The act of interrogations is as old as war itself. For as long as there has been armies, there was a constant need to know the composition, location, and capabilities of the opposing forces. As Sun Tzu, the theoretical Chinese general and strategist once said in his Magnum opus “The Art of War”,

Knowledge of the enemy’s dispositions can only be obtained from other men.”

So what is an interrogation? In military context it is the process to where an individual, either willingly or unwillingly, is gleaned of information in order to answer pertinent intelligence requirements.

Really, it’s that simple. Despite this, there is much mystery, awe, and even derision among the public and military community as a whole concerning the value of interrogation in wartime. Much of this is due to the litany of books and movies that often spin tales of intrigue in order to better weave their story. Everyone has at least seen or heard of the T.V. series “24.” The protagonist, Jack Bauer, in his never-ending quest to stop some sort of terrorist or state-sponsored attack against the citizens of LA, resorts to seemingly ruthless but effective means to get the answers out of the obviously evil-looking bad guy. And the recent scrutiny over real life events such as“enhanced interrogation techniques” and “Abu Ghraib” only further muddies the water. But, truthfully, the art of interrogation is much more subtle and perhaps, procedural, than the media makes it out to be, particularly with how the U.S. Army currently mandates it.

Authorization to Collect

So first thing first, who conducts interrogations? Technically anyone, but with conditions. Servicemembers are authorized to elicit information on the most basic level, via direct questioning on a tactical level. This is when troops on the ground, when verbally engaging the civilian population or upon hauling Mr. Jihadigoboom out of bed in the middle of the night, use direct questioning to obtain the basic who, what, where, why, how, and when (with “else” if need be). Once approaches (more on this later) are needed to elicit further cooperation from the individual, then additional training and certification is supposed to be required. These interrogation requirements in the U.S. Army fall under the auspices of 35M MOS, Human Intelligence (HUMINT) Collectors. 35L Counterintelligence (CI) Agents can also be authorized to conduct interrogations if mission dictates. But keep in mind the goals of the CI agent and HUMINT Collectors are different. Generally, the CI agent’s concern are all potential threats directed against the base. HUMINT Collectors are concerned about threats coming from everything and anywhere else. Contractors can also be brought in to do interrogations, in order to supplement personnel shortages, but most have had prior interrogation experience in the military. Well, ideally that is. So if you’re truly interested in military interrogation work, it would behoove you to become a 35M.

Image courtesy of US Army
Image courtesy of US Army

Technical Qualifications

  • Completion of 10 week Basic Training: Obviously.
  • Completion of Advanced Individual Training: Soldiers will go to Fort Huachuca, AZ for this portion of their AIT training. Here you will be given instructions on how to properly plan and conduct Interrogation, taught further legal and moral implications dealing with enemy prisoner of war (EPWs) or detainees, conducting approaches, report writing, intelligence briefings, screenings, and source handling. Historically, National Guard and Reserve Soldiers went to Fort Devens, MA, but in recent years the training has been slowly consolidated at Fort Huachuca. Leaders will also be exposed to additional intel gathering techniques and procedures with supplemental training during Advanced Leadership Course (ALC). This may include things such as battlefield forensics, counter-intelligence procedures, surveillance, briefings to higher echelon, writing Standard Operating Procedures (SOPs), etc.
  • ASVAB score 91 or Higher: Armed Services Vocational Aptitude Battery is a series of tests that helps you better understand your strengths and identify which Army jobs are best for you. I have seen Soldiers with lower scores given a waver to become a 35M, depending on the needs of the Army, but it is rare.
  • DLAB score of 101 or Higher: Defense Language Aptitude Battery evaluate how well a native English speaker can learn a new language. Your score on the DLAB determines the level of difficulty for language training. Soldiers with no foreign language skills may be sent to Defense Language Institute (DLI) in Monterey, CA for classes in any respective language. Once completed, Soldiers are required to maintain a certain level of proficiency in their respective foreign language for the duration of their Army career. Foreign language may or may not be a requirement for the Army, dependent on given circumstances.
  • Proficiency in the English Language: If you have a four way translation going on during an interrogation, it’s not going to work. Speaking English with proficiency may seem obvious, but I wouldn’t be stating this if I hadn’t seen this otherwise.
  • Security Clearance: Able to obtain and hold a TOP SECRET/SCI. Don’t get too excited, I rarely ever glanced at anything higher than a SECRET during my time.


Ok so now that you have passed that gauntlet of technical requirements, are you still interested? And if so, what makes a good, if not great interrogator besides the technical requirements mandated by pencil pushers in the Pentagon? We will cover that in part two.

Note: When discussing interrogations, this is mostly about experiences in the U.S. Army. The other branches do follow similar guidelines and Standard Operating Procedures (SOP) when their respective servicemembers conduct interrogations, but there may be some nuances that I cannot comment on. What I have to write also has little to do with how the CIA, DIA, FBI, or any other three letter agencies conduct interrogations. I don’t have any first hand experience or knowledge to how they run their particular interrogation programs or procedures, so I will not speculate either. This will just cover the bare essentials to answer any initial questions of interested parties. This is not meant to be an all-encompassing, all-entailing article about interrogations from every possible avenue. Lastly, although there are some similarities to how law enforcement and the military conduct interrogations, there are still legal limitations and goals that both do not share, and thus should not automatically be conflated with one another.