F. Threats and Fear
The threat of coercion usually weakens or destroys resistance more effectively than coercion itself. The threat to inflict pain, for example, can trigger fears more damaging than the immediate sensation of pain. In fact, most people underestimate their capacity to withstand pain. The same principle holds for other fears: sustained long enough, a strong fear of anything vague or unknown induces regression, whereas the materialization of the fear, the infliction of some form of punishment, is likely to come as a relief. The subject finds that he can hold out, and his resistances are strengthened. “In general, direct physical brutality creates only resentment, hostility, and further defiance.” (18)
The effectiveness of a threat depends not only on what sort of person the interrogatee is and whether he believes that his questioner can and will carry the threat out but also on the interrogator’s reasons for threatening. If the interrogator threatens because he is angry, the subject frequently senses the fear of failure underlying the anger and is strengthened in his own resolve to resist. Threats delivered coldly are more effective than those shouted in rage. It is especially important that a threat not be uttered in response to the interrogatee’s own expressions of hostility. These, if ignored, can induce feelings of guilt, whereas retorts in kind relieve the subject’s feelings.
Another reason why threats induce compliance not evoked by the inflection of duress is that the threat grants the interrogatee time for compliance. It is not enough that a resistant source should placed under the tension of fear; he must also discern an acceptable escape route. Biderman observes, “Not only can the shame or guilt of defeat in the encounter with the interrogator be involved, but also the more fundamental injunction to protect one’s self-autonomy or ‘will’…. A simple defense against threats to the self from the anticipation of being forced to comply is, of course, to comply ‘deliberately’ or ‘voluntarily’…. To the extent that the foregoing interpretation holds, the more intensely motivated the [interrogatee] is to resist, the more intense is the pressure toward early compliance from such anxieties, for the greater is the threat to self-esteem which is involved in contemplating the possibility of being ‘forced to’ comply….” (6) In brief, the threat is like all other coercive techniques in being most effective when so used as to foster regression and when joined with a suggested way out of the dilemma, a rationalization acceptable to the interrogatee.
The threat of death has often been found to be worse than useless. It “has the highest position in law as a defense, but in many interrogation situations it is a highly ineffective threat. Many prisoners, in fact, have refused to yield in the face of such threats who have subsequently been ‘broken’ by other procedures.” (3) The principal reason is that the ultimate threat is likely to induce sheer hopelessness if the interrogatee does not believe that it is a trick; he feels that he is as likely to be condemned after compliance as before. The threat of death is also ineffective when used against hard-headed types who realize that silencing them forever would defeat the interrogator’s purpose. If the threat is recognized as a bluff, it will not only fail but also pave the way to failure for later coercive ruses used by the interrogator.
No report of scientific investigation of the effect of debility upon the interrogatee’s powers of resistance has been discovered. For centuries interrogators have employed various methods of inducing physical weakness: prolonged constraint; prolonged exertion; extremes of heat, cold, or moisture; and deprivation or drastic reduction of food or sleep. Apparently the assumption is that lowering the source’s physiological resistance will lower his psychological capacity for opposition. If this notion were valid, however, it might reasonably be expected that those subjects who are physically weakest at the beginning of an interrogation would be the quickest to capitulate, a concept not supported by experience. The available evidence suggests that resistance is sapped principally by psychological rather than physical pressures. The threat of debility – for example, a brief deprivation of food – may induce much more anxiety than prolonged hunger, which will result after a while in apathy and, perhaps, eventual delusions or hallucinations. In brief, it appears probable that the techniques of inducing debility become counter-productive at an early stage. The discomfort, tension, and restless search for an avenue of escape are followed by withdrawal symptoms, a turning away from external stimuli, and a sluggish unresponsiveness.
Another objection to the deliberate inducing of debility is that prolonged exertion, loss of sleep, etc., themselves become patterns to which the subject adjusts through apathy. The interrogator should use his power over the resistant subject’s physical environment to disrupt patterns of response, not to create them. Meals and sleep granted irregularly, in more than abundance or less than adequacy, the shifts occuring on no discernible time pattern, will normally disorient an interrogatee and sap his will to resist more effectively than a sustained deprivation leading to debility.
Everyone is aware that people react very differently to pain. The reason, apparently, is not a physical difference in the intensity of the sensation itself. Lawrence E. Hinkle observes, “The sensation of pain seems to be roughly equal in all men, that is to say, all people have approximately the same threshold at which they begin to feel pain, and when carefully graded stimuli are applied to them, their estimates of severity are approximately the same…. Yet… when men are very highly motivated… they have been known to carry out rather complex tasks while enduring the most intense pain.” He also states, “In general, it appears that whatever may be the role of the constitutional endowment in determining the reaction to pain, it is a much less important determinant than is the attitude of the man who experiences the pain.” (7)
The wide range of individual reactions to pain may be partially explicable in terms of early conditioning. The person whose first encounters with pain were frightening and intense may be more violently affected by its later infliction than one whose original experiences were mild. Or the reverse may be true, and the man whose childhood familiarized him with pain may dread it less, and react less, than one whose distress is heightened by fear of the unknown. The individual remains the determinant.
It has been plausibly suggested that, whereas pain inflicted on a person from outside himself may actually focus or intensify his will to resist, his resistance is likelier to be sapped by pain which he seems to inflict upon himself. “In the simple torture situation the contest is one between the individual and his tormentor (…. and he can frequently endure). When the individual is told to stand at attention for long periods, an intervening factor is introduced. The immediate source of pain is not the interrogator but the victim himself. The motivational strength of the individual is likely to exhaust itself in this internal encounter…. As long as the subject remains standing, he is attributing to his captor the power to do something worse to him, but there is actually no showdown of the ability of the interrogator to do so.” (4)
Interrogatees who are withholding but who feel qualms of guilt and a secret desire to yield are likely to become intractable if made to endure pain. The reason is that they can then interpret the pain as punishment and hence as expiation. There are also persons who enjoy pain and its anticipation and who will keep back information that they might otherwise divulge if they are given reason to expect that withholding will result in the punishment that they want. Persons of considerable moral or intellectual stature often find in pain inflicted by others a confirmation of the belief that they are in the hands of inferiors, and their resolve not to submit is strengthened.
Intense pain is quite likely to produce false confessions, concocted as a means of escaping from distress. A time-consuming delay results, while investigation is conducted and the admissions are proven untrue. During this respite the interrogatee can pull himself together. He may even use the time to think up new, more complex “admissions” that take still longer to disprove. KUBARK is especially vulnerable to such tactics because the interrogation is conducted for the sake of information and not for police purposes.
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 that 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. And he is likely to be right. Interrogatees who have withstood pain are more difficult to handle by other methods. The effect has been not to repress the subject but to restore his confidence and maturity.
I. Heightened Suggestibility and Hypnosis
In recent years a number of hypotheses about hypnosis have been advanced by psychologists and others in the guise of proven principles. Among these are the flat assertions that a person connot be hypnotized against his will; that while hypnotized he cannot be induced to divulge information that he wants urgently to conceal; and that he will not undertake, in trance or through post-hypnotic suggestion, actions to which he would normally have serious moral or ethical objections. If these and related contentions were proven valid, hypnosis would have scant value for the interrogator.
But despite the fact that hypnosis has been an object of scientific inquiry for a very long time, none of these theories has yet been tested adequately. Each of them is in conflict with some observations of fact. In any event, an interrogation handbook cannot and need not include a lengthy discussion of hypnosis. The case officer or interrogator needs to know enough about the subject to understand the circumstances under which hypnosis can be a useful tool, so that he can request expert assistance appropriately.
Operational personnel, including interrogators, who chance to have some lay experience or skill in hypnotism should not themselves use hypnotic techniques for interrogation or other operational purposes. There are two reasons for this position. The first is that hypnotism used as an operational tool by a practitioner who is not a psychologist, psychiatrist, or M.D. can produce irreversible psychological damage. The lay practitioner does not know enough to use the technique safely. The second reason is that an unsuccessful attempt to hypnotize a subject for purposes of interrogation, or a successful attempt not adequately covered by post-hypnotic amnesia or other protection, can easily lead to lurid and embarrassing publicity or legal charges.
Hypnosis is frequently called a state of heightened suggestibility, but the phrase is a description rather than a definition. Merton M. Gill and Margaret Brenman state, “The psychoanalytic theory of hypnosis clearly implies, where it does not explicitly state, that hypnosis is a form of regression.” And they add, “…induction [of hypnosis] is the process of bringing about a regression, while the hypnotic state is the established regression.” (13) It is suggested that the interrogator will find this definition the most useful. The problem of overcoming the resistance of an uncooperative interrogatee is essentially a problem of inducing regression to a level at which the resistance can no longer be sustained. Hypnosis is one way of regressing people.
Martin T. Orne has written at some length about hypnosis and interrogation. Almost all of his conclusions are tentatively negative. Concerning the role played by the will or attitude of the interrogates, Orne says, “Although the crucial experiment has not yet been done, there is little or no evidence to indicate that trance can be induced against a person’s wishes.” He adds, “…the actual occurrence of the trance state is related to the wish of the subject to enter hypnosis.” And he also observes, “…whether a subject will or will not enter trance depends upon his relationship with the hyponotist rather than upon the technical procedure of trance induction.” These views are probably representative of those of many psychologists, but they are not definitive. As Orne himself later points out, the interrogatee “… could be given a hypnotic drug with appropriate verbal suggestions to talk about a given topic. Eventually enough of the drug would be given to cause a short period of unconsciousness. When the subject wakes, the interrogator could then read from his ‘notes’ of the hypnotic interview the information presumably told him.” (Orne had previously pointed out that this technique requires that the interrogator possess significant information about the subject without the subject’s knowledge.) “It can readily be seen how this… maneuver… would facilitate the elicitation of information in subsequent interviews.” (7) Techniques of inducing trance in resistant subjects through preliminary administration of so-called silent drugs (drugs which the subject does not know he has taken) or through other non-routine methods of induction are still under investigation. Until more facts are known, the question of whether a resister can be hypnotized involuntarily must go unanswered.
Orne also holds that even if a resister can be hypnotized, his resistance does not cease. He postulates “… that only in rare interrogation subjects would a sufficiently deep trance be obtainable to even attempt to induce the subject to discuss material which he is unwilling to discuss in the waking state. The kind of information which can be obtained in these rare instances is still an unanswered question.” He adds that it is doubtful that a subject in trance could be made to reveal information which he wished to safeguard. But here too Orne seems somewhat too cautious or pessimistic. Once an interrogatee is in a hypnotic trance, his understanding of reality becomes subject to manipulation. For example, a KUBARK interrogator could tell a suspect double agent in trance that the KGB is conducting the questioning, and thus invert the whole frame of reference. In other words, Orne is probably right in holding that most recalcitrant subjects will continue effective resistance as long as the frame of reference is undisturbed. But once the subject is tricked into believing that he is talking to friend rather than foe, or that divulging the truth is the best way to serve his own purposes, his resistance will be replaced by cooperation. The value of hypnotic trance is not that it permits the interrogator to impose his will but rather that it can be used to convince the interrogatee that there is no valid reason not to be forthcoming.
A third objection raised by Orne and others is that material elicited during trance is not reliable. Orne says, “… it has been shown that the accuracy of such information… would not be guaranteed since subjects in hypnosis are fully capable of lying.” Again, the observation is correct; no known manipulative method guarantees veracity. But if hypnosis is employed not as an immediate instrument for digging out the truth but rather as a way of making the subject want to align himself with his interrogators, the objection evaporates.
Hypnosis offers one advantage not inherent in other interrogation techniques or aids: the post-hypnotic suggestion. Under favorable circumstances it should be possible to administer a silent drug to a resistant source, persuade him as the drug takes effect that he is slipping into a hypnotic trance, place him under actual hypnosis as consciousness is returning, shift his frame of reference so that his reasons for resistance become reasons for cooperating, interrogate him, and conclude the session by implanting the suggestion that when he emerges from trance he will not remember anything about what has happened.
This sketchy outline of possible uses of hypnosis in the interrogation of resistant sources has no higher goal than to remind operational personnel that the technique may provide the answer to a problem not otherwise soluble. To repeat: hypnosis is distinctly not a do-it-yourself project. Therefore the interrogator, base, or center that is considering its use must anticipate the timing sufficiently not only to secure the obligatory headquarters permission but also to allow for an expert’s travel time and briefing.
Just as the threat of pain may more effectively induce compliance than its infliction, so an interrogatee’s mistaken belief that he has been drugged may make him a more useful interrogation subject than he would be under narcosis. Louis A. Gottschalk cites a group of studies as indicating “that 30 to 50 per cent of individuals are placebo reactors, that is, respond with symptomatic relief to taking an inert substance.” (7) In the interrogation situation, moreover, the effectiveness of a placebo may be enhanced because of its ability to placate the conscience. The subject’s primary source of resistance to confession or divulgence may be pride, patriotism, personal loyalty to superiors, or fear of retribution if he is returned to their hands. Under such circumstances his natural desire to escape from stress by complying with the interrogator’s wishes may become decisive if he is provided an acceptable rationalization for compliance. “I was drugged” is one of the best excuses.
Drugs are no more the answer to the interrogator’s prayer than the polygraph, hypnosis, or other aids. Studies and reports “dealing with the validity of material extracted from reluctant informants… indicate that there is no drug which can force every informant to report all the information he has. Not only may the inveterate criminal psychopath lie under the influence of drugs which have been tested, but the relatively normal and well-adjusted individual may also successfully disguise factual data.” (3) Gottschalk reinforces the latter observation in mentioning an experiment involving drugs which indicated that “the more normal, well-integrated individuals could lie better than the guilt-ridden, neurotic subjects.” (7)
Nevertheless, drugs can be effective in overcoming resistance not dissolved by other techniques. As has already been noted, the so-called silent drug (a pharmacologically potent substance given to a person unaware of its administration) can make possible the induction of hypnotic trance in a previously unwilling subject. Gottschalk says, “The judicious choice of a drug with minimal side effects, its matching to the subject’s personality, careful gauging of dosage, and a sense of timing… [make] silent administration a hard-to-equal ally for the hypnotist intent on producing self-fulfilling and inescapable suggestions… the drug effects should prove… compelling to the subject since the perceived sensations originate entirely within himself.” (7)
Particularly important is the reference to matching the drug to the personality of the interrogatee. The effect of most drugs depends more upon the personality of the subject than upon the physical characteristics of the drugs themselves. If the approval of Headquarters has been obtained and if a doctor is at hand for administration, one of the most important of the interrogator’s functions is providing the doctor with a full and accurate description of the psychological make-up of the interrogatee, to facilitate the best possible choice of a drug.
Persons burdened with feelings of shame or guilt are likely to unburden themselves when drugged, especially if these feelings have been reinforced by the interrogator. And like the placebo, the drug provides an excellent rationalization of helplessness for the interrogatee who wants to yield but has hitherto been unable to violate his own values or loyalties.
Like other coercive media, drugs may affect the content of what an interrogatee divulges. Gottschalk notes that certain drugs “may give rise to psychotic manifestations such as hallucinations, illusions, delusions, or disorientation”, so that “the verbal material obtained cannot always be considered valid.” (7) For this reason drugs (and the other aids discussed in this section) should not be used persistently to facilitate the interrogative debriefing that follows capitulation. Their function is to cause capitulation, to aid in the shift from resistance to cooperation. Once this shift has been accomplished, coercive techniques should be abandoned both for moral reasons and because they are unnecessary and even counter-productive.
This discussion does not include a list of drugs that have been employed for interrogation purposes or a discussion of their properties because these are medical considerations within the province of a doctor rather than an interogator.
K. The Detection of Malingering
The detection of malingering is obviously not an interrogation technique, coercive or otherwise. But the history of interrogation is studded with the stories of persons who have attempted, often successfully, to evade the mounting pressures of interrogation by feigning physical or mental illness. KUBARK interrogators may encounter seemingly sick or irrational interrogatees at times and places which make it difficult or next-to-impossible to summon medical or other professional assistance. Because a few tips may make it possible for the interrogator to distinguish between the malingerer and the person who is genuinely ill, and because both illness and malingering are sometimes produced by coercive interrogation, a brief discussion of the topic has been included here.
Most persons who feign a mental or physical illness do not know enough about it to deceive the well-informed. Malcolm L. Meltzer says, “The detection of malingering depends to a great extent on the simulator’s failure to understand adequately the characteristics of the role he is feigning…. Often he presents symptoms which are exceedingly rare, existing mainly in the fancy of the layman. One such symptom is the delusion of misidentification, characterized by the… belief that he is some powerful or historic personage. This symptom is very unusual in true psychosis, but is used by a number of simulators. In schizophrenia, the onset tends to be gradual, delusions do not spring up full-blown over night; in simulated disorders, the onset is usually fast and delusions may be readily available. The feigned psychosis often contains many contradictory and inconsistent symptoms, rarely existing together. The malingerer tends to go to extremes in his portrayal of his symptoms; he exaggerates, overdramatizes, grimaces, shouts, is overly bizarre, and calls attention to himself in other ways….
“Another characteristic of the malingerer is that he will usually seek to evade or postpone examination. A study of the behavior of lie-detector subjects, for example, showed that persons later ‘proven guilty’ showed certain similarities of behavior. The guilty persons were reluctant to take the test, and they tried in various ways to postpone or delay it. They often appeared highly anxious and sometimes took a hostile attitude toward the test and the examiner. Evasive tactics sometimes appeared, such as sighing, yawning, moving about, all of which foil the examiner by obscuring the recording. Before the examination, they felt it necessary to explain why their responses might mislead the examiner into thinking they were lying. Thus the procedure of subjecting a suspected malingerer to a lie-detector test might evoke behavior which would reinforce the suspicion of fraud.” (7)
Meltzer also notes that malingerers who are not professional psychologists can usually be exposed through Rorschach tests.
An important element in malingering is the frame of mind of the examiner. A person pretending madness awakens in a professional examiner not only suspicion but also a desire to expose the fraud, whereas a well person who pretends to be concealing mental illness and who permits only a minor symptom or two to peep through is much likelier to create in the expert a desire to expose the hidden sickness.
Meltzer observes that simulated mutism and amnesia can usually be distinguished from the true states by narcoanalysis. The reason, however, is the reverse of the popular misconception. Under the influence of appropriate drugs the malingerer will persist in not speaking or in not remembering, whereas the symptoms of the genuinely afflicted will temporarily disappear. Another technique is to pretend to take the deception seriously, express grave concern, and tell the “patient” that the only remedy for his illness is a series of electric shock treatments or a frontal lobotomy.
A brief summary of the foregoing may help to pull the major concepts of coercive interrogation together:
1. The principal coercive techniques are arrest, detention, the deprivation of sensory stimuli, threats and fear, debility, pain, heightened suggestibility and hypnosis, and drugs.
2. If a coercive technique is to be used, or if two or more are to be employed jointly, they should be chosen for their effect upon the individual and carefully selected to match his personality.
3. The usual effect of coercion is regression. The interrogatee’s mature defenses crumbles as he becomes more childlike. During the process of regression the subject may experience feelings of guilt, and it is usually useful to intensify these.
4. When regression has proceeded far enough so that the subject’s desire to yield begins to overbalance his resistance, the interrogator should supply a face-saving rationalization. Like the coercive technique, the rationalization must be carefully chosen to fit the subject’s personality.
5. The pressures of duress should be slackened or lifted after compliance has been obtained, so that the interrogatee’s voluntary cooperation will not be impeded.
No mention has been made of what is frequently the last step in an interrogation conducted by a Communist service: the attempted conversion. In the Western view the goal of the questioning is information; once a sufficient degree of cooperation has been obtained to permit the interrogator access to the information he seeks, he is not ordinarily concerned with the attitudes of the source. Under some circumstances, however, this pragmatic indifference can be short-sighted. If the interrogatee remains semi-hostile or remorseful after a successful interrogation has ended, less time may be required to complete his conversion (and conceivably to create an enduring asset) than might be needed to deal with his antagonism if he is merely squeezed and forgotten.