Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Documents: the CIA's Evidence-Based "Intelligence Interviewing" Techniques

Fascinating insights into techniques of interviewing reluctant sources are available in this 203-page study of "intelligence interviewing" produced by the U.S. Intelligence Science Board, which answers to the CIA director.

The study, obtained by Federation of American Scientists secrecy blogger Steven Aftergood, is especially interesting because it purports to be based on the best evidence from social psychology, negotiation theory and analyses of professional interrogator cases in law enforcement, the military and intelligence. Included are two annotated case studies to illustrate techniques.

The study focuses on non-coercive interviewing techniques, which in the hands of skilled professionals are said to be capable of "educing" useful, accurate information from most reluctant detainees. The trick is basically pouring on the friendship. It's Barney meets the CIA.

Interesting examples are given of how U.S. interrogators won over Japanese POWs during World War II by speaking with them respectfully about their culture, homeland, village and family.

Especially bizarre - and troubling - are examples of how Nazi Germany's star interrogator Hanns Scharff adroitly manoeuvered downed Allied pilots into giving up valuable intelligence information, often without even being aware they were doing so.

His tricks included making it seem that he was the prisoner's greatest advocate and giving the impression that he already knew everything he was asking but simply needed to hear about it for the sake of bureaucratic formality. ("Hanns could probably get a confession of infidelity from a nun," one POW reportedly said of Scharff. After the war, the U.S. recruited Scharff, as it did with many German intelligence officers.)

The enemy of the interrogator, by the way, is silence - equivalent in journalism to a "no comment" and a hung-up phone. But as the study points out, few detainees succeed in using this strategy, too.

The study also concludes that "coercive interrogation" - involving violence, abuse and threats - is not only morally degrading to the detainee (well, duh), the torturer and the torturer's entire nation, but it is also of zero use. This is even true in the mythical "ticking time-bomb" case popularized by TV shows like 24 for the simple reason that such cases never occur in the way depicted. For example, if a terror suspect were detained who knew of an imminent attack, it's highly unlikely that law enforcement would have no other, additional sources of information with which to stop the attack and thus avoid the use of torture.

See background on the study in this article in the CIA's Studies in Intelligence journal.

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