Context: Research for Brainwash: The Secret History of Mind Control
Location: Kent, UK
Date: 3rd November 2004
Interviewee: Senior British Army interrogator/instructor
A former senior instructor from the Intelligence Corps. It’s rather a rambling interview – I don’t manage to get many questions in (try interrogating and interrogator for yourself sometime!) – but covers many of the right bases, including sensory deprivation, the origins of the use of white noise in interrogation and treatment meted out to the 12 so-called ‘Guinea Pigs’ in Norther Ireland in 1971. Most interesting here is the relationship between ‘Resistance to Interrogation’ and interrogation itself – and how one can bleed over into the other
Download: Download Interview (PDF)
Interrogation is the search for truth. … It can be a fishing expedition, in which case you want to find out what you can find out. But usually interrogation, particularly focussed interrogation – which is against the clock – (which is the most dangerous type to engage in) is done to find out a specific piece on information. …
…In a perfect world, where we’re all full of deep, liberal convictions, we sit down and say ‘Will you tell me about the PRF [Pulse Repetition Frequency] of the radar?’ and he says to you ‘Fuck off’ and you say, ‘Oh dear, do tell us, please, we really want to know!’ Sadly the real world is not like that. It never has been and it never will be.
If you have a terrorist who has planted a plutonium bomb in London, does this individual’s human rights override the rights of the hundred thousand people [who are going to be blown up]? I have no doubt as a human being where my sympathies lie. And therefore I would say that pressure to make the subject to give you the information you require is reasonable. But never forget that the information that the subject is giving you – if you put him under duress, he will tell you what he thinks you want to know to stop the duress. So you have to reach a stage where the individual is conditioned to come up with the answers that you want.
There’s a lot of nonsense talked about interrogation because of the SAS, the prone-to-capture troops, the hard-man role and the resistance-to-interrogation. A long time ago I was responsible for resistance to interrogation, which were certain types of submariners, (very few), a rather larger clutch of aircrew, particularly special forces aircrew, and of course the Special Forces themselves. By Special Forces I include MI5 and MI6 officers who…won’t be treated as nicely by the people who capture them as perhaps The Guardian would like us to treat them. That’s a fact of life. Therefore you have to give these people the chance to withstand the kind of pressures they might get from people who don’t believe in the Geneva Conventions or haven’t heard of the bloody Conventions. So a tradition has grown up, a folk-lore about how interrogation is – about black gloves, black rubber hoses, beating on the soles of the feet.
You can cause a lot of discomfort and some people will talk but interrogation is not about talking. It’s about the search for the truth. So you have to condition the person in such a way that he tells you the truth. That’s a function of his personality, of the time that’s available to you and the constraints under which you work. Most interrogators in my experience – which is limited to Northern Ireland and to training with people, MI5, MI6, the SAS – most people will talk to you if they find you congenial. So all the methods of interrogation are designed to speed up the process so that you can get to the sitting-down chatting bit.
There are 4 main methods. The first one is the hard man: slapping around, brutal treatment, being really horrible, sleep deprivation, food deprivation, buckets of cold water over people, don’t let them sleep, push a wall across Wales. These are all things that we would have done to the SAS under very close control.
Where were you in charge of training like this?
[In the early 1970s]. In those days – post-Compton, we were very clear that we were doing resistance to interrogation training, not interrogating. Although occasionally someone would crack…
What you’re at, with someone who is resisting, all the time, is the assault on the personality. Because we have a social personality… Why are SAS officers the way they are? If you hold up a mirror to the way a man appears, you will see his weaknesses, his perceived weaknesses. The guy who comes across as the hard man, why does he behave like that? You’re going for the nuclear personality. This is where brainwashing becomes interesting. The social personality is what hides the nuclear personality as far as possible. With Greville Wynne, the Soviets found out that he was a very fastidious man. So the Soviets put him in a bottle dungeon where he had to stand up and shit on the floor. When Wynne got back to this country, he was so psychologically damaged that he had to tear up tissue paper and clean his room obsessively in his hotel. He had a horror of being dirty.
All the time you’ve got a psychological attack going on, which is just as damaging as beating the guy with rubber hoses. The aim is to develop the point where the individual wants to tell you because he sees no other way. What usually happens in my experience is that people don’t break and burst into tears and say ‘I’ll tell you everything you want to know. What do you want to know?’ It’s like running into the wall in the marathon. They run out of steam. They’re just so tired, worn down by it all. They’ve got no lies to tell.
[Interrogation subjects in the world of intelligence tend to construct series of cover stories, like the skins of an onion. Interrogators have to] go through these stories, peeling the onion, trying to get to the core. And eventually, people run out of stories.
There are four techniques. There’s a) the hard man; b) The soft man (‘come on old chap, I’m your friend’). C) There’s the stupid interrogator, and d) there is the monotonous interrogator. Monotonous takes time, like wearing down a stone; and the stupid one is the hardest one because you have to be very, very good to be very bad.
Those are the four basics. A good interrogator can switch from one to the other. A good interrogator can also use dislocation of expectations. These four are like piano keys you can mix and match. You can use humiliation and ridicule. Now, we’re not supposed to do that in the West now, because we mustn’t make anyone unhappy. [Is stripping someone naked and ridiculing the size of his penis] humiliation? Of course it is! Is it a reasonable technique? By my judgement, yes. By the standards of wartime, yes. It may not be by the standards of Matrix Chambers…
In the end the guy talks because he wants to.
Traditional interrogation methods will come around again because the pressures of reality will force them to come around and again. What’s happened now because of various civil rights pressures – and also as a result of efforts by people like the IRA because they knew how damaging it was for them. For example, anyone who fell into the hands of the RUC immediately in Northern Ireland was assumed to have been turned, to have been targeted or to have given stuff away. We know that *** ****, the ****, was a member of big IRA family – if he was not in the IRA, he was the only member of the IRA who wasn’t and it was his job to go round Castlereagh and find out exactly what information IRA volunteers had given so that action could be taken to stop it. So there was a deliberate attempt by terrorist organisation – especially the IRA – to damage the interrogation process.