“Schooling” Al-Qaeda: How We Learned to Terrify Terrorists Reply

By Chris Simmons

In Iraq, I led interrogation operations so feared by Al-Qaeda that they dubbed my interviewing center, “The Cemetery” and “The Devil’s Den.” The terrorist group’s fear was well founded, as our success rate in getting useful information from detainees was unprecedented, exceeding 99 percent.

This achievement came about because I ensured every one of my people understood that interrogation is not about the physical act of talking to someone. Interrogation is a performance – it is theater of the mind.

We are all familiar with the adage, “Perception is reality.” I believe this axiom doesn’t go far enough. Perceptions, be they short-term or permanent, are living “beings.” They can grow, shrink, bend, twist, or die. For us, perception management was a key tool in mentally wearing down detainees before we ever spoke to them. A premium was placed on their perceived self-interest and total lack of control.

For example, a classic resistance technique used by detainees was to focus on anything that had a schedule. The predictability of routines was often quite reassuring. It could also help measure time or provide a comforting feeling of stability.

We shattered this detainee countermeasure by eliminating every trace of patterns. Watches, clocks, and all verbal references to time were prohibited. Our guards did not appear to keep a set schedule and equally important, seemed to randomly move to other shifts. We began feeding detainees two to six times a day. Detainees were also arbitrarily removed from their cells and taken to the toilet. To complete the effect, the location where our guests were quartered had no windows or doors to the outside world.

For our detainees, time ceased to exist. From a psychological perspective, this is critical as the brain – when striped of any means to measure time – actually compresses it. I recall one detainee who, six hours after arriving at my facility, was absolutely convinced he had been with us for three days.

Another protocol we developed to sow mistrust and further wear down detainees was to change at least one standard procedure on a biweekly basis. You see, when we finished questioning a detainee, we would often transfer him/her to the prison at Abu Ghraib. This compound essentially operated as a “catch and release” program. Prisoners were required to be released within six months of their arrival. This enabled Al-Qaeda to establish a “snitch line” within the stream of prisoners being steadily released.

In this manner, the terrorists sought to maintain an awareness of our latest interrogation procedures. They then shared this information with other terrorists in an effort to make their resistance (after capture) more successful. By training its members in our procedures and routines, Al-Qaeda became more effective in defeating my interrogators. However, the afore-mentioned biweekly changes negated Al-Qaeda efforts. For example, if we held a detainee for several weeks, he/she experienced several of our new procedures. The detainee then went to Abu Ghraib where he/she was debriefed by other Al-Qaeda members and their “new” information passed to a soon-to-be released snitch. This step could take days-weeks, possibly allowing us to introduce yet another new tactic. As a result, Al-Qaeda was suddenly playing catch-up.

This also opened the door to us applying more psychological pressure on detainees, as we could then estimate what U.S. tactics they had been taught based on their date-of-capture. This enabled us to confront the detainee and tell them we knew Al-Qaeda had trained him/her that we would do “x, y, and z.” We then lied to the detainee and told him/her we stopped using those tactics a long time ago. We would tell the detainee that Al-Qaeda taught them these old procedures because they were incompetent, grossly uninformed, or simply because they viewed their personnel as “disposable.” We then appealed directly to their self-interest, asking them why they should remain loyal to an organization that had so clearly betrayed them.

For the most part, interrogation techniques have changed little over the last millennium. That said, our ability to get valuable information from detainees far exceeded every other organization in Iraq. While many items factored into our success, the three key components were:

  • Our creative latitude;
  • The speed in which we could move from one tactic/procedure to another, and
  • Our willingness to take calculated risks.

As any fan of American football will tell you, the only thing that matters is the size of your “Play Book” and your ability to execute the plays.

The Stanford (University) Prison Experiment 3

The Stanford prison experiment was a study of the psychological effects of becoming a prisoner or prison guard. The experiment was conducted from August 14 to 20,1971 by a team of researchers led by psychology professor Philip Zimbardo at StanfordUniversity. It was funded by a grant from the U.S. Office of Naval Research and was of interest to both the US Navy and Marine Corps in order to determine the causes of conflict between military guards and prisoners.

Twenty-four students were selected out of 75 to play the prisoners and live in a mock prison in the basement of the Stanford psychology building. Roles were assigned randomly. The participants adapted to their roles well beyond what even Zimbardo himself expected, leading the “officers” to display authoritarian measures and ultimately to subject some of the prisoners to torture. In turn, many of the prisoners developed passive attitudes and accepted physical abuse, and, at the request of the guards, readily inflicted punishment on other prisoners who attempted to stop it. The experiment even affected Zimbardo himself, who, in his capacity as “Prison Superintendent”, lost sight of his role as psychologist and permitted the abuse to continue as though it were a real prison. Five of the prisoners were upset enough by the process to quit the experiment early and the entire experiment was abruptly stopped after only six days. The experimental process and the results remain controversial. The entire experiment was filmed, with excerpts made publicly available.

Don’t Waste Time on Your Weaknesses 1

By Chris Simmons 

A classic question confronting all of us at some point – or many points in our life, is do we improve our strengths or seek to be well-rounded and address our weaknesses? Conventional wisdom contends there are good arguments on both sides, but nothing could be farther from the truth. Winning requires a competitive advantage over your opponent(s). Investing time improving a weakness is a crime as it robs one of time better spent improving what you do best – your strengths.

Years ago I was a paratrooper in the famed 82nd Airborne Division. This unit has one job:  to begin deploying combat forces to any location in the world in 18 hours or less. I was with “The Division” during the Grenada invasion – we were “wheel’s up” in just 12 hours. In contrast, a traditional division (one with tanks and other heavy vehicles) requires weeks, if not months, to deploy. What the 82nd Airborne does is called “strategic projection.” Its single strength is to be able to fill the sky with parachutes – anywhere in the world – tomorrow. Nobody does it better.

Management guru Peter Drucker was the first modern writer to advocate a strengths-based focus. His position was that higher levels of performance cannot be built upon weakness. In sum, it takes far more energy and work to improve from incompetent to mediocre than from good to great. Drucker and followers like Martin Sigman insist that building lives around what works, rather than trying to fix what doesn’t, is the core of effective professional development. An individual’s highest life success and deepest emotional satisfaction comes from building and using our strengths.

Renowned Psychology professor Mikaly Csikszentmihalyi, noted for his work in the study of happiness and creativity, insists that ultimate happiness comes from doing things at which you excel. He contends that achieving “balance” in your life doesn’t mean doing all things equally well, but rather prioritizing those activities in proportion to the value they bring to your life.

There is no single, best way to identify your strengths. There are numerous personal traits that prove useful in proving insights, among them the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator (MBTI), Wonderlic, StrengthsFinder, etc. That said, never lose sight of the fact that strengths are inherently neutral – there are no good or bad strengths. The application of these strengths, however, can be applied in good or bad ways.

4 Steps To Keep Your Weaknesses From Becoming Liabilities

  1. Develop it/them only to an “acceptable” level.
  2. Partner with someone with whom your weaknesses are their strengths.
  3. Use your strengths to overshadow your weaknesses.
  4. Focus only on those weaknesses that directly undercut a strength (e.g., a writer who can’t spell)

Why Enemies Are More Important Than Friends 1

Your Friends Like You, But Your Enemies Define You

By Chris Simmons

An individual’s closest friends tell you WHO they are. In contrast, their enemies reveal WHAT they are. It has been my experience that an enemy’s impact on one’s personality is much more personal, memorable, and long-term. Enemies define you:  they tell the world who you are NOT. As such, you can learn valuable insights into the core values and beliefs of others by identifying and understanding not only their friends, but their foes as well.

Friends come and go throughout the seasons of our life. In contrast, opponents are often “frozen in time,” remaining enemies forever. They may be out of one’s life, but the mere thought of them prompts a visceral response. This occurs, in part, because negative emotions can often be stronger than positive ones in the same way insults are often easier to remember than compliments. Additionally, since our enemies define facets of our identity, the impact lasts significantly longer than many friendships.

As you may recall from the June 8th post (“The Secret to Never Getting Blindsided, https://humanchessdotorg.wordpress.com/2013/06/08/the-secret-to-never-getting-blindsided/ ) one’s identity and self-image is rooted in our emotions, vice the more dispassionate foundation of logic and reason. As a result, we often make our own enemies.

For example, I’m reminded of a National Guard officer with whom I worked years ago. Lacking any shred of integrity, he was an embarrassment to the uniform. In fact, I can honestly say the closest this Major had ever come to “ethics” was a dictionary. His “protector” was a more senior officer with whom he shared close business, political, and personal ties.

This officer generated considerable victories in service to his “protector,” as well as his own craven desires. It’s unclear, however, whether the Major and his patron saint – a Lieutenant Colonel – ever wondered why all their victories were short-term and hard-fought. The reason, of course, was that their “enemies” list was long, distinguished and its members hungry for payback. These two officers invested so much effort in blindly satisfying their immediate self-interest that they destroyed their reputation, denied themselves endless personal and professional opportunities, and undermined unit cohesiveness.

The “Free Choice” paradigm found that after an individual has made a choice, he/she builds it up to reassure themselves of the wisdom of their selection. Concurrently, we begin denigrating that object/person/etc that we did not choose. In sum, we create a feedback loop validating that we made the right choice. With regard to our personal interactions, this sustains the warmth and intensity of our friendships while fueling and deepening the animosity of those selected as enemies.

Furthermore, research has found that, as humans, we are twice as upset about a loss as we are happy about a gain. Thus, if an enemy is in a position to hurt us, we are even more focused and emotionally invested in reacting to the perceived threat. This negative dynamic then adds yet another layer to an adversarial relationship.

As a result, the study of one’s enemies offers an extraordinary opportunity to gain an accurate and deep intuitive understanding of a person’s true identity, especially the rationale for the “who I am NOT” components.


Deception Can Be Perfected: Can a Repeated Lie Become ‘a Truth? ‘ 1

by Hilary Hurd Anyaso

With a little practice, one could learn to tell a lie that may be indistinguishable from the truth. New Northwestern University research shows that lying is more malleable than previously thought, and with a certain amount of training and instruction, the art of deception can be perfected.

People generally take longer and make more mistakes when telling lies than telling the truth, because they are holding two conflicting answers in mind and suppressing the honest response, previous research has shown. Consequently, researchers in the present study investigated whether lying can be trained to be more automatic and less task demanding.

This research could have implications for law enforcement and the administering of lie detector tests to better handle deceptions in more realistic scenarios.

Researchers found that instruction alone significantly reduced reaction times associated with participants’ deceptive responses.

They used a control group — an instruction group in which participants were told to speed up their lies and make fewer errors, but were not given time to prepare their lies — and a training group, which received training in how to speed up their deceptive responses and were given time to prepare their lies. In the training group that practiced their lies, the differences between deceptive and truthful responses were completely eliminated.

“We found that lying is more malleable and can be changed upon intentional practice,” said Xiaoqing Hu, lead author of the study and a doctoral candidate in the department of psychology at Northwestern.

Hu said they were surprised that even in the instruction group, members who were not given time to prepare their lies and told only to try to speed up their responses and make fewer errors were able to significantly reduce their deceptive response reaction time.

“This was really unexpected because it suggests that people can be really flexible, and after they know what is expected from them, they want to avoid being detected,” Hu said, noting the findings could help in crime fighting.

“In real life, there’s usually a time delay between the crime and interrogation,” said Hu. “Most people would have time to prepare and practice their lies prior to the interrogation.” However, previous research in deception usually gave participants very little time to prepare their lies.

Lie detector tests most often rely on physiological responses. Therefore, Hu said further research warrants looking at whether additional training could result in physiological changes in addition to inducing behavior changes as observed in their study.

Story Source:  The above story is reprinted from materials provided via EurekAlert!

Journal Reference:  Xiaoqing Hu, Hao Chen, Genyue Fu. A Repeated Lie Becomes a Truth? The Effect of Intentional Control and Training on Deception. Frontiers in Psychology, 2012; 3 DOI: 10.3389/fpsyg.2012.00488

The Secret to Never Getting Blindsided 1

How to Anticipate a Person’s  Actions

By Chris Simmons

One of the biggest obstacles sabotaging our personal and professional lives is a failure to understand and apply what I call “The First Rule of Human Nature:  Self-Interest Trumps Everything.” A major reason for this confusion is that too often, we confuse self-interest with best interests. The two terms are NOT synonymous.

We know what’s in our best interests, but we intentionally choose not to do it. If we did what was in our best interests, obesity would be non-existent, everyone would go to the dentist, we’d all go to the gym at least three times a week, tobacco products would not exist, alcohol would be drunk only in moderation, and no one would abuse drugs. Best interests are irrelevant, because as humans, we see them as fact-based and devoid of any emotional connection. That’s where self-interest takes over.

We follow our self-interest not frequently, or even most of the time, but virtually ALL the time. Every decision we’ve ever made and ever will make is based exclusively on our self-interest. Tied to our self-image, values, and identity, self-interest is emotionally laden. As such, it is the best evidence of our true desires. We tell ourselves we will drop weight, exercise, and do everything our doctor and medical science has proven we SHOULD do, but then we don’t do it. Instead, we place a higher priority on satisfying our self-interest.

Because self-image occurs in our mind’s eye, self-interest can be self-destructive and even fatal in amazingly contradictory ways. The negative component of this phenomenon is often medically-associated. People suffer from anorexia and bulimia, for example, because they perceive themselves as overweight. At the other extreme is the positive component, which is often crisis-triggered. For example, a soldier jumps on a grenade to save his friends or a firefighter who loses her life saving another. In these situations, the individual’s self-image gave them no alternative but self-sacrifice.

It is precisely because we overlook the emotional foundation of self-interest that we are so often surprised by another person’s behavior or actions. Maybe we expected them to follow their best interests or perhaps we “mirror-imaged,” superimposing our values and emotional biases on their circumstances. Regardless of the reason, think of how many times you’ve had an interaction with another person and walked away thinking, “Wow, I never saw that coming.”

You should have. Most people do not hide their self-interest. They broadcast their intentions every day in a hundred different ways. We’re just too caught up in our lives to pay attention to everything they are trying to tell us. And the tragic part of this? You don’t have to invest a lot of time and energy to figure out what someone sees as their self-interest.

People are amazingly consistent and predictable creatures. As such, an individual’s high-frequency past actions and behavior are the best predictors of their near-term conduct. When one steps back and strategically reviews another person’s deeds and performance, the motives (i.e., self-interest) reveal themselves. With these new-found insights, you will be able to anticipate and then accurately predict what they will do in similar situations.

Psychologist Jeff Hancock on “The Future of Lying” 1

Who hasn’t sent a text message saying “I’m on my way” when it wasn’t true or fudged the truth a touch in their online dating profile? But Jeff Hancock doesn’t believe that the anonymity of the internet encourages dishonesty. In fact, he says the searchability and permanence of information online may even keep us honest.

Jeff Hancock studies how we interact by email, text message and social media blips, seeking to understand how technology mediates communication

Speaker’s bio:  http://www.ted.com/speakers/jeff_hancock.html