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This is the top-level article for numerous articles about specific policies of nations and political systems. For more information, explore other articles related to interrogation, both in terms of techniques and of the practices of various nations and governments (e.g., intelligence interrogation, U.S., George W. Bush Administration. For general concepts, the articles on eduction, elicitation, torture and debriefing may be helpful.

Interrogation, in the context of eduction for criminal investigation and human-source intelligence, is the process of obtaining information from a person who is not a fully willing participant in the process. In addition to interrogation, Elicitation and debriefing are related techniques to obtain information from a subject who considers herself or himself a voluntary participant in the interaction.

All interrogation involves some level of pressure on the subject, if only the potential of legal action against a person otherwise free to leave. In other words, the interrogator has some level of control. Interrogation, however, is customarily divided into non-coercive and coercive types; coercive interrogation involves detention, psychological, or physical pressures that blur into torture. Effective interrogation requires skill and knowledge of the human mind, [1] unless coercing confessions is the only goal.

The line between noncoercive and coercive is a blurry one. Perhaps another way to think of boundaries is to consider the goal of the interrogation and the constraints upon it. A law enforcement interrogation, in a society that attempts to have a fair judicial system, will have rules about what evidence and confessions are admissible in court. Between opponents that observe the Geneva Conventions, prisoners have certain rights, especially those of the Third Common Article. Even if there are no legal constraints, if the goal is to seek intelligence information, there is a line between the point at which the prisoner will give potentially meaningful information and the point at which he will say whatever he thinks the interrogator wants to hear.

Variations in interrogation

No single model fits all objectives of interrogation, which include:

  • Obtaining accurate information, not necessarily admissible in court (i.e., the intelligence case)
  • Obtaining a desired statement, which may or may not be true, for propaganda or to close a criminal case without concern for justice
  • Obtaining accurate information, which will be admissible in court if the subject is guilty of a criminal offense, or will clear charges if there is reasonable doubt of guilt (i.e., a proper criminal use)

Likewise, no single model of the psychological dynamics of interrogation will fit all goals, and indeed all types of prisoners. A first-time criminal suspect may have formed impressions from television and word of mouth. A captured soldier of a major nation may have a formal, if not necessarily practical, Code of Conduct, and also may have received various levels of training in resistance to interrogation. A person committed to a strong ideology or religion, especially if prepared to resist or die, is yet another case. Persons who never considered the thought of being in captivity, such as Japanese soldiers in the Second World War, culturally required to commit suicide rather than be captive, were quite unprepared for even mild interrogation.

So, there are really no general models, but there are some common principles. Interrogators have little to lose with direct interrogation techniques: simply asking direct questions, about relevant information, in a nonconfrontational environment.

Often used in law enforcement is a nine-step method known as the Reid technique,[2] which involves pre-interrogation, interrogation, and post-confession steps:[3] The interaction is managed such that the subject is not allowed to say much until Step 8, the confession.[4]

  • Pre-confession step: develop facts, including information from other sources. Gain knowledge of the subject and his emotions, ability to deceive, and an "emotional baseline". Attempt to establish rapport.
  • Step 1: Direct, positive confrontation
  • Step 2: Theme development: reinforce suspect's own rationalizations...allow confession to be face-saving...increase sense of futility
  • Step 3: Handle denials
  • Step 4: Overcome objection
  • Step 5: Procure and retain suspect's attention
  • Step 6: Handle the suspect's passive mood
  • Step 7: Present the alternative question
  • Step 8 (Confession): Have suspect orally relate details of offense
  • Step 9 (Post-confession): Convert oral to written confession

Training in the Reid technique is filled with detail, as well as warnings about how a given technique could produce a false confession.

Information from other sources

Since trained interrogators rarely capture prisoners, in either military or civilian circumstances, part of the detention process involves obtaining background information available to the interrogator. In some civilian situations, as in the United States, the prisoner receives a formal warning that anything he says may be used against him by the interrogator. The situation is much more blurred with military prisoners, although the Fourth Geneva Convention forbids direct threats.

Handling the person

When civilian police apprehend a suspect, the individual, for safety reasons, is usually first restrained with handcuffs or other devices. When large numbers of persons are captured at once, they may not be individually restrained, at least after an individual search, but put into a locked detention area covered by armed guards.

There is a preliminary search to avoid any threats, evidence is collected, and an arrest report filed. In like manner, in a battlefield capture, the prisoner is secured and searched, his possessions searched for intelligence value, and he is normally logged into the prisoner accounting system.

Acknowledging detention

While various police departments usually have some period in which they can interrogate without arrest, the basic civilian rule is that the arrest must be logged and reported.

In the military scenario, in most cases, humanitarian organizations or even the regular chain of command are informed when a capture has been made. However, "ghost prisoners", whose capture is not made known, is a source of continuing concern. This occurs frequently when dealing with covert and clandestine operations where informing the prisoner's organization may result in an undesirable emergency re-action by the organization in an effort to protect its security. Military necessity may be a factor here, and even the Fourth Geneva Convention has some provision for secrecy.

Materials on or with the person

Rather than the civilian evidentiary approach, materials taken from a battlefield prisoner are sent to technical intelligence if they are of interest, and otherwise sent to the specialized document exploitation section in the human-source intelligence unit.


If a prisoner carries identification documents, these either can be true or false. True documents, of course, can be used to obtain information quickly. False documents, however, may have characteristics that give information. In the Second World War, Luftwaffe intelligence noted that aircrew had been given packets of photographs, to be used in forging escape documents. Unfortunately for the aviators, these provided a signature when captured by interrogation support analysts: since the aviators did not have civilian clothes, each base photographer had one suit, one tie, and one shirt in which he photographed all crew members; each photographer also had his own way of cutting and trimming the photograph.

Pocket litter

"Pocket litter" is a military intelligence term of art, but covers the range of materials found on or near the prisoner at the time of capture. As minor an item as the airman's mess hall ticket can be significant in establishing the intellectual dominance of We Know All interrogation techniques. World War II German Luftwaffe prisoner interrogators had carefully catalogued the style by which each mess sergeant marked the chit: one might use a red "X", another might use a rubber stamp, while a third might make a pencil checkmark. To careful analysts supporting the interrogators, that "signature" could prepare the interrogator to presume knowledge of the home base of the aircrewman.[5]

In law enforcement, the "smoking gun" may be a literal example of "pocket litter," or at least a gun that can be forensically linked to the crime. It may be as subtle as pollen that can be linked to the site of the crime.


There is an important distinction among intelligence, law enforcement, and thought reform goals. The first principally seeks to gather information on things external to the subject. The latter two generally seek to obtain a confession from the subject. [6]

A special case of interrogation blurs between intelligence and military police functions. What variously is called counterintelligence force protection source operations (now in classified documents, but an earlier version is available [7]), or [military] police intelligence operations [8] are intended to help a field commander secure his forces against terrorist operations. This particular aspect of interrogation, which can be associated with military police functions, is quite different than the strategic intelligence collection process directed at detained suspects.

Information gathering

When attempting to gather accurate information, certainly when dealing with more than one subject, the direct interaction of the interrogator is rarely enough. Even the interrogator must, outside the interrogation room, plan the approach and study the results of various sessions, as well as using other sources to confirm or disprove statements of the subject. It is common practice for military intelligence interrogation to be team-based, with an interrogator, an analyst, and, if necessary, a linguist assigned to each subject.

Commonly, full-time human intelligence analysts are needed to support large-scale interrogation.


There is a difference between law enforcement investigation, and courts with a presumption of innocence. To investigators innocence is only proven if another person can be proven to have done the act in question, or there is objective evidence that the suspect could not have done it. Bureaucratic politics may put pressure on investigators to "close" cases with confessions.

Extracting a confession can be valuable part of any criminal investigation, but interrogation techniques must be carefully considered in order to avoid a false confession. Even interrogation techniques generally considered non-coercive can produce false confessions, because the totality of the methods compromise the subject's decision making. The subject will choose what he perceives as the least of all evils, even if that choice is damaging to him. [9] Detectives have described themselves as salesmen who sell the idea of jail as the most attractive available option. The heart of most intelligence interrogation approaches is futility; the subject sees no point in resistance. "Psychologically based interrogation works effectively by controlling the alternatives a person considers and by influencing how these alternatives are understood."[10]

Contil distinguishes among three types of false confessions, two of which could come from some type of control: [11]

  • Voluntary false confession: the subject confesses for reasons that could include a desire for notoriety, or to protect another person,
  • Coerced-compliant false confessions: the subject, who does not believe the substance of the confession to be true, confesses to avoid the continuation of pressure, which may be psychological or physical. He puts the Korean War "brainwashed" confessions in this category, where prisoners were indoctrinated and demands made to confess to stop pressure
  • Coerced-internalized false confessions: a suggestible subject, in the context of intense interrogation, comes to believe he did do that which he confesses

From the intelligence standpoint, it can be desperately important to know that a confession is real, because a deliberate false confession can be at the heart of an enemy deception. Indeed, adversaries are known to impart cover plans to soldiers they think might be captured, and, if the information is obtained only after intense interrogation, it may seem exceptionally credible. Human intelligence alone, ideally, always must be confirmed.

Non-coercive interrogation

A subject that is not under arrest, but is aware of the possibility of arrest or of other undesirable consequences, is still under interrogation, as the interaction is not fully voluntary. Non-coercive interrogation, however, is built on the idea of building rapport between the interrogator and the subject. [12] Before getting into complex relationship-building, however, a wise interrogator will start with direct interrogation techniques: simply asking a pertinent question. Depending on the culture, the attitude of the subject, and other factors, sometimes a direct question will get a direct answer. [13]

A panel of U.S. law enforcement, military, and intelligence interrogators, under the sponsorship of the non-governmental organization Human Rights First, stated a number of basic principles, in a U.S. context but representing much of world professional opinion:[14]

  1. Non-coercive, traditional, rapport-based interviewing approaches provide the best possibility for obtaining accurate and complete intelligence.
  2. Torture and other inhumane and abusive interview techniques are unlawful, ineffective and counterproductive. We reject them unconditionally.
  3. The use of torture and other inhumane and abusive treatment results in false and misleading information, loss of critical intelligence, and has caused serious damage to the reputation and standing of the United States. The use of such techniques also facilitates enemy recruitment, misdirects or wastes scarce resources, and deprives the United States of the standing to demand humane treatment of captured Americans.
  4. There must be a single well-defined standard of conduct across all U.S. agencies to govern the detention and interrogation of people anywhere in U.S. custody, consistent with our values as a nation.
  5. There is no conflict between adhering to our nation’s essential values, including respect for inherent human dignity, and our ability to obtain the information we need to protect the nation.

Non-coercive interrogation can still involve deception. The term "seduction" is often used in discussing non-coercive methods: "For anyone who has been involved in a seduction, it will be immediately clear that coercion simply will not work. What works is the exact opposite – a careful and thoughtful exchange of ideas and attitudes that will help the interrogator find a path to the desired intelligence."[15] Seduction is culturally specific, as is non-coercive interrogation. A non-coercive interview does not attempt to demean the subject. Within some American subcultures, a detective asking "what do your friends call you?" and use of that name may be perceived as respectful, where in other subcultures, it is appropriate for the agent to be "Ms. Gonzales" and the subject to be "Mr. Churchill." In some cultures, the too-friendly interrogator is confusing if, in the particular context, people are used to responding to questions from a variety of government and quasi-government officials.

In an Arab culture, polite conversation usually begins by asking, in nonintrusive terms, of one's health and the welfare of one's family. Handshakes are traditional at the start and end of the meeting [16]

If the leadership of the organization conducting wants to ensure interrogations stay noncoercive, many law enforcement and intelligence organizations routinely record the interviews.[17]

Recording can have purely practical benefits for the interrogator, as a means of reviewing the session, perhaps with the assistance of behavioral scientists, cultural specialists, etc. Nevertheless, if interrogators know their actions will be reviewed, they are less likely to stray into unauthorized methods. As Mark Twain once commented, "Conscience is the still, small voice that tells you 'someone is watching.'"

Coercive interrogation

See also: Torture

Well-conducted non-coercive interrogation makes use of rapport and also exploits the inner conflicts of the subject. Coercive interrogation brings additional outside, unwelcome forces into the interaction. While commonly categorized as torture, not all coercive interrogation qualifies as torture. It does attack the subject's defenses, causing psychological regression, but it can include relatively minor deprivation or alteration of comfort levels by adding even minor temperature changes, inducing sleep disturbances, or isolation from outside contact. It usually invokes debility, dependency and dread.[18]

One of the basic goals of futility interrogation techniques is to change the psychological state of the subject.

While interrogation using torture is absolutely coercive, in many subjects, it is the fear of torture that is more threatening than torture itself. A prisoner may experience pain and successfully resist it, but if he does not know how severe actual pain may be, the uncertainty may be more disorienting than the actual pain. Indeed, the initiation of torture may be perceived a victory, admittedly an unpleasant one, by the subject:

"If an interrogatee is caused to suffer pain rather late in the interrogation process and after other tactics have failed, he is almost certain to conclude the interrogator is becoming desperate. He may then decide that if he can just hold out against this final assault, he will win the struggle and his freedom."[19]


  1. Educing Information — Interrogation: Science and Art, Foundations for the Future, National Defense Intelligence College Press, December 2006. Retrieved on 2007-10-31
  2. Inbau FE et al. (2001) Criminal Interrogations and confessions, 4th Edition, Aspen. Quoted by Davis and O'Donohue, p. 988
  3. Davis D,O'Donohue W (2003), Chapter 36: The Road to Perdition: Extreme Influence Techniques in the Interrogation Room, in O'Donohue W, Levensky W, Handbook of Forensic Psychology: Resource for Mental Health and Legal Professionals, Elsievier Academic Press, ISBN 0125241968, pp. 904-912
  4. "The Reid 9 Steps of Interrogation, in brief," adapted from Practical Aspects of Interview and Interrogation, David E. Zulawski, and Douglas E. Wicklander, CRC Press, Ann Arbor, 1998. [1]
  5. Toliver RF with Scharff HJ (1978), The Interrogator: the Story of Hanns Scharf, Luftwaffe's Master Interrogator, Toliver, ISBN 0816864705, p. 57
  6. Randy Borum (November 2005), Approaching Truth: Behavioral Science Lessons on Educing Information from Human Sources, in Intelligence Science Board, Educing Information—Interrogation: Science and Art, National Defense Intelligence College Press, ISBN 1-932946-17-9, p. 18
  7. US Department of the Army (3 October 1995). Field Manual 34-60: Counterintelligence.
  8. Field Manual FM 3-19.50, Police Intelligence Operations, U.S. Army, July 2006
  9. Davis, p. 899
  10. Ofshe RJ & Leo RA. "The Decision to confess falsely: Rational choice and irrational action." Denver University Law Review, vol. 744, pp. 979-1122, (1997a), quoted in Davis, p. 899
  11. Richard P. Conti (1999), "The Psychology of False Confessions", The Journal of Credibility Assessment and Witness Psychology 2 (1), p. 20-23
  12. The Torture Question: Interview, Jack Cloonan, Public Broadcasting Service
  13. Chris Mackey & Greg Miller (2004), The Interrogators: inside the secret war against al Qaeda, Little, Brown & Co., ISBN 0-316-87112-5, p. 479
  14. Top Interrogators Declare Torture Ineffective in Intelligence Gathering, Human Rights First, June 24, 2008
  15. Steven Kleinman and Haviland Smith (July 29, 2008), "Abuse has no place in interrogation policy (commentary)", Nieman Watchdog
  16. Green, Eloisa (1990), Center for Army Lessons Learned, Newsletter No. 90-7, Winning in the Desert. Retrieved on 2007-11-07
  17. Convention against Torture committee (09/07/96.), Concluding observations of the Committee against Torture : United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland., Consideration of Reports submitted by States Parties under Article 19 of the Convention, U.N. High Commissioner on Human Rights, A/51/44,paras.58-65. (Concluding Observations/Comments)
  18. Central Intelligence Agency (July 1963), KUBARK Counterintelligence Interrogation, Prisoner Abuse: Patterns from the Past, vol. George Washington University National Security Archive Electronic Briefing Book No. 122, pp. 82-83
  19. KUBARK, p. 91