Cops on Terror Alert; Interrogating Militants

Posted on 3 May 2011 by


Yesterday we talked about some of the cyber fallout from the successful US operation against Usama bin Laden; today we will look at some of the physical aspects. We’ve all heard that police agencies around the US are on increased alert for retaliatory attacks. On Sunday night, the US State Department issued a Worldwide Travel Alert to Americans traveling overseas, stating

The U.S. Department of State alerts U.S. citizens traveling and residing abroad to the enhanced potential for anti-American violence given recent counter-terrorism activity in Pakistan.

Given the uncertainty and volatility of the current situation, U.S. citizens in areas where recent events could cause anti-American violence are strongly urged to limit their travel outside of their homes and hotels and avoid mass gatherings and demonstrations. U.S. citizens should stay current with media coverage of local events and be aware of their surroundings at all times.

With all this heightened awareness and vigilance will likely come the detention or arrest of suspected militants by US law enforcement. Yesterday afternoon, according to the Daily Mail, five people were arrested in the UK, held under the Terrorism Act after being arrested close to the Sellafield nuclear site, following a stop check on a vehicle by officers from the Civil Nuclear Constabulary, who police the facility in West Cumbria.

We were looking last week at a document which Public Intelligence claims to have been written and produced by the Naval Criminal Investigative Service (we don’t doubt it, it’s just that we couldn’t find the document on any government server), regarding interrogation strategies and tactics when interviewing militant Islamists.

By the way, if you haven’t checked out you really should, as it is a great OSINT compendium.

According to the NCIS document,

Clearly differences exist between subjects of al Qa’ida-related terrorist investigations and subjects of other investigations more commonly conducted by law enforcement. This paper seeks to highlight some of these differences and to provide some suggestions, based on experience, about how best to deal with them.

First, the paper offers background information and context for interrogating Middle Eastern Arab militant Islamists as subjects of investigation. Our general recommendations may even be limited to that group, as cultural considerations may vary for non- Arabs and Islamists from other areas of the world (e.g., Southeast Asia).

Second, the paper summarizes what has been learned about general interview approaches used immediately after capture and during subsequent detention.

Third, the paper recommends ways to design and navigate interviews: preparing, developing rapport, developing themes, managing resistance, and detecting deception

The Public Intelligence article on the paper is available here; the paper itself may be downloaded here.

Speaking of interview approaches, developing rapport and themes, managing resistance and detecting deception, in March we started running a series by Dave Henderson about interrogations. Investigations and travel have blocked production of the fourth of the two-part series, however we wanted to re-call attention to the first three.

In this Part I of the series, Dave describes how officers should use their interviewing techniques not just on suspects, but on everyone they come in contact with in the community. Interviewing people doesn’t necessarily mean interrogating suspects. It means communicating with everyone, and this is a part of our job. This is something that should happen every day on every call and every traffic stop. Interviewing – that is, talking to and listening to citizens – is an important part of relationship building in your community. It is an essential part of gathering intelligence for yourself and your agency.

It is our responsibility as cops to actively engage in communication and relationship building. From crime tips, to commendations, and forming confidential informants, this is an informational bloodline to your intelligence and crime analysts. When someone strikes up a conversation at the local Stop and Rob while you are sipping on your cup of terrible coffee, listen, engage, and make a new partner. Don’t be the stand-offish tough guy. This is time well-spent: invest in it. You will be surprised at how much intel you gather as you foster these relationships.

In Part II, Dave sets forth his personal philosophy and tactics for conducting non-hostile, non-custody interviews. Your mileage may vary, but this is how Dave does it. Unless absolutely necessary, he conducts interviews in his office, or in a place that is familiar to and controlled by him. People – you included – act different and feel more empowered when they are in their own element. This is the first tactical advantage of any interview. If this is hard to facilitate, try and try again. If it’s still a no-go, and you just can’t get them to come to you, meet at a neutral location. Any place that has some level of privacy, such as a library or Starbucks, will work fine.

In Part III of the Two Part series, Dave offers some take-away points and tips on how to apply the techniques and tactics described throughout the series in everyday conversations. The goal of this type of interview is to build bridges between you (the overbearing Police Department) and the rest of the world. It is much more casual than interviews with suspects or people of interest to a specific investigation. You’re not trying to make a case on the person you speak to, but rather, you’re working to gain allies in the community, and streams of intelligence.

And in Part IV, Dave will cover in-custody and hostile-witness interviews.