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March 09, 2023

Nonverbal Advantage in Investigation

How much a small cigarette can reveal about the smoker standing next to you? Can you ever imagine if a small cigarette can shake an entire nation and an alliance? Can you ever imagine if a small cigarette can help in discovering perhaps the greatest intelligence breach in world history? Yeah! It surely can but only if you could detect its shaking in the hand of an individual who sold nuclear weapon launch codes for money while betraying his country.

You might have read a lot of stories of secret agents and spies. The fictional super-spy James Bond is celebrated on silver screen and loved all over the world. While secret agents and spies are depicted saving the world in movies, the individuals who catch evil spies and double agents are never talked about. Now, I'm going to share a short story about a very special individual who succeeded in bringing one of the smartest cold war spies to justice. In near future, his spy-catching pursuit might get converted into a movie too.

On one fine Sunday morning of Tampa (Florida) in August 1988, a young FBI agent was asked to meet and ask a few questions to a former American soldier named as Roderick James Ramsay. While asking him questions about another soldier named as Clyde Lee Conrad who was arrested in Germany upon suspicion of involvement in intelligence leakage, the FBI agent noticed subtle shaking of a burning cigarette in his hand. His hand revealed what his face was hiding from the FBI agent.

"The body reveals what the face conceals." - Joe Navarro

Why should a cigarette shake in Roderick’s hand upon listening a name of an individual? A single random instance then it could be an observational error. Right? However, every time the FBI agent intentionally but sporadically mentioned Clyde Conrad, the cigarette shook. It shook three times to give the agent a valid assurance to convince the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) to start an elaborate and lengthy investigation which surprisingly lasted for next 10 years, till 1998.

Many frightening and mind-boggling revelations and disclosures were achieved by the FBI investigators. They were so serious and sensitive that many intelligence agencies or institutions like The Pentagon (United States Department of Defense), Central Intelligence Agency (CIA), British Military Intelligence, Section 6 (MI6), German Bundesnachrichtendienst (BND) or 'Federal Intelligence Service' and Hungarian Információs Hivatal (IH) followed the whole case very closely.

The single decisive observation of discomfort upon listening a name led to the revelation of a most horrifying intelligence leakage during the cold war. The accidental assignment to the case of Roderick James Ramsey changed the career of the young FBI agent which went on to become the world’s nonverbal communication pioneer and an inspiration for many crime investigators. The whole world knows him by his name as Joe Navarro. After 25 years of duty, he retired in 2003.

FBI agent Joe Navarro succeeded in bringing
one of the smartest cold war spies to justice.

Crime investigators, police officers, interrogators, detectives, secret-agents and spies simply cannot convince or pursue the investigation agencies, authorities and governments to start an investigation or take an action based upon a single body language clue. However, such subtle clues silently give a great insight into the minds of suspects. Clues of discomfort and distress given away by sudden body shifts, movements, gestures and expressions are stronger enough to not let them miss, ignore or neglect.

Our body gives away the clues of discomfort and distress not just upon seeing the discomforting and distressing visuals but also listening to the words which cause them. Mentioning names of the victim(s), weapon(s) used, partner(s) in crime and location(s) of crime or only known to the guilty arouses the nervous system of the individuals being questioned about the crime. It causes discomfort and distress in real time which the careful observer can capitalize on.

The courts ask for evidence not body language clues. If the investigator cautiously asks the right questions in the right sequence, by focusing on discomfort and distress clues, it can help the investigator to evince information of lead or probative value. However, observation is the key because these behaviors are very subtle and they disappear quickly.

Clues of Discomfort can be subtle/unnoticeable for most of the times.
(Image Courtesy: Body Language Decoded documentary)

Great investigators, analysts and profilers always look for subtle details. Some suspects might just sit for hours showing no expressions on their face while giving answers to the questions. However, the rest of their body can give away vital clues of discomfort and distress such as the one which were preciously picked by the experienced eyes of the FBI agent Joe Navarro who earned the title ‘spy-catcher’.

As Mr. Navarro often says, the body reveals what the face conceals. The secret is good observations, careful interviewing and keeping good notes of the observations. Hence, getting the nonverbal advantage in an investigation is only up to the the eyes of the investigator.

[#Special Note: This article is my sincere attempt to let the readers know about the world saving investigation of my great guru Sir Joe Navarro. I’ve taken a formal permission from him only through email for mentioning the famous investigative pursuit and publishing his photos in this article.

The whole story can be read in his book Three Minutes to Doomsday: An Agent, a Traitor, and the Worst Espionage Breach in U.S. History. The story might get converted into a movie for which famous actor George Clooney and filmmaker Grant Heslov have secured rights.]

Related Articles:
1) Body Language of James Bond 2) Inside Interrogation Room 3) Entire body can’t lie 4) Observation is the key 5) Artificial Intelligence and Body Language


  1. That's amazing, Sachin! Good article! Now, I wonder what you observed about me from our recent interactions.😄

  2. Very interesting. Yes subtle non-verbal cues are very important.

  3. Great article. Thanks for helping us in our pursuit of developing more consciousness when observing body language signals during interrogations. Always eager to read your postings. Jan


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