Posts tagged interrogations

“Interviews with interrogators”
Vaughan Bell over at Mind Hacks posted a bunch of fantastic links of interviews with interrogators (CIA, U.S. Army, MI5, MI6, and British Intelligence Corps) that were used for the book Brainwash by Dominic Streatfeild.
If you are familiar with the Science of the KGB interviews, then this will be up your alley. 

Interviews with interrogators

Vaughan Bell over at Mind Hacks posted a bunch of fantastic links of interviews with interrogators (CIA, U.S. Army, MI5, MI6, and British Intelligence Corps) that were used for the book Brainwash by Dominic Streatfeild.

If you are familiar with the Science of the KGB interviews, then this will be up your alley. 

Interrogations and Tortures, Part III
In 2002, the interrogation of Abu Zubaydah was the “test case for new methods of interrogation that would eventually become an international controversy — methods that would come to be known as “enhanced interrogation techniques”.  Such acts such as sleep deprivation, placing the object nude in a cold room, dumping cold water on him regularly, loud music are considered enhanced interrogation techniques. Later permission was given to use slapping, shoving, stress positions and confined in boxes with insects.”  Via
When we continued our conversation regarding interrogations, my ex-KGB source tells me that “In 1942 German psychiatrists suggested to SS Reichsfuhrer Heinrich Himmler that: “Officers and soldiers of the German army shouldn’t execute, torture or watch these special actions, because they risk the mental health of their future kids”. A very useful tip which Himmler immediately turned into an order for SS Einsatzgruppen (killing squads) - since then, Germans used local police for these jobs.”  The idea is that even being present during these acts, experiencing the moment of inflicting, observing such severe, violent trauma is in effect, somehow translated from perception/experience to a possible genetic predisposition towards PTSD.
It seems to be a calculated and deliberate balance of knowing what do to, how much and when, that separates interrogation from torture, which is a significant topic of debate and concern given the delicate line between the two. My source explains torture as “a category of methods of interrogation designed to shock, hurt and humiliate the object and get information or to make him do something (if used for blackmail).” There are different types of torture and professionals often combine them depending on the object. Several issues that the interrogators keep in mind while looking for indicators of potential problems are:
Ongoing torture decreases pain sensitivity 
People with strong will power take torture as a test 
Resistance to torture is often a form of hysterics after arrest 
The object could take himself as a martyr if you torture him too much 
Too harsh of a torture could damage object’s psyche and you won’t be able to work with him. He adds, “That’s why we keep terrorists/informants in Guantanamo Bay without trial – we turn them into idiots.” 
PD8: Just to clarify, are you saying the torture used to against detainees to gain information deteriorates their competency to stand trail?
xKGB: 100 %. 
PD8: It seems counterintuitive and contrary to the cases of false confessions and the research we hear about to trust the information received during such a traumatic process that is diminishing their cognitive capacity, memory and causing stress, leading to a possible false confession or untrue information.
 xKGB:  That’s natural – you expect the enemy to lie to you because he’s the actual enemy. People usually trust “after torture information” more than voluntary confessions. 
You can tell that a certain method was effective if the information was the truth. Say, if the guy after torture said “2345 23 Ave is the terrorists warehouse”, you came there, you ambushed the place and got the terrorists – the method was effective.
PD8: Still seems to leave room for unnecessary violence, pain and error, did it actually work most times in order for it to be used so much? Is this a real life vs experimental scenario?  We will get into this more later. How was interrogating moles or other highly trained officials who were trained as you were and knew what to expect? 
xKGB: Yes, it worked or we wouldn’t have used it. it was extremely difficult. You must have a very strong case. Besides, after USSR collapsed, they don’t execute “moles” in Russia any more.
PD8: In your experience, what are the types of techniques of psychological torture were used?- fake execution (waterboarding, Russian Roulette)- complete isolation (“wall therapy”) 
-        Music box (playing loud, annoying music, an anxiety inducing technique)- daylight deprivation - forcible narcotics addiction. Here you can use also depressants, stimulants, opiates or hallucinogens (psychodelics), depressants (alcohol, barbiturates, antianxiety drugs  with effects of euphoria, tension reduction, disinhibition, muscle relaxation, drowsiness; stimulants (cocaine, amphetamine, methamphetamine (crystal meth).
-        Food deprivation- euphoria, exhilaration, high physical and mental energy, reduced appetite, perceptions of power , and sociability; hallucinogens with effects of euphoria, hallucinations, distorted perceptions and  sensations -making the object observe others being tortured (such as family members) -abuse of object’s national, religious feelings or political views) 
PD8: How did you feel being a part of this? Are you susceptible to mental health issues due to your exposure to such emotionally heightening situations?
xKGB: It’s just job. Professional does his job. As for me…
PD8: Ah, we can keep the rest off the record for now. What are the effects of psychological torture you have seen?
xKGB: Anxiety, depression, fear, psychosis, difficulty concentrating, communication disabilities, insomnia, impaired memory, headaches, hallucinations, sexual disturbances, destruction of self-image and inability to socialize.
PD8: What are the techniques of physical torture were you trained to exercise?
xKGB:
Food, water, sleep deprivation 
damage to vital body organs (brain, lungs, kidneys, liver, private parts) plus electric shock. The brain is particularly dependent on a continuous and stable supply of oxygen and glucose. 
rape by a fellow prisoner
face deformation 
water cure (the torturer pours water down the throat of the subject to inflict the terror of drowning. In another variation, the subject is tied or held don in a chair, his face is covered with a cloth or plastic sheet, and water is poured slowly or   quickly over his face to encourage him to talk.
 
PD8: What about genital mutilation?
xKGB: It all depends on the situation. If it’s a war and intel/sabotage team and they have the enemy officer, they have to get intel from him fast and kill him after that. Again, if you got a terrorist with a bomb, and you have no idea who he is and whether his partners a mile away are preparing to blow up a building tomorrow morning, you have to torture. But if it’s an Al Qaida guy and you torture him because you have no sources inside major terror organization, you better find another job. You are not professional, you are garbage.
PD8: I’ll take that as a yes.  What are the effects of physical torture?
xKGB: Extreme, unbearable pain, hypertension, fatigue, cardiopulmonary (and other disorders) as well as brain atrophy.
PD8:   Did it ever go too far too soon? Killing the object before info was obtained?
xKGB: You can’t kill the object before – why should you ? It’s different if you have three terrorists and you torture and kill one of them in front of others just to show what you gonna do to them. Often people take “light death” (torture) as a reward.
PD8: What happened to them after an interrogation? Prison?
xKGB: Again, it depends what you have. If it’s an enemy of state and he was involved in serious stuff like coup-d-eta, murders, etc, it’s prison. But if you recruit him during interrogation (it happens sometimes) his life in prison will be different. Then, if it’s a minor stuff, like talking about the possibility to, say, kill the President, the guy has to sign the paper, promise he won’t do it again and he’s free . Of course, in this particular case he’ll be under surveillance and surrounded by assets for life.
PD8: Can you tell me about any interrogations you were involved in?
xKGB: The objects were mostly enemies of state, anti-Soviets, anti-Communists, radical nationalists. You can interrogate them only if you have strong evidence. But they are mostly intelligent people and in the cell they might be pressed by my assets – beaten up, raped – “Get the money or we gonna do this every night!” After that, interrogation is much easier.
In other words: 
Those cells are named “press-khata.” Pressure is usually: menaces, advices to confess, vicious promises to kill you when you are asleep, etc. Strong person will stand up anyway, after few days then, you will be let alone and transferred from a press-khata to usual cell. via
PD8:  How about any torture session that stands out in your experience?
xKGB: Sleep deprivation + “good cop - bad cop” trick for 1-2 days, ‘Conveyor”.
There’s a good and simple one – put pens between your left hand fingers and squeeze them with you right hand. How you feel?
PD8: Not cool.
—-
We still have more to talk about. Stay tuned for the next topic: Coercive Persuasion AKA, Brainwashing.
PART ONE, PART TWO OF THE KGB SERIES.
image

Interrogations and Tortures, Part III

In 2002, the interrogation of Abu Zubaydah was the “test case for new methods of interrogation that would eventually become an international controversy — methods that would come to be known as “enhanced interrogation techniques”.  Such acts such as sleep deprivation, placing the object nude in a cold room, dumping cold water on him regularly, loud music are considered enhanced interrogation techniques. Later permission was given to use slapping, shoving, stress positions and confined in boxes with insects.”  Via

When we continued our conversation regarding interrogations, my ex-KGB source tells me that “In 1942 German psychiatrists suggested to SS Reichsfuhrer Heinrich Himmler that: “Officers and soldiers of the German army shouldn’t execute, torture or watch these special actions, because they risk the mental health of their future kids”. A very useful tip which Himmler immediately turned into an order for SS Einsatzgruppen (killing squads) - since then, Germans used local police for these jobs.”  The idea is that even being present during these acts, experiencing the moment of inflicting, observing such severe, violent trauma is in effect, somehow translated from perception/experience to a possible genetic predisposition towards PTSD.

It seems to be a calculated and deliberate balance of knowing what do to, how much and when, that separates interrogation from torture, which is a significant topic of debate and concern given the delicate line between the two. My source explains torture as “a category of methods of interrogation designed to shock, hurt and humiliate the object and get information or to make him do something (if used for blackmail).” There are different types of torture and professionals often combine them depending on the object. Several issues that the interrogators keep in mind while looking for indicators of potential problems are:

  • Ongoing torture decreases pain sensitivity 
  • People with strong will power take torture as a test 
  • Resistance to torture is often a form of hysterics after arrest 
  • The object could take himself as a martyr if you torture him too much 
  • Too harsh of a torture could damage object’s psyche and you won’t be able to work with him. He adds, “That’s why we keep terrorists/informants in Guantanamo Bay without trial – we turn them into idiots.” 

PD8: Just to clarify, are you saying the torture used to against detainees to gain information deteriorates their competency to stand trail?

xKGB: 100 %. 

PD8: It seems counterintuitive and contrary to the cases of false confessions and the research we hear about to trust the information received during such a traumatic process that is diminishing their cognitive capacity, memory and causing stress, leading to a possible false confession or untrue information.

 xKGB:  That’s natural – you expect the enemy to lie to you because he’s the actual enemy. People usually trust “after torture information” more than voluntary confessions

You can tell that a certain method was effective if the information was the truth. Say, if the guy after torture said “2345 23 Ave is the terrorists warehouse”, you came there, you ambushed the place and got the terrorists – the method was effective.

PD8: Still seems to leave room for unnecessary violence, pain and error, did it actually work most times in order for it to be used so much? Is this a real life vs experimental scenario?  We will get into this more later. How was interrogating moles or other highly trained officials who were trained as you were and knew what to expect

xKGB: Yes, it worked or we wouldn’t have used it. it was extremely difficult. You must have a very strong case. Besides, after USSR collapsed, they don’t execute “moles” in Russia any more.

PD8: In your experience, what are the types of techniques of psychological torture were used?
- fake execution (waterboarding, Russian Roulette)
- complete isolation (“wall therapy”) 

-        Music box (playing loud, annoying music, an anxiety inducing technique)
- daylight deprivation 
- forcible narcotics addiction. Here you can use also depressants, stimulants, opiates or hallucinogens (psychodelics), depressants (alcohol, barbiturates, antianxiety drugs 
 with effects of euphoria, tension reduction, disinhibition, muscle relaxation, drowsiness; stimulants (cocaine, amphetamine, methamphetamine (crystal meth).

-        Food deprivation
- euphoria, exhilaration, high physical and mental energy, reduced appetite, perceptions of power , and sociability; hallucinogens with effects of euphoria, hallucinations, distorted perceptions and  sensations 
-making the object observe others being tortured (such as family members) 
-abuse of object’s national, religious feelings or political views) 

PD8: How did you feel being a part of this? Are you susceptible to mental health issues due to your exposure to such emotionally heightening situations?

xKGB: It’s just job. Professional does his job. As for me…

PD8: Ah, we can keep the rest off the record for now. What are the effects of psychological torture you have seen?

xKGB: Anxiety, depression, fear, psychosis, difficulty concentrating, communication disabilities, insomnia, impaired memory, headaches, hallucinations, sexual disturbances, destruction of self-image and inability to socialize.

PD8: What are the techniques of physical torture were you trained to exercise?

xKGB:

  • Food, water, sleep deprivation 
  • damage to vital body organs (brain, lungs, kidneys, liver, private parts) plus electric shock. The brain is particularly dependent on a continuous and stable supply of oxygen and glucose. 
  • rape by a fellow prisoner
  • face deformation 
  • water cure (the torturer pours water down the throat of the subject to inflict the terror of drowning. In another variation, the subject is tied or held don in a chair, his face is covered with a cloth or plastic sheet, and water is poured slowly or   quickly over his face to encourage him to talk.

 

PD8: What about genital mutilation?

xKGB: It all depends on the situation. If it’s a war and intel/sabotage team and they have the enemy officer, they have to get intel from him fast and kill him after that. Again, if you got a terrorist with a bomb, and you have no idea who he is and whether his partners a mile away are preparing to blow up a building tomorrow morning, you have to torture. But if it’s an Al Qaida guy and you torture him because you have no sources inside major terror organization, you better find another job. You are not professional, you are garbage.

PD8: I’ll take that as a yes.  What are the effects of physical torture?

xKGB: Extreme, unbearable pain, hypertension, fatigue, cardiopulmonary (and other disorders) as well as brain atrophy.

PD8:   Did it ever go too far too soon? Killing the object before info was obtained?

xKGB: You can’t kill the object before – why should you ? It’s different if you have three terrorists and you torture and kill one of them in front of others just to show what you gonna do to them. Often people take “light death” (torture) as a reward.

PD8: What happened to them after an interrogation? Prison?

xKGB: Again, it depends what you have. If it’s an enemy of state and he was involved in serious stuff like coup-d-eta, murders, etc, it’s prison. But if you recruit him during interrogation (it happens sometimes) his life in prison will be different. Then, if it’s a minor stuff, like talking about the possibility to, say, kill the President, the guy has to sign the paper, promise he won’t do it again and he’s free . Of course, in this particular case he’ll be under surveillance and surrounded by assets for life.

PD8: Can you tell me about any interrogations you were involved in?

xKGB: The objects were mostly enemies of state, anti-Soviets, anti-Communists, radical nationalists. You can interrogate them only if you have strong evidence. But they are mostly intelligent people and in the cell they might be pressed by my assets – beaten up, raped – “Get the money or we gonna do this every night!” After that, interrogation is much easier.

In other words: 

Those cells are named “press-khata.” Pressure is usually: menaces, advices to confess, vicious promises to kill you when you are asleep, etc. Strong person will stand up anyway, after few days then, you will be let alone and transferred from a press-khata to usual cell. via

PD8:  How about any torture session that stands out in your experience?

xKGB: Sleep deprivation + “good cop - bad cop” trick for 1-2 days, ‘Conveyor”.

There’s a good and simple one – put pens between your left hand fingers and squeeze them with you right hand. How you feel?

PD8: Not cool.

—-

We still have more to talk about. Stay tuned for the next topic: Coercive Persuasion AKA, Brainwashing.

PART ONE, PART TWO OF THE KGB SERIES.

image

scienceofthekgb:

INTRO, Interrogation and Tortures (Part II here)
In psychology, the term ‘interrogation’ is often fraught with negative notions like fear, mistrust and some cases, it’s a slippery slope to torture. In a similar vein, the western concept of the KGB (Komitet Gosudarstvennoy Bezopasnosti, Russia’s national security agency from 1954-1991) shares many of the same notions. 
Studies surrounding interrogations have been telling us for decades about the dangerous perils of psychological coercion that elicit false confessions, yet our legal system allows for trickery, lies and various environmental manipulations to be used at the cost of persecuting the innocent, diminishing the integrity of the system and challenging of our understanding of human and victim rights. The common thought is the more pressure applied, the sooner the object (person of interest) will break and reveal truthful information leading to either a conviction or valuable intel, in spite of what experts in false confessions like Saul Kassin, have been telling us for years. Nonetheless, along with assets and intelligence work (surveillance), it remains that one of the most important aspects of espionage and information gathering from local levels up to national security.  
 In 2005, ABC News reported that:

Larry Johnson, a former CIA officer and a deputy director of the State Department’s office of counterterrorism, recently wrote in the Los Angeles Times, “What real CIA field officers know firsthand is that it is better to build a relationship of trust … than to extract quick confessions through tactics such as those used by the Nazis and the Soviets.” via

My source, for the purpose of this series, a former KGB operative specializing in espionage, counterintelligence, a trained sniper (no less), would vehemently disagree and take insult with the above quote, since by his accounts it’s backwards. With over 30 years experience in KGB, he presents himself as someone well versed in the art of recruitment of assets (trusted informants recruited operatives), interrogation and will not hesitate to inform you he was “the best KGB sources and never made a single mistake”.  His view of how the US conducts its intelligence gathering and maintains national security are as you might expect, strongly negative and borderline arrogant, until you realize he possesses highly specialized training with a rare background that qualifies at an expert level to allow such bold assessments and he knows the strategies to back it up. When the question of how to trust this individual arises, rather than incessantly inculcate his background, papers or credentials; we must remember this quote when speaking about Russia or KGB business.

The SVR looms and operates from a headquarters outside (and presumably above, elevation-wise) Moscow via 
Over an extensive period of emails, phone calls and meetings on crowded New York City streets, he candidly shared his life story: childhood to adult, education and training, professional and some very personal.  He applies observational methods, uses simple pattern spotting, psychological strategies, brainwashing and concepts of triangulation thereby constructing a perception of current/future events which range interesting at the least, and frightening if true. Events that he will discuss may sound preposterous and warrant a reminder that although to westerners, the memory of the KGB secret police is filled with corruption, lies, spies, threats, power and killing… and although the KGB still basically exists in the form of the SVR (with the FSB as the counterespionage agency) my contact considers himself a professional living in the U.S. under political asylum, since returning to Russia or the Ukraine would be certain death. And perhaps he isn’t safe here either. To this end, he is eager to share his knowledge and very interested in comparing his experience and learned psychological techniques of the last 3 decades to the accepted science of today. The idea going forward is to share his background, his knowledge and to strain his education and field experience in the KGB though a psychological screen to understand the methods used then and what that can tell us about the methods used now in similar situations. This is then, a case study of real-life field experience vs scientific or lab research on topics such as interrogation, torture, behavior modification, brain washing and more. 
We begin with the topic of interrogation moving towards torture.   I am told of nearly 3 dozen accounts of interrogations at KGB district field offices, that doesn’t meet the fast, furious wham-bam-thank-you-ma’am that Hollywood has us believe, nor entirely representative of the graphic Guantanamo images, but rather a long thorough investigation-operation which includes information gathering on the subject which could take months or years, “cooking” the subject (letting him wait, increasing anxiety), building a rapport, using incentives then, if needed using tricks or blackmail, threats of physical violence or rape if in a jail. He stressed that gathering as much info as you can on the subject and rapport building are key techniques, it gardens larger amounts and accurate information. If you have to use more drastic methods or torture- perhaps your intel was not good enough. Once you have the object, there are several techniques that are designed to encourage dialogue:
good cop / bad cop
 “story under a story” (after intense interrogation the object tells a different story — which is not true, either)
 bombing with questions
 pressure by not interrogating
“silence makes your situation worse” trick
 “admit one small episode and that’s it” trick
 “I help you - you help me” trick
 “shift” meaning try to shift the blame away from the suspect to some other person or set of circumstances that prompted the subject to commit the crime. That is, develop themes containing reasons that will justify or excuse the crime. Themes may be developed or changed to find one to which the accused is most responsive.
Many of these methods mirror the trickery used in the US system that have helped make research claims of unaccountably, misconduct very credible. However, my contact insists simply that if they did not work, they would not be used while maintaining that the intelligence gathered before hand is the main aspect from which all other activities are measured.
PD8:  In doing over 30 interrogations, what was the most effective method you found in getting reliable, accurate information? 
xKGB: The “Breaking” method. The most important thing is to make the object talk by telling him that you want to just to understand what happened and “we, together, may find the way to deal somehow with the situation which “is not very bad right now”. The object, of course, will lie to you, but it doesn’t matter - he’s talking, he “swallowed the bait”. You listen to him, you write down everything and then you break his story into episodes. Then you start interrogating him on each episode but in chaotic order, like episode #1, then #5, then the last one, #4, etc. It’s pretty hard for the object keep logical lying if you act like this - he’ll change his story and put some true details to make it real. Extract those details and help him to tell the truth around them. 
He states that every object has a breaking point and there are some indicators that the object is near his breaking point or has already reached it, i.e. leans forward and his facial expression indicates an interest in the proposal or is more hesitant in his argument, he is probably nearing the breaking point.
PD8: If several methods of interrogation were used, are they used in a specific order to increase the pressure to talk, or was it dependant on the object’s demeanor/personality or urgency of obtaining the info? 
xKGB: Let me tell you most important thing about interrogations, tortures. If you deal with a “lonely wolf” (self-made terrorist) who won’t talk, you have no choice but to torture him to get info on his possible connections, place where he’s keeping guns or explosives, etc. But if you interrogate a member of organization, you MUST HAVE ASSETS INSIDE THIS ORGANIZATION and you don’t have to torture anybody. 
National security isn’t CIA and FBI #1 priority, that’s why they mostly wait for walk-in recruits, I call it a “Newton Syndrome” (referencing a falling apple in your lap). 
PD8: How long would a general interrogation last compared before possibly evolving into a torture session? 
xKGB: If it’s a lonely “wolf” and he’s very aggressive, refuses to talk, and you know he has connections, you start tortures right away. If it’s organization member and you have no assets inside organization, leave him alone and resign next morning, like an idiot. 
PD8: How often would the interrogation warrant moving to torture type procedures?
xKGB: It’s impossible to determine, it depends how professional you are, how you use methods and tricks, how fast you can establish rapport.
PD8:  Regarding the Reid interrogation technique and issues eliciting false confessions from accused offenders using minimization and maximization tricks; in your experience has any unreliable/untrue info ever elicited from interrogation? How about torture? What do you attribute that to?
xKGB: The thing is, if you deal with a professional, he usually has “a story under the story” which he offers you as true after intensive interrogation and tortures (people tend to believe info they get after torturing the object). But he can’t lie to me if I have enough intel on, say, his organization. That’s very important - how well are you prepared for interrogation? What is professional factual analysis? It the longest list of questions you have to answer before you interrogate.
PD8: When you detect that the object’s will has broken in an interrogation, what is the first question you ask?
xKGB: Nothing. Do not rush the object, do not humiliate him to show you’re ,finally, a winner and he’s the loser - he’s gonna close up. Just keep on developing the talk, don’t jump out of your chair and be quiet. It’s like a poker.
PD8: How did you confirm the information they provided as true, before moving on it?
xKGB: It depends if you have other sources, other facts, documents and how fast you can check up the information.
PD8: What is training like, or the schooling you were expedited through? (for example, the CIA interviews candidates in multiple rounds and does psychological and physical tests.)
xKGB: CIA are idiots.  KGB hires people in 2 ways: a) Human Resources division b) field offices. When KGB officer has a candidate, he’s checking his biography, relatives, his life, habits, connections, etc. It’s very good if candidate is or was an agent (asset). Then the officer makes an offer and the candidate goes through a whole row of doctors at KGB clinic. If health is OK, biography is OK, he’s in. Psychological tests?…KGB was playing this game couple of years early 80’s and then it appeared tests had nothing to do with the ability to recruit and work with agents. My best friend was the best of the best after “psychological tests”, he joined KGB and left in one month - couldn’t work with traitors, too dirty for him.  No physical tests - for what? KGB officers don’t run marathons. Training is Counterintelligence School or Intelligence Academy.
PD8: What was the interrogation process like, emotionally?
xKGB: Just a job, not fun. “No mercy, no ideology, no emotions.”
Recent law review articles have discussed the “psychological difficulty of distinguishing between torture and enhanced interrogation” for purposes of law and policy. There isn’t even a clear definition. The argument is that the “torture standard is unreliable because of the marked variation in the manner in which different jurisdictions interpret and employ it”. They also use psychological research to demonstrate the standard’s invalidity as well as “identify the existence of two separate psychological biases that impede objective application of the torture standard” via

Emboldened by the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001, the George W. Bush administration lost no time establishing a policy that authorized the use of “enhanced interrogation techniques,” that is, torture and abuse.

Next up:  From Interrogation to Tortures

scienceofthekgb:

INTRO, Interrogation and Tortures (Part II here)

In psychology, the term ‘interrogation’ is often fraught with negative notions like fear, mistrust and some cases, it’s a slippery slope to torture. In a similar vein, the western concept of the KGB (Komitet Gosudarstvennoy Bezopasnosti, Russia’s national security agency from 1954-1991) shares many of the same notions.

Studies surrounding interrogations have been telling us for decades about the dangerous perils of psychological coercion that elicit false confessions, yet our legal system allows for trickery, lies and various environmental manipulations to be used at the cost of persecuting the innocent, diminishing the integrity of the system and challenging of our understanding of human and victim rights. The common thought is the more pressure applied, the sooner the object (person of interest) will break and reveal truthful information leading to either a conviction or valuable intel, in spite of what experts in false confessions like Saul Kassin, have been telling us for years. Nonetheless, along with assets and intelligence work (surveillance), it remains that one of the most important aspects of espionage and information gathering from local levels up to national security.  

 In 2005, ABC News reported that:

Larry Johnson, a former CIA officer and a deputy director of the State Department’s office of counterterrorism, recently wrote in the Los Angeles Times, “What real CIA field officers know firsthand is that it is better to build a relationship of trust … than to extract quick confessions through tactics such as those used by the Nazis and the Soviets.” via

My source, for the purpose of this series, a former KGB operative specializing in espionage, counterintelligence, a trained sniper (no less), would vehemently disagree and take insult with the above quote, since by his accounts it’s backwards. With over 30 years experience in KGB, he presents himself as someone well versed in the art of recruitment of assets (trusted informants recruited operatives), interrogation and will not hesitate to inform you he was “the best KGB sources and never made a single mistake”.  His view of how the US conducts its intelligence gathering and maintains national security are as you might expect, strongly negative and borderline arrogant, until you realize he possesses highly specialized training with a rare background that qualifies at an expert level to allow such bold assessments and he knows the strategies to back it up. When the question of how to trust this individual arises, rather than incessantly inculcate his background, papers or credentials; we must remember this quote when speaking about Russia or KGB business.

The SVR looms and operates from a headquarters outside (and presumably above, elevation-wise) Moscow via 

Over an extensive period of emails, phone calls and meetings on crowded New York City streets, he candidly shared his life story: childhood to adult, education and training, professional and some very personal.  He applies observational methods, uses simple pattern spotting, psychological strategies, brainwashing and concepts of triangulation thereby constructing a perception of current/future events which range interesting at the least, and frightening if true. Events that he will discuss may sound preposterous and warrant a reminder that although to westerners, the memory of the KGB secret police is filled with corruption, lies, spies, threats, power and killing… and although the KGB still basically exists in the form of the SVR (with the FSB as the counterespionage agency) my contact considers himself a professional living in the U.S. under political asylum, since returning to Russia or the Ukraine would be certain death. And perhaps he isn’t safe here either. To this end, he is eager to share his knowledge and very interested in comparing his experience and learned psychological techniques of the last 3 decades to the accepted science of today. The idea going forward is to share his background, his knowledge and to strain his education and field experience in the KGB though a psychological screen to understand the methods used then and what that can tell us about the methods used now in similar situations. This is then, a case study of real-life field experience vs scientific or lab research on topics such as interrogation, torture, behavior modification, brain washing and more. 

We begin with the topic of interrogation moving towards torture.   I am told of nearly 3 dozen accounts of interrogations at KGB district field offices, that doesn’t meet the fast, furious wham-bam-thank-you-ma’am that Hollywood has us believe, nor entirely representative of the graphic Guantanamo images, but rather a long thorough investigation-operation which includes information gathering on the subject which could take months or years, “cooking” the subject (letting him wait, increasing anxiety), building a rapport, using incentives then, if needed using tricks or blackmail, threats of physical violence or rape if in a jail. He stressed that gathering as much info as you can on the subject and rapport building are key techniques, it gardens larger amounts and accurate information. If you have to use more drastic methods or torture- perhaps your intel was not good enough. Once you have the object, there are several techniques that are designed to encourage dialogue:

  • good cop / bad cop
  •  “story under a story” (after intense interrogation the object tells a different story — which is not true, either)
  •  bombing with questions
  •  pressure by not interrogating
  • “silence makes your situation worse” trick
  •  “admit one small episode and that’s it” trick
  •  “I help you - you help me” trick
  •  “shift” meaning try to shift the blame away from the suspect to some other person or set of circumstances that prompted the subject to commit the crime. That is, develop themes containing reasons that will justify or excuse the crime. Themes may be developed or changed to find one to which the accused is most responsive.

Many of these methods mirror the trickery used in the US system that have helped make research claims of unaccountably, misconduct very credible. However, my contact insists simply that if they did not work, they would not be used while maintaining that the intelligence gathered before hand is the main aspect from which all other activities are measured.

PD8:  In doing over 30 interrogations, what was the most effective method you found in getting reliable, accurate information? 

xKGB: The “Breaking” method. The most important thing is to make the object talk by telling him that you want to just to understand what happened and “we, together, may find the way to deal somehow with the situation which “is not very bad right now”. The object, of course, will lie to you, but it doesn’t matter - he’s talking, he “swallowed the bait”. You listen to him, you write down everything and then you break his story into episodes. Then you start interrogating him on each episode but in chaotic order, like episode #1, then #5, then the last one, #4, etc. It’s pretty hard for the object keep logical lying if you act like this - he’ll change his story and put some true details to make it real. Extract those details and help him to tell the truth around them. 

He states that every object has a breaking point and there are some indicators that the object is near his breaking point or has already reached it, i.e. leans forward and his facial expression indicates an interest in the proposal or is more hesitant in his argument, he is probably nearing the breaking point.

PD8: If several methods of interrogation were used, are they used in a specific order to increase the pressure to talk, or was it dependant on the object’s demeanor/personality or urgency of obtaining the info? 

xKGB: Let me tell you most important thing about interrogations, tortures. If you deal with a “lonely wolf” (self-made terrorist) who won’t talk, you have no choice but to torture him to get info on his possible connections, place where he’s keeping guns or explosives, etc. But if you interrogate a member of organization, you MUST HAVE ASSETS INSIDE THIS ORGANIZATION and you don’t have to torture anybody. 

National security isn’t CIA and FBI #1 priority, that’s why they mostly wait for walk-in recruits, I call it a “Newton Syndrome” (referencing a falling apple in your lap). 

PD8: How long would a general interrogation last compared before possibly evolving into a torture session? 

xKGB: If it’s a lonely “wolf” and he’s very aggressive, refuses to talk, and you know he has connections, you start tortures right away. If it’s organization member and you have no assets inside organization, leave him alone and resign next morning, like an idiot. 

PD8: How often would the interrogation warrant moving to torture type procedures?

xKGB: It’s impossible to determine, it depends how professional you are, how you use methods and tricks, how fast you can establish rapport.

PD8:  Regarding the Reid interrogation technique and issues eliciting false confessions from accused offenders using minimization and maximization tricks; in your experience has any unreliable/untrue info ever elicited from interrogation? How about torture? What do you attribute that to?

xKGB: The thing is, if you deal with a professional, he usually has “a story under the story” which he offers you as true after intensive interrogation and tortures (people tend to believe info they get after torturing the object). But he can’t lie to me if I have enough intel on, say, his organization. That’s very important - how well are you prepared for interrogation? What is professional factual analysis? It the longest list of questions you have to answer before you interrogate.

PD8: When you detect that the object’s will has broken in an interrogation, what is the first question you ask?

xKGB: Nothing. Do not rush the object, do not humiliate him to show you’re ,finally, a winner and he’s the loser - he’s gonna close up. Just keep on developing the talk, don’t jump out of your chair and be quiet. It’s like a poker.

PD8: How did you confirm the information they provided as true, before moving on it?

xKGB: It depends if you have other sources, other facts, documents and how fast you can check up the information.

PD8: What is training like, or the schooling you were expedited through? (for example, the CIA interviews candidates in multiple rounds and does psychological and physical tests.)

xKGB: CIA are idiots.  KGB hires people in 2 ways: a) Human Resources division b) field offices. When KGB officer has a candidate, he’s checking his biography, relatives, his life, habits, connections, etc. It’s very good if candidate is or was an agent (asset). Then the officer makes an offer and the candidate goes through a whole row of doctors at KGB clinic. If health is OK, biography is OK, he’s in. Psychological tests?…KGB was playing this game couple of years early 80’s and then it appeared tests had nothing to do with the ability to recruit and work with agents. My best friend was the best of the best after “psychological tests”, he joined KGB and left in one month - couldn’t work with traitors, too dirty for him.  No physical tests - for what? KGB officers don’t run marathons. Training is Counterintelligence School or Intelligence Academy.

PD8: What was the interrogation process like, emotionally?

xKGB: Just a job, not fun. “No mercy, no ideology, no emotions.”

Recent law review articles have discussed the “psychological difficulty of distinguishing between torture and enhanced interrogation” for purposes of law and policy. There isn’t even a clear definition. The argument is that the “torture standard is unreliable because of the marked variation in the manner in which different jurisdictions interpret and employ it”. They also use psychological research to demonstrate the standard’s invalidity as well as “identify the existence of two separate psychological biases that impede objective application of the torture standard” via

Emboldened by the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001, the George W. Bush administration lost no time establishing a policy that authorized the use of “enhanced interrogation techniques,” that is, torture and abuse.

Next up:  From Interrogation to Tortures

IT’S OFFICIAL

I’ll be returning to my classic forensic psych roots for a bit.  In the coming weeks, I’m going to sit down with a former KGB operative in a five part miniseries.

We will be discussing his work in Russia as well as in the U.S. from a psychological and political perspective, highlighting behavioral tactics used in espionage, recruitment, profiling, behavioral & arms training, intelligence, interrogations, torture - and his current opinions of what is happening in the US today.

Going beyond the text book psychological studies, past the conspiracy theories or what we consider to be sensational or immoral, I believe this man has a story that needs to be told. A story that at the end, we can all relate to. 

I think what happens is that prosecutors and police think they’ve got the right guy, and consequently they think it’s OK to cut corners or control the game a little bit to make sure he’s convicted. The thinking goes, "God forbid a guilty guy go free because of smart lawyering by the defense" or what have you. They’re so convinced that they are right that they feel exempt from behaving right. They don’t realize that it’s wrong to be unethical. And not just because it could convict an innocent person. It’s simply wrong to be unethical.

How do sex offenders think the police should interview to elicit confessions from sex offenders?

This study investigated whether there is a relationship between sex offenders’ perceptions of how the police interviewed them and their decisions to confess or deny.

Forty-three convicted sex offenders were interviewed. An additional 20 violent offenders were included for comparison purposes.(…) One questionnaire concerned how the police should interview sex offenders and the other concerned how they perceived the police who interviewed them.

"Generally speaking, evidence presenting strategies, ethical interviewing, and displays of humanity were perceived to increase the likelihood of a confession. Interviewer dominance was perceived to be associated with a reduction in the likelihood of a confession.”   (via)

Supreme Court eases Miranda enforcement - latimes.com

itoodislikeit:

Today in Horrible Supreme Court Decisions: apparently if you want to invoke your right to remain silent, you have to:

  1. Know that you have said right,
  2. Understand said right if your English is not so great,
  3. Let’s face it, probably be white and hire a very expensive lawyer, there is no other explanation for this kind of hackery.

I’ve always been fascinated by the amount of research there is about how the majority of college students can’t even comprehend the meaning/ramifications of  Miranda rights. The amount of time interrogators’ are trained on psychologically coercive interrogation/eliciting confessions (Reid technique) is pretty amazing. Is it a wonder juveniles and those with the standard of “less than a 70 IQ” have no chance? Also of interests: one of the most common pre-trial hearings in NY are Huntley hearings, where they determine the admissibility of confessions based on Miranda waivers among other factors (guardian present,ESL, in custody,etc).