The Foreign Service Journal, February 2011

F E B R U A R Y 2 0 1 1 / F O R E I G N S E R V I C E J O U R N A L 15 Technique 2: “Funneling” Your Interview “Funneling” in the context of dep- ositions and consular interviews is a questioning technique designed to elicit precise statements from a depon- ent or interviewee. As another excerpt from the same fianceé visa interview demonstrates, it consists of beginning with broad questions to capture as much data as possible, identifying the key pieces of information therein, and using progressively narrower questions to obtain accurate, unambiguous an- swers regarding those points: Consul: Sir, please tell me about how you met your fiancée. Applicant: Well, she came for a visit on vacation, and we fell in love im- mediately. Consul: When was that? Applicant: It was in February 2009; she came on Feb. 11, 2009. Consul: Feb. 11 was when you met her, or when she arrived in the coun- try? Applicant: That’s when she arrived. I met her two weeks later, on Feb. 23. Consul: Was that the first time you had met her? Applicant: Yes. Consul: You didn’t know her be- fore? The petition states that you were born in the same town. Applicant: No, I didn’t. She left for the United States when she was young. Consul: So, Feb. 23 was the first time you ever spoke or corresponded with her? Applicant: That’s right. Consul: You never spoke to her be- fore that date, not even on the tele- phone? Applicant: No, not even on the telephone. Consul: Not even over the Inter- net? Applicant: No. Consul: Not even on Facebook? Applicant: No. Consul: So just to be clear, you had never communicated with her in any way before Feb. 23, 2009? Applicant: That’s correct. This conversation represents a ver- bal “funnel.” It is wide at the top, where the interviewer uses broad, open-ended questions (When?Where? How?) to elicit as much relevant infor- mation as possible. Then the questions grow narrower and more direct, at- tempting to “close the gaps” in the tes- timony by asking if the interviewee is sure he/she hasn’t forgotten anything, or hasn’t made false assumptions (in this case, assuming that “meeting” his fiancée didn’t include Facebook inter- actions). The point of this process is both to dispel confusion or honest misunder- standings between the consular officer and the applicant, and to leave little room for an applicant to plead ambigu- ity as an excuse for a false answer. (For example, “I didn’t know you meant Facebook when you asked me when I first spoke with her. We Facebooked for a while before she came here on va- cation.”) Technique 3: Repeating Important Questions This last technique dovetails nicely with the end of the “funneling” process. After you have drilled down to the im- portant fact or facts at issue, you elicit the key information again using a dif- ferently worded question. Doing so reaps benefits with both honest and dishonest applicants. If an honest applicant was confused by your initial questioning, or if you made an error in the native language that cre- ated a misunderstanding, the reworded question will often reveal the problem and allow the applicant to clarify. If, on the other hand, an applicant is lying, he or she will further cement the untruth in the record, making it impos- sible to later blame the falsehood on a misunderstanding, confusion, or your use of his/her native tongue. Refer back to the last question of the excerpt above. After “funneling” my questions to drill down to the pre- cise issue of when the two people first communicated, I rephrased the key question one last time, deliberately mentioning the specific date of Feb. 23, 2009. I did so because his fiancée wrote in the petition that they had communicated extensively on Face- book and via e-mail and telephone before that date. I wanted there to be no ambiguity in what I was asking, and wanted a precise, definitive an- swer. Once the applicant confirmed his earlier response, I confronted him with what the petitioner had written. Even though the applicant struggled mightily to talk his way out of the con- tradiction with a host of excuses, my earlier line of questioning had already closed off all avenues of escape. (Moreover, one such excuse — that he hadn’t understood my Portuguese — F S K N O W - H O W The consular officer should begin with broad, open-ended queries, then ask narrower questions to close factual gaps.