Context: Research for Brainwash: The Secret History of Mind Control
Date: 19th July 2005
Interviewee: British Intelligence Officer
A senior British ex-military officer, who spent years working on intelligence issues and was trained to interrogate by the Royal Intelligence Corps in the early 1960s. This officer explains the training he received, and some of the techniques used to interrogate.
He also discusses violence and interrogation, sensory deprivation and the difference between resistance to interrogation training and interrogation training itself. His comments on the use of hoods by the British Army in Iraq are particularly noteworthy. All names in this interview – including the units he served with, and where – have been removed.
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How did you come to be taught to interrogate?
It was 1963, April, May–time. I’d been sent to [the Royal Intelligence Corps’ HQ at] Maresfield. All I was told was: ‘You will go on an interrogation course’.
You didn’t choose this?
No. I was summoned to an office in GCHQ and off we went. And I found out on arrival that I was the only candidate on the course – for 2 weeks. And I was told it was the standard course. The only difference was that I was the only guy there. So I had 100% attention from the instructors and from, very interestingly, the ‘stoolie’, the guy who was the subject for the interrogation. Who was a member of … the Glosters [regiment] and he had been captured – like several hundred of the battalion had been – in Korea, so his experiences were absolutely brilliant for use by the Maresfield centre. Now, at that stage, it was completely new to me. I knew other people who had done the [Russian] interpreter course who had been sent on the interrogation course, but it wasn’t a standard sequence, and none of my colleagues on the Russian interpreter course actually did an interrogation course. So I didn’t know at that stage why I’d been sent.
So I went back to Cheltenham and I found out after a couple of days that I had passed the course. I was summoned into my boss’ office and told I was going to be sent to **** **** for a 6 month posting, and the purpose of my posting would not be told to me. I should take nothing military, nothing associated with the military. On arrival in *** *** I would be given a briefing and I would discover what I would do. I assumed of course my interrogation course was something to do with this. I toddled off to **** ****… where I used my skills. I used my Russian interpreter skills, and also my newly-acquired interrogation skills…
Can you talk about the interrogation course?
Yes, I think this is now – I think it was probably graded ‘restricted’ in 1963 and that’s now 40 years ago. I would particularly like to counter a statement I read in the press a couple of weeks ago when they were talking about the abuse in Iraq that techniques of deprivation and hooding were taught in the army interrogation centre in Chicksands – ie, it’s part of the syllabus. I can say that in 1963, when the whole world was far less sensitive and nervous about physical violence of all sorts, the techniques of interrogation as taught at the then-interrogation centre were entirely what you would call respectable, in other words they covered the methods, the organisation, the personal organisation, the way you run an interrogation session, how to work in a team, what to look for in the subject, of an interrogation. And basically, you’ll be surprised to know – how to behave like a British gentleman and still be a successful interrogator.
For the rest of my life under various circumstances, I’ve been able to apply those various techniques without fear or favour. I would have thought that if we’d had brutality as part of our SOPs in the centre where we’re taught all this in 1963, on a one-person course, I would have gained some inkling of those. I didn’t.
But of course I did when I did a counter-interrogation course two years later in Aden.
The [Aden] Emergency involved people, there were several cases of British forces being caught, tortured and decapitated. I remember a horrid incident at Sana where the heads of the British military that had been captured were cut off and impaled on pikes and displayed to the public on pikes. You were dealing with – as today in Iraq – with medieval attitudes and nobody on the other side adhered to the Geneva Conventions. So officers and NCOs – I was by then the patrol officer of a company of *** [regiment] who were on duty there – officers and NCOs were sent on a counter-interrogation course by a visiting team who briefed us on the techniques used by nations that did not sign up to the Geneva Conventions.
This was an army team?
An army team. And this was by now almost exactly three years later. About February-March 1966. There we were told all about hooding and brutality.
They hadn’t taught you about sensory deprivation and how to apply it to prisoners in your interrogation course?
No. I think this was clear to me: what we were being taught, as I think we knew, were methods which our SAS recruits went through. All regiments supply recruits for the SAS and some pass and some fail. And it is accepted that the SAS selection course, which is – I’m glad to say, very tough indeed – does include the volunteers being put through the techniques, the sorts of techniques that we were taught about at Aden. So within the British forces there is first-hand experience by going on SAS courses, where resistance to interrogation – your resistance, your psychological abilities – is tested.
But the technique that all of us in Aden listened to agape was a method that had been developed allegedly very recently, which was to suspend the prisoner in a tank of liquid gelatine which was at 94.8 degrees Fahrenheit. Naked. With your arms and legs tied and your head encased in a sort of diver’s helmet, through which you were breathing. You were hung into this tank, so all you could hear was the [breathing noise] of your own breath. And in theory you would go bonkers. Because you didn’t know which way was up, you had no sense.