In July 1963, the CIA
printed a secret handbook on interrogation
that remained a standard reference for two decades. The text, "KUBARK Counterintelligence Interrogation," KUBARK being a cryptonym
, KU a random diptych and BARK the agency's code word for itself at that time-was produced under the aegis of James J. Angleton, the CIA's chief counterspy
from 1954 to 1974.
Like the late Angleton, it is sophisticated, scholarly, occasionally witty and utterly cold-blooded. Such interrogations were meant for traveling salesmen
, with corresponding intensity, skepticality, brutalness. A suspected Soviet agent, for example, would be handled with Soviet
The manual's description of coercive techniques, including the milder forms of torture practices the agency says it abandoned in 1985, makes it a Cold War artifact of the first order. The 128-page text was unearthed by a Freedom of Information request filed by The Baltimore Sun.
From the introduction
Once it is established that the source is probably a counterintelligence target (in other words, is probably a member of a foreign intelligence or security service, a Communist, or a part of any other group engaged in clandestine activity directed against the national security), the interrogation is planned and conducted with increasing intensity as the focus on source resistance grows sharper.
The legislation which founded KUBARK specifically denied it any law-enforcement or police powers. Yet detention in a controlled environment and perhaps for a lengthy period is frequently essential. Interrogations conducted under compulsion or duress are specially likely to involve illegality and to entail damaging consequences for KUBARK. Therefore, prior Headquarters approval must be obtained for the interrogation of any source against his will and under any of the following circumstances:
The manual then discusses "non-coercive" interrogation:
- If bodily harm is to be inflicted.
- If medical, chemical, or electrical methods or materials are to be used to induce acquiescence.
The effectiveness of most of the non-coercive techniques depends on their unsettling effect. The interrogation situation is in itself disturbing to most people encountering it for the first time. The aim is to enhance this effect, and to create a traumatic or sub-traumatic experience which explodes, as it were, the world that is familiar to the subject as well as his image of himself within that world......
The interrogator can create and amplify an effect of omniscience in a number of ways. For example, he can show the interrogatee a thick file bearing his own name. Even if the file contains little or nothing but blank paper, the air of familiarity with which the interrogator refers to the subject's background can convince some sources that all is known and that resistance is futile.
The manual describes some non-coercive techniques. First, the "Ivan Is a Dope" ploy, in which the suspected spy's intelligence service is bad-mouthed-prompting indignation perhaps, but also truthful responses:
It may be useful to point out to a hostile agent that the cover story was ill-contrived, that the other service botched the job, that it is typical of the other service to ignore the welfare of its agents. The interrogator sells the agent the idea that the interrogator, not his old service, represents a true friend, who understands him and will look after his welfare.
Next, the "Mutt and Jeff" routine, better known as the good-cop/bad-cop ruse:
This routine works best with women, teenagers, and timid men. The angry interrogator makes it plain that he personally considers the interrogatee the vilest person on earth. During the harangue the friendly, quiet interrogator breaks in to say, "Wait a minute, Jim. Take it easy." The angry interrogator shouts back, "Shut up! I'm handling this. I've broken crumb-bums like this before, and I'll break this one, wide open." When the door slams behind him, the second interrogator tells the subject how sorry he is, how he hates to work with a man like that but has no choice, how if maybe brutes like that would keep quiet and give the man a fair chance to tell his side of the story.
More esoteric was the "Spinoza and Mortimer Snerd" technique, in which a low-ranking spy would be grilled at length about great affairs of state of which he knows nothing to break his resistance to revealing the lesser details with which he is well-acquainted:
Continued questioning about topics that the source knows nothing about may pave the way for the extraction of information at lower levels. The interrogatee is asked about KGB policy. His complaints that he knows nothing of such matters are met with flat insistence that he does know, he would have to know, that even the most stupid men in his position know. Communist interrogators who used this tactic against American POW's coupled it with punishment. Numbers of Americans have mentioned "the tremendous feeling of relief you get when he finally asks you something you can answer." One said, "I know it seems strange now, but I was positively grateful to them when they switched to a topic I knew something about."
Then there was the "Alice in Wonderland" method:
The Alice in Wonderland technique is designed not only to obliterate the familiar but to replace it with the weird. A doubletalk question is followed by a wholly unrelated and equally illogical query, day after day. The subject begins to try to make sense of the situation, which becomes mentally intolerable. Now he is likely to make significant admissions, or even pour out his story, just to stop the flow of babble which assails him.
If all else failed, violence and other coercive methods were options. The Coercive Counterintelligence Interrogation of Resistant Sources:
The principal coercive techniques are arrest, detention, the deprivation of sensory stimuli, threats and fear, debility, pain, heightened suggestibility and hypnosis, and drugs.
If a coercive technique is to be used, or if two or more are to employed jointly, they should be chosen for their effect upon the individual and carefully selected to match his personality. The usual effect of coercion is regression. The interrogatee's mature defenses crumble as he becomes more childlike. The subject may experience feelings of guilt, and it is usually useful to intensify these......
No mention has been made of what is frequently the last step in an interrogation conducted by a Communist service: the attempted conversion. In the Western view the goal of questioning is information. However, this pragmatic indifference may be short-sighted. Less time may be required to complete his conversion (and conceivably to create an enduring asset) than might be needed to deal with his antagonism if he is merely squeezed and forgotten.