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The Interrogation I Wish I Could Perform

We capture the enemy all the time. If the detainee has even remote intelligence value, they go straight to an intelligence collection facility. Thus, the maneuver forces on the ground never have time to ask the questions they want to know. For this reason, I have never seen or conducted an interrogation.

Based on the intelligence that I have reviewed over the years, I don't like the way we conduct interrogations. I have a feeling we interrogate about people, places and possible attacks (Questions like: Who do you work for? Who works for you? Where are caches?) but not the important issues. We don't ask--and thus don't know--why they attack one place not another?  Why are they allied with this group instead of that group? How do they influence the population? Why or how do they intimidate the population? We guess the answers but we don't know. More importantly, the leaders on the ground don't know the answers to these questions.

I have two possible solutions to get the information I want to know. The first would be to embed with Taliban or insurgent units and collect information on more than just operations, but tactics and strategy. Second, we could conduct the interrogation I wish I could perform.

To address the first option, we would get great situational awareness if we could just embed our soldiers in insurgent groups. Since we obviously can't, a for profit organization called the Terrorism Resource Center (partnered with Xe/Blackwater) developed "The Mirror Image Training Course" to provide that view for our soldiers. The only down part of this training, (in full disclosure, I have not attended the course but have been told good things by soldiers who have gone) is that the US Army wasn't smart enough or quick enough to develop this itself.

So, short of embedding with Taliban units, how can we get the whys and hows behind terrorist or insurgent tactics?

The answer is long and extensive interrogation. The type of interrogation in which an interrogator develops and strengthens his relationship with the source. He builds a trust relationship. Then, most importantly, he asks the questions soldiers on the ground want and need to know. The first step is that the intelligence community should develop pathways for commanders on the ground to ask for specific information. If intelligence stovepipes so that it remains stuck in the intelligence shops of the world, then we risk never developing actionable information. After the intelligence is collected, the hard work begins: distributing the information. Again, we need to push sensitive operation not just to brigades and battalion headquarters, but to the companies and platoons patrolling on a daily basis.

Another option, apart from interrogating captured suspects, is to partner with former insurgents. Virtually every successful counter-insurgency, from the Philippines to Algiers to Malaya to the brief bright spots in Vietnam, included amnesty programs. After successful repatriation, the former insurgents joined the government to spread knowledge and act as scouts. Frequently, they partnered with platoons and companies. If we could pull this off in Afghanistan the intelligence opportunities at the small unit level would be huge.

So yes, I would love to build a relationship with an insurgent. I would ask him all the "whys" and “hows” I want to know. Ask him to walk me through their operations. I would just love to know. Our military forces in Afghanistan don't know much more than they don't know; we need to remedy this sooner rather than later.

[An addendum: The doctrinal term for what I am looking for is called "Doctrinal Templates." Shortened as DOCTEMPS, they are diagrams describing how the enemy conducts attacks like IED attacks or sniper fire. My same criticism with DOCTEMPS holds though. DOCTEMPS rarely describe how the enemy hides in the population, merely how he conducts the specifics of his attacks.]

five comments

To add an addendum to this article of my own, I think this article’s larger point is how relationships, even with are enemies, are valuable. They save lives, they help win wars. I think back to the sixty minutes piece on the interrogation of Saddam, he gave up everything just because his interrogator was the only person he had to talk to, so they talked everyday.

If we could only do this with more insurgents.

I whole heartedly agree that building a relationship with a detainee is probably the most effective way to get the information you want. Unfortunately this takes a lot of time, time which I’m sure many in the military and intelligence communities don’t think they have, which is why they resort to “torture.” I’m not advocating this at all but there are instances when we need info pronto and building a relationship and trust would take too long. I don’t know what the solution is in these cases.

I am also a big advocate of amnesty programs but for the US to implement them, we have to change our thinking and not carry a grudge. Many of the “insurgents” have legitimate complaints and don’t see any other way. This doesn’t make them “terrorists.”

It may be difficult to build a trust relationship with a captive without traditional abusive character. Think traditional good cop vs bad cop. The bad cop terrorizes the suspect. In return, the good cop acts as that relief from his counterpart, granting protection, maybe even friendship. My concern is how you create a trust relationship with a prisoner if you as the interrogator are constantly the figure that represents the captive’s imprisonment?

There is a book called ‘Mission Blacklist #1’ that is an account of one soldier’s methods of interrogation.

It is pretty interesting. He and the unit that he was supporting (delta types) had the advantage of immediate feedback that us conventional folks only dream about, but I still recommend it.

You guys began addressing the how of collection including the dreaded words of torture and trust. My main point is that we don’t ask the right questions. We don’t know how terrorists choose targets, we don’t know how they live off the population and we don’t know how to attack them because of this. There is so much about the how and whys of their attacks.

Part of the reason this exists, which I have addressed is that conventional units don’t get to conduct interrogations, we don’t use enough former insurgents and the small unit level and we don’t realize how much we don’t know.