How to interrogate a terrorist

How to interrogate a terrorist April 25, 2013

Interesting piece from the BBC about how the FBI conducts interrogations of terrorist suspects.  And it doesn’t involve torture.

The best interrogation tool is a can of Coke on a table.

ME “Spike” Bowman, a former deputy general counsel for the FBI, says offering a suspect something he wants – whether a can of Coke in the beginning or a reduced sentence later – builds rapport.

Once the interrogator establishes a bond with the suspect, things become easier.

“You talk to people who are friendly,” Bowman says.

Whatever methods the interrogators in the Boston Marathon bombing investigation have used so far, they appear to have been successful.

Dzhokhar Tsarnaev, the 19-year-old sole suspect, has begun to open up.

He is in fair condition at Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center in Boston. In a hospital room, he has reportedly said that he and his brother, Tamerlan Tsarnaev, 26, acted alone. . . .

If Dzhokhar Tsarnaev has indeed revealed information about the attacks, it is a victory for the officials.

Some of the questioners are part of a top US investigative team known as the High-Value Detainee Interrogation Group, created in 2009 by presidential order.

It is composed of “mobile teams of experienced interrogators, analysts, subject matter experts and linguists to conduct interrogations of high-value terrorists”, according to government documents.

Group members interrogated Faisal Shahzad, who is serving a life sentence after pleading guilty to trying to set off a bomb in New York’s Times Square in May 2010, CIA Director John Brennan has confirmed.

Faisal Shahzad Faisal Shahzad pleaded guilty to trying to set off a bomb in New York

The group was originally designed to have specially trained interrogators ready to go to work on Osama Bin Laden if he were ever captured, says a forensics expert who is familiar with the group and who asked not to be identified because he has a government security clearance.

“I don’t want to say it’s overkill in this case,” he said of the group’s deployment in the Tsarnaev investigation. “The bureau wants to bring out their shiny new toy.”

As High-Value Detainee Interrogation Group investigators gather information on the case and await more time at Tsarnaev’s bedside, doctors and nurses have tried to make the suspect comfortable – or as comfortable as someone suffering from multiple gunshot wounds can be.

The interrogators’ approach seems humane, particularly compared to the way other government officials have treated terrorism suspects in the past.

Years ago CIA officials reportedly used harsh interrogation techniques on a wounded terrorism suspect, Abu Zubaydah, a top al-Qaeda operative. They reportedly stripped him of his clothes, kept him in a cold room and subjected him to waterboarding.

Video the CIA recorded of his interrogation and detention reportedly showed Zubaydah screaming and vomiting.

He apparently told them little of value. Later, FBI special agents tried to make him comfortable – and over time learned a lot about the terrorist organisation. People from the CIA, FBI and other agencies are still arguing about the circumstances of Zubaydah’s interrogation.

Nevertheless, FBI agents’ traditional approach – learn as much as possible about a suspect and the case and then build trust – reflects the bureau’s intelligence gathering philosophy.

“The interviews that are the most successful are the ones when the interviewer has nine-tenths of what he needs,” says Mike German, a former FBI agent who has worked undercover on domestic terror cases. (“I recovered a lot of bombs,” he says.)

German and other experts believe that more aggressive methods, such as beatings and humiliation, are less effective.

Setting aside moral and ethical issues, they say inflicting pain is rarely a good interrogation strategy.

“People don’t react well to coercive methods,” says Bowman, the former FBI lawyer.

He describes another interrogation of a recalcitrant suspect. Military interrogators tried to get information from Brooklyn-born Jose Padilla after he was arrested in 2002 and accused of plotting a “dirty bomb” attack in the US.

“They interviewed him for six months and got absolutely nothing,” says Bowman. “The FBI got a crack at him and he was talking in four hours.”

via BBC News – Boston bombings: How to interrogate a suspected terrorist.

It goes on, including a discussion of cases where more aggressive questioning can be necessary, while stopping short of torturing the suspect.

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  • Abby
  • Kirk


    I’d rather we err on the side of due process than on public safety.

  • Jon

    Awe, rats! That darn old Constitution!

  • sg

    @ 2

    Ironically perhaps, erring on the side of due process is erring on the side of public safety in as much as the government has the power potential to compromise its citizens safety far more than street criminals or even terrorists do.

  • DonS

    It’s hard to tell from this story how firm the investigators were in insisting on sufficient time to interrogate the suspect prior to the hearing. The public safety exception should allow sufficient time (say, up to maybe 72 hours or so, or more if the suspect was unable to communicate prior to then) to ensure that there was no further known significant risk to public safety because of additional conspirators who might still be out there somewhere, with the understanding that information gleaned from questioning conducted prior to Mirandizing the suspect will likely not be admissible in criminal proceedings against that suspect. If the judge insisted on conducting a hearing after only 16 hours of questioning, despite protestations of authorities, then that would seem to be overstepping her bounds a bit.

    Generally, though, I have not been at all impressed with the way the authorities have handled this matter, beyond their efforts in initially identifying the suspects. They trampled on the basic civil rights of many innocent residents, which is far more disturbing even then anything they might have done to compromise the civil rights of the remaining suspect.

  • I was really impressed by the movie Zero Dark Thirty, it did a very good job, in my opinion, showing how “enhanced interrogation” techniques are used and did so in such a way that I thought was rather objective, simply showing why it was done and how it was done.

    I have to say I did not find anything morally objectionable about any of the techniques shown or used.

    Tough and harsh? Of course.

    We dare never forget we are dealing with people who want to slaughter our citizens for the “crime” of being Americans living in a free society.

  • tODD

    Paul (@6), so you prefer the lessons learned from a movie over those learned from real-life interrogators?

  • ToDd, you demonstrate a unique knack for missing the point and simply being argumentative. Oh well, everyone has to have a hobby.

    I don’t expect you to even remotely understand any of this, frankly, but you live under the shelter of freedom provided by those who protect us and serve us. If how they provide their protection makes you uncomfortable, that’s ok by me.

  • tODD

    Paul (@8), if you can’t answer the question, maybe you just shouldn’t reply.

    Oh, and congratulations on learning to spell my handle correctly. Even if you can’t be bothered to apologize for your past asinine behavior. I guess that’s why you get the title “Rev.”

  • BW


    Rev McCain did post an apology to you a few weeks ago. I think it was on an April Fool’s Day thread BUT I AM NOT doubting the sincerity of the good Rev. I thought it was a good gesture.

  • tODD

    BW (@10), maybe you should ask Paul whether he actually wrote that or not. Perhaps it was someone else’s idea of an April Fool’s joke?

  • Oh, Todd, you are funny.
    Your croakings and chirpings are duly noted.
    : )
    Wait I found a video of you!

  • tODD

    Okay, Paul (@12), here’s the thing. I don’t have a lot of respect for your online activity, but that last comment is so ridiculous, even for you, that I’m forced to wonder if someone else is faking being you just to make fun of you.

    That’s pretty conspiratorial, and I’m normally not given to conspiracies, but I guess the idea struck me because I once — oncewrote a comment in your guise for an April Fool’s joke (the joke being that you would never actually apologize for how you’ve been acting towards me, as the evidence to date has borne out). So maybe someone else keeps writing as you in order to give you a bad name, just like I once wrote like you in a fashion that seems to have actually helped your reputation a little bit.

    That option — the conspiratorial one — is definitely the best construction. Because otherwise I’m left having to conclude that an ordained pastor, a major figure at the LCMS publishing house and a man with significant influence in that denomination, really is behaving like the ass he seems to be. In public. Repeatedly. Unrepentently.

    And if that’s true, Paul, you need help.

  • tODD

    Also, Paul, I’m not really sure what caused you to remove several of your social media channels from existence, but your Twitter account, which still remains, has obviously been hacked, with several of your most recent posts hawking “The FASTEST Fat-Burner for Weight-Loss”.

    Though, I don’t know, if you’re willing to publicly make an ass of yourself, maybe you’re also selling quackery on the side?