Interrogation, The Obama way

The Obama administration is considering overhauling the way terror suspects are interrogated by creating a small team of professionals drawn from across the government, according to people familiar with a proposal that will be submitted to the White House.

The new unit, comprising members of spy services and law-enforcement agencies, would be used for so-called high-value detainees, they said. In a switch from Bush-era efforts, it wouldn’t be run by the Central Intelligence Agency, though who might be in charge isn’t specified.

One of the team’s tasks would likely be to devise a new set of interrogation methods, according to one person familiar with the proposal. Those techniques could be drawn from sources ranging from scientific studies to the psychology behind television ads.

The new interrogation team, if adopted, would represent the Obama administration’s effort to sweep away a contentious counterterrorism issue that has dogged the CIA and Justice Department since a U.S. network of secret prisons was revealed in 2005. The team would reduce the CIA’s controversial role in interrogations, but the agency remains at odds with Congress. On Friday, the House intelligence committee launched a probe into whether the CIA broke the law by withholding information from the panel about a secret plan examining al Qaeda hit teams as well as other matters.

CIA spokesman Paul Gimigliano said the agency will “work closely with the committee on this review.”

There could, however, be some similarities with the approach taken by the Bush administration. The team’s efforts, for example, would focus more on gathering intelligence than on assembling evidence suitable for use in a criminal trial.
In 1963 a CIA program known as KUBARK created the Manual of Counter-Intelligence Interrogation for dissemination to its operatives. The manual contains detailed instructions on interrogating people who may have vital information, such as captured operatives. Using modern behavioral psychology the manual takes the operative step-by-step through the entire process of establishing and conducting counter-intelligence interrogation operations, from legal and policy considerations to selecting the right interrogator, to defining the personality types of those to be interrogated (and thus choosing the right approach for each individual) to “coercive” methods for extracting information from un-cooperative subjects. A fascinating document that is as valid today as it was forty years ago – perhaps one of the most important pieces of applied behavioral psychology ever created, and only begins to reveal the dark side of intelligence gathering interrogation operations such as today’s Rendition program.


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