The CIA’s 1963 Torture Manual In Its Entirety, Part V

POSTED September 9, 2013
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Spinoza and Mortimer Snerd

If there is reason to suspect that a withholding source possesses useful counterintelligence information but has not had access to the upper reaches of the target organizations, the policy and command level, continued questioning about lofty topics that the source knows nothing about may pave the way for the extraction of information at lower levels. The interrogatee is asked about KGB policy, for example: the relation of the service to its government, its liaison arrangements, etc., etc. His complaints that he knows nothing of such matters are met by flat insistence that he does know, he would have to know, that even the most stupid men in his position know. Communist interrogators who used this tactic against American POW’s coupled it with punishment for “don’t know” responses — typically by forcing the prisoner to stand at attention until he gave some positive response. After the process had been continued long enough, the source was asked a question to which he did know the answer. Numbers of Americans have mentioned “…the tremendous feeling of relief you get when he finally asks you something you can answer.” One said, “I know it seems strange now, but I was positively grateful to them when they switched to a topic I knew something about.”(3)

The Wolf in Sheep’s Clothing

It has been suggested that a successfully withholding source might be tricked into compliance if led to believe that he is dealing with the opposition. The success of the ruse depends upon a successful imitation of the opposition. A case officer previously unknown to the source and skilled in the appropriate language talks with the source under such circumstances that the latter is convinced that he is dealing with the opposition. The source is debriefed on what he has told the Americans and what he has not told them. The trick is likelier to succeed if the interrogatee has not been in confinement but a staged “escape,” engineered by a stool-pigeon, might achieve the same end. Usually the trick is so complicated and risky that its employment is not recommended.

Alice in Wonderland

The aim of the Alice in Wonderland or confusion technique is to confound the expectations and conditioned reactions of the interrogatee. He is accustomed to a world that makes some sense, at least to him: a world of continuity and logic, a predictable world. He clings to this world to reinforce his identity and powers of resistance.

The confusion technique is designed not only to obliterate the familiar but to replace it with the weird. Although this method can be employed by a single interrogator, it is better adapted to use by two or three. When the subject enters the room, the first interrogator asks a doubletalk question — one which seems straightforward but is essentially nonsensical. Whether the interrogatee tries to answer or not, the second interrogator follows up (interrupting any attempted response) with a wholly unrelated and equally illogical query. Sometimes two or more questions are asked simultaneously. Pitch, tone, and volume of the interrogators’ voices are unrelated to the import of the questions. No pattern of questions and answers is permitted to develop, nor do the questions themselves relate logically to each other. In this strange atmosphere the subject finds that the pattern of speech and thought which he has learned to consider normal have been replaced by an eerie meaninglessness. The interrogatee may start laughing or refuse to take the situation seriously. But as the process continues, day after day if necessary, the subject begins to try to make sense of the situation, which becomes mentally intolerable. Now he is likely to make significant admissions, or even to pour out his story, just to stop the flow of babble which assails him. This technique may be especially effective with the orderly, obstinate type.


There are a number of non-coercive techniques for inducing regression, All depend upon the interrogator’s control of the environment and, as always, a proper matching of method to source. Some interrogatees can be repressed by persistent manipulation of time, by retarding and advancing clocks and serving meals at odd times — ten minutes or ten hours after the last food was given. Day and night are jumbled. Interrogation sessions are similarly unpatterned the subject may be brought back for more questioning just a few minutes after being dismissed for the night. Half-hearted efforts to cooperate can be ignored, and conversely he can be rewarded for non-cooperation. (For example, a successfully resisting source may become distraught if given some reward for the “valuable contribution” that he has made.) The Alice in Wonderland technique can reinforce the effect. Two or more interrogators, questioning as a team and in relays (and thoroughly jumbling the timing of both methods) can ask questions which make it impossible for the interrogatee to give sensible, significant answers. A subject who is cut off from the world he knows seeks to recreate it, in some measure, in the new and strange environment. He may try to keep track of time, to live in the familiar past, to cling to old concepts of loyalty, to establish — with one or more interrogators — interpersonal relations resembling those that he has had earlier with other people, and to build other bridges back to the known. Thwarting his attempts to do so is likely to drive him deeper and deeper into himself, until he is no longer able to control his responses in adult fashion.

The placebo technique is also used to induce regression The interrogatee is given a placebo (a harmless sugar pill). Later he is told that he has imbibed a drug, a truth serum, which will make him want to talk and which will also prevent his lying. The subject’s desire to find an excuse for the compliance that represents his sole avenue of escape from his distressing predicament may make him want to believe that he has been drugged and that no one could blame him for telling his story now. Gottschelk observes, “Individuals under increased stress are more likely to respond to placebos.”(7)

Orne has discussed an extensions of the placebo concept in explaining what he terms the “magic room” technique. “An example… would be… the prisoner who is given a hypnotic suggestion that his hand is growing warm. However, in this instance, the prisoner’s hand actually does become warm, a problem easily resolved by the use of a concealed diathermy machine. Or it might be suggested… that… a cigarette will taste bitter. Here again, he could be given a cigarette prepared to have a slight but noticeably bitter taste.” In discussing states of heightened suggestibility (which are not, however, states of trance) Orne says, “Both hypnosis and some of the drugs inducing hypnoidal states are popularly viewed as situations where the individual is no longer master of his own fate and therefore not responsible for his actions. It seems possible then that the hypnotic situation, as distinguished from hypnosis itself, might be used to relieve the individual of a feeling of responsibility for his own actions and thus lead him to reveal information.”(7)

In other words, a psychologically immature source, or one who has been regressed, could adopt an implication or suggestion that he has been drugged, hypnotized, or otherwise rendered incapable of resistance, even if he recognizes at some level that the suggestion is untrue, because of his strong desire to escape the stress of the situation by capitulating. These techniques provide the source with the rationalization that he needs.

Whether regression occurs spontaneously under detention or interrogation, and whether it is induced by a coercive or non-coercive technique, it should not be allowed to continue past the point necessary to obtain compliance. Severe techniques of regression are best employed in the presence of a psychiatrist, to insure full reversal later. As soon as he can, the interrogator presents the subject with the way out, the face-saving reason for escaping from his painful dilemma by yielding. Now the interrogator becomes fatherly. Whether the excuse is that others have already confessed (“all the other boys are doing it”), that the interrogatee had a chance to redeem himself (“you’re really a good boy at heart”), or that he can’t help himself (“they made you do it”), the effective rationalization, the one the source will jump at, is likely to be elementary. It is an adult’s version of the excuses of childhood.

The Polygraph

The polygraph can be used for purposes other than the evaluation of veracity. For example, it may be used as an adjunct in testing the range of languages spoken by an interrogatee or his sophistication in intelligence matters, for rapid screening to determine broad areas of knowledgeability, and as an aid in the psychological assessment of sources. Its primary function in a counterintelligence interrogation, however, is to provide a further means of testing for deception or withholding.

A resistant source suspected of association with a hostile clandestine organization should be tested polygraphically at least once. Several examinations may be needed. As a general rule, the polygraph should not be employed as a measure of last resort. More reliable readings will be obtained if the instrument is used before the subject has been placed under intense pressure, whether such pressure is coercive or not. Sufficient information for the purpose is normally available after screening and one or two interrogation sessions.

Although the polygraph has been a valuable aid, no interrogator should feel that it can carry his responsibility for him. [approx. 7 lines deleted] (9)

The best results are obtained when the CI interrogator and the polygraph operator work closely together in laying the groundwork for technical examination. The operator needs all available information about the personality of the source, as well as the operational background and reasons for suspicion. The CI interrogator in turn can cooperate more effectively and can fit the results of technical examination more accurately into the totality of his findings if he has a basic comprehension of the instrument and its workings.

The following discussion is based upon R.C. Davis’ “Physiological Responses as a Means of Evaluating Information.”(7) Although improvements appear to be in the offing, the instrument in widespread use today measures breathing, systolic blood pressure, and galvanic skin response (GSR). “One drawback in the use of respiration as an indicator,” according to Davis, “is its susceptibility to voluntary control.” Moreover, if the source “knows that changes in breathing will disturb all physiologic variables under control of the autonomic division of the nervous system, and possibly even some others, a certain amount of cooperation or a certain degree of ignorance is required for lie detection by physiologic methods to work.” In general, “… breathing during deception is shallower and slower than in truth telling… the inhibition of breathing seems rather characteristic of anticipation of a stimulus.”

The measurement of systolic blood pressure provides a reading on a phenomenon not usually subject to voluntary control. The pressure “… will typically rise by a few millimeters of mercury in response to a question, whether it is answered truthfully or not. The evidence is that the rise will generally be greater when (the subject) is lying.” However, discrimination between truth-telling and lying on the basis of both breathing and blood pressure “… is poor (almost nil) in the early part of the sitting and improves to a high point later.”

The galvanic skin response is one of the most easily triggered reactions, but recovery after the reaction is slow, and “… in a routine examination the next question is likely to be introduced before recovery is complete. Partly because of this fact there is an adapting trend in the GSR with stimuli repeated every few minutes the response gets smaller, other things being equal.”

Davis examines three theories regarding the polygraph. The conditional response theory holds that the subject reacts to questions that strike sensitive areas, regardless of whether he is telling the truth or not. Experimentation has not substantiated this theory. The theory of conflict presumes that a large physiologic disturbance occurs when the subject is caught between his habitual inclination to tell the truth and his strong desire not to divulge a certain set of facts. Davis suggests that if this concept is valid, it holds only if the conflict is intense. The threat-of-punishment theory maintains that a large physiologic response accompanies lying because the subject fears the consequence of failing to deceive. “In common language it might be said that he fails to deceive the machine operator for the very reason that he fears he will fail. The ‘fear’ would be the very reaction detected.” This third theory is more widely held than the other two. Interrogators should note the inference that a resistant source who does not fear that detection of lying will result in a punishment of which he is afraid would not, according to this theory, produce significant responses.


The validity of graphological techniques for the analysis of the personalities of resistant interrogatees has not been established. There is some evidence that graphology is a useful aid in the early detection of cancer and of certain mental illnesses. If the interrogator or his unit decides to have a source’s handwriting analyzed, the samples should be submitted to Headquarters as soon as possible, because the analysis is more useful in the preliminary assessment of the source than in the later interrogation. Graphology does have the advantage of being one of the very few techniques not requiring the assistance or even the awareness of the interrogatee. As with any other aid, the interrogator is free to determine for himself whether the analysis provides him with new and valid insights, confirms other observations, is not helpful, or is misleading.


IX. Coercive Counterintelligence Interrogation
of Resistant Sources

A. Restrictions

The purpose of this part of the handbook is to present basic information about coercive techniques available for use in the interrogation situation. It is vital that this discussion not be misconstrued as constituting authorization for the use of coercion at field discretion . As was noted earlier, there is no such blanket authorization.

[approx. 10 lines deleted]

For both ethical and pragmatic reasons no interrogator may take upon himself the unilateral responsibility for using coercive methods. Concealing from the interrogator’s superiors an intent to resort to coercion, or its unapproved employment, does not protect them. It places them, and KUBARK, in unconsidered jeopardy.
B. The Theory of Coercion

Coercive procedures are designed not only to exploit the resistant source’s internal conflicts and induce him to wrestle with himself but also to bring a superior outside force to bear upon the subject’s resistance. Non-coercive methods are not likely to succeed if their selection and use is not predicated upon an accurate psychological assessment of the source. In contrast, the same coercive method may succeed against persons who are very unlike each other. The changes of success rise steeply, nevertheless, if the coercive technique is matched to the source’s personality. Individuals react differently even to such seemingly non-discriminatory stimuli as drugs. Moreover, it is a waste of time and energy to apply strong pressures on a hit-or-miss basis if a tap on the psychological jugular will produce compliance.

All coercive techniques are designed to induce regression. As Hinkle notes in “The Physiological State of the Interrogation Subject as it Affects Brain Function”(7), the result of external pressures of sufficient intensity is the loss of those defenses most recently acquired by civilized man: “… the capacity to carry out the highest creative activities, to meet new, challenging, and complex situations, to deal with trying interpersonal relations, and to cope with repeated frustrations. Relatively small degrees of homeostatic derangement, fatigue, pain, sleep loss, or anxiety may impair these functions.” As a result, “most people who are exposed to coercive procedures will talk and usually reveal some information that they might not have revealed otherwise.”

One subjective reaction often evoked by coercion is a feeling of guilt. Meltzer observes, “In some lengthy interrogations, the interrogator may, by virtue of his role as the sole supplier of satisfaction and punishment, assume the stature and importance of a parental figure in the prisoner’s feeling and thinking. Although there may be intense hatred for the interrogator, it is not unusual for warm feelings also to develop. This ambivalence is the basis for guilt reactions, and if the interrogator nourishes these feelings, the guilt may be strong enough to influence the prisoner’s behavior…. Guilt makes compliance more likely….”(7).

Farber says that the response to coercion typically contains “… at least three important elements: debility, dependency, and dread.” Prisoners “… have reduced viability, are helplessly dependent on their captors for the satisfaction of their many basic needs, and experience the emotional and motivational reactions of intense fear and anxiety…. Among the [American] POW’s pressured by the Chinese Communists, the DDD syndrome in its full-blown form constituted a state of discomfort that was well-nigh intolerable.” (11). If the debility-dependency-dread state is unduly prolonged, however, the arrestee may sink into a defensive apathy from which it is hard to arouse him.

Psychologists and others who write about physical or psychological duress frequently object that under sufficient pressure subjects usually yield but that their ability to recall and communicate information accurately is as impaired as the will to resist. This pragmatic objection has somewhat the same validity for a counterintelligence interrogation as for any other. But there is one significant difference. Confession is a necessary prelude to the CI interrogation of a hitherto unresponsive or concealing source. And the use of coercive techniques will rarely or never confuse an interrogatee so completely that he does not know whether his own confession is true or false. He does not need full mastery of all his powers of resistance and discrimination to know whether he is a spy or not. Only subjects who have reached a point where they are under delusions are likely to make false confessions that they believe. Once a true confession is obtained, the classic cautions apply. The pressures are lifted, at least enough so that the subject can provide counterintelligence information as accurately as possible. In fact, the relief granted the subject at this time fits neatly into the interrogation plan. He is told that the changed treatment is a reward for truthfulness and an evidence that friendly handling will continue as long as he cooperates.

The profound moral objection to applying duress past the point of irreversible psychological damage has been stated. Judging the validity of other ethical arguments about coercion exceeds the scope of this paper. What is fully clear, however, is that controlled coercive manipulation of an interrogatee may impair his ability to make fine distinctions but will not alter his ability to answer correctly such gross questions as “Are you a Soviet agent? What is your assignment now? Who is your present case officer?”

When an interrogator senses that the subject’s resistance is wavering, that his desire to yield is growing stronger than his wish to continue his resistance, the time has come to provide him with the acceptable rationalization: a face-saving reason or excuse for compliance. Novice interrogators may be tempted to seize upon the initial yielding triumphantly and to personalize the victory. Such a temptation must be rejected immediately. An interrogation is not a game played by two people, one to become the winner and the other the loser. It is simply a method of obtaining correct and useful information. Therefore the interrogator should intensify the subject’s desire to cease struggling by showing him how he can do so without seeming to abandon principle, self-protection, or other initial causes of resistance. If, instead of providing the right rationalization at the right time, the interrogator seizes gloatingly upon the subject’s wavering, opposition will stiffen again.

The following are the principal coercive techniques of interrogation: arrest, detention, deprivation of sensory stimuli through solitary confinement or similar methods, threats and fear, debility, pain, heightened suggestibility and hypnosis, narcosis, and induced regression. This section also discusses the detection of malingering by interrogatees and the provision of appropriate rationalizations for capitulating and cooperating.
C. Arrest

The manner and timing of arrest can contribute substantially to the interrogator’s purposes. “What we aim to do is to ensure that the manner of arrest achieves, if possible, surprise, and the maximum amount of mental discomfort in order to catch the suspect off balance and to deprive him of the initiative. One should therefore arrest him at a moment when he least expects it and when his mental and physical resistance is at its lowest. The ideal time at which to arrest a person is in the early hours of the morning because surprise is achieved then, and because a person’s resistance physiologically as well as psychologically is at its lowest…. If a person cannot be arrested in the early hours…, then the next best time is in the evening….

[approx. 10 lines deleted]” (1)
D. Detention

If, through the cooperation of a liaison service or by unilateral means, arrangements have been made for the confinement of a resistant source, the circumstances of detention are arranged to enhance within the subject his feelings of being cut off from the known and the reassuring, and of being plunged into the strange. Usually his own clothes are immediately taken away, because familiar clothing reinforces identity and thus the capacity for resistance. (Prisons give close hair cuts and issue prison garb for the same reason.) If the interrogatee is especially proud or neat, it may be useful to give him an outfit that is one or two sizes too large and to fail to provide a belt, so that he must hold his pants up.

The point is that man’s sense of identity depends upon a continuity in his surroundings, habits, appearance, actions, relations with others, etc. Detention permits the interrogator to cut through these links and throw the interrogatee back upon his own unaided internal resources.

Little is gained if confinement merely replaces one routine with another. Prisoners who lead monotonously unvaried lives “… cease to care about their utterances, dress, and cleanliness. They become dulled, apathetic, and depressed.”(7) And apathy can be a very effective defense against interrogation. Control of the source’s environment permits the interrogator to determine his diet, sleep pattern, and other fundamentals. Manipulating these into irregularities, so that the subject becomes disorientated, is very likely to create feelings of fear and helplessness. Hinkle points out, “People who enter prison with attitudes of foreboding, apprehension, and helplessness generally do less well than those who enter with assurance and a conviction that they can deal with anything that they may encounter…. Some people who are afraid of losing sleep, or who do not wish to lose sleep, soon succumb to sleep loss….” (7)

In short, the prisoner should not be provided a routine to which he can adapt and from which he can draw some comfort — or at least a sense of his own identity. Everyone has read of prisoners who were reluctant to leave their cells after prolonged incarceration. Little is known about the duration of confinement calculated to make a subject shift from anxiety, coupled with a desire for sensory stimuli and human companionship, to a passive, apathetic acceptance of isolation and an ultimate pleasure in this negative state. Undoubtedly the rate of change is determined almost entirely by the psychological characteristics of the individual. In any event, it is advisable to keep the subject upset by constant disruptions of patterns.

For this reason, it is useful to determine whether the interrogattee has been jailed before, how often, under what circumstances, for how long, and whether he was subjected to earlier interrogation. Familiarity with confinement and even with isolation reduces the effect.
E. Deprivation of Sensory Stimuli

The chief effect of arrest and detention, and particularly of solitary confinement, is to deprive the subject of many or most of the sights, sounds, tastes, smells, and tactile sensations to which he has grown accustomed. John C. Lilly examined eighteen autobiographical accounts written by polar explorers and solitary seafarers. He found “… that isolation per se acts on most persons as a powerful stress…. In all cases of survivors of isolation at sea or in the polar night, it was the first exposure which caused the greatest fears and hence the greatest danger of giving way to symptoms; previous experience is a powerful aid in going ahead, despite the symptoms. “The symptoms most commonly produced by isolation are superstition, intense love of any other living thing, perceiving inanimate objects as alive, hallucinations, and delusions.” (26)

The apparent reason for these effects is that a person cut off from external stimuli turns his awareness inward, upon himself, and then projects the contents of his own unconscious outwards, so that he endows his faceless environment with his own attributes, fears, and forgotten memories. Lilly notes, “It is obvious that inner factors in the mind tend to be projected outward, that some of the mind’s activity which is usually reality-bound now becomes free to turn to phantasy and ultimately to hallucination and delusion.”

A number of experiments conducted at McGill University, the National Institute of Mental Health, and other sites have attempted to come as close as possible to the elimination of sensory stimuli, or to masking remaining stimuli, chiefly sounds, by a stronger but wholly monotonous overlay. The results of these experiments have little applicability to interrogation because the circumstances are dissimilar. Some of the findings point toward hypotheses that seem relevant to interrogation, but conditions like those of detention for purposes of counterintelligence interrogation have not been duplicated for experimentation.

At the National Institute of Mental Health two subjects were “… suspended with the body and all but the top of the head immersed in a tank containing slowly flowing water at 34.5 [degrees] C (94.5 [degrees] F)….” Both subjects wore black-out masks, which enclosed the whole head but allowed breathing and nothing else. The sound level was extremely low; the subject heard only his own breathing and some faint sounds of water from the piping. Neither subject stayed in the tank longer than three hours. Both passed quickly from normally directed thinking through a tension resulting from unsatisfied hunger for sensory stimuli and concentration upon the few available sensations to private reveries and fantasies and eventually to visual imagery somewhat resembling hallucinations.

“In our experiments, we notice that after immersion the day apparently is started over, i. e., the subject feels as if he has risen from bed afresh; this effect persists, and the subject finds he is out of step with the clock for the rest of the day.”

Drs. Wexler, Mendelson, Leiderman, and Solomon conducted a somewhat similar experiment on seventeen paid volunteers. These subjects were “… placed in a tank-type respirator with a specially built mattress…. The vents of the respirator were left open, so that the subject breathed for himself. His arms and legs were enclosed in comfortable but rigid cylinders to inhibit movement and tactile contact. The subject lay on his back and was unable to see any part of his body. The motor of the respirator was run constantly, producing a dull, repetitive auditory stimulus. The room admitted no natural light, and artificial light was minimal and constant.” (42) Although the established time limit was 36 hours and though all physical needs were taken care of, only 6 of the 17 completed the stint. The other eleven soon asked for release. Four of these terminated the experiment because of anxiety and panic; seven did so because of physical discomfort. The results confirmed earlier findings that (1) the deprivation of sensory stimuli induces stress; (2) the stress becomes unbearable for most subjects; (3) the subject has a growing need for physical and social stimuli; and (4) some subjects progressively lose touch with reality, focus inwardly, and produce delusions, hallucinations, and other pathological effects.

In summarizing some scientific reporting on sensory and perceptual deprivation, Kubzansky offers the following observations:

“Three studies suggest that the more well-adjusted or ‘normal’ the subject is, the more he is affected by deprivation of sensory stimuli. Neurotic and psychotic subjects are either comparatively unaffected or show decreases in anxiety, hallucinations, etc.” (7)

These findings suggest – but by no means prove – the following theories about solitary confinement and isolation:

1. The more completely the place of confinement eliminates sensory stimuli, the more rapidly and deeply will the interrogatee be affected. Results produced only after weeks or months of imprisonment in an ordinary cell can be duplicated in hours or days in a cell which has no light (or weak artificial light which never varies), which is sound-proofed, in which odors are eliminated, etc. An environment still more subject to control, such as water-tank or iron lung, is even more effective.

2. An early effect of such an environment is anxiety. How soon it appears and how strong it is depends upon the psychological characteristics of the individual.

3. The interrogator can benefit from the subject’s anxiety. As the interrogator becomes linked in the subject’s mind with the reward of lessened anxiety, human contact, and meaningful activity, and thus with providing relief for growing discomfort, the questioner assumes a benevolent role. (7)

4. The deprivation of stimuli induces regression by depriving the subject’s mind of contact with an outer world and thus forcing it in upon itself. At the same time, the calculated provision of stimuli during interrogation tends to make the regressed subject view the interrogator as a father-figure. The result, normally, is a strengthening of the subject’s tendencies toward compliance.

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