Tradecraft: Resisting Interrogation 101

Interrogation. Image Source: dennis crowley, flickr, Creative Commons

Image Source: dennis crowley, flickr, Creative Commons

Washington, DC (TFC) – Interrogation is now commonplace in the United States. It may not be in room with a hot light, it may not be in a detention center. It may not be under torture. It may be something as simple as questioning on the side of the road. It may be by a private individual and not a law enforcement officer. The first rule of dealing with cops: don’t. Ask for your lawyer, and keep your mouth shut. However, there are scenarios in which law enforcement is operating outside the scope of the law or the person interrogating you isn’t law enforcement. The techniques used during effective interrogation are the same whether you are dealing with a local cop, a federal agent, an insurgent group, a foreign intelligence service, or a kidnapper. Understanding the tactics makes you much less susceptible to them. The tactics will be discussed and the reader will be given a mantra to repeat after each question is asked and the most basic technique of defeating it. There will be follow-up article to discuss more advanced methods of turning the situation to your advantage and gaining intelligence while being interrogated.


We Know Everything:
This is one of the most common methods. You are shown a thick file or multiple files. The interrogator begins reading information from the file. You hear your birthdate, mother and father’s names, where you were at earlier in the morning you were captured, you might even be shown a photo from years before to demonstrate how long you’ve been under surveillance. Most of the file is empty. They know where you were earlier because they followed you prior to abducting you. The photo was pulled from your friend’s Facebook page and then it was cropped flipped and zoomed in on to distort it from the original photo.
Mantra to defeat the technique: If they knew everything, they wouldn’t be talking to you.
Method to defeat the technique: Silence.

People have a natural desire to fill the air with conversation. The interrogator may be flipping through your “file” quietly pretending to ignore you. The interrogator is relying on your need to speak and your desire to defend yourself.
Mantra to defeat the technique: You aren’t going anywhere. You have all the time in the world.
Method to defeat the technique: Silence.


This technique involves two interrogators. One is simply filling out a basic form with random information like your name, emergency contact, and so on. He may be asking basic questions about your family. The other is questioning you about pertinent events. The interrogator asking the real questions pretends to be annoyed with the guy asking the paperwork questions. The pace of the questions starts slowly and builds. Eventually, after becoming flustered, you might answer a real question while intending to only answer basic ones.
Mantra to defeat the technique: 1,2,3,4,5
Method to defeat the technique: This technique relies on you answering the questions quickly. If you count to five after each question, you will not make that error.


End Game:
The technique relies on instilling the idea that the battle is already over. You’ve been captured. Any resistance is futile. Anything you believed in is lost. You’re holding out for no reason. Make things easier on yourself. The technique relies on forcing you to give up internally.
Mantra to defeat the technique: It’s not over until I’m dead.
Method to defeat the technique: If you must speak, talk about movies like Braveheart or discuss come from behind sports victories.

Help Yourself:
This method relies on inducing your desire for self-preservation. You may be offered food, water, a more comfortable room, or a sentence reduction for cooperating. These are signs of weakness in your opponent. If they are offering bribes, they desperately need your information. Before offering you the real bribe, they will entice you to accept an innocent gift such as coffee or a cigarette.
Mantra to defeat the technique: Does the person that just kidnapped me really want to help me?
Method to defeat the technique: Accept nothing. Once you begin accepting gifts, it is difficult to stop. Do not take the cigarette or coffee.

The interrogator asks the same set of questions over and over again. Any tiny deviation in the story is seized upon as a reason to get you to explain in further detail and defend yourself. The interrogator becomes hostile and accusatory saying things like “I’m trying to help you, and you’re lying to me!” The interrogator may ask you to repeat an order of events in reverse. Most people do not take the time to practice their cover in reverse order.
Mantra to defeat the technique: Nothing I say can help. It can only hurt.
Method of defeating the technique: Silence. If you’ve already told your story once because you didn’t fully understand the importance of staying silent, beat them to the punch. Scream “I’m trying to talk and you’re not listening. You don’t even care. I don’t want to talk to you anymore.”

Rapport Building:
The interrogator attempts to bond over something they know you enjoy. It could be old movies, politics, etc. Once a rapport is built, you begin to feel as though the interrogator has a common interest and is therefore your friend. He isn’t.
Mantra to defeat the technique: Would a friend kidnap me?
Method to defeat the technique: Be as verbally combative as possible during innocent subjects. If the interrogator tells you how much they love the Yankees, immediately talk about how your girlfriend was stolen by the pitcher. Do not allow the rapport to form.

Good Cop, Bad Cop:
Everybody has heard of this technique. One interrogator is nice, one interrogator isn’t. One threatens harm, one is calm. It relies on forcing you to confide in the “nice” interrogator for protection from the other.
Mantra to defeat the technique: With friends like this, who needs enemies?
Method to defeat the technique: Silence. Call the bad cop’s bluff. In most instances, it’s a show of force and you will not be beat. “Most” is a key word here.

Enhanced Interrogation:
You will break. On a long enough timeline, everybody will succumb to torture. People who were innocent have confessed to crimes under torture. You are not superman. Everybody breaks. So how do you defeat torture?

Lie. You hold out as long as you can and then you give them verifiable details that do not compromise any ongoing operations or personnel. Details could be something along the lines of “We meet every Tuesday at Bob’s Coffee Shop,” as long as your debit card statements show you purchasing something there on Tuesday.  Generally speaking, if you can refrain from providing the interrogators with the truth for 24 hours, the battlefield will have changed enough for the information to be useless. In a non-military setting, your disappearance will have been noticed and your family and loved ones will have fled.

It is important to remember in this extreme scenario that you are most likely not being released. You will die in captivity. The only thing you really control is how you die.

General tips:
Interrogators rely on establishing a rhythm. Anything you can do to disrupt this is beneficial.
Interrogators can become the victim of the same techniques they try to employ against you.
Dignity goes out the window. Urinating or defecating on yourself can often end the day’s interrogation.
Feigning insanity may provide a break in interrogation.
Talk about your family as much as possible without providing details. It helps to humanize yourself in your captor’s eyes.


Editor’s note: The Author has been subjected to interrogation by local, state, federal, and foreign security services. He has been waterboarded, placed in stress positions, and endured sleep deprivation under controlled scenarios.