How Manipulation Works

By Jon F. Merz

Let me preface this post by saying I am an Independent when it comes to politics. I have some things that I am conservative about (mostly national security issues) and yet I am also very socially liberal. As far as I’m concerned most, if not all, politicians are two sides of the same coin. I think serving in Congress should be like jury duty rather than an opportunity to stay in Washington and skim the system for the rest of your life. And there’s hypocrisy on both sides of the aisle.

Okay, so this is an election year, which means the manipulation machines of both parties are hard at work. It also provides a great opportunity to point out how they manipulate facts in order to sow confusion and spread misinformation to the general public. We’re going to take a look at one such example right now.

Last night over on my Facebook page, I posed a question directly at those female friends of mine who happen to tilt to the Right or consider themselves Republican. I wrote, “How do you reconcile your support of Republican agendas when every single one of them just voted against the equal pay for women bill? Are you truly interested in being seen as equal to men or is that not important to you? If what we hear from the Right is to be believed, then this election is all about the economy – and yet, they just voted NOT to give equal pay to you; they just voted NOT to improve YOUR economy. Does that make sense?”

Specifically, I wanted to hear from Republican women. I didn’t get any responses. But then late last night (I went to bed early before he posted) another friend of mine, Scott Brody posted this reply to another one of my friends who had called out legislators in this way: “So my question is, should female legislators be paid less than male legislators? Perhaps THAT would make them see the light.”

Scott’s response was this: “Laurie, your question about legislators needs to be posed to Nancy Pelosi who pays the women on her staff less than the men for the same jobs.” Scott also had some other comments about both sides of the aisle that aren’t germane to this post. But his initial line there intrigued me. And being Independent, I consider it mandatory that I try to figure out if there’s any truth to such a claim.

I googled the following search string: “nancy pelosi staff salaries” and a bunch of hits came up. The first was for a website called Legistorm and then every other hit on the first page was for a Right-Wing blowhole website from the likes of Michelle Malkin, The Washington Beacon, and others. I clicked Malkin’s website first and saw her assertion (well, not HER assertion, but some dude named Doug Powers) that Pelosi’s staffers make less than their male counterparts. The blog post would seem to be backed up by a quote box that linked to another Right-Wing blowhole that said – nearly word-for-word, mind you – the exact same charge that Malkin did. (Side note: this is a favored tactic of the right: hand out a script and then repeat the exact same wording over and over – none of their proxies stray from the script, they just keep hammering it home – and eventually people will believe it – whatever it is. Democrats, by comparison, often suffer because they can’t get everybody on the same page saying the same lines, so their message comes across as diluted and confusing.)

The Washington Beacon’s article linked back to Legistorm, so that’s where I went. But first, look at the “script” – this is the talking point that the Right wants to use to combat the fact that every single Republican just voted against the Equal Pay Bill for women. Here’s how they are trying to avoid that by leveling the following charge:

“According to publicly available salary data at the website Legistorm, Pelosi’s female employees earned an average annual salary of $96,394 in fiscal year 2011. Male employees earned $123,000 on average, a difference of 27.6 percent. The gap is even larger if calculated using the median salaries for men and women. For Pelosi’s female employees, the median annual salary was $93,320 in 2011, compared to $130,455 for male employees—a difference of $37,135, or 40 percent. Pelosi’s entire staff—men and women—earned an average annual salary of $108,150 and a median salary of $114,662. By both measures, women made considerably less.

Those percentage points are the “whoppers” they want people talking about. Those percentage points would lead you to believe, “Holy crap, what a hypocrite Pelosi is.” And because the Right knows all too well that the vast majority of the people it speaks to will not go and research these claims, they can float something like this out there, see it get traction, and not have to worry about the fact that their claims are, well…full of crap.

So, let’s head over to Legistorm and see for ourselves. Legistorm is a website that tracks Congressional data and tries to be a non-partisan entity. And they have disclaimers on their website like the following: “Congressional staff salaries shown are the amount paid in the period shown. They are not annual salaries. Because bonuses may be included here and other payments may not be (most notably with aides working for multiple offices or for a political campaign committee), please use caution in extrapolating annual salaries from the figures shown here.”

Hmm, “please use caution in extrapolating annual salaries from the figures shown here…” Something to keep in mind as we progress. Going back to the “script,” the Right claims that for fiscal 2011, women on Pelosi’s staff earned a difference of 27.6% or 40% versus male counterparts depending on whether you want to look at averages or medians. Legistorm lists figures on a quarterly basis, which means in order to figure out the annual pay for staffers, you have to get the ol’ calculator out and do some basic accounting. Even for a math-phobe like me, this isn’t asking too much.

The bone of contention with regards to the Equal Pay Bill is that women are paid LESS than men for the same work. It’s important to remember that. Because what immediately stands out as you look at Pelosi’s staff is that very few people share the same job title. In fact, there are only two job titles that are identical and have more than one person working with that title. Those titles are: Staff Assistant and Co-Director of Communications. Every other staffer has a different job title. And those titles range as they should.

Why is this important? Because in the same way that no rational human being would expect someone working the fryolator at McDonald’s to earn as much as a neurosurgeon, no one should likewise expect that everyone in Pelosi’s office will be earning the same salary given the fact that they have DIFFERENT jobs with DIFFERENT responsibilities. But the “script” that the Right wants to use to manipulate you into thinking Pelosi is a hypocrite is deliberately set up in just that way.

Let’s get back to the folks who actually DO share a job title in the Pelosi office. At varying times in 2011, Pelosi had upwards of five Staff Assistants. Three of them were women and two were men. None of them worked all four quarters. Ally worked for just two, Katie for three, Patricio for two, Ricardo for three, and Ethan for just one.

Katie for her three quarters of work earned $24,301.42 while Ricardo for his three quarters of work earned $29,641.80. Ricardo was paid $5,340.38 more than Katie. Which is a difference of a shade over 22% for the same job.

GASP! Shocking! How dare Pelosi pay Ricardo 22% more for the same job that Katie has. What a hypocrite! ZOMG!

But wait…going back in time to the previous years, we see that the first time Katie shows up on the pay register is in fiscal 2011. But Ricardo worked in Pelosi’s office back in 2010. So Ricardo had more experience or previous experience than Katie did and was probably hired on at a slight pay difference for just that reason. As any rational human being would expect. More experience? More pay. That simple.

Let’s move on to the second job title that features more than one worker and that was for the Co-Director of Communications. Robyn and David both split this title and it’s not unreasonable to think their duties are probably about the same. So what about their pay for fiscal 2011?

Robyn earned $38,660.51 while David earned $40,005.21. That’s a difference of $1,344.70 or 3.48%. Now, both of them have been around since 2007 and both were put into their current position in February 2011. So, why did David earn an earth-shattering mind-blowing insanely-insulting extra $1,344.70 more than Robyn? Part of the reason is he worked a shade more overtime than Robyn did – to the tune of $133.41. But another part of the reason may be that David’s position was listed as being with the Office of the Speaker of the House up until January 2011 when Pelosi had to give up the Speaker role to John Boehnert. During that time, David was primarily working in the Speaker’s office and not in Pelosi’s congressional office, although he soon transitioned over once Pelosi lost the Speaker position. Robyn, on the other hand, was always employed in the actual Congressional office. Now, I don’t know for certain, but it seems there might be a shade more prestige and therefore money attached to working out of the Speaker’s office than there would in the normal Congressional office. But I’m not sure.

There’s definitely a discrepancy there, but the discrepancy is hardly what the Right wants you to believe. It’s not some insane amount of money. We’re talking about $1,344.70 or the equivalent to $25 bucks a week.

As to the Right’s use of percentages like 27.6% or 40% that’s just bullshit. They’re comparing apples and oranges and expecting you to be dumb enough to swallow the whole twisted mess. I don’t expect a Staff Assistant in Pelosi’s office to make the same amount of money as the District Administrator makes. And yet, that’s exactly what the Right wants you to think in this case.

And why does it work? Because in our fast-paced lives, it takes time to research this stuff and figure out where the truth is. Now, it may, in fact, be that there is some pay discrepancy there between David and Robyn – after all, $25 bucks is well, not much – and if so, then clearly Pelosi needs to rectify that on the next performance review-

-huh? Did you say “performance review?”

Why yes, I did, actually. And therein lies the variable that we unfortunately do not have access to. It’s entirely possible – especially since for the first two years of her employment Robyn earned MORE than David – that either Robyn had a not-so-good performance review or that David had a stellar performance review that gave him this extra $25 bucks per week. You know those pesky reviews…sometimes you get a decent one, sometimes not so much, and sometimes you get a great one. And you get a little extra pay for those great reviews. Merit increases, I think they’re called.

Food for thought.

The genius of the Right is that they come out with a script and then everyone repeats it verbatim. That script is then reposted on blogs that link to other Right Wing blogs that link to Right Wing newspapers and columnists. And the old adage of the more you see it, the more it must be true comes into play. Links on one article go to another website that repeats the same talking points over and over. And since most people are lazy at best and uneducated at worst, the script is seen and believed.

I don’t like Nancy Pelosi nor do I dislike her anymore than I do most politicians. But trying to generate silliness like this as a means of combating outrage over Republicans blocking the Equal Pay Bill is simply ridiculous. The percentages used might be right, but the jobs aren’t the same, and things like experience, overtime, and performance reviews weren’t taken into account.

At the end of the day, you can cook numbers and get pretty much any result you want. The Right knows this. They know they can twist things just so and give the appearance they are correct – and they know better still that the vast majority of people are too lazy to do basic fact-checking or too dumb to question it or too filled with hatred that they don’t even care if they’re being lied to. It happens on the Left as well. And there are just as many vehement nutjobs on the Left as there are on the Right.

So rather than swallow the scripts that the players read and post, make sure you do some homework and try to get the real truth. You owe to yourself to do so. The world already has enough sheep.

Intelligence Gathering 101: An Open Mind

(One of the more critical traits of anyone involved in intelligence gathering is the ability to keep an open mind. In one of my earlier posts on intelligence gathering, I stressed the importance of not letting ego impact an operative’s ability to remain objective. Maintaining an open mind is directly attributable to the necessity of keeping the ego in check as well. One does not work if the other is not firmly under control.)

Back when I was hanging around with an ex-special forces Korean War veteran named Tom, (“hanging around” is not entirely accurate – I was, for all intents and purposes, being mentored by him) we were both working at an eye care facility in the Boston area (I was the receptionist). Tom would create certain exercises that would drive home an important lesson he wanted me to understand. One such exercise started off easily enough, with Tom casually mentioning over lunch at McDonald’s that he wanted me to strike up a friendship with a guy named Farid. Farid, to my knowledge at that time, worked in the parking lot shack at the back of the building where the eye care facility was housed. He wore his hair in a tight perm that gave him a strange, somewhat greasy appearance. I’d see him every once in a while when some patient’s car needed to be moved or if someone had left their lights on. But that was it. I knew next to nothing, aside from the fact that he was about ten years older than I was.

I wasn’t crazy about the exercise; in my mind, I’d already formed a picture of Farid and could see very little point to creating a relationship. Tom questioned me about why I was reluctant and when I told him, he simply grinned and said that I should keep an open mind and not close myself off to possibilities simply because of preconceptions, stereotypes, or a media-distorted view of the world. He went on to state that good intelligence gathering is often the result of simply not hampering the organic flow of information – rather than forcing a set of parameters on to a situation. I wasn’t quite sure I knew what he meant at the time.

I also had no idea how to start a friendship with Farid. And it was really the first time in my life I’d actually had to put real thought into how I would make my approach. Tom had stressed previous to this exercise that forcing a connection was not his preferred method of establishing a relationship, unless there was no other option available or if time was an issue. He preferred a slow, methodical approach. I reflected on that earlier lesson and used that to start a casual friendship with Farid. I decided that I would start the next time he came to see me about a patient’s car, rather than me suddenly initiating something without pretext. I didn’t have long to wait; two days later, Farid came inside asking me to find a patient and let them know they had a flat tire. The patient was having his eyes dilated, which meant that whenever we released them, they would go outside wearing these insane wraparound Terminator-esque glasses so they didn’t fry their retinas in the daylight. He wasn’t going to be able to do much about a flat tire. I went outside and let Farid know the situation and then hung around while we debated the best course of action. Farid decided he would replace the tire with the spare so the patient could at least make it home. I got the patient’s car keys and together we replaced the deflated tire.

From there, the friendship grew organically. I made a point of swinging by to see how he was doing. During the summer months, the parking lot was an inferno and Farid kept a small fan going nearly all the time, even though he never complained about the heat. Gradually, the friendship grew and Farid was telling me about his family, what part of Lebanon he came from, and even began tutoring me in some very basic Arabic. And contrary to the picture I’d formed of him based on my limited interaction before striking up the friendship, Farid didn’t work at the parking lot – he and his brother owned it, along with several others in the Boston area. They were, in fact, quite wealthy and chose to work hard every day simply because that was what had been instilled in them by their father before they came to the US. Farid often spoke of his home and the olive trees that grew on his land in northern Lebanon. We spoke at length about how the civil war had devastated his country and how much he wished an end to the violence so that Lebanon could return to peace. Beirut, he told me, had once been the crown jewel of the Mediterranean and judging by the stories he told me, it must have been.

While this was going on, Tom would routinely ask about our conversations, question me about aspects of Farid’s life and friends and family. I realized that Tom’s exercise had numerous components to it, and on one level was actually producing fairly decent intelligence about a certain demographic within the Boston community. It was a fascinating lesson for me about the importance of making sure I maintained an open mind and refrained from injecting any of my subjectivity onto the situation. In Tom’s words, I was simply supposed to let Farid talk about whatever he wanted and let it go from there.

Had I not had an open mind, I would have never gotten to know Farid as well as I did. I would never have had the opportunity to see my own life enriched by his acquaintance, nor would I have had the opportunity to learn a great deal about the Lebanese immigrants who lived in the Boston area at that time. I also would not have had the chance to be introduced to a friend of Farid’s who would later turn out to be far more important than I knew then.

Tom’s lesson of keeping an open mind was one he swore by. In Tom’s neighborhood, he was surrounded by all manner of folks – recent immigrants from all over the world, college kids, gays and lesbians, families, corporate bankers, and more. And yet Tom knew how to blend seamlessly with each group – which always amazed me. Here was this grizzled old vet who’d seen his share of awful stuff in his lifetime and who, by most people’s standards, would have every right to be this opinionated, rigid man who clung to his stereotypes like they were a life preserver. Yet Tom was as open and welcoming as he could be. He knew how to talk to folks and, more importantly, listen. He made sure they felt entirely comfortable when he was around and as a result, they talked more and more. So much so, that Tom knew where the trouble was long before it arrived and was able to let the police and others know ahead of time. It was because of his open mind that he was so effective and keeping the peace in that neighborhood. Had he been judgmental or condescending toward one or more of the various demographics that lived there, he would never have had such a finger on the pulse of that place.

There are all too many examples of intelligence gathering gone awry – data collected to force a certain agenda or outcome or congressional action even. But truly good intelligence comes from where you sometimes least expect it and is only capable of being gathered if one has an open mind – not one closed off to the possibilities and potential that exist all around us. There’s no real sense in trying to gather information if you already have formed an opinion about someone or something; your ego and subjectivity have already compromised the data. Keeping an open mind is critical to being able to see and create opportunities where they may not have existed before. A narrow mind, on the other hand, constrained by the whims of ego is incapable of accurate and reliable intelligence gathering and only useful to those who seek to manipulate you.

How To Cultivate an Asset

By Jon F. Merz

In the world of intelligence, relationship building is one of the most critical skills an operative can possess. As a case officer, handler, [insert term here], you cultivate “assets” by first developing a relationship with your target and then gently steering them into the role you would like them to play. Whether you use them to gain access to someone else, get access to information they turn over to you, or a variety of other actions, you cannot simply approach a would-be asset and kick things off by demanding they perform Action A. That’s a bit like approaching a complete stranger and asking them to sleep with you…without any foreplay.

Over the last two weeks, I’ve been astounded by the number of messages and emails I’ve gotten from people that I either don’t know, or have had one interaction with, that have basically done exactly that: the message opens with someone like this: “Hi Jon, I need such-and-such, so can you do that for me?” The amusing thing about these messages is that, with the exception of one, they have all come from people who study Ninjutsu – itself an espionage-oriented martial art. And yet they have clearly NOT taken the time to understand the first thing about cultivating an asset or building an intelligence network. (Such terms might seem a bit unusual if you’re not in the intelligence community, but think about your own life and your own path to success: you have certain networks around you – especially with social media being what it is. You are, in effect, running your own intelligence network – even if you happen to call it something else.)

So, let’s look at what you need to do to create a relationship and then cultivate that person as an asset.

Here’s the golden rule: don’t ask for something right away. In fact, don’t ask for something until you’ve given something of worth yourself. You certainly wouldn’t walk up to someone on the street and say, “Hey you, go steal the cash register out of that convenience store for me.” (Side note: well, you *could* but you would have to possess an enormous amount of leverage in order to convince them. That’s a subject for another post.) One of the emails I got last week did pretty much that: “Hey I notice you’re using [redacted] so how about telling me how to use it so I can profit from it as well?”

When you approach someone for the first time, you have to be open and honest (or at least give the appearance of being that). If they see you coming with an agenda, they’ll be harder to cultivate. A casual, friendly initial contact is always best – and always approach with a smile. It’s disarming. An email can serve the same function. “Hi, I noticed we have a few friends in common in our networks.” (Friends in common is an good icebreaker and gives you a bit of credence, even superficially.)

Before you make your approach, find out a little bit more about your target. Never go in cold if you can possibly avoid it. Research them. Look at Facebook, Linked In, etc. and build a picture of their life. Then try to find common ground that will help you build a bridge to them. The goal is to make them receptive to your initial contact. If you get the initial contact out of the way, then you can offer something they might find valuable. “Hey, just saw this article and since you’re in IT, I thought you might like it. Hope you’re having a great day!” That’s it.

Once you start a back-and-forth, you can work on expanding the relationship. Ask questions about what they’re working on, how their family is doing, that sort of thing. Everyone likes to talk about themselves, so it’s just a matter of expressing interest with as much sincerity as you can muster to make them feel worthwhile. If you see a Facebook status update that you can comment on without looking like you’re up to something, then by all means do so. Maybe even drop them a message. Have they lost a pet recently? Express sympathy for their loss. Have they gotten promoted? Send them a congratulations. Keep the number of contacts to a minimum – no more than one or two per week. You don’t want to come across as pushy or annoying.

You’ll notice that nowhere in these first steps of building a relationship have I suggested you demand or ask for something. Aside from asking them to connect, you’ve done nothing that takes away from them. All you’ve done is give. You’ve provided them with value. You’ve given them the control, but it’s an illusion of control. Because when you’re cultivating an asset, one of the key ways to bring them to where you need them is to produce a sense of obligation. If they feel like you’ve been such a great friend, then they’ll be more willing (in some cases) to actually want to give you something in return. Most normal people don’t expect their friendships to be one-way streets. That’s exactly what you want them to feel – that it has been to-date, and when you finally ask for something, they’ll be all too willing to provide it.

Bear in mind, this doesn’t work for everyone. Motivations differ from person to person. But it is one technique that works well.

When it comes time to ask for something, do so in a soft-sell manner. Don’t demand. “Well, I’ve given you this-and-this, so give me this.” That’s a turn-off. Craft a nice, complimentary approach that enables you to work in your request without seeming too focused on it. Embed the request rather than focus on it. Bracket it amid other statements, but nothing too distracting. You still want them to see the request. So make sure you don’t ask too many questions in the email or else you’re likely to get everything else answered except what you asked for.

Once you get your first bit of information, you must make sure that you continue the two-way street approach. Don’t keep making demands without giving back. Relationships work in the intelligence community because of this back-and-forth. Usually, it’s a simple arrangement. The asset supplies information and you supply the cash, security, etc. It’s an even exchange. Outside the IC, you have to form a similar relationship. So always be looking to extend value into the relationship. The more demanding the request, the more value you must provide in return. The ratio depends on the target; some people are more giving than others. Some people will be reluctant to part with any information, in which case, you have to reconsider your approach and method of coercion.

I’ve seen three terrible examples of relationship building in recent days: all of them asked me to do something that would have taken time and potentially cost me money. All three requests came with no real relationship in place prior to the demand. In one case, the emailer asked me to give up names of contacts that I have in the film/TV business – information that has taken me years and cost me money to develop. And this was done after a throwaway line about me being successful selling ebooks on Amazon. No real effort put into the email; no effort made at building a relationship or offering anything of value. You can guess what I did with that email.

The Flip Side: Depending on your circumstances and goals, you might actually invert the tactics outlined in this post in order to get something. Take the example I just outlined in the preceding paragraph. If it turned out that the person who emailed me was someone I needed information from, had something of value to offer in return, etc., then I could very easily offer up that information he wanted and immediately get that person indebted to me – which I would then use to extract what I wanted. This works primarily by putting yourself out there as “bait” that people want to be associated with. So, if you are successful and people know that, they may want to connect with you. It’s the inverse of the relationship you’ve been building over the course of this post.

Take the time to build relationships the proper way and you’ll have a pool of people only too willing to aid you as you pursue your goals. Treat your relationships – your “assets” – like plants. They need water, sunshine, fod, love, and caring in order to flourish. Skimp on those things and they’ll wither and die. You won’t have a network and you won’t be successful.

PS: Remember: this is just ONE way to cultivate an asset. There are many others.