Create A “Go To Hell” Plan to Help Survive Your Next Crisis Reply

PlanningBy Chris Simmons

From my earliest days in the military, I was taught to always have a plan. It made sense. After all, if something is worth the investment of your precious resources (i.e., time, talents, and treasures), it merits a well thought-out roadmap to success.

But it didn’t stop there. “Your adversary has a vote” we were told, or more emphatically – “No plan survives contact with the enemy.” To offset our foe’s “vote,” we needed to create a “Plan B” (also known as a “back-up” or “alternative plan”). The purpose of Plan B was to have a viable option when the unexpected occurred.

Then they forced us to develop a contingency for when the seemingly unimaginable occurred. This contingency, known throughout the military as a “Go To Hell” plan, forced us to consider and plan for nightmare scenarios. Saddam Hussein got schooled in this concept a week into the 2003 invasion of Iraq when, with all his military forces fighting in the south, a brigade of US paratroopers unexpectedly jumped into northern Iraq. He lost control of the entire northern third of the nation immediately.

Note to self — luck and hope are not planning factors.

We enhanced the value of our plans by role playing through all three scenarios: the most likely, the supposedly less likely, and then the improbable. The mere act of visualizing the “what ifs” better prepared us for a range of situations, not just the ideal one. This de facto rehearsal also had a calming effect. When we needed to jump from Plan “A” to Plan “B” (or worse), we already knew the key planning issues: who, what, when, where, why, and how. This familiarity bred confidence and reduced stress.

That said, we always kept in mind that our personal experiences and biases skewed what we considered to be possible and probable. We knew we could still misread our adversary. This awareness helped reduce the impact of the shock anytime we were surprised.

Finally, a plan need not be perfect. A good plan well executed now is infinitely better than the perfect plan too late.

I quickly grasped that this planning methodology wasn’t just for the military. It is applicable and relevant to everyone’s personal and professional lives as well. Job relocations, births, deaths, accidents, illnesses, promotions, marriages, divorces, financial ups & downs….the list is endless. Life is unpredictable and demanding. Planning adds clarity and reduces anxiety. Life happens, be ready for it.

What Al-Qaeda Taught Me About the Frailty of Loyalty – Redux Reply

Al-Qaeda in Iraq (Courtesy: Fox News)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

This award-winning post was originally published on May 29, 2013.

By Chris Simmons

The most diabolical, manipulative, and extraordinarily successful interrogation ploy I used to interrogate High-Value terrorists in Iraq was the Prisoners’ Dilemma. It LITERALLY never failed. Research the Prisoners’ Dilemma and you will find it called “game theory.” I can assure you its use is neither theoretical nor game-like. It appeals to the strongest and basest instincts in all of us – self-survival –by pitting members of a group against one another for a reward.

More was always better with this technique, but a two detainee minimum was sufficient. In our case, we always began our “theater of the mind” in the Black Room, so named as its floor, ceiling, and walls were painted matte black. We’d also found a way to give the room a slight echo-effect, which many found unsettling. Having captured several Al-Qaeda associates (all believed to have similar information) in a given raid, we would move them from their individual cells to the Black Room. While being moved, our detainees wore blacked-out goggles to increase stress and anxiety.

My guards would place the detainees against opposing walls. Once everyone was in position, they would quickly and briefly lift the detainees’ goggles so they could see their associates. In an amazing performance, one of my staff – in a very calm and confident voice – would then tell the group they needed to listen carefully as we were about to make a limited-time offer. They were told we knew who they were and that they shared similar experiences and knowledge. As a result, we explained, there was no need for us to question all of them. So, the first one (or two, or three – depending on group size) to cooperate would receive lenient treatment and be quickly released. The others would be identified as “uncooperative” and held indefinitely (Note: We were under no obligation to be truthful with our High-Value Individuals).

Pacing back and forth down the center of the room, my “choreographer” would then announce that all those ready to cooperate and be quickly processed for release should raise their right hand – NOW. Since our performance was based exclusively on auditory cues, nothing was left to chance. Regardless of whether anyone raised their hand, my “choreographer” would then loudly announce “Alright, we have one…now two..” (Note: His response was tailored based on group size).

Extra guards we had stationed in the Black Room would then noisily shuffle off, creating the illusion of cooperating detainees. The words and sounds exploited their worst fears. Within seconds, hands would go up (if they hadn’t initially). Paranoia soared as the sound of more exiting detainees echoed throughout the room.

In some cases, every detainee volunteered, creating a vicious race to see who could reveal the most information the fastest. For any that were left, we would wait until the room was again silent and as their goggles were lifted, tell them what their eyes knew to be true –several (if not all) of their colleagues had abandoned them. Invariably, the previously reluctant detainee(s) would suddenly agree to “take the deal.” The cut-throat competitiveness of the Prisoners’ Dilemma also precluded detainees from the self-defeating response of lying to one of my interrogators. It simply did not occur.

The most striking and disturbing aspect of this questioning technique was how quickly self-interest shattered not just the existing cohesiveness of the detainee group, but even their individual values, beliefs, and identities. Blood-ties and Al-Qaeda service together meant little when pitted against our appeal. On every occasion, primal self-interest trumped loyalty and collective needs, not it days or weeks, but in just a few short hours.

The Crazy Professor and “Machine Gun Hill” Reply

By Chris Simmons

Major Gunsberg was one of my History professors when I was a cadet at the Virginia Military Institute (VMI). The Major taught an infamous but highly desired, year-long course called The History of Warfare. Having served two tours in Vietnam as an Infantryman, he brought an edgy, philosophical, yet confrontational style of teaching to the classroom. It was pure theater and it kept us challenged and engaged.

Every day, Major Gunsberg tormented us with the same scenario:  You are leading an Infantry unit. You’ve just been ordered to take a hilltop so well fortified it is now called “Machine Gun Hill.” It’s a daylight attack. No artillery or air support is available. The hill offers no cover or concealment, so friendly casualties will be high. It cannot be bypassed – it must be captured. Pausing long enough for the words to sink in, he would then ask:  “So, how do you capture “Machine Gun Hill?”

Every possible answer we provided was wrong. Finally, on the last day of class, he told us the secret. We had been looking at the problem too narrowly. The only way to lead our men on a charge up “Machine Gun Hill” was to give them a cause in which they could believe. When committed to a cause, Gunsberg assured us, people freely make amazing – and sometimes life ending – sacrifices.

I was reminded of Major Gunsberg years later while running interrogation operations in Iraq. Many of the lower-level terrorists we’d captured began telling us they were fighting neither for Al Qaeda (AQ) or Islam. They explained to us that they did not hate Americans or members of the coalition forces. They fought because AQ had inspired them to fight for a cause – a cause worth dying for. It was a brilliantly cost-efficient and effective marketing strategy.

AQ recruiters had begun canvassing villages where poorly or uneducated residents had long ago abandoned all hope of a better tomorrow. Focusing on the young men and women, AQ wasted no time reinforcing the hopelessness of their lives and their village. The locals had little or no formal education, no schools, no hospitals or clinics, and in all likelihood, would die an early death from diseases that are treatable or preventable in many places of the world. To the young, impressionable men and women of the village, AQ’s grasp of the obvious captured their attention because the recruiters trafficked in that dangerous emotion called hope.

Their offer was surprisingly simple. If enough of them joined AQ, they would become the saviors of their village. They would do what none of their ancestors could accomplish – provide a better life for their family and the village. If enough volunteered, AQ pledged to drill a well and build a school, or at least provide a visiting teacher on a regular schedule. Likewise, an AQ medic would provide medical care for the volunteers and their families. Once again, if enough volunteered, medical care would be provided to the entire village. In some cases, a clinic was built. Recruits were told if they died serving with Al Qaeda, their families would be taken care of for the rest of their lives. By volunteering, the young men and women became immortal in the eyes of their families and friends. The message resonated and brought in a lot of “foot soldiers” to the cause.

AQ ensured they kept hope alive by fulfilling their promises to the villagers. These recruits fought us not because they believed in AQ, but simply because it provided a better life for their family while making them village heroes.

A cause to believe in – an inspirational albeit sometimes deadly thing indeed!

Death by Vanity Reply

Self-Interest Can Be Fatal

By Chris Simmons

On January 15th of 2005, U.S. military forces conducted a raid to capture Abu Omar al-Kurdi. Credible media outlets characterized al-Kurdi as a veteran of training camps in Afghanistan before arriving in Iraq in August 2003 to become Al Qaeda’s chief bomb-maker in-country. Since then, he had been responsible for making 75% of all car bombs in Iraq. At the time of his capture, he was orchestrating a wave of bomb attacks against Iraqi polling centers in an effort to derail the national elections on January 30th.

When captured, he did something we’d never before seen: he congratulated us and immediately identified himself as the master bomb-maker for Al Qaeda in Iraq, Abu Omar al-Kurdi. Let’s step back and put this in context. Terrorists never identify themselves. They give their captors false names, they stall, they do anything they can to buy time so their colleagues can move to new locations. They do this out of self-interest.

In contrast, al-Kurdi did the exact opposite. Why? Because self-interest is emotional, not rational. It shapes our identity and values (see the June 8th posting, The Secret to Never Getting Blindsided/). Al-Kurdi wanted his 15 minutes of fame. He knew he was a dead man. He accurately assumed we would eventually turn him over to the Iraqi government, which would execute him. In his mind, the only thing that mattered was his legacy. He wanted the world to know he was a bombing mastermind. Convinced we were the path to his immortality, he would not stop talking. He acted on his self-interest, convincingly revealing his role in numerous unsolved bombings. In doing so, Abu Omar al-Kurdi satisfied his insatiable vanity, all the while knowing that his actions provided immeasurable help to allied forces and the Iraqi government.

What Al-Qaeda Taught Me About the Frailty of Loyalty 28

By Chris Simmons

The most diabolical, manipulative, and extraordinarily successful interrogation ploy I used to interrogate High-Value terrorists in Iraq was the Prisoners’ Dilemma. It LITERALLY never failed. Research the Prisoners’ Dilemma and you will find it called “game theory.” I can assure you its use is neither theoretical nor game-like. It appeals to the strongest and basest instincts in all of us – self-survival –by pitting members of a group against one another for a reward.

More was always better with this technique, but a two detainee minimum was sufficient. In our case, we always began our “theater of the mind” in the Black Room, so named as its floor, ceiling, and walls were painted matte black. We’d also found a way to give the room a slight echo-effect, which many found unsettling. Having captured several Al-Qaeda associates (all believed to have similar information) in a given raid, we would move them from their individual cells to the Black Room. While being moved, our detainees wore blacked-out goggles to increase stress and anxiety.

My guards would place the detainees against opposing walls. Once everyone was in position, they would quickly and briefly lift the detainees’ goggles so they could see their associates. In an amazing performance, one of my staff – in a very calm and confident voice – would then tell the group they needed to listen carefully as we were about to make a limited-time offer. They were told we knew who they were and that they shared similar experiences and knowledge. As a result, we explained, there was no need for us to question all of them. So, the first one (or two, or three – depending on group size) to cooperate would receive lenient treatment and be quickly released. The others would be identified as “uncooperative” and held indefinitely (Note: We were under no obligation to be truthful with our High-Value Individuals).

Pacing back and forth down the center of the room, my “choreographer” would then announce that all those ready to cooperate and be quickly processed for release should raise their right hand – NOW. Since our performance was based exclusively on auditory cues, nothing was left to chance. Regardless of whether anyone raised their hand, my “choreographer” would then loudly announce “Alright, we have one…now two..” (Note: His response was tailored based on group size).

Extra guards we had stationed in the Black Room would then noisily shuffle off, creating the illusion of cooperating detainees. The words and sounds exploited their worst fears. Within seconds, hands would go up (if they hadn’t initially). Paranoia soared as the sound of more exiting detainees echoed throughout the room.

In some cases, every detainee volunteered, creating a vicious race to see who could reveal the most information the fastest. For any that were left, we would wait until the room was again silent and as their goggles were lifted, tell them what their eyes knew to be true –several (if not all) of their colleagues had abandoned them. Invariably, the previously reluctant detainee(s) would suddenly agree to “take the deal.” The cut-throat competitiveness of the Prisoners’ Dilemma also precluded detainees from the self-defeating response of lying to one of my interrogators. It simply did not occur.

The most striking and disturbing aspect of this questioning technique was how quickly self-interest shattered not just the existing cohesiveness of the detainee group, but even their individual values, beliefs, and identities. Blood-ties and Al-Qaeda service together meant little when pitted against our appeal. On every occasion, primal self-interest trumped loyalty and collective needs, not it days or weeks, but in just a few short hours.