Often when Marines or Soldiers are taught how to search a house while deployed, the focus is on finding weapons or contraband that ties them to the insurgency. It’s the sure-fire way to providing a clear link to the fighting and ensuring that the subsequent arrest doesn’t get thrown out for a lack of evidence.  As criminals, both at home and overseas, make this search more challenging; our military needs to continue learning how to pull good information and intelligence from each encounter.  A search though is naturally confrontational where the searching party has assumed a dominant role. This dominance makes it difficult to establish rapport and makes collecting that intelligence a challenge.

Iconography can help you find the information needed to find common ground with the suspects and get them to begin talking.  Iconography reveals what a person’s beliefs and affiliations are.  For the person tasked with questioning the suspects while the house is searched, a quick look to find the pictures, images, symbols, art, graffiti, flags, colors, and other indicators that reveal the suspect’s beliefs and affiliations can make it easier to find common ground and get the person talking about something they are interested in.

The goal is to use an observation of a person’s beliefs or affiliations to determine what they are going to do (predict their future actions). If we know a person belongs to a gang because we recognize the symbols, hand gestures, colors, tattoos, or flags, we can better understand how they are going to react to questions or what topics they are likely to be able to speak on.  Where a gang banger likely wouldn’t be willing to reveal a great deal of information about themselves or their gang, they may happily give you what they know about their rivals.  It is no different overseas where the house being searched has information about tribal affiliations, relationships with other people in their village, or cultural views.  All of this information can be seen and used to quickly establish rapport when you only have a limited time on target.

People have a natural tendency to talk about things that they are interested in and instead of aimlessly groping to find those topics, the Iconography that is present can quickly provide those cues to do this in a meaningful way.  I recommend the book Snoop by Sam Gosling to learn more about factors to consider when doing these searches. Just keep in mind that the way Gosling writes about it is to determine personality profiles, which is not the goal of behavioral analysis, but the observations themselves are still valid.

The last point I would make about Iconography is that this is the only domain that a person often exerts conscious control over. They can choose to keep their beliefs concealed, they can choose to not put on anti-American clothing, they can choose to not get gang tattoos, they can choose to not fly a meaningful flag.  Because of this, keep in mind that the absence of Iconography does not ensure that someone doesn’t hold that belief, just that they aren’t advertising it.