Pros and Cons of Telephone vs In-Person Interviews

There is no circumstance in which a telephone or video interview would be even a fraction as worthwhile as an in-person interview. Any investigator who disagrees with this is probably just phoning it in (pun intended) with his/her in-person interviews already.

If there is a serious plan to rely on video interviews henceforth then maybe it’s best to scrap in-person interviews altogether because the process will have become something between rubber-stamping and NATSEC theater. Certainly not an investigatory exercise.

If there is serious consideration of making video interviews the standard based on things like “reduced windshield time” or increased investigator productivity, then yeah, scrap in-person interviews for the same aforementioned reason.

During my many years as a BI the investigation process consistently moved away from being investigative to a mere mechanical box-checking exercise. Less investigation yet more report-fillers (made up of pointless and worthless “reporting requirements”).

To improve the process make it more investigatory and less stenography. Reports should only cover errors in important information, developed issues, and noteworthy discrepancies or explanations. That’s it. And of course, all reports should be written in straightforward factual narrative devoid of any standard disclaimers.

I got off on a tangent there, sorry. I couldn’t help but point out that the movement to video/phone interviews is just one more step of minimizing the front end (investigations) while the the back end (coverage/reports) continues grow as an onerous, bureaucratized waste of paper electrons.

If an investigator were given the choice of windshield time vs. keyboard time— typing in the required inanities— I’m sure he/she would unhesitatingly choose the former.

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tap…tap…tap… Subject has no knowledge of the closed Collection account #12345678 with $0 balance, 0 past due, Unknown high credit… tap… tap… tap

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When a Subject who answers “no” to all the counterintelligence questions while being interviewed by phone and then years later is caught spying, one of the charges they face is lying during their investigation. It seems to me that a Subject’s valid defense at that point could be “I was being asked these lengthy confusing questions over the phone /VTC with a bad connection and I really didn’t understand what the questions meant”. I think it’s just a matter of time before someone does something and we start questioning the phone/VTC thing and the pendulum swings back.

That is the same thing they can say when asked in person.

In person, video, or by telephone, the investigator is the one responsible for the pace of the interview.

We will beat this subject to death. I believe we should have the capability to do all three. For the record - I prefer in person interviews because it allows me to complete parts of the case all at once - it is harder for supervisors and coworkers to stall you when you are standing at their desk. I am a very experienced investigator and find little difference between my video and in person control of subject interviews. I have had more frustration with phone interviews but then the Subjects did themselves in because I already had the information they denied.

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Just a matter of time is right which translates into…until something bad happens. I 1000% guarantee in the future that if phone interviews continue it will ONLY be DCSA (tap, tap, tap) because other agencies will never continue phone work. When all this started they tried to keep us in the field well after the lock down until they just couldn’t and now for the past few months are sending people to the field for some cases.

I agree 100%…this is not an “investigative process” and anyone who thinks their Subject interviews are protecting and aiding national security is just lost in the sauce. We have all been “phoning” our subject interviews even prior to the phone/video interviews, all you have to do is write down what the subject says, type it up and send it up…the subject could be lying to your face and you could have evidence in front of you that the subject is lying, yet there is nothing an investigator can do but type " Subject has no knowledge of …" even after being confronted, if the subject keeps being uncooperative, the investigator has no power or say in regards of the outcome of the investigation. the title investigator is and has always been misleading, there is no “investigation” being conducted. all that we are doing is gathering information that the subject WISHES TO PROVIDE. nothing else nothing more.

sooo long story short, phone/video interviews are much better…you can crack better numbers with the extra time you save driving around and stuff.

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I really dislike being lied to. When it happens by phone, the one aspect I rather like is not needing to be stone face and I can roll my eyes all I want while on the phone.

I don’t miss in-person interaction at all.

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They can of course say they didn’t understand the line of questioning whether it’s in person, video, or telephone…but I believe it’s more easy for a judge/jury/grand jury etc. to sympathize on a phone interview. It introduces much more reasonable doubt. Everyone has had an experience with a bad connection and knows how frustrating it is not being able to understand.

I prefer the term “background dossier compiler” that’s really what we do.

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There are no juries or grand jury in the Security process.

The “judges” - adjudicators and administrative judges - don’t mince words. Was there an issue? Was the issue disqualifying? Did the investigation, to include the Subject interview, develop enough mitigating information to reduce the issue’s risk?

I’ve had Subjects who confessed every, even by telephone, and those who denied everything, even person, even when I knew facts that I could not have unless I already “knew”. The background investigation is about risk management - Subject hurt their case by not providing information or mitigating factors.

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Telephone interviews will never provide a thorough product that the agencies have come to expect.

Have you ever actually reviewed an employment record vs. asking the record provider to do it for you and fax you the results? What about that resume that wasn’t reviewed by the record provider that showed two developed employments? The two very same developed employments that when investigative work was completed indicated the Subject was terminated for cause.

What about the performance reviews that showed misconduct or a pattern of irresponsibility…is a record provider going to look through the entire personnel record to find these sorts of things that we know need to be reviewed and perused? The answer is “No” even when you ask them if they reviewed the personnel file.

When conducting telephone interviews, references being interviewed for issue related details will tend to lie on the phone or withhold details vs. being interviewed in person as they know the investigator isn’t reading body language and it’s much easier to lie on the phone than lie to the investigator in person.

Same thing goes for a Subject Interview as it does for Source interviews…

If the government thinks they are getting a thorough and quality product by conducting work by phone…think again. It’s a watered down product now with little actual investigating being completed.

There is some redeeming quality to a video call as at least you can make out some body language and it’s much more professional, however, telephone interviews are the exact opposite of professional. It’s tacky and unprofessional.

The craziest irony of the whole thing is that we used to get killed by OPM for conducting a phone interview unless it absolutely met the criteria. Now it’s like the Wild Wild West especially with DCSA…any phone interview goes and it’s actually mandated now to conduct all of the work by telephone. Do you realize what I am saying? If you would have told me this would be the nature of conducting field work in 2013 or 2014, I would have laughed you out of the room and never believed it was possible.

So here we are in 2021 and the BI industry is totally upside down…kinda like the world we live in now with COVID and political volatility and a country in a chaotic state.

I was referring to individuals who get caught in illegal espionage activity (and other illegal activities). Oftentimes, the answers they provided during the investigation process are used in their prosecution. I have a personal acquaintance who served federal time due to the answers they provided on their SF-86 that years later were proved in a court of law to be incorrect.

I agree…if you told me even a year ago that right now everything would be done by phone…I would have laughed you out of the room as well.

Some years ago, long before COVID, I was contacted by an investigator who did an interview with me over the phone for an investigation on a former coworker.

I was surprised he was able to do this; he said something about I was a supplemental reference or something so he was able to do it over the phone. Never really understood that.

It doesn’t matter. Field Investigators who have been hired off the street for min wage have not received ANY training in detecting when someone is lying. Besides, how much more work would be involved, without more pay, to report why you believe someone is lying. The employer is always going to take the side of the Subject and the Investigator will be on the defensive. Investigators, regardless of in-person or telephonic simply report what the Sub tells them. It is up to the Adjudicator to decide what is true. I have not received any training on detecting deceitful responses and would NEVER accuse a Sub that they are lying. Beside, this is an Interview, not an interrogation.

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Field Investigators who have been hired off the street for min wage have not received ANY training in detecting when someone is lying. Besides, how much more work would be involved, without more pay, to report why you believe someone is lying.

That’s why the contractor side was a good part of the federal BI process when it was made up of retired LEOs, S/As, Fed investigators, etc.

The job was a hobby for many of these folks and they brought invaluable skills which couldn’t be taught in a classroom in Chantilly, Loveland, or Boyers.

When you start filling the ranks with inexperienced young people who need the low-paying job to make a living the work becomes viewed through the lens of time/money/opportunity. Which is especially pernicious to both the investigative process and the product (not in terms of quantity— there was increasingly more of it— but quality).

Young inexperienced people can be knowledgeable good workers with intuition, insight, and integrity. They can offer insight into issues with younger subject’s that an older workforce may not have experience with.

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Subject has no knowledge of …" even after being confronted, if the subject keeps being uncooperative, the investigator has no power or say in regards of the outcome of the investigation. the title investigator is and has always been misleading, there is no “investigation” being conducted. all that we are doing is gathering information that the subject WISHES TO PROVIDE. nothing else nothing more.

In my Subject interviews I did it my way. I would talk with subjects and not merely ask stupid perfunctory cookie-cutter questions (which of course I included as required). In doing so I uncovered a lot of stunning revelations. E.g., the real reason a Subject failed a poly (undetected lewd behavior), the misappropriation of funds by another Subject, a sealed felony with one Subject, and even a secret online relationship Subject had with a Chinese female national with ties to the CCP.

Sadly, I would bet dollars to donuts that most if not all of the aforementioned subjects got their clearance eventually.

And while I felt a sense of accomplishment in uncovering these issues, I always felt it was all for naught and I was being hampered by the worthless OPM/DCSA BI process. I knew quality was being sacrificed for bureaucratic quantity. So glad to be done with it.

Young inexperienced people can be knowledgeable good workers with intuition, insight, and integrity. They can offer insight into issues with younger subject’s that an older workforce may not have experience with.

I agree in some cases. E.g., familiarity with Reddit subgroups and some social media subcultures. But many (most?) younger people are not savvy about suspect fringe social media and internet memes, subgroups, subcultures unless they are already part of that world themselves. :man_facepalming:

The more information you report that is not part of the required questions, the more refiles you get from Reviewers who want to know more info and why you reported something that is not required (and more unpaid work you do for something not necessary). When a Subject starts telling me more than I need to know, I remind the Subject that there are privacy issues and if the Gov wanted to know that information then there would be questions regarding that topic. I reread the question and make sure the Subject understands the question. Once we start getting paid additional for discovering new unimportant information, I will report unimportant information.
During a recent interview, I was required to ask a Subject about a recent DV arrest that was in the case notes and on the form. Subject simply said “I will not answer any questions regarding that”. I said Okay and moved on. My report indicated this and there was not a refile. I’m sure the Subject got the clearance anyways…

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I agree with everything you said.

I’m a slow learner, stubborn, and mildly OCD. So even when I knew I was going way above and beyond in my ESI/source interviews and uncovering dynamite developed issues (still, all within the purview of the SF-85/86) I would carry on with the belief I was doing it for God and country long after I sensed it was unappreciated on the BI level (reviewers, other investigators, …OPM).

I radically changed my BI modus operandi when I got slapped down by none other than OPM.

It’s a sad tale of one investigator’s sudden disillusionment with the role of the BI and the thoroughness of the process.

In the course of doing an SCI investigation I uncovered a significant issue. I pursued it and tried to obtain the record. It involved a small private entity. I made contact with the record holder who was a no-nonsense older lady. She was abrupt and brushed me off the phone. I then went in person and used my fancy creds, my good looks and charms, and a lot social engineering.

After chatting for a half-hour about family and dogs we became BFFs. I was about to obtain the record when she asked if there was anyone she could call to verify that I am who I say I am, just for CYA purposes. I said “sure” and gave her the OPM hotline number. She called the OPM hotline and they verified that I am indeed legit. They then told her that she doesn’t have to provide any information that she doesn’t feel comfortable providing.

So, she refused to provide any record or information to me because she didn’t feel comfortable doing so. End of story.

It was after this chastening incident that I abandoned my Colombo-esque, dogged investigative reporter approach to the BI job and settled in more of a survey taker/stenographer/typist kind of BI.

Sad.

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