Context: Research for Brainwash: The Secret History of Mind Control
Location: Reading, UK
Interviewee: British Army Interrogation Royal Intelligence Corps
This army interrogator, a senior NCO from the Intelligence Corps with a number of decades’ experience, is very good on the role of interrogation in war and the importance of maintaining the ‘shock of capture’ . He has some interesting revelations about the US military’s use of white noise – and some straightforwad views regarding journalists who accuse men like him of ‘torturing’ subjects – when in reality they have no idea what war is actually all about.
His views on Northern Ireland (‘It’s not the Irish Republican TEA PARTY, is it?’) are well worth reading. Funnily enough, I put his comments on the harsh interrogation techniques deployed in Belfast in the early 1970s to a former IRA member – who agreed with them entirely. It’s worth noting that both men were appalled by goings-on at Abu Ghraib and Guantanamo Bay. This interviewee’s comments on interrogation there are well worth noting. The interview was conducted in a pub in Reading, UK in 2005
Download: Download Interview (PDF)
Where were you taught to interrogate?
Every single Intelligence Corps NCO certainly and indeed officer was expected by the time they’d been in the Corps for about 4 or 5 years to have gone through a tactical questioning and prisoner handling course. But we were taught, certainly during the training side, all about interview techniques and extraction of information, bearing in mind that a lot of our work was all to do with investigation – let’s say the loss of a parcel in an office. Or it might be (and I was involved in), in West Germany, interviewing people who came across the border by train or something… The whole business of human intelligence and extraction of information was inherent in the Corps and had been inherent in the Corps for many, many years. It was nothing new. We just carried on where the field security team left off.
Then when we did RA1 as NCOs – class A trade exam, class one, we then did the week’s tactical questioning/prisoner handling. And this was to equip us with skills that would allow us to select a prisoner and how that prisoner could be briefly questioned, or was required for further interrogation further up the line. Every unit should have had a tactical prisoner handler. The whole part of the prisoner handling was to be taught how to handle a prisoner so that – while that prisoner was not mistreated in any way – but was nevertheless handled in a fit state when he was pushed up the line he was still going to be indoctrinated (if that’s the right word) into talking to an interrogator.
Keep him sweet?
Keep him sweet.
So there is a rapid first interrogation – and then if the prisoner seems to have relevant information, he is moved on up the chain?
Yes. It’s important to appreciate that a prisoner of war is a bit like a dead body or a document, a piece of SIGINT or something you pick up, a wrecked vehicle. A prisoner is nothing more than an element of the intelligence process. The prisoner has the same value as a body to a certain extent, as signals intelligence. But there is one critical difference: that the prisoner has been in contact with the enemy most recently. You have to bear in mind that a prisoner is probably the most defensive person on the battlefield. He is being handled by people who don’t speak their language, doesn’t know what’s going to happen to him, doesn’t know when he’s going to see his family again, doesn’t know when he’s going to get his next meal, or his next drink. All he knows is that he is in the hands of the enemy. That’s all he knows. And it is frankly a very upsetting experience. It really is. And that is shown in a thing called The Shock of Capture. When a person is captured, they go through a psychological process of shock. And you will experience shock, perhaps, at school, when somebody said to you at school, ‘Oh, the headmaster wants to see you Monday morning at 9’. And you spend the entire weekend wondering what the headmaster wants to see you about. Your heart will race, your hands will feel clammy. If you’re roaring down the motorway at 90 and you see a blue light in your mirror, and as the police car comes nearer and nearer, you will begin to get the signs of shock. As the car passes, everything will drain away, of course. But the whole idea is to retain that shock of capture in the best way possible. Very, very difficult in different conditions.
Nevertheless, every prisoner will experience that shock because he doesn’t know what is going to happen to him. Life for him is very bleak. It really is. The prisoner himself, if he is trained, will be thinking about a) Escape; and b) ‘If I can’t escape, how am I going to resist?’ So that’s what we were trained to do. We were trained to identify the prisoners, for further interrogation. To maintain the shock of capture, and to decrease the chance of resistance in further interrogation.
Did they teach you about the history of interrogation?
Oh yeah, I remember the training film. We used to watch a training film called Camp 020. Absolutely. It was all there. We used to get handouts on the turning of prisoners. It was all part of our job. The Intelligence Corps is a very special corps. It was all part of our job, to turn people if we could. To use agents and sources. 020, the experiences of the prisoners of Korea and so forth, was all part of the history that we learned.
When did you join?
I transferred in 1970 from the **** Corps. …We had an exercise in Germany against the Danes, and each rounded each other up and up against the wall and so forth. I became interested in the interrogation process.
When the Danes caught you, they used the full white noise treatment?
No. Just tactical questioning. But we were questioned by Brits who I now know to be **** Company. We were given about 8 hours worth or so. Quite an experience.
Not with the noise, though?
No. You wouldn’t get the noise at that stage. It was just a couple of troopers, perhaps the odd officer, in a barn somewhere. As you would expect to be captured. I think we were not allowed to go through the full lot at that stage because we were not what was called at that stage Prone-to-Capture. Every soldier is prone to capture, of course, but there was – aircrew, special forces, navy divers, and a whole raft of other people.
There was a relationship to what happened in Korea, wasn’t there? Were your lecturers Korean veterans?
Yes, of course. And when I was an instructor, we got a sergeant from the Glosters who had been captured in Korea. He had been captured at the Imjin River. He had spent three months denying that he knew anything about a 303 rifle – which was his weapon! Great resilience. Why do you want to tell these Koreans about the 303? We also used to get Americans who had been captured in Vietnam. This was when I was instructing. We were exposed to these people.
The real push in counter-interrogation training came from Korea in the first place, didn’t it? Escape and Evasion?
Yes. It’s a bit more fundamental than that. By then the threat was a communist threat. Resisting the Germans in WWII was – there was no real, there was a programme in WWII on resistance to interrogation. But because it was wartime, not many aircrew went through it. They were told, ‘When you bale out of the aircraft, the only thing you think about is survival. And when you hit the deck, you’re in enemy territory.’ There’s this whole trauma – burning aircraft, or being captured at Dieppe. Very real. Very hard to get it across just how traumatic these experiences can be.
The problem with Korea was that for the first time, Allied/Western forces had fallen into the hands of communists and they had a whole different way of approaching this. Much more against the individuals. The other factor about the army of Korea is that a large number of the men who fought then were left-wing. And so the Koreans and the Chinese would say ‘But of course, you are our allies, aren’t you?’ This was a major dilemma for ordinary men – suddenly to be exposed to this whole ideology. And there was this re-education process. Very hard to get through, and men signed confessions – I don’t blame them. None of these men had ever had this training before. Suddenly these pressures are coming, conditions are very bad.