The Coercion Continuum

The methods outlined in the interrogation manual indicate that the CIA has given considerable thought to designing optimal means of making people talk. The tactics stretch across the full continuum of coercion -- from mild mind games to harrowing tortures. The ideal interrogation, as described in the manual, is methodical, comprehensive, and meticulously planned. It is broken down into distinct phases, tailored to the personality of the subject, and conducted by a sizable squad of specialists -- including an interviewer for thorough screening of the subject, a polygraph operator to check for lies, an audio technician to man the tape recorder in the "listening post," and, in extreme cases, an expert hypnotist or a doctor to administer drugs.

The manual divides the tactics into two categories: coercive and non-coercive. Before describing the gentler tactics, the manual reminds the CIA interrogator that "the non-coercive interrogation is not conducted without pressure. On the contrary, the goal is to generate maximum pressure, or at least as much as is needed to induce compliance. The difference is that the pressure is generated inside the interrogatee. His resistance is sapped, his urge to yield is fortified, until in the end he defeats himself" (p. 52).

Interrogators should recognize that even before questioning begins, many subjects will be in a jarred, vulnerable state, the manual says. "Interrogation, as both situation and process, does itself exert significant internal pressure upon the interrogatee as long as he is not permitted to accustom himself to it" (p. 40). The pressures of arrest, detention, and questioning set the stage for "rapid exploitation of the moment of shock" by the interrogator (p. 66).

The frightened subject can be manipulated with any one of an assortment of tricks, the manual says, such as the time-tested "good cop, bad cop" routine. Deception can prove especially useful, as when interrogators produce forged confessions and edited tape recordings to make the subject think his associates have already spilled the beans, thereby removing a key reason to withhold information (p. 70).

Many of the tactics labeled "non-coercive" are nonetheless quite cruel, such as the "Alice in Wonderland" method detailed on p. 76. The aim of the technique "is to confound the expectations and conditioned reactions of the interrogatee"; it is "designed not only to obliterate the familiar but to replace it with the weird." For the subject barraged with "double-talk questions" and "illogical" statements, all sensible points of reference begin to blur: "[A]s the process continues, day after day if necessary, 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 to pour out his whole story, just to stop the flow of babble which assails him."

Confusion is presented as a reliable weapon for the interrogator. "The capacity for resistance is diminished by disorientation," the manual notes, suggesting that "the subject may be left alone for days; and he may be returned to his cell, allowed to sleep for five minutes, and brought back to an interrogation which is conducted as though eight hours had intervened." The effect will be to "disrupt the source's sense of chronological order" (pp. 49-50). As the subject tries to retain a grip on reality, "thwarting his attempts to do so is likely to drive him deeper and deeper into himself, until he is no longer able to control his responses in adult fashion" (p. 77).

This strategy is the basis of the more severe methods in the manual. Recommended for use on "resistant sources," the coercive tactics focus a psychological attack with the goal of driving the subject into a child-like mental state:

It is a fundamental hypothesis of this handbook

that these techniques... are in essence methods

of inducing regression of the personality to

whatever earlier and weaker level is required

for the dissolution of resistance and the

inculcation of dependence. All of the techniques

employed to break through an interrogation

roadblock, the entire spectrum from simple

isolation to hypnosis and narcosis, are

essentially ways of speeding up the process of

regression. As the interrogatee slips back from

maturity toward a more infantile state, his

learned or structured personality traits fall

away in a reversed chronological order, so that

the characteristics most recently acquired --

which are also the characteristics drawn upon by

the interrogatee in his own defense -- are the

first to go. As Gill and Brenman have pointed

out, regression is basically a loss of autonomy.

The manual mentions techniques that are indeed violations of physical and psychological autonomy. Among the methods listed for fostering the "calculated regression of the interrogatee" are solitary confinement, sensory-deprivation, and the use of threats, pain, drugs, and even hypnosis, which is thought to have unique attributes:

Hypnosis offers one advantage not inherent in

other interrogation techniques or aids: the post-

hypnotic suggestion. Under favorable circumstances

it should be possible to administer a silent drug

to a resistant source, persuade him as the drug

takes effect that he is slipping into a hypnotic

trance, place him under actual hypnosis as

consciousness is returning, shift his frame of

reference so that his reasons for resistance become

reasons for cooperating, interrogate him, and

conclude the session by implanting the suggestion

that when he emerges from trance he will not

remember anything about what has happened (p. 98).

There are hints in the manual about what lies at the harshest end of the CIA's coercion continuum. On p. 8, the manual refers to CIA policy on authorizing the most brutal tactics mentioned, stating that "prior Headquarters approval at the KUDOVE level must be obtained for the interrogation of any source against his will and under any of the following circumstances: 1. If bodily harm is to be inflicted. 2. If medical, chemical, or electrical methods or materials are to be used to induce acquiescence. 3. [deleted]." This deletion caused National Public Radio commentator Daniel Schorr to remark: "Can you imagine what kind of horror that was, to have the CIA excise it even now?" (11)

Aside from the brief mention of "electrical methods," the manual's discussion of the interrogation setting includes a paragraph that appears to be a reference to use of electric shocks: "If a new safehouse is to be used as the interrogation site, it should be studied carefully to be sure that the total environment can be manipulated as desired. For example, the electric current should be known in advance, so that transformers or other modifying devices will be on hand if needed" (p. 46).

The most spectacular case on record of the CIA's use of the manual's methods is that of KGB defector Yuri Nosenko, who the agency kept in solitary confinement for three-and-a-half years beginning in 1964. The manual counsels that Soviet defectors "are often RIS [Russian Intelligence Service] agents" sent to mislead the United States (pp. 16, 43). The infamous CIA counterintelligence chief James Jesus Angleton, whose suspicions resulted in Nosenko's detention and interrogation, believed the former KGB man was just such a plant. As a result of Angleton's paranoia, the CIA would force the would-be defector to prove his sincerity by withstanding years in a torturous environment.

Attempting to force a confession from Nosenko, the CIA imprisoned him in a specially built isolation cell at Camp Perry, the agency's secret base near Williamsburg, Virginia. There Nosenko's guards denied him reading material, human contact, privacy (his cell was constantly monitored), sufficient food, and for extended periods, heat, air conditioning, and sunlight. Nosenko's movements were limited to those he could conduct in a 10 x 10-foot space. His attempts to build playthings out of napkins, matches and pieces of lint were quickly frustrated by the CIA men, who would allow no such diversions. Nosenko's discomfort and boredom were interrupted only by abusive interrogations, which were often accompanied by body cavity searches and exhaustive polygraph sessions. He reports that he was given drugs on a number of occasions -- including what he believes was LSD. (12) As this manual attests, by the mid-1960s the use of drugs and other means of manipulating the mind in interrogations had been fully explored by the CIA.