist was in charge and the patient followed, Rogers believed effective therapist–patient relationships should be more (p. 51) egalitarian, built on mutual trust and respect (note his deliberate departure from the word patient and adoption of the word client to promote equality). Rogers argued that a person’s “self-concept” (how one perceives themselves and how they aspire to be) is the basis on which personality is developed. He suggested that people need to seek congruence (balance) between three areas of their lives: self-worth, self-image, and the ideal self. If these areas do not have some overlap, Rogers believed a person would be in a state of “incongruence.” The role of a therapist was therefore to help a client resolve this incongruence, although Rogers emphasized that ultimately it was the client and not the therapist who is responsible for this change. The intentional focus on the client’s subjective view of themselves and the world around them (as opposed to the therapist’s interpretation), and the active role of the client in their treatment, is why it is named “client-centered” therapy.

For this humanistic therapeutic approach to be effective, Rogers argued that three core conditions had to be met. First, Rogers believed it was crucial for the therapist to be “real,” meaning authentic, genuine, and honest in the therapeutic relationship. Second, Rogers believed that clients needed to feel valued as individuals, and thus it is crucial that therapists provide clients with “unconditional positive regard.” This means that although therapists may not necessarily approve of their client’s behavior, this should not stop them from showing care for the client as a person. Lastly, Rogers believed that therapists should express empathy to the client by showing that they accurately understand what the client is feeling and how the client perceives the world. This requires the therapist to communicate to the client what they have heard and what they think the client means, to check that their understanding is correct. As Rogers (1959) states:

The state of empathy, or being empathic, is to perceive the internal frame of reference of another with accuracy and with the emotional components and meanings which pertain thereto as if one were the person, but without ever losing the “as if” condition. Thus it means to sense the hurt or the pleasure of another as he senses it and to perceive the causes thereof as he perceives them, but without ever losing the recognition that it is as if I were hurt or pleased and so forth. If this “as if” quality is lost, then the state is one of identification. (pp. 210–211)

Rogers (1975) argued that therapeutic empathy is significant because when a person is sensitively and accurately understood, it helps them to develop (p. 52) what he termed “growth-promoting” or therapeutic attitudes toward themselves. Specifically, he asserted that it is the nonjudgmental and accepting quality of empathic listening that enables the client to take a more caring, accepting attitude toward themselves and gain a better understanding of themselves. Essentially, Rogers believed that empathic understanding by another person could enable someone to become a more effective therapist for themselves. Rogerian person-centered therapy is still used today, and many other prominent therapies have evolved from it (of significance is Miller and Rollnick’s [1992] work on motivational interviewing).

The ORBIT model of interviewing is based on the underlying assumptions of humanism and draws on Carl Rogers’ necessary therapeutic conditions. Despite the somewhat unusual context, the authors believe that humanistic, client-centered, therapeutic principles are directly applicable to police interviews with terrorism suspects. This may at first appear incongruent with or inappropriate to such an adversarial context. However, in his work on “understanding the terrorist mind,” neuroscientist Emile Bruneau (2016) states that “although it may be comforting to think of terrorists as people unlike us . . . the psychological processes that drive an individual to engage in terrorism are deeply human, common across cultures—and traits that likely reside in us all” (p. 2).

Common vulnerabilities of those who engage in terrorism include identity and status issues, a sense of personal humiliation, perceived injustice or grievance, a lack of belonging and worth, and a breakdown of relationships (Lloyd & Kleinot, 2017). Similar issues often emerge in therapy. Therefore, both settings involve a discussion about potentially difficult topics that the client or suspect may be reluctant to talk about. Additionally, in both a police interview and counseling context the interviewer or counselor seeks to understand the suspect’s or client’s perspective in a search for the truth or motive behind what has happened. Hence, like client-centered therapy, a good starting point for building rapport in a police–suspect interview may be for an interviewer to be genuine, provide unconditional positive regard to the suspect (regardless of how they feel about their suspected behavior), and listen empathically, communicating to the suspect that they are seeking to understand their perspective and view of the world.

With humanistic principles at its core, then, the ORBIT model of interviewing specifically draws on two previously diverse fields of therapeutic intervention: (1) motivational interviewing (MI; which we have already briefly mentioned in Chapter 2) and (2) interpersonal theories of (p. 53) relating (again, only briefly mentioned so far but will be further discussed in Chapter 4).

The first part of ORBIT, based on some of the principles enshrined in the MI literature, is specifically focused on rapport building. Pioneered by William Miller and Stephen Rollnick in the 1980s and 1990s, MI’s clinical intervention approach, originally developed as an approach to encourage behavioral change in problem drinkers, evolved from intuitive clinical practice. In line with a client-centered approach, MI is underpinned by a particular “spirit” that promotes collaboration between the therapist and client, aims to evoke the client’s own thoughts and ideas about behavioral change, and recognizes that ultimately it is up to the client to choose to make the change or not (Miller & Rollnick, 1992). It is within the presence of this spirit or atmosphere that rapport is likely to emerge. However, unlike the nondirective nature of traditional client-centered therapy, MI is very goal directed, insofar as the therapist intentionally “targets” the client’s need for behavioral change, be it substance misuse, domestic abuse, or managing one’s health.

The efficacy of MI for encouraging behavioral change has now been shown in a wide range of settings (e.g., reduction in or abstinence from alcohol or drugs, eating more healthy, violence reduction). Over 600 clinical trials having been conducted and numerous meta-analyses and systematic reviews published (e.g., see DiClemente et al., 2017; Lawrence et al., 2017)

The reason for adopting some of the thinking behind MI and, more broadly, Rogers’ concepts of authenticity and on nonjudgmental regard and empathy, relates to its capacity to provide an empathic and non-coercive atmosphere that, where relevant and appropriate, allows individuals to discuss things that they may be conflicted about. As in a therapeutic context, while observing police interviews with terrorism suspects, the authors noticed that when interviewers used approaches in line with a humanistic approach, even though they weren’t trained in these techniques, detainees were more engaged with the interviewers and willing to talk. In particular, interviewers who came across as “accepting”—open-minded about the investigation and did not show any judgment toward the individual in front of them; “empathic”—showing interest in the suspect and focused on drawing out their values and beliefs; “adaptive”—able to adapt fluidly to what was being said by the suspect (instead of rigidly controlling the agenda); and who encouraged “autonomy”—emphasizing the suspect’s right to choose to talk or not, usually had a good relationship with the suspect and gained more evidentially useful information.

(p. 54) It appears that, like client-centered counseling, attempts at listening to and genuinely trying to understand a suspect’s perspective without judgement can lead to a respectful, empathic atmosphere that facilitates cooperation. However, as we noted in the previous chapter, even more pronounced was the observation that interviewers who engaged in approaches antithetical to this more humanistic approach (e.g., judgmental, rigid, pressurizing) seemed to have very poor relationships with the suspect and were often met with suspect resistance (e.g., silence, “no comment,” or aggression).

In addition to the observation that humanistic approaches seem to be effective at encouraging suspects to talk, taking such an approach is beneficial for a number of other reasons. First, regardless of whether the suspect cooperates or not, the adoption of such approaches does no harm to the suspect. They are ethically and legally compliant with interviewing guidelines and they honor the suspect’s human and legal rights. Second, innocent suspects are protected as there is no pressure (from persuasion or coercion) to reveal false information. Third, if a suspect is lying, withholding or concealing information, and evidence can prove this, humanistic counseling approaches will demonstrate to the jury that the police have consistently provided the suspect an opportunity to talk without pressure. The so-called “global” attributes that underpin this approach are set out in Table 3.1 and summarize the “spirit” or atmosphere that effective interrogators can create.

Table 3.1 Abridged Definitions and Examples of Measures Used to Observe and Define Rapport*




Unconditional positive regard/respect for the detainee; it does not mean agreeing with the detainee or condoning or being complicit with their views or behaviors. Efforts are made to “see the good” in the detainee despite the behavior they suspected of participating in.


Seeks to understand the detainee’s perspective, expressed through reflective listening. Seeks genuine understanding of detainee’s motives or perspective.


Able to adapt to responses and manage a fluid format with timeline jumps and deviation from the interview plan.


Draws out beliefs and views of detainee rather than putting forward one’s own views, suspicions, or advice. Remains curious and patient; does not “leak” assumptions about personal views or guilt.


Makes clear that it is the detainee’s choice not to talk or cooperate; conveys an understanding that the power to provide information is a choice that lies with the detainee. Absence of force, coercion, or persuasion. Concept is one of leaving a door open rather than trying to force someone through it.

* Full details are given in Alison & Alison (2012).

Interpersonal Relating: Power and Intimacy Behaviors

However, accomplishing this rapport-based approach is not easy. It is hard for interviewers to remain flexible and respond fluidly to suspects, especially in the face of aggressive or demanding behavior or even in cases where the detainee is painfully quiet and unresponsive. As such, each detainee will require a different approach. Interviewers need to be adaptive to the personality and behavior of the person they are dealing with. This brings us to the second part of ORBIT, which focuses on understanding how to manage difficult suspect behavior, based on theories of interpersonal relating. In ORBIT this is called “interpersonal style” and it describes the behaviors that emerge between interacting pairs.

ORBIT draws on ideas proposed by psychologists Timothy Leary and William Moulton Marston, in the late 1950s. Both speculated that personality, previously considered a fixed, person-specific state, was something that (p. 55) could be best observed when an individual interacts with another individual. Marston and Leary identified two driving motivations that occur when people interact—the desire for power over other people and the desire for intimacy or love. Leary (1957) produced a visual representation of this called the “interpersonal circumplex.” The model maps interpersonal behaviors and characteristics along two axes: a vertical axis of dominance–submission and a horizontal axis of hostility–friendliness. The theory is that the vertical axis works on a rule of correspondence (i.e., dominant behavior invites submissive behavior in return and vice versa) and the horizontal axis works on the rule of reciprocity (i.e., friendliness invites friendliness and hostility invites hostility).

Forty years later, building on Leary’s theory of interpersonal behavior, psychologist John Birtchnell (1994) developed his own version: the interpersonal octagon. Birtchnell’s most important contribution, though, was his observation that each of the four communication styles could be done either adaptively (likely to promote communication) or maladaptively (likely to impede communication). Thus, there are in Birtchnell’s model adaptive dominance, submission, argument, and cooperation, and the maladaptive (p. 56) versions of each. Based on both Leary and Birtchnell’s interpersonal behavioral circle/octagon, an interrogation-specific version known as the interpersonal behavior circles (IBC) was developed as part of the ORBIT model (these are outlined in more detail in Chapter 4).

Taken together, ORBIT’s coverage of the motivational drivers that impede or enhance engagement and use of the interpersonal elements that aid smooth communication or disrupt it comprise the first empirically grounded and comprehensive model of interrogation and interviewing based on an analysis of the largest sample of police interviews with terrorism suspects in the world. The ORBIT model of interviewing adopts an interpersonally sophisticated approach, committed to creating a respectful, accepting, and empathic atmosphere of communication, based on 75 years of research and theory development.

Measuring Success

All of what has been discussed thus far is designed to measure the interaction between the interrogator and the interviewer, as well as the behavior of the interrogator in terms of how well they applied principles from humanistic rapport building and interpersonal relating. The goal is to create an environment that is conducive to establishing rapport and securing information. But what this also means is that these behaviors are simply a means to an end; in research terms they are the independent variables. In ORBIT, “effectiveness” and the dependent variable is operationalized as yield. For this an interview yield assessment was developed that captures the amount of information obtained during an interview. Yield is hence an important metric because rapport and “how much they talk” are insufficient indicators because, while these are good, what truly matters is the amount of intelligence gathered. This metric is also of substantial importance as it parallels the primary metric of interview/interrogation success in the field: the volume of useful information elicited.

Furthermore, as discussed later in this book, sometimes conversational “waffle” is used as a counter-interrogation tactic. Yield is measured as the amount of information provided in the four areas of relevance (see Table 3.2)—specifically, the degree to which detainees talk about their capability to commit a crime, their opportunity, their motive, or a description of factors (p. 57) associated with a given crime. Each of these factors is measured on a five-point scale (0 = absent—no information of relevance, 5 = high—many significant details that provide information) related to the quantity of information provided by the detainee on a given subject.

Table 3.2 Measures of Yield




Description (PLAT)

Through their knowledge, skill, or character

Through their location, associates, timing

Through their beliefs, emotional state, incentives, intentions

Details about items, locations, individuals, timing related to the offense

We also developed a measure of the detainee’s level of engagement with the interrogator. This ranges from 0, where the detainee refuses to engage with the interrogators (the latter part of the first interrogation may be a 0), to a 7, where the detainee answers all questions fully and thoroughly, providing new information and outlining their role in the events. Finally, and as will be elaborated on in the next chapters, we also developed a measure of the degree to which the suspect was resisting the interrogator. Overall, there are a series of resistance strategies that suspects use, ranging from deliberate provocation, distraction, and disengagement. That said, in this study we specifically studied suspects’ use of counter-interrogation tactics (CITs). CITSs are deliberate methods used by the detainee to disrupt an interview, and many high-value detainees are trained in their use either directly (via hands-on training) or indirectly (via published manuals; see Chapter 5).

ORBIT Principles

ORBIT emphasizes humane, ethically sound, non-coercive, and legislatively compliant interviews. ORBIT does include a set of “tactics.” However, it is an approach with a set of guiding principles, and blind adherence to tactics without comprehensive understanding of the intention or ethos would be akin to knowing how to beat an egg, how to knead dough, and how yeast works but having no idea that what one was intending on doing with each of these pieces of separate knowledge to make bread. Thus, ORBIT has four guiding principles discussed next.

(p. 58) ORBIT Is Goal Directed

Unlike MI, which focuses on behavioral change, ORBIT’s central goal is to open up pathways of communication to gain information that is of evidential significance or of intelligence value. This does not have to be truthful information, rather, the aim is to gain checkable facts or elicit provable lies.

ORBIT Emphasizes Free Choice

In line with humanistic psychology, ORBIT holds that the interviewee has control and choice over their own deliberations and that it is their decision whether or not to provide information. There is no requirement that the interviewee tell the truth (indeed, they are quite entitled to say nothing at all). However, the goal is to maximize any and all options for them to provide a truthful account if they so choose. Further, the interviewer should not seek to prevent an interviewee from lying or concealing information if that is what they wish to do. The aim is to provide an opportunity for the interviewee to give an account, while preserving organizational and individual professionalism, integrity, dignity, and humanity. This should be maintained irrespective of however hard an attorney or solicitor may adopt a more didactic or instructive approach (rather than an advisory one). As such, even if legal advisers move beyond their remit of advice to instruction, the interviewing officers maintain the integrity of neutrality, objectivity, and an atmosphere conducive to a choice to remain silent or enact their right to talk.

ORBIT Is Non-coercive and Non-persuasive

ORBIT avoids any notion of persuasion or coercion. The goal is to create an environment in which any internal conflict within the interviewee (if there is one) can emerge without trickery, deceit, or influence. If the suspect knows nothing and/or has zero ambivalence about their actions and thus a desire to talk, then no internal pressure will emerge (since either in the case of the innocent or the hardliner there is none there to “work with”). Hence, this negates any issues with false confessions that can emerge in either pressure-based interrogations or “softer but still persuasive” interrogations (see Garrett, 2009). Suspects should never be made to talk out of fear (in the case (p. 59) of coercion) nor eagerness to please (in the case of persuasion). Instead, the interviewer simply works with what is already there and, often, based on our analysis, there is a desire to talk and there is a compulsion to tell the truth. Any interviewer (or, indeed, legal advisor) who impedes the basic human right for an individual to articulate their involvement (or lack thereof) in an offense is acting against the law.

ORBIT Is Nonjudgmental

ORBIT adopts a neutral, objective, non-accusatory approach to obtaining and challenging information from a detainee This requires objectivity and neutrality on part of the interviewer(s). If a guilty person wishes to confess and this is the truth, then an interviewer should provide a nonjudgmental environment in which to hear it. However, if someone is lying and they disclose information that is inconsistent with other information or the available evidence, it is entirely appropriate to challenge them on this. However, interviewers should do this in a way that does not intimate that the interviewee must be lying. It is of course acceptable to state that “A doesn’t make sense given fact B” and invite the detainee to comment, without judgement or conveying incredulity, on why things do not appear to add up. The key is that the interviewer must always remain open-minded to the possibility that the complete picture may be more complex; there may be a logical reason why the account is completely inconsistent with the facts.

The Colonel Russel Williams Example

To illustrate how interviewers can use these humanistic ORBIT principles when interviewing suspects, we provide some examples taken from an interview with Russell Williams, a former colonel in the Canadian Forces who was found guilty of the murder of two women and the sexual assault of another two women. He was also charged with another 82 offenses relating to breaking and entering. Williams was interviewed by Ontario Provincial Police (OPP) Detective Staff Sergeant Jim Smyth. The interrogation lasted approximately 10 hours; part of the interrogation can be found online (

(p. 60) The following segment occurs part-way through the interrogation where Det. Smyth presents Russel Williams with evidence that connects him to one of the victim’s addresses.

smyth: I told you when I came in here, uh, that I’ll treat you with respect and I’ve asked you to do the same for me. Um, we talked about the whole idea of how we’ve, uh, approached you here, okay, uh, the trying to be as discreet as possible.

williams: Mm hmm.

smyth: Okay, but the problem is, Russell, is every time I walk out of this room there’s another issue that comes up, okay, and it’s not issues that point away from you, it’s issues that point at you, okay, and I want, I want you to see what I mean.

williams: Mm hmm.

smyth: Alright, this is the footwear impression of the person who approached the rear of Jessica Lloyd’s house.

williams: Mm hmm.

smyth: On the evening of the twenty-eighth (28th) and twenty-ninth (29th) of January.

williams: Yeah.

smyth: Okay, alright now, I want you to keep in mind that this is slightly smaller, okay, than scale, okay.

williams: Okay.

smyth: Alright, that’s not to scale, that’s that footwear is actually bigger.

williams: Okay.

smyth: If you look here on the ruler you’ll see that, uh, one inch is just slightly smaller than an actual inch.

williams: Okay.

smyth: Alright, but this is the way it prints off on your computer.

williams: Yeah.

smyth: I’ll move this over so you can see what I mean, alright, essentially when you’re dealing with footwear impressions, um, we have a gentleman on the OPP who’s, uh, basically world-renowned, uh, his name is John Norman.

williams: Mm.

smyth: And essentially with footwear impressions, uh, you’re in a situation where you’re, you’re pretty much in the area of, uh. of fingerprints.

williams: Mm hmm. (p. 61)

smyth: Okay, and essentially what we’re talking about here is when especially, when you start adding in other pieces of, uh, information.

williams: Mm hmm.

smyth: That, uh, support an investigative position.

williams: Yeah.

smyth: Okay, this is a photocopy of the boot that, uh, you took off your foot.

williams: Yeah.

smyth: Just a little while ago.

williams: Yeah.

smyth: Okay, now I’m not an expert in footwear impressions, I rely on the experts. . . . footwear impressions are very much like, uh, like fingerprint comparisons, okay, you take a look at this print and again this is one print.

williams: Mm hmm.

smyth: This person walked through, there’s several different prints to compare.

williams: Mm hmm.

smyth: So we’re going to get features off of one print to compare features off another print to compare.

williams: Yep.

smyth: These are identical okay . . . (pause) your vehicle drove up the side of Jessica Lloyd’s house . . . (pause) your boots walked to the back of Jessica Lloyd’s house on the evening of the twenty eighth (28th) and twenty ninth (29th) of January, okay. You want discretion, we need to have some honesty, okay, because this is this is getting out of control really fast, Russell, okay, really really fast.

williams: (sniffs) Hmm (sighs).

smyth: This is getting beyond my control, alright, I came in here a few hours ago and I called you the way I called you today ‘cause I wanted to give you the benefit of the doubt.

williams: Mm hmm.

smyth: But you and I both know you were at Jessica Lloyd’s house and I need to know why.

(no conversation from 03:04:10 to 03:04:40) (long pause)

williams: Well, I don’t know what to say.

While the interviewer is clearly goal directed, presenting evidence linking Williams to the crime, he remains objective and nonjudgmental throughout the interaction. The interviewer does not bring any of his own assumptions (p. 62) or opinions and instead uses specific details from the experts, thus presenting the evidence impartially and seeks explanation without judgment. The interviewer did this by initially presenting evidence in a non-accusatory manner, using the term “this person,” before confirming that the footwear impressions are identical to Williams’, at which point he says, “your boots walked to the back of Jessica Lloyd’s house” and “your car drove up the side of Jessica Lloyd’s house” and “I need to know why.” He therefore asks for an explanation of the evidence without providing excuses, passing judgment, or overtly accusing Williams.

The following interaction takes place shortly after presentation of this evidence:

smyth: Russell, what are we going to do?

williams: Call me Russ, please.

smyth: Okay, what are we going to do, Russ?

(no conversation from 03:21:55 to 03:22:08)

williams: (sighs)

smyth: Is Jessica somewhere we can find her easily, like is it something where I can make a call and tell somebody to go to a location they’re going to find her, or is this something where we have to go and and, um, take a walk?

williams: (sighs)

smyth: Which direction are we heading in here?

(no conversation from 03:23:02 to 03:23:44)

smyth: Russ, maybe, maybe this would help. . . can you tell me what the issue is your struggling with?

(no conversation 03:23:53 to 03:24:16)

smyth: What’s the use of you struggling now?

(no conversation from 03:24:20 to 03:25:00)

williams: (sighs)

(no conversation from 03:25:04 to 03:25:22)

williams: (sniffs) It’s hard to believe this is happening.

smyth: Why is that?

(no conversation 03:25:28 to 03:25:52)

smyth: Why is it hard to believe?

williams: (sighs)

(no conversation from 03:25:58 to 03:26:13)

williams: Um, it’s just, it’s just hard to believe (sighs).

(p. 63) Again, the interviewer remains nonjudgmental and respectful. Further, he emphasizes Russell Williams’ autonomy by responding to Williams’ request to be called “Russ” and by asking “what are we going to do?” and “which direction are we heading here?” This creates a neutral, collaborative atmosphere in which the interviewer and suspect appear to be working together rather than the interviewer dominating the interview. The interviewer is empathic, recognizing that Williams is struggling (he appears to be ambivalent about whether to talk or not) and attempts to draw out from Williams what it is he is struggling with while giving him plenty of space to think. The interviewer’s curious and patient approach allows internal pressure to build within Williams rather than the interviewer externally pressuring him. This appears to lead to Williams’ decision to start talking about his own concerns.

williams: When you talk about perception my only two immediate concerns from a perception perspective are what my wife must be going through right now.

smyth: Yeah.

williams: And the impact this is going to have on the Canadian Forces.

smyth: Where do we go . . . Russ, is there anything you want from me, is there anything you want me to explain, is there something missing you’re struggling with that I can shed some light on for you?

williams: (sighs) Now I’m struggling with how upset my wife is right now.

smyth: Russ, what are you looking for?

williams: I’m concerned that they’re tearing apart my wife’s brand new house.

smyth: So am I . . . but if nobody tells them what’s there and what’s not, they don’t have any choice.

smyth: Computers have been brought to Microsoft in California they’ll be, they’ll be picked apart. You can’t erase things from computers, it doesn’t happen. I’m sure you’ve seen that. I’m sure that’s pretty common knowledge these days, it just doesn’t happen. They sell programs that, uh, to try and help people clean their computers and stuff and our guys are pulling that stuff out all the time. The FBI’s pulling that stuff out all the time. This investigation will end up costing no less than ten million (10,000,000) dollars easy, and they will say no to nothing, any requests this major case manager makes on this case. They’ve already been told it’s approved. Don’t even bother asking. (p. 64)

smyth: So what am I doing, Russ? I put my best foot forward here for you, bud, I really have. I don’t, I don’t know what else to do to to make, make you understand the impact of what’s happening here . . . do we talk?

williams: I want to, um, minimize the impact on my wife.

smyth: So do I.

williams: So how do we do that?

smyth: Well you start by telling the truth.

(no conversation from 04:39:45 to 04:40:13)

williams: Okay.

smyth: Okay . . . so where is she?

(no conversation from 04:40:17 to 04:40:39)

williams: Have you got a map?

By creating an open, nonjudgmental, collaborative atmosphere, Williams decides to share what he is concerned about and what matters most to him—the impact the case will have on his wife and the Canadian Forces, a clear example of incongruent values, as discussed in the previous chapter. The interviewer is supportive and curious, asking if there is anything he can help with. He then probes further to find out what exactly Williams is worried about in terms of his wife. This probing appears to lead to further revelations and Williams stating that he doesn’t want his wife’s new house to be torn apart. The interviewer then states that he shares this concern with Williams and states that without more information from Williams (i.e., without his starting to talk about what happened) there is no other choice. Thus, the interviewer guides Williams to his own reasons he holds for cooperating with and speaking to the interviewer. Williams goes on to give a full and frank confession.

Overall, this series of interactions between Smyth and Williams reflects a goal-directed, non-coercive, nonjudgmental interview approach that emphasizes the suspect’s choice in whether to talk or not. In doing so, the suspect decides to confess for his own reasons (to minimize the impact on his wife) rather than being forced or persuaded to talk, for the interviewer’s reasons (e.g., to find the location of Jessica Lloyd). The approach (probably unwittingly by Smyth himself, since there is no evidence he is trained in such techniques) illustrates many of the key humanistic principles that ORBIT is based on.

(p. 65) Summary

This chapter outlined the basic theoretical underpinnings of the ORBIT approach. Specifically, it demonstrated how ORBIT has leveraged decades of humanistic research on MI and interpersonality to develop the five ORBIT rapport-based principles and an interrogation-specific interpersonal circumplex that can be used to capture the interaction of detainee and interrogator. However, this chapter also showed that while designed to be specific for interrogations, many of the factors at play are universally human and feature in most dyadic interactions. This allows ORBIT to be applied to a host of interrogation scenarios. Finally, this chapter demonstrated how the degree to which an interrogation is ORBIT consistent or inconsistent can be evaluated (and agreed on) as a tangible measure of rapport. Being able to accurately and consistently measure rapport is essential given that groups such as the High-Value Detainee Group seek to study the effectiveness of interrogation approaches in the interrogation domain. In essence, rapport cannot be truly studied until it can be consistently measured.

ORBIT is the first detailed field-based analysis of a uniquely large and significant data set that has enabled researchers to break down two critical components that, only when deployed in unison, appear to achieve results (in so far as engaging the detainee and educing information are both important outcomes). These include (1) the interpersonal skills required to manage different modes of interaction (control, capitulation, cooperation, and conflict) and (2) the Rogerian principles that are enshrined in MI: providing personal choice for the detainee, nonjudgmental regard, and the use of reflection and evocation to extract thoughts, values, and beliefs. All of these skills rely on active listening and the ability to adapt to the detainee’s ebb and flow, rather than mechanistically and robotically sticking to a rigid interview plan. ORBIT is goal directed (and in ORBIT’s case the goal is information), but it retains the flexibility to adapt and be more fluid as long as the end goal remains in sight.

The data, which are still being collected, continue to provide new and increasingly diverse analyses that will help ensure that the complexity of rapport and its effect on interrogations is more fully understood. ORBIT is continually being expanded and developed to allow us to integrate rapport-based methods more effectively into training. The next chapters outline the evidence base behind ORBIT, the use of ORBIT in varied contexts, and some of the work on training practitioners to use ORBIT in the field.


1 Key works: Rogers (1951, 1959, 1980).