Interrogation Tactics: A Short Guide


“Interrogation” is a concept heard of by most of the population. Usually, we are made aware of its existence thanks to TV shows, movies, or other forms of media. Some examples of these shows are Appropriate Adult, Lie to Me and True Detectives. Such media entertainingly portrays interrogation, but even so, I still recommend the last two shows for their way of representing different interrogation tactics. Nevertheless, a common misconception is that police officers are interrogating their suspects. In reality, they are interviewing the suspects by asking for their version of the offense. Interrogation uses “accusatorial strategies” which extract a confession from the suspect This confession is the only accepted way of ending the encounter with the interrogated suspect. This article explores a couple of Interrogation Tactics used by different agents, while subjects such as physical and psychological abuse will not be covered. Indeed, such interrogation tactics are and were used, but Safety and Security professionals’ attention must be brought to other strategic means of obtaining intelligence in this day and age.

Intelligence interrogation is a dynamic event, and investigators and expert interrogators should be adaptable to the situations they find themselves in. Depending on the case, they should go through the following three stages: interviewing, questioning, and lastly, interrogating. Other types of interrogation also include debriefing and elicitation. Now, let us dive into the practical methods used by expert interrogators.

One of the things an interrogator will always want is to “attract” the suspect into the same motivational frame as they are. This alignment decreases the resistance of the receiver. To achieve this, one of the following persuasion tactics may be used: reciprocity, incentives, increasing the perception of credibility, providing consensus information, engaging processes of commitment and consistency, positivity/liking, self-disclosure, contrast and scarcity as force multipliers, and lastly, scarcity. Reciprocity refers to giving a small favor, such as offering food or water, showing honor and respect, or empathy. After such a favor, one should not request anything in return because this may create the feeling of obligation to return it. If the receiver considers the favor as a threat to their sense of choice or freedom, they may choose to be less cooperative. Incentives are ways of rewarding/motivating the receiver through a very powerful influencer, which can be done by rewarding an answer received from the subject with $5. This incentive will encourage the subject to divulge more information for another offered reward. Furthermore, the reward system should be thought-out and planned thoroughly. Two tips would be to avoid rewarding the receiver for disclosing already known information, and the reward should increase in quantity/quality. Being perceived as trustworthy and/or an expert on a topic can “Increase the perception of credibility and expertise”. Why? Because demonstrating authority either by appearance or job title can also influence cooperation. Unfortunately, examples such as the Stanford Prison Experiment proved that authority may generate compliance instead of the wished result. One last example of a persuasion tactic is “Contrast and scarcity as force multipliers”. This tactic represents the presentation of something in contrast to something else. For example, people are more likely to purchase a product costing $9.99 than one costing $10. Scarcity is based on contrast. In this context, scarcity refers to the receiver’s feeling that the opportunity is limited and there is a need for immediate action. This feeling can lead to cooperation, but the risk of instead encountering compliance still exists.

In a video for Wired, Joe Navarro, Body Language Expert and ex-FBI Agent, explained a few misconceptions and a few other practical tactics. One of the misconceptions the expert pointed out was that detecting deception through body language is not a reliable means. Forms of body language such as “touching the nose, clearing the throat, or touching the ear” do not mean that the subject is lying because “there are no such indications of deception”. What interrogators are looking for is discomfort and distress. After these behaviors are discovered, the investigators should try to uncover the reason for their appearance. Joe Navarro explained that “for example a person that shows signs of nervousness” (biting the lips, fidgeting their fingers in distress, or playing with their jewelry) may be distressed about something happening outside of the case at hand. External stressors such as having to pay more for a parking ticket can cause the subject to worry or become anxious, but being a single parent can also cause stress due to having to take care of a baby alone. In this case, the person should be helped to feel more comfortable discussing the distress, which can benefit both parties. A few methods of making a person feel more comfortable are the following: placing the subject near the door; talking to them in a low tone and slow manner to encourage relaxation at a subconscious level; presenting oneself shortly; staying at a distance from the person (giving them personal space because the violation of it may cause more discomfort and unwillingness to talk); less eye contact; starting with simple questions (encourages simple answers as a reply and thus helping the subject talk and make positive associations). The last method is used by experts to create a cognitive load. For example, a cognitive load can be detected when a person encounters difficulties in answering a simple question. As mentioned previously, this difficulty in answering is not a trial of deception, but it should raise attention to investigate the answer received.

In short, interrogation is an art that is hard to master because of the complexity of the human mind. An investigator should always pay attention and try to obtain all the available clues while not forcing the person into confessing. There are many more methods of interrogation that were not discussed, and none of the examples from this article may be considered the most important. In the future new interrogation methods that overshine the old may also appear. For now, this dynamic event can only be mastered by trial-and-error research and practice.

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