from the FAS Project on Government Secrecy
Volume 2010, Issue No. 68
August 27, 2010

Secrecy News Blog:


Intelligence personnel who are trying to elicit information from a prisoner or a detainee can effectively do so in a non-coercive manner, according to the Intelligence Science Board (ISB), an official advisory group to the Director of National Intelligence.

"The United States and other democracies can benefit from exploring and learning more in the area of non-coercive intelligence interviewing," the Board said in a sequel to its December 2006 report on "Educing Information" ("Intelligence Science Board Views Interrogation," Secrecy News, January 15, 2007). That earlier study found that existing U.S. intelligence interrogation practices were not scientifically well-founded. "The study team could not discover an objective scientific basis for the techniques commonly used by U.S. interrogators."

The newly disclosed follow-on report, dated April 2009, "is written primarily for individuals concerned with 'high-value' detainees and those who focus mainly on strategic interrogation." It provides a survey of behavioral science perspectives on topics relevant to the interrogation process -- including persuasion, power, stress, resistance, and memory -- as well as two case studies of actual interrogations.

A copy of the ISB report was obtained by Secrecy News. See "Intelligence Interviewing: Teaching Papers and Case Studies," A Report from the Study on Educing Information, Intelligence Science Board, April 2009 (211 pages).

The ISB report adopted the new term "intelligence interviewing" instead of "interrogation" in part because it said "interrogation" is freighted with stereotypes often involving coercion. The report emphasized the utility of non-coercive interrogation but acknowledged the difficulty of empirically establishing its superiority to coercive questioning.

"During Phases I and II, contributors could find no studies that compare the results of 'coercive' interrogations with those of non-coercive intelligence interviews. It is also difficult to imagine how such studies might be conducted in a scientifically valid, let alone morally acceptable, manner."

The ISB study notably dissected the "ticking time bomb" scenario that is often portrayed in television thrillers (and which has "captured the public imagination"). The authors patiently explained why that hypothetical scenario is not a sensible guide to interrogation policy or a justification for torture. Moral considerations aside, the ISB report said, coercive interrogation may produce unreliable results, foster increased resistance, and preclude the discovery of unsuspected intelligence information of value (pp. 40-42).

"There also are no guarantees that non-coercive intelligence interviewing will obtain the necessary information," the report said. "However, the United States has important recent examples of effective, non-coercive intelligence interviewing with high value detainees."

The ISB said its report could "provide experienced and successful interviewers a more formal understanding of the approaches they may have used instinctively. It may also help them to communicate their expertise to their colleagues... This [report] is intended to foster thinking and discussion and to encourage knowledge-based teaching, research, and practice. It does not, and cannot, offer doctrine or prescriptions. It is a start, not an end."

The mission of the Intelligence Science Board is "to provide the Intelligence Community with outside expert advice and unconventional thinking, early notice of advances in science and technology, insight into new applications of existing technology, and special studies that require skills or organizational approaches not resident within the Intelligence Community."


Rare earth elements -- of which there are 17, including the 15 lanthanides plus yttrium and scandium -- are needed in many industrial and national security applications, from flat panel displays to jet fighter engines. Yet there are foreseeable stresses on the national and global supply of these materials.

"The United States was once self-reliant in domestically produced [rare earth elements], but over the past 15 years has become 100% reliant on imports, primarily from China," a new report from the Congressional Research Service observes. "The dominance of China as a single or dominant supplier [...] is a cause for concern because of China’s growing internal demand for its [own rare earth elements]," the report said.

The CRS report provides background and analysis on the uses of rare earth elements, existing reserves, national security applications, the global supply chain and relevant legislation. See "Rare Earth Elements: the Global Supply Chain," July 28, 2010:


In "The Twilight of the Bombs," the fourth and final volume of his epic history of the nuclear era, author Richard Rhodes examines "how the dangerous post-Cold War transition was managed, who its heroes were, what we learned from it, and where it carried us."

Covering the years 1990-2010, from the collapse of the Soviet Union onward, much of the latest history is familiar. But by focusing on nuclear weapons development, proliferation and testing, Rhodes fashions his own narrative arc, enriched by new interviews and insights.

In the end, he sees a hopeful trajectory of "nuclear limitation and foreclosure: from Mikhail Gorbachev's and Ronald Reagan's initiatives to end the Cold War, to the voluntary disarming of the former Soviet republics and the security of nuclear materials, to the U.S. and Russia's deepening mutual arms reduction, to the up-and-down negotiations with North Korea that have nevertheless prevented another Korean war, to international diplomatic pressure brought to bear effectively on India and Pakistan, to the persistent march forward of negotiations toward treaties to limit nuclear testing and proliferation." (However, Rhodes does not specifically address the case of Iran's nuclear program, as noted by Tim Rutten in an August 18 review in the Los Angeles Times.)

In the concluding pages of the book, Rhodes posits an analogy between previous campaigns to eradicate or limit disease and current efforts to abolish nuclear weapons, which he deems both necessary and feasible. "In 1999, for the first time in human history, infectious diseases no longer ranked first among causes of death worldwide" thanks to the discipline of public health. In a similarly efficacious way, he says, the ingredients of the analogous discipline of public safety against nuclear weapons "have already begun to assemble themselves: materials control and accounting, cooperative threat reduction, security guarantees, agreements and treaties, surveillance and inspection, sanctions, forceful disarming if all else fails."

"The Twilight of the Bombs" cannot match Rhodes' first volume on "The Making of the Atomic Bomb" for sheer mythological power, but it is fluidly and eloquently written. The author's prose ranges widely, sometimes vertiginously: In the book's Index, Scott Ritter comes right after Rainer Maria Rilke, the Ayatollah Khomeini is just above Nicole Kidman, and Sig Hecker of Los Alamos is separated from Jesse Helms by G.W.F. Hegel.

Mr. Rhodes (who I should say has been a consistent supporter of Secrecy News) ends the book with Acknowledgments, including a valentine to his wife: "She, not thermonuclear fusion, makes the sun shine."


Secrecy News is written by Steven Aftergood and published by the Federation of American Scientists.

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