Interrogation provides valuable information that protects American lives and identifies and develops targets. It is a skillset comprised of focus and thoughtful approaches. Abu Ghraib, Guantanamo Bay (GITMO), waterboarding, and detainee conditions resurface periodically both on the debate stage and news media; and the relevant facts are still obscured. Interrogation is not conducted by pure sadists for the purpose of generating pain (unlike our radical Islamic enemy). Interrogation is a methodical and diverse approach to negotiating with the captive. Negotiating? Yes, bear with me.

The interrogators (now often called “debriefers”) want something. The detainee wants something. So yes, we have the beginnings of a negotiation. While significantly different than Mr. Trump’s book, The Art of the Deal,” some of the processes are consistent. These three concepts provide a foundation:

  1. Maximize the options.
  2. Know your market (have a realistic expectation of what knowledge the captive may have had access to).
  3. Use your leverage. In many cases, time is our biggest advantage and we do not need to be desperate to break the detainee. With respect to leverage, let me make this clear: Waterboarding and the use of stress positions is not torture. They are part of a proven set of techniques that allow the interrogator to maximize the options.

The stress techniques establish a clear hierarchy of the command structure at the facility and generate a necessary level of disorientation in the subject. It is this disorientation, along with the amount and detail of background information (social, academic, biographical), that provides the initial selection of the interrogation approach to be applied.

Pride and ego, false flag, various emotional approaches, identity, etc. are all valid procedures that may be used based on the observation and assessment of the captive. For today, I will hypothetically select the incentive approach (though in real-world direct action missions and on a target where time was a factor, false flag worked well for me). I also prefer to interrogate without asking questions (at least initially). Questions can put a person, especially under duress, in a more defensive posture. The amount of information that may be obtained without asking a single question is quite amazing and will be a part of your homework assignment.

I begin to talk about myself (or at least a fictional self that the subject may relate to). I’m not trying to locate Zawahiri, I’m just trying to get a glimpse of what might entice the detainee. I talk about my son, wife, favorite foods, etc. until I get a verbal or non-verbal response. Once I get that, we’re in. The process expands:

One bit of information, whether relative to the conflict or not, is the significant factor. The door has opened and more will flow in and out. “I love coffee, join me and we’ll talk about our sons.” (This combines the incentive and scene change approaches). Never promise something you can’t keep. “I’ll try to get a picture of your family.” Of course, an ideal candidate for interrogation is the detainee who is tired, battle-fatigued and hints at some bitterness or lack of loyalty for his own country’s war effort. This brings an entirely new consideration to the process.

Now, for your assignment: Picture yourself as an intelligence operative. Choose a target (bar, club, gym, wherever) and see how much information you can gather from someone without asking a question. This was an exercise used in one of the courses that I completed and was very telling. For example: After choosing your target (let’s presume a bar) sit close and say something like, “What a great day I had at work. I’m going to celebrate with a Sapphire martini!” That, or something similar, will generate a conversation. I’m willing to bet that you’ll be able to obtain significant information regarding marital status, family, work, banking, automobile (for tailing purposes), education and so on by continuing this no-question approach. For those adventurous types willing to accept this challenge, I’m curious to hear your results.

Theories, Principles, and Realities of Army Interrogations: Certification and Approaches (Part 3)

Read Next: Theories, Principles, and Realities of Army Interrogations: Certification and Approaches (Part 3)

Waterboarding and other stress applications and positions are important tools in our efforts to gather intelligence and protect America. There are proven methodologies and applications that are highly successful. Yet even with our dedicated professionals at the helm, the true zealot who wants nothing but the destruction of America or our ideals may be unbreakable. Keep the handcuffs off of interrogators and tightly on the terrorists.


Editor’s note: This article was written by Peter Morlock and published in 2015.