Thursday, June 12, 2014


A long time ago, I was trained as an Interrogator, Prisoner it War. I eventually was given the task of teaching parts of the skill set to new IPW students, and feel the need to pass them on or at least get them on record.
All of the details that I am presenting can and should be used to explain what to expect if you are ever the subject of an interrogation. If you know the tricks that are going to be used on you, you may be able to avoid falling for them. "Forewarned is forearmed".
I believe they are still teaching these in SERE (Survival, Escape, Resistance, Evasion) courses to prepare people who may become prisoners of war for just this reason.


The most important part of any information or intel is the DOI. Date Of Information (DOI) tells everyone who reads it if they are looking at ancient history or current data. It also allows analysts to chart habits, routines, routes, and changes in these so they can request more information to clarify their prognostications. I was a collector, not an analyst. We got follow-up questions quite often from the analysts who read our reports.

Think about it, if your wife tells you that the check engine light is on in her car and it's making a funny noise, what's the first thing you ask? When did you first notice it? It makes a difference if it happened last night or last month, doesn't it? DOI
How about if your neighbor mentions that they've seen a car with no plates cruise slowly by your house. Was it last night or today at noon? DOI
You're watching a YouTube video of armored vehicles on trains going by a crossing in Missouri. When did it happen? 2002, when they were moving them to the ports to be shipped to Iraq or 2013 when they're being shipped to only-God-knows-where? DOI

How to ask questions

There is a right way and a wrong way to ask questions. If you are (or have been) a parent of teenagers, you already know this. If you have small children, these techniques can be used while raising them, but they may have unpredictable results. If you want to get the truth (and not just what they think you want to hear), you need to be able to ask good questions in a proper manner.

Step one: Never imply an answer in the question. "Did you and Billy go to the mall last night?" is not as good as "Where did you go and who were you with?"

Step two: Avoid asking a question that can be answered "yes" or "no". There are times when a yes/no answer is all you're going to get, or is sufficient for the needs. The majority of the time you are going to want to draw as much information as you can out of a subject, so simple answers should be avoided. Make them talk- it gives you more chances to catch them in lies and gives them more chances to let information slip out.

Step three: Never lose track of the question. I've been married for 27 years, I know how this game is played. If a question is worth asking, stick to it or make a note (literally- write yourself a note!) so you can come back to it after the misdirection and lies/vitriol/counter-questions have spun themselves out.

Step four: Be specific in your questions. If the POW tells you his name and you can't spell it, don't ask him to “Spell that”- all you'll get it “T-H-A-T” if they're being uncooperative.

Step five: Ask questions, don't answer them. If you start answering a subject's questions you have just put them on an equal level with yourself. This can be counter-productive to getting information out of a reluctant subject. You're not negotiating (if you are, this is the wrong place to be reading), you're collecting information.

When to ask questions.

When can be as important as how as far as questions are concerned. Prisoner of war interrogations are used to obtain information of various types and for various purposes.

A "Field" interrogation is conducted as close to the point of capture as is prudent. The information sought will be of tactical use- where were you going, how many of you were there, what routes were you to take, etc. This data is very time-sensitive, since it will lose its value in a matter of hours at best. Field interrogations normally occur within an hour of capture.

"Primary" interrogations are done at a secure location as soon as possible. Transport times are the main delay. The data sought in Primary questioning is used to identify the POW and his/her utility as a source of information. Clues to useful techniques (we were taught more than they allow today) are often found at this stage. No more than a day after capture was the rule of thumb. Depending on the volume of prisoners, a "Processing" phase may be needed to weed out the ones likely to be a waste of time.

"Follow-up" interrogation can take place any time the POW is still available. Strategic data and Order-of-Battle (OOB) information are the goals. This is when you get a chance to learn more about the enemy, their logistics, and leadership. Unless you have the time, or are researching war crimes, be careful that this phase doesn't turn into a military history interview.

Part of the reason time plays a role is the psychology involved in asking questions. If a person has experienced a traumatic event, it is normal for them to want to talk it out as a way of mentally dealing with it. Once they start talking, it is fairly easy to keep them talking and lead them into divulging information they'd normally keep to themselves.

Sleep is another method of getting one's mind wrapped around a traumatic event, so try to start your questioning before the POW has had a good night's rest. Sleep deprivation is considered a form of torture, but if you can arrange an "interview" before they get bedded down you are not intentionally depriving them of sleep.

Questions are a normal part of any medical care. If your medic has a form to fill out, most people will answer the questions without reservation, or even thinking about it. Use of the Red Cross emblem on the forms crosses into the "War Crimes" gray area. Don't present yourself as a Red Cross official unless you want to answer hard questions when the fighting is over. Modern HIPPA rules don't apply in war, and (American) people have gotten used to every level of medical care asking the same intrusive questions as the last nurse did.

Lawyers and Chaplains fall into a moral gray area that will need to be decided by each individual. They have rules concerning the confidentiality of information they receive from clients that I, personally, think should be honored. The saying that, "All's fair in love and war" is not strictly true. There are such things as war crimes, recognized by civilized people. The Geneva and Hague Conventions are a good place to start and may be covered in a post of their own.

SALUTE report

A SALUTE report was the form we used for quickly passing on small amounts of intelligence as widely as possible. They break down into the following parts:

any other information that may be of use or interest is added to the end.

An example of a SALUTE report would go something like, "On 22 Mar 2013, I saw 2 MRAPs refueling at the truck stop outside Boring, IA on I-35 exit 88. They had DHS markings and the 14 dismounted, uniformed personnel took their time gassing up and refilling their personal coolers. The vehicles were left unattended several times, with no sign of a security detail. Personal weapons were visible and consisted of handguns only. They left via I-35 north-bound at 1235 local."

Size- 2 MRAPs, 14 personnel
Activity- refueling
Location- Boring, IA
Unit- DHS
Training- Lack of security and no sense of urgency
Equipment- Handguns were the only arms visible.

While this is not a perfect way to transmit intel, it is a standardized method. It is an easy format to remember, and the acronym makes it easy to check to ensure that you gather usable information. Remember to put DOI in there, it makes a difference.

I'll see if I can do justice to the “techniques” we were taught to get information out of POW's in a later post. I know that some of them have been dropped by the military in recent years due to the influx of lawyers and the changes in how battles are fought. We were preparing for WW3, not an anti-insurgency mission, so our mission had fewer gray areas and a better defined sense of who the enemy was. Even with all of the toys the modern military has to play with, I don't envy them the situations they find themselves in. In hindsight the Cold War seems to have been a simpler struggle, but one with much larger consequences involved.

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