The Truth Whisperer

By Leslie Garisto and Elizabeth Rodgers
Photography by Don Hamerman

Charles Morgan
Welcome to one class where, "The dog ate my homework" will definitely not fly.

Charles "Andy" Morgan has studied French existentialist literature in Collonges-sous-Sale`ve, practiced his sleight of hand at Magic Castle in Hollywood, and navigated a prison break at a SuperMax prison in Florence, Colorado. Along the way, he earned two medical degrees, shook up the world of academia, and became a leading expert in operational and forensic psychiatry. Morgan has worked for both the U.S. Department of Defense as well as the Central Intelligence Agency. Currently, he is a professor of National Security at the University of New Haven’s Henry C. Lee College of Criminal Justice and Forensic Sciences.

Oh, and one more thing: He knows you’re lying.


I had only two rules for myself when I was planning my career. First, I wanted to challenge myself. Second, I wanted to be sure that I would never be bored. If you come across an opportunity that represents growth — that allows you to build something new or develop a unique perspective — take it. Don’t make excuses or become complacent. Get out there and see the world.


I was always inspired by Louis Pasteur’s quote, "Chance favors only the prepared mind." The most important discoveries happen when you least expect them — or appear to be flukes in an experiment or an aside in a conversation — but if you’re prepared, you can seize the moment and recognize that something very interesting just occurred.

Lying is incredibly useful to an individual — and, therefore, highly dynamic and adaptive.Andy Morgan, Professor and Former CIA Official

People don’t think critically anymore. We get our information from news feeds that are designed to show us more of the same information we have already seen. In terms of my work in national security, operationally, the field is a playground for people to leverage influence in a negative way. The human brain is wired to fear first. So, one simple rumor becomes a national security threat because it causes anxiety and reactivity. It reshapes the narrative. That is the real danger right now.


I was very cynical when I left the CIA after running its program on how to detect deception. To me, it seemed like the biggest liars were the companies selling various "lie detection" devices and technology. I have done the research, and I can tell you for a fact that they either falsify or grossly misrepresent their data in some way. Lying is incredibly useful to an individual — and, therefore, highly dynamic and adaptive. I find it fascinating that we can’t seem to get away from thinking about human behavior as if we are all machines. But, this kind of thinking has incredible sway in the agency, the public eye, and the pockets of the individuals who market this kind of testing.


I am very skilled at discerning when people are lying about an autobiographical experience. I am not as good at detecting deception about beliefs. What’s unique to this field is that it’s not often that someone becomes an expert at identifying a certain type of lie based solely on research and experience. In most cases, people in the field have little understanding of why they start out good at one particular thing. They just are. It’s very much about going with your gut.


I am currently researching whether or not an individual’s personality profile — as assessed through remote surveillance activity, specifically — can significantly inform our assumptions about his or her thinking style. From a national security standpoint, knowing someone’s psychological makeup would allow us to better anticipate if they will become more or less predictable in their actions once they realize that we have targeted them as a threat. We aren’t interested in therapy. We are interested in knowing what someone is going to do.


I love when I see my students realize just how smart they are. If you can get past the primary human struggle — our innate desire to be spoon-fed — that’s when things get exciting. I love how hungry these young adults are to learn, especially because many of them have never been told they are capable and their options are limitless.


Morgan has testified as an expert witness in some of the highest profile cases in recent history. Here, a sampler:

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1. Prosecution v. Anto Furundzija, 1996

Morgan testified for the prosecution in this landmark war crimes tribunal in the Hague, arising out of events from the 1992–95 Bosnian War. For the first time, mass rape and sexual enslavement were found to be crimes against humanity.

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2. United States v. Bales, 2013

In this case to determine the sentence of U.S. staff sergeant Robert Bales, who pleaded guilty to murdering 16 Afghan civilians inside their homes, Morgan testified as to Bales’ psychological state. A jury sentenced Bales to life in prison with no possibility of parole.

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3. Salim v. Mitchell, 2017

The American Civil Liberties Union filed this lawsuit, its first civil case tried in a federal court. It alleged that two psychiatrists, James Mitchell and John Jessen, convinced the CIA to employ torture as a matter of policy, which resulted in the death of one of the three plaintiffs and prolonged suffering of the other two. Morgan testified about the way humans react to torture and extreme stress. The suit was eventually settled.

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4. United States v. Bergdahl, 2017

After pleading guilty to desertion, Army sergeant Bowe Bergdahl was given a dishonorable discharge for abandoning his outpost in Afghanistan in 2009, an action that resulted in his capture by the Taliban and in the injuries of several members of a team attempting to find him. Morgan argued that Bergdahl suffered from PTSD.

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5. United States v. Slager, 2017

A federal judge sentenced Michael Slager — the white South Carolina police officer who pleaded guilty to shooting an unarmed black driver — to 20 years in prison, in this case that touched off national protests in 2015. Morgan testified that he found Slager to be of normal psychological function.

More From the Alumni Magazine, Winter 2018