An Ex-Spy Told Us The 16 Best Ways To Interrogate Someone

Movies and horror stories from Guantanamo Bay give a misleading impression of the dark art of interrogation, here are the 16 different approaches that I used when working for the US Government...
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In the movies one spy or prisoner knows everything; if the interrogator breaks him/her, the critical intelligence and the truth all tumble out. That’s show biz!  In reality, real interrogation work means using multiple sources to produce tranches of information leading to actionable intelligence. The more you know, the better the questions you ask. The Buddhists say: “the key to life is not to know all the answers but to understand the questions.”

Military Intelligence believes in interrogation using what they like to call The Black Arts or 'approaches' - the basic sixteen psychological ploys used to overcome an enemy’s resistance to reveal all.

These techniques are employed quite effectively and have no reliance upon torture. Military Intelligence interrogators do not believe in torture. Historical experience has shown them that if you torture a prisoner they will say anything to make it stop, but you may not be any closer to the truth.

Military Intelligence Interrogators are trained in “Strategic Debriefing” at Fort Huachuca, Arizona. The focus of the course is role-play employing the “Approaches” techniques while always being in compliance with the Geneva Convention Mandate of “no violence to life or cruel treatment.”

The Sixteen “Approaches:”

Direct Approach: Believe it or not, 90% of the time, if you ask a prisoner or a terrorist a question, they will answer. It may not be the truth but it is information that can be used later on for leverage.

Establish Identity: This is a very effective technique. You start your interrogation by telling a terrorist he is a spy captured without a uniform therefore losing the protection of the Geneva Convention. The prisoner responds by refuting the charges therefore establishing his identity by going on to explain that he is fighting as a soldier in the Holy War – telling you more than he had planned.

‘We Know It All’: This technique is used to convince the prisoner that the interrogator knows everything: someone else has talked and the prisoner needs to answer questions in their own self -interest. This works because the prisoner feels they are not betraying anything, as the interrogator knows it all already.  The problem with this technique is that you need vast knowledge of your enemy.

Good Cop, Bad Cop: A sympathetic interrogator versus a loud, aggressive interrogator. This needs sophisticated role play to work but can be very effective if the sympathetic interrogator builds rapport with the prisoner.

Silent Treatment: The interrogator says nothing in the interrogation room but just stares at the prisoner. This technique usually only works with unstable or untrained prisoners.

Love of Family: An interrogator leverages the prisoner’s feelings toward his loved ones and what might happen to them if he doesn’t comply with the interrogator.

Love of Country or Comrades: An interrogator convinces a prisoner to think of his comrades; he talks and therefore keeps them safe.

Hate of Country or Comrades: An interrogator convinces the prisoner he has been abandoned and isolated. Revenge is the key to this technique.

Incompetent Interrogator: An interrogator convinces an arrogant prisoner with illusions of superiority that he, the interrogator, is incompetent. This is a very effective technique in the Middle East when female interrogators are sent to interview high-ranking officials.

Rapid Fire: An interrogator fires continuous questions while constantly interrupting the prisoner as they try to answer. The prisoner through exasperation may answer truthfully when finally given an opportunity to speak.

Pride and Ego-positive: An interrogator praises the prisoner as a warrior/soldier saying he fought well.  The interrogator stresses comradeship, which can be a building block to getting the prisoner to talk soldier-to-soldier.

Pride and Ego-Negative: A most misused tactic by young interrogators who forget that their job is to get information, not to judge the prisoner. Instead of building rapport, the interrogator focuses on being in charge and berates the prisoner and his culture.

Fear: An interrogator pounds the table, threatens the prisoner with a focus on their fears which, in most cases, are always worse than the reality.

Calm: An interrogator shows compassion and the prisoner reciprocates and gives information.

Train is Leaving: An interrogator convinces the prisoner that timing is a major factor. He needs to talk now or there is no deal for leniency.

Combination Play: An interrogator uses more than one technique.

The key to military interrogation success is to give perceived incentives to the prisoner using this as a building block in getting them to give up information.

However, another government agency (OGA), non-military (feel free to think of James Bond but without the British accent. This should give you a clue as to the agency I refer to), believes in a more aggressive approach. The main tenet of the OGA in regard to interrogation is that they believe the key to breaking a prisoner is to induce regression, which destroys a prisoner’s ability to employ deception and to lie. These interrogators are advocates of that political hot potato known as Enhanced Interrogation Techniques which include sleep deprivation, stress positions, physical striking and degradation of the prisoner, exposure to extremes of temperature, removal of sensory stimuli, any and all disorienting techniques, identifying the specific fears of the prisoner, what they value or fear most and use of these to manipulate them, break down their defences and make them talk.

An additional important tenet adhered to by this group of Patriots is “Kinesis” –  the physical manifestation a person exhibits when being deceptive or, in more simple terms, body language when lying. When a person attempts to deceive, the body manifests in some of the following ways: erratic eye movement, defensive body posture, pulse increase, sweating, twitching etc.  For example, a person crossing their arms in front of their chest may be a signal of a deceptive or defensive response to a question. The key to using this technique effectively is to establish a baseline of natural movements and actions when the person is telling the truth and anomalies will signify the possibility of deception.

As we know from modern day debates, there are advocates and critics of both methods. All I would add is that the key to successful intelligence operations, military or not, is to turn enemy combatants into assets and put them back in the field on your side.  Any good interrogator will tell you that long-term incentives usually work better for building rapport than Enhanced Interrogation Techniques which are focused on the short-term goal of getting the prisoner to speak but leave little room for 'Turning the Asset'.

About the Author
“Jon Augustine” is a former spy who served as an officer in the United States Army Intelligence Support Activity (USAISA). “The Activity” is a top-secret Special Operations Unit that collects actionable intelligence in advance of missions by other US Special Operations forces, especially counter-terrorist operations.  Mr. Augustine is one of the founders of the Long Island Spy Museum (

About the Long Island Spy Museum
Founded in 2010, the Long Island Spy Museum is the only non-profit, apolitical museum in New York that is dedicated to educating and informing the public about the role of spies and spycraft and how they have shaped and affected American history.  For more information visit

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