Wednesday, October 24, 2007

Getting Truth From Interrogations

Yesterday I watcher a TV interview by Charlie Rose of Michael Hayden, director of the CIA. Hayden who, as one would expect, was articulate and an effective spokesperson for his agency. He emphasized that the CIA is not police nor a prison agency, and holds people only when doing so contributes to the gathering of intelligence, and even then only under very clearly defined guidelines and conditions.

He emphasized that the CIA approach to obtaining information from a person it holds is best termed "debriefing". The interrogator and the prisoner sit across from each other at a table and talk. He said that were he able to describe the process in detail, most Americans would be very comfortable that the methods are appropriate and not overly coercive. On the other hand, he said that he would not fully describe those methods, because to do so would allow trainers of terrorists to better prepare them to resist debriefing.

I thought it interesting that he stressed that the most effective means to improve interrogation results was to provide the interrogator with more information. An interrogator who is able to show the person who is being interrogated that the questioner understands the situation, probably has more information than the prisoner, and who can challenge false statements with correct information is likely to be successful.

Of course, people can become very skilled at getting others to talk. Psychologists, psychiatrists, and ethnographers are professionally trained to do so, not to mention reporters and policy interrogators. People can also become very skilled at recognizing lies and evasions. Indeed, there was a report some time ago that there is a game in Iraq in which one person tries to identify which of a panel of opponents is lying; Iraqis were characterized at good at both deception and detecting deception in this game,

A couple of years ago,Harvey Rishikof and Michael Schrage wrote an article in Slate titled "Technology vs. Torture". They wrote in part:
The tools for radically transforming tomorrow's interrogations can be found in hospitals worldwide. They're helping to painlessly diagnose Alzheimer's, dyslexia, epilepsy, schizophrenia, insomnia, and brain tumors. The past decade has seen revolutions both in brain-scanning technologies and in drugs that affect the brain's functions. Like personal computers and digital camcorders, these technologies are getting faster, better, and cheaper. And they may have uses in the interrogation room that will render moot debates about the excesses of Abu Ghraib-style treatment of prisoners.

Functional Magnetic Resonance Imaging brain scans, for example, have improved so dramatically that they can now produce high-resolution movies of brain activity. Functional MRIs can measure how the brain reacts when asked certain questions, such as, "Do you know Mr. X?" or, "Have you seen this man?" When you ask someone a question, the parts of the brain responsible for answering will cause certain neurons to fire, drawing blood flow. The oxygen in the blood then changes the brain's magnetic field so that a neural radio signal emitted becomes more intense. Functional MRI scanners detect and calibrate these changes. And by comparing the resulting images to those of the brain at rest, a computer can produce detailed pictures of the part of the brain answering or not answering the question—in essence, creating a kind of high-tech lie detector. Indeed, a Pentagon agency is already funding Functional MRI research for such purposes.

Engineers are also using less-expensive technologies such as infrared* to track blood flow in the brain's prefrontal cortex, the region associated with decision-making and social inhibition. Electroencephalography, which is painless and noninvasive, has dramatically improved in the last 10 years so that it is now able to detect, for example, where the ability to speak a second language resides in the brain. And when electroencephalography data are read alongside Functional MRI scans, we can gain even richer insight into how the brain is functioning.

Concurrent with these strides in brain-imaging, scientists are learning more about how drugs influence the brain. Pharmaceuticals like Paxil, Zoloft, and Prozac have now been in general use long enough that neuroscientists are beginning to observe how they affect brain behavior and individual responses to conversation and questions. It now appears that there are safe drugs that reduce conversational inhibitions and the urge to deceive.
Polygraphs have been around for a long time, and they seem to be helpful to a trained person in interrogations. They may not give the level of confidence that is needed in U.S. courts to establish guilt beyond a reasonable doubt, and while they apparently can be fooled by a trained person, they illustrate the potential of technology.

The U.S. intelligence community spends a lot of money on technology. I suspect that they have been spending some of that money for decades on technological support for interrogation. Some technologies, such as ICT to organize information and help interrogators understand patterns, and technology enabling experts to replay interrogations and collaborate on their analysis would seem likely to be available.

Hayden said, if I recall correctly, that since 9/11 some 9,000 intelligence reports have been obtained from some 100 detainees. That suggests the interrogation is effective, and I would infer that it is being done by very skilled interrogators supported by advanced technology.

Indeed, Hayden mentioned that the Army interrogation manual was written for military interrogators, who generally would be relatively young and untrained in interrogation techniques, and that is written to set forth guidelines that can be used on the battlefield by people under great pressure. He asked why anyone would assume that those guidelines would be applicable to professional, highly-trained CIA interrogators working in carefully controlled circumstances. Again, I would infer that the CIA guys are good at their job, and that they work in a high tech environment designed to enhance their effectiveness.

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