In part one and part two, we went over the technical and personal aspects that make a good interrogator. But you still need the training. During Advanced Individual Training (AIT), we learn about rapport building and approaches. These aspects of interrogation are all about creating a relationship, both positive and negative, with the detainee. The interrogation portion of the training in AIT is much more procedural and systematic than certification and real life interrogations. The reason being is that the student needs time to get used to different techniques and scenarios that he or she may see in real life. It’s not hard to say that training in AIT is rigidly formulaic.
Training and Certifications
After AIT, it is up to the individual units and soldiers to maintain their interrogation techniques. This can be a challenge, primarily because to effectively recreate real life scenarios requires substantial planning and resources. You can also do many small-scale exercises to help supplement your skills, but often this involves running these techniques with other trained interrogators. Which could add a whole level of challenge, but I often compare it to two magicians trying to outwit one another. In addition, I even remember the Army trying out a computer software program that allowed us to practice interrogation techniques to a virtual avatar, but graphics, recognition software and response factors were quite lacking to say the least.
Additional training like the Advanced Source Operations Course (ASOC), Defense Strategic Debriefer Course (DSDC), Joint Interrogations Certification Course (JICC), the Source Operations Course (SOC), Enhanced Analysis and Interrogation Training, Advanced Leadership Training (ALC) or the Joint Analyst and Interrogator Collaboration (JAICC) do allow for more realistic scenarios. Some of these are geared more toward the interrogators, some are geared more toward analysts, others are for leadership, while some are open to other service branches beside the Army. And the instructors may still throw in little exercises when you least suspect it. During ALC, an instructor tasked us to get the name, hometown, and occupation of a random stranger on a train ride into Boston, without them realizing what you were trying to do. I sidled up to a couple on a train next to the station map and acting like I was lost. I used that as way to introduce myself and started asking questions where to get off. It slowly branched out and I was able to get the information without them realizing that was what I was after. But that brings me to another point: If you make up a fake backstory as cover, make sure you are knowledgeable about it. The young man said he was out of York, PA after I told him I live in Philadelphia. I did in the past but not at that time, so I was able to bounce back landmarks and references in that area as the conversation continued, all without sounding clueless or made-up.
Ideally, an interrogator will receive all sorts of additional training to hone their skillset, but this is often at the mercy of scheduling, needs of the unit, funding priorities, rank and other constraints. However, before any deployment, all interrogators must be certified to make sure each individual is capable of interrogating correctly and legally. Basically, an interrogation is overseen by first line leadership and graders to spot strength,weaknesses and any (hopefully few) violations. The first certification is done during mobilization, with scenarios and contractors playing the role of detainees in a fictional facility. Usually, the scenarios allow the role-players to determine whether or not the interrogator is building rapport correctly. For example, if the interrogator was too ate up or hostile, the role-player was free to hold back any or all pertinent information. Some role-players break easily from the beginning, others are hard-asses to the end. Still others may not have any pertinent information at all, which is not at all unusual in real life.
Certification is then repeated once the unit is in theater with actual detainees. I think this was largely done as a way of mitigating non-certified individuals, mostly senior leadership, from interfering in interrogations or entering a booth alone with a detainee present.
Approaches are authorized techniques used by certified interrogators to acquire pertinent information from the detainee. According to FM 2-22.3 and various other legal publications, these are the only approaches that soldiers, associated service members, and contractors working for the U.S. Army can use. It may sound a bit cliché, but there is some truth that approaches are as essential to our kit as much as a M4A1 Assault Rifle, M9 Handgun, ACH, or an AN/PRC-150 radio is. And like the physical hardware, approaches are best used in concert with one another.
Direct: This is asking the detainee a direct question. You keep asking until the person in question stops answering truthfully, willingly, or at all. Almost every interrogation will start this way. The direct approach is actually more successful than you would normally think it would be. Most detainees won’t admit to being part of an insurgency or committing an act of violence, but almost every detainee wants to talk. Most people have an innate desire to please another person, which salespeople and con artist know and take advantage of. And yes this even applies to detainees. But you eventually come to a point where this won’t work. When that happens, you move on to another approach.
Emotional: This is where you use the detainee’s personal relationship with others to elicit a specific emotional response which you can use to your advantage. Emotional are broken down among to the following: Love of, Hate of, Fear-up, Fear-down, Pride and Ego up, Pride and Ego down, and Futility. Family, friends, children, spouse, enemies, co-workers, unit, country, everyone/everything is fair game. The best way to make that steely eyed detainee turn on the waterworks is flash that picture of his family waiting for him back home, or give him that coveted phone call to his siblings who haven’t heard from him in two months. Yep, I admit, I was quite the heart-breaker. Based on experience, this is generally one of the most effective forms of approaches you can use. Well except for one stubbornly defiant detainee:
Me: “Your parents, don’t you want to see them?”
Detainee: “No, they have others to look after now.” He’s got that defiant stare going.
Me: “Oh, so what about your brother? Don’t you want to take care of him, like an older brother should?”
Detainee: “No need. He will grow up without me.” I think he has a little smirk now.
Me: “It says here you have a fiance. What about her? You want her to wait a long time while you are stuck in prison?” His smirk fades but his defiance remains.
Detainee: “She will find someone else to marry.”
Me: “What about all your comrades that didn’t show up and join you in the attack? Have you considered they abandoned you when you needed them?”
Detainee: Shrugs. “I’m sure they had their reasons.”
Me: Cripes man, give me something.
That one example not withstanding, emotional approaches will be an interrogator’s most used set of approaches, particularly when used in conjunction with other approaches. But as seemingly irrational as emotions may seem, there still is a bit of rational required. You don’t use empathy without reason. It doesn’t make sense to spend an hour claiming you admire their abilities to jury rig an IED out of a cell phone and items under a kitchen sink, but turn around and call him lower than dirt when that same IED exploded under a bus full of women and children. If you can leverage their pride to gain information on their latest bomb-making techniques, it doesn’t behoove you to push guilt shortly thereafter. Going back to the previous article, I hope you mastered that poker face.
As a side note, emotional links to country or nation is a very fluid concept in recent conflicts, given the historical turmoil in both Iraq and Afghanistan. Using the love of or hate of country is dependent entirely on context. For example, it’s very easy to put the local community of Marjah over the country of Afghanistan as a whole, but official entities like the Afghan Local Police are generally considered very corrupt and not in the same level of prestige as say the Afghan National Army.
Incentive: Ideally, the perfect detainee knows everything, is fully cooperative, openly talkative, and doesn’t want anything in return. Until you meet that perfect detainee, you might have to use some forms of incentives. Incentives can be blatant, like maybe an extra blanket, movement to another cell, or a phone call home. Or it can be subtle like an implied cigarette every break. The desire for nicotine has help coax answers from plenty of detainees, but I’ve also had my lifetime requirement of secondhand smoke as a result. We also had a nice “incentive” booth. It was a decked out with pillows, a TV with movies, and some snacks and tea available. A real Taj Mahal. Overall, incentives is a generally effective approach when used correctly. But you don’t want incentives to be the only reason why the detainee is cooperating with you.
Oh, if you really want to be a Blue Falcon, tell the detainee that if he cooperates, he’ll be let go. Than send him up to the next detention facility. Everyone loves that.
Establish Your Identity: This is where the interrogator either doesn’t believe the detainee or have no idea who they really are. Which puts the onus on the detainee to prove who they claim to be. Almost every interrogation utilized this to small degree, because information on a detainee is generally light when you look at their file. Or if their file was quite large, it was often hard to sort through the mishmash of intel reports that supposedly showed their link to the insurgency. Keep in mind the infrastructure in most third-world countries is either non-existent or incomplete. Most information can only be verified on our database if we had flagged or captured the detainee before. Anything other information can be what the host-nation could provide and maybe what was on the detainee found at point of capture (POC). For most new detainees, I usually started by asking them or verifying their biological and family information. This allowed me to get a baseline feel about their level of trust and honesty. Another good form of establishing your identity approach is asking a new detainee why they think they are here. This allows an opportunity for them to vent and may inadvertently give me other bits of information I could follow-up on.
File and Dossier: A slight variation of “we know all”, it is basically an interrogation with real or implied knowledge of the detainee in entirety and any attempt to lie or deceive will be useless. Usually, but not always, accompanied by an actual “file and dossier” of the detainee. And this dossier could be entirely fabricated, filled with shredded newspaper, children’s letters to Santa Clause, and a movie script from Leonard: Part VI. If you are bluffing, this requires a lot of time, planning, to pull off right. I haven’t seen this pulled off too successful, the detainee usually just deny everything anyways.
Repetition: Basically, ask a question, wait for an answer, and repeat the question again. Do this numerous time. The idea is to break down any potential resistance from a detainee and, through pure tedium, possible forcing them to make a mistake. In its purest form, this was rarely used by itself, and it risks shutting down the detainee instead. However, in smaller doses, we use repetition over long stretches, in order to effectively gauge a detainees’ answers. If the answers are the same, it’s reasonable that there is a baseline of truth in the matter. But if it’s different, something is amiss and should come to your attention.
Change of Scenery: Instead of that interrogation booth, maybe bring the detainee to your office and show him how much you respect him. Similar to the incentive booth, we had another booth made to look like an actual working office. We only used it a few times, with varying degrees of success. Thinking back, it was mostly used when the other interrogation booths were unavailable. This approach can be flexible, like taking a detainee to an outside yard or smoking pit, to just “chat”. But to take a detainee outside of a controlled setting like the booths require additional support and possible permission from command.
Historically, this type of approach (among others) was used to great effect against Allied POW Pilots by famed German interrogator, Hanns Joachim Scharff. Scharff would meet with a POW in a recreational yard, his office, or camp cinema show, and seemingly just engage in small chit chat. Most POWs were unaware they would be giving Scharff pertinent military information that was of great use to the German military. So effective was Scharff’s techniques, that after the war, he actually came to the defense of several Allied POWs he interrogated when leadership accused these men of cooperating with the German authorities.
We Know All: Similar to “File and Dossier” you tell the detainee that you are well aware of their background and current predicament, thus any attempt to lie further is futile. In an ideal scenario, you actually do have all of the detainee’s pertinent information, but in most situations we didn’t. Therefore it largely boils down to you trying to bluff the detainee into believing you actually do “know all”, but that can obviously go wrong if not planned correctly or you made a mistake. This was rarely used alone, but often used a little bit in conjunction with other approaches.
Silent: Just sit there. And say absolutely nothing. Maybe give the detainee the occasional crook eye. In theory, this is supposed to irk a silent or non compliant detainee into finally engaging into conversation, but I haven’t really seen this approach used too much. Unless you plan it, long episodes of silence is usually not a good thing.
Rapid Fire: Ask, in rapid succession, questions without giving the detainee time to answer completely. In theory, this will psychologically discombobulate a detainee, and perhaps make them mix up their lies with truth. It may also be used to frustrate the detainee to the point they will actually say something pertinent in order to be heard. The problem is that this type of approach requires a lot of planning, experience and even multiple experienced interrogators to perform correctly without shutting down the detainee. Also, if all you cannot speak the same languages, it is all but impossible to do this through an interpreter.
The following approaches require O-6 approval:
Mutt and Jeff: Otherwise known as “Good Cop, Bad Cop”. If done correctly, it can be very effective. But it requires two skilled interrogators that have planned this ahead of time. You can’t half-ass this, otherwise it usually ends up being “Mutt and Worse Mutt” or some other mess. I’ve only seen this pulled off rather effectively once. An unofficial variation is having one American (usually jeff), one Host Nation Interrogator (mutt) come in to the booth at different times. It’s not officially mutt and jeff, but it’s very close to it. One instructor told us of being assigned to an Iraqi police station, interrogating several insurgents. The first and second detainees either lied to him or refused to answer. As soon as that happened, the Iraq Policemen came in and dragged each prisoner away. As soon as the third and final detainee saw what had happened, he started answering truthfully. The instructor said he later saw that detainee in a holding cell, but never saw the other two detainees ever again. Normally we aren’t supposed to condone any type of implied or actual human rights violations, but the Iraqi police didn’t express forewarned intent about what they were going to do with the detainees. The reality is that sometimes, what goes on in a host nation country stays in a host nation country.
False Flag: This is the granddaddy of approaches. The big kahuna. The mighty enchilada. This is where you, the interrogator, pretend you represent someone else, another organization, and/or another country. It’s not without reason to say that this type of approach requires the most support, time, research, and experience to pull off correctly. And the interrogator or people involved have to not only know the procedures, customs, culture and language of any other country you are trying to emulate, but must be a great actor too. There are quite a few caveats to doing this, however. For one, you cannot represent a legitimate non-governmental organization (NGO), such as the International Red Cross or Doctors Without Borders. And you cannot to come from a country that engages in either known or perceived widespread and systematic human rights violations, like the People’s Republic of China, Saudi Arabia, Iran, etc. I know, that takes the fun out of everything. Unfortunately, I have never seen this done, but I have read accounts of this approach used in theater with varying degrees of success. (see The Interrogators: Task Force 500 and America’s Secret War Against Al Qaeda by Chris Mackey and Greg Miller.)
Approaches are rarely used alone, and must be utilized in concert with others to maximize effectiveness. All interrogators must complete an pre-interrogation plan and list the approaches he or she intends to use. This is based on any information on the detainee, previous interrogations done successfully, and possible psychological assessments done from an observation. The interrogator must maintain their attention to detail, and be ready to switch up approach techniques if the present ones doesn’t work.
Time, Your Frienemy
A skilled interrogator will mix a wide avenue of approaches together, subtlety without the detainee even realizing what they are. But you can only do so much. Detainees in cells talk, and they will trade information back and forth after each interrogation session. It’s inevitable. This is where time is both a friend and an enemy. Upon initial POC (Point of Capture), the detainee will be the most vulnerable due to shock of capture and fear of the unknown. This is generally the most effective time to interrogate. However, after some time they will become acclimated and knowledgeable about your overall intentions. A way to break through potential resistance is constant reminder of the amount of time behind bars. Also, by sheer repetition and long stretches of time, it is inevitable the detainee will talk, even if only for a little bit. I personally reminded any resistant detainee that it doesn’t serve them to be that way with me. I would tell them I had no problem separating them from their cellmates for three to four hours everyday, only to have them sit in a booth with nothing else to do or anyone else to talk to while I do other work right in front of him. I would also remind the detainee that no one else besides myself is interested in the detainee’s personal plight while in the booth. I can’t do anything for the detainee if he doesn’t talk to me. I’ve had a few detainees claim at various times they weren’t going to speak to me, but after reminding them that I could go to great lengths to waste their personal time, not one followed through with it. But sometimes the interrogator must determine if the detainee is worth investing this amount of time and effort. If you are in a time crunch because they pushed up to you a whole village of fighting age men, then it might behoove you to choose your battles wisely.
The final part of the series will focus on overall success and failures of in theater interrogations, answering questions, and a final thought on military interrogations in popular media.
- FM 2-22.3 U.S. Army Human Intelligence Collector Operations, Department of the Army, September 6, 2006, http://fas.org/irp/doddir/army/fm2-22-3.pdf
- Learning From History: What Is Successful Interrogation?, LTC Ronny Kristoffersen, RNN, CTX Vol. 2 No. 3, August 2012, https://globalecco.org/learning-from-history-what-is-successful-interrogation-
- Joint Intelligence Training Center Now Complete, Chelsea Iliff, October 5, 2007, https://www.army.mil/article/5459/Joint_Intelligence_Training_Center_Now_Complete/-
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