Intelligence Science Board Views Interrogation

01.15.07 | 2 min read | Text by Steven Aftergood

The current state of scientific knowledge regarding the conduct of interrogation and related forms of intelligence gathering is limited by numerous gaps in theoretical and practical understanding, according to a new book-length study (pdf) from the Intelligence Science Board, an advisory panel to the U.S. intelligence community.

The study was prompted by “concerns about recent U.S. interrogation activities, subsequent investigations, and the efficacy of contemporary tactics, techniques, and procedures.”

The ISB report is somewhat artfully titled “Educing Information,” a term that encompasses interrogation as well as other forms of eliciting information.

The study notes that an accurate perception of the realities of interrogation has been impeded by erroneous preconceptions shaped by wish-fulfillment or popular culture.

“A major stumbling block to the study of interrogation, and especially to the conduct of interrogation in field operations, has been the all-too-common misunderstanding of the nature and scope of the discipline.”

“Most observers, even those within professional circles, have unfortunately been influenced by the media’s colorful (and artificial) view of interrogation as almost always involving hostility and the employment of force — be it physical or psychological — by the interrogator against the hapless, often slow-witted subject.” (p. 95).

A detailed literature review, expert interviews and consideration of the historical record present a more qualified and uncertain picture.

Fundamentally, “there is little systematic knowledge available to tell us ‘what works’ in interrogation. We do not know what systems, methods, or processes of interrogation best protect the nation’s security.”

“For example, we lack systematic information to guide us as to who should perform interrogations. We do not know what benefits would result if we changed the way we recruit, train, and manage our interrogators.” (p. 8).

Dr. Paulette Otis, a contributor to the study (though not an ISB member), summarized her view of its practical conclusions as follows: “(1) pain does not elicit intelligence known to prevent greater harm; (2) the use of pain is counterproductive both in a tactical and strategic sense; (3) chemical and biological methods are unreliable; (4) research tends to indicate that ‘educing’ information without the use of harsh interrogation is more valuable.”

And, of course, “‘more’ research is necessary,” said Dr. Otis, who is Outreach Coordinator at the Center for Irregular Warfare and Operational Culture in Quantico.

The unclassified ISB study was sponsored by the Defense Intelligence Agency and the Counterintelligence Field Activity, among other U.S. intelligence entities.

See “Educing Information: Interrogation: Science and Art: Foundations for the Future,” Intelligence Science Board, Phase 1 Report, December 2006 (374 pages, 2.5 MB).