From the original article on August 26, 2022. Author: Countere.
So you’ve been captured by the enemy.
You’ve been detained in a foreign country, speeding in the back of a stolen sedan, going God-knows-where. Or you’ve been detained by men in suits, querying you about your online search history and the large quantities of fertilizer you’ve recently acquired (you’re a permaculture farmer). Or you’ve been languishing for weeks in a cold, foreign dungeon; your blindfold has been ripped off, and a doctorly, olive-skinned man wearing cold, circular glasses inserts an an IV into your vein. He ignores all your questions and takes a seat in front of you.
It is time for your interrogation.
What do you do if you’re arrested in a foreign country? How can you resist torture? Do you have what it takes to keep your soul intact over years of imprisonment? And how do you resist propaganda in your own life? We here at Countere spoke to a former US military SERE instructor (Survival, Evasion, Resistance, and Escape) who we’ll call “Sprocket,” who focused on the R-word of the acronym: “This sort of training is called Resistance to Exploitation,” he told Countere. “Interrogation leads to indoctrination, indoctrination leads to propaganda, propaganda leads to ideology, ideology leads to purpose…Yes, this is a good rabbit to chase down. Maybe we can make nice fire to warm our bones and talk about how man schemes to destroy another’s mind.”
We’ve lightly edited Sprocket’s words for clarity; read on for military-grade advice about how to resist interrogation in 2022 and beyond.
Interrogation has been going on since we crawled out of caves. It consists of questioning followed by examination of those questions; in other words, high-level scrutiny followed by accusations. Torture may or may not be involved. Carrots, like hot food, may or may not be employed. The earliest interrogation I know of is when God interrogated Adam about that damn apple.
I’m not sure of its historical accuracy, but the final scenes of Braveheart are of interrogation and the transcendent effect accomplished by maintaining one’s honor and integrity. The American Revolution’s Nathan Hale was interrogated before he said, “I only regret that I have but one life to lose for my country.”
There are three realms of interrogation we prepare for: Peacetime, Wartime, and Hostage. The first thing you should be thinking in any of these situations is that you are now relying on your Situational Awareness (SA). Maintaining your innocence is key in keeping you away from the myriad legalities and paths you’ll find yourself on if you confess to any wrongdoing. Criminals use this to much effect in Western nations. Unless you are suspected of possessing information that is immediately threatening to national security, civil interrogations can usually be halted by proclaiming your innocence and lawyering up. Now onto the scary stuff…
An example of peacetime capture: you’ve been detained by police in a foreign country and accused of spying or sabotage. Your first thought should be to get the US consulate involved. This process is started by merely asking to see your US representative. Remember, this is peacetime, so the detaining government has an obligation to report your situation to the US consulate within 72 hours. If there is no US consulate (North Korea, Iran…), asking for the consulate of a nation strongly allied with the US (Canada, the UK, Japan…) will suffice. The point is to get the ball rolling on your behalf by “lawyering up.”
The detaining government wants to know who you work for and what you were doing. The goal may be to embarrass the US or to gain political concessions. By proclaiming your innocence and asking for the US consulate, you involve the US, who wants to get you back to your home and away from the possibility of embarrassing situations. PGD, or Peacetime Governmental Detention, is largely about saving face.
In this situation, the US is in an armed conflict with the detaining nation. As a soldier, journalist, or civilian, you’ve been captured; this classifies you as a Prisoner of War (POW). War is brutal and being a POW can make it even more so. Wartime capture is largely about interrogating POWs for information on tactics and strategy. In this case, the Geneva Conventions (GC) protect and maintain a level of civility for the POW; they provide rights such as food, clothing, shelter, letters, care packages, etc. There are at least 196 signatories to the GC, and they are considered universal international law.
In wartime, POWs are assets to be traded. A captured serviceman is out of one fight and placed into another. Proclaiming your innocence won’t work, but being perceived as an ordinary soldier is better than being seen as someone with valuable information. For example, a medic or corpsman will be better off than an operator for SEAL Team Six (DEVGRU). The former can potentially perform his duties inside a POW facility, the latter is a threat to be exterminated or pressured into talking about things he should be silent on. The aim for the POW is to get the GC involved and acknowledged as quickly as possible; this can take years or never in some cases.
Hostage situations are, in some ways, the most dangerous of the three. These include being kidnapped or taken captive by terrorists or another non-recognized entity; they may or may not involve interrogation.
The goals of these types of captors are as numerous as the causes they fight for. There is no international governing body to which terrorists and hostage-takers ascribe. Their goals can be international recognition of their cause (Red Brigades), money (Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia—People's Army), prisoner exchange (Lady al-Qaeda), materials (Taliban), or just to make a statement (Munich Olympics). The first problem a captive has in this situation is being seen as a human being and not just an asset in a larger game.
In all three of these situations, expect to be in a world of hurt. Maintain hope and keep the faith that things will end up in your favor. Nothing is guaranteed. Historically these three situations end very badly for the people in them.
In the case of domestic, civil interrogations—let’s say you’ve been hauled to your local police precinct’s interrogation room—keep your mouth shut, maintain your innocence, and ask to speak to a lawyer. In some cases, be ready for a day or two worth of intensive, repetitive questions. You’ll be exhausted and squirming to get out, but this will be a cake walk compared to an interrogation in a foreign country or hostage situation.
I teach my students that the only thing they can control is their attitude. If I’m a bad guy, I can take away your warmth, food, information, even air. I can stick you in a box for three days with no light or food; you’ll be much weaker when we talk. You’ll do almost anything not be stuck back in “the box.” This inhuman treatment gets you to the psychological point that I, as a bad guy, want. I can get you to confess to things you’d never confess to normally or say things you’d never say using the fear of “the box’” or “the board” or another prop.
Your attitude is the only thing I cannot control. Positive Mental Attitude (PMA) seems trite when faced with the terrible things man can do to man, but it is the only thing man cannot touch if the other man wills it inviolable. Interrogation is a battle of wills, not wits. Try to outsmart your captor and you will fail. Choose what you will say and say it, over and over. Choose what you will not say and keep it locked up.
Attitude branches out into belief systems very quickly in a captive situation. What you think you believe is quite different from the foundational beliefs that make you who you are. If you believe in nothing, all the better for the interrogator—for a man who believes in nothing can soon be lead to believe in anything. If you’re going into environments where being captured is a possibility, knowing yourself, what you are and why you are, can be the thin line across which capitulation or repatriation occurs. It is also the societal answer for how one can maintain integrity and honor in the face of a swirling PsyOp of shit.
Situational Awareness is a critical factor when interacting with one’s captors. We all use SA every day of our lives: driving, shopping, using our cellphones, talking to cops, our friends, our family. In a captive situation, SA tells you how to behave and when to behave that way. Reading your captor may be impossible, so using your SA to demonstrate your humanity and worth is vital. This includes Health & Welfare (HW). We all eat and we all shit. We all get cold and like a blanket. Your captor knows this, and asking for one is not an unreasonable request.
Using your SA and choosing the right time to ask for HW items is key. If you come off as cocky or demanding, you’ll probably be very cold for a few days or weeks. Humility can be hard for Westerners; we are used to a very different lifestyle than other people around the world. Remembering that you are not in control—that they can tire of you and get another hostage—can save your bacon. Humility, respect, and knowing who is in control goes a long way in securing a good, operative Situational Awareness. We are taught that respect is earned, but if I can put a bullet in your head, a bit of respect can go a long way.
There are many forms of interrogation. Each of the following interrogation techniques can be done individually or in groups. Further reading in italics.
The Legal interrogation is formal and sanitized by the illusion of authority and law; legalese, lawyers, and official documents. (EP-3 Collision, Crew Detainment, Release, and Homecoming)
The Friendly interrogation is probably the most insidious as it lowers the defenses in a cloud of courtesies and kindnesses. (Hans Scharff, The Nazi Interrogator Who Revealed the Value of Kindness)
The Shock & Surprise interrogation aims to convince you the captor already knows everything and that they just need you to confess to what they already know to secure your freedom. (Some Experiences Reported by the Crew of the USS Pueblo and American Prisoners of War from Vietnam)
The Fear & Despair interrogation is the most physical. It seeks to instill fear towards what the captor can do to you and despair towards ever getting out of the situation unless you capitulate to the captor’s demands. Fear & Despair is a solid method of gaining information. It is very useful on the strong resistor, as they may watch a weaker member of a team or even a family member succumb to brutality, helpless to stop it unless they acquiesce. (Gulag Interrogation)
Imbeds are also insidious. This interrogation technique has an actor play the role of Red Cross, US representative, reporter/journalist, doctor, or lawyer…the actor asks seemingly benign questions in order to get the person to freely talk. This method also works well after a Fear & Despair Interrogation, as the focus on Health & Welfare will be paramount on the captive’s mind. (Out of Captivity: Surviving 1,967 Days in the Colombian Jungle)
Each one of these techniques require excellent Situational Awareness in order to defeat. In real life, they are brutal and soul-sucking events that leave the captive broken and one step closer to despair. Despair gives the captor control. Failure is expected, but so is bouncing back after a failure. Take advantage of any opportunity to show Proof of Life: video, letters, DNA…anything that proves you are alive or gives evidence of where you were.
The methods a captor can use to break the will of the captive are many. Some tried and true methods involve the removal of comfort, isolation, degradation, humiliation, indoctrination, fear, coercion, and violence. A knowledgeable captor will use all of these at different times, staggered in a Psychological Operation (PsyOp).
The first step in countering these methods is to recognize they are occurring. Forewarned is forearmed.
In my experience, the best natural resistors are those who had a tough childhood, grew up on the streets, or survived various forms of institutionalization with their souls intact. I call these types “Street Urchins.” Each of these types have a lifetime of negotiating peril, staying out of the limelight, and enduring until escape or release became viable.
The one advantage Street Urchins usually lack is the familiarization with academics, customs, and courtesies, which serve to elevate the standard of discourse in a bad situation. An adeptness in this category, something I call the “English Gentleman,” can be a remarkable method of maintaining one’s HW and dignity. Act like a gentleman and be treated like a gentleman.
Another great natural resistor is what I call the “True Believer.” These folks have indoctrinated themselves into a greater understanding of whatever doctrine to which they ascribe. They cannot be budged, because budging would jeopardize their very soul. True Believers are popularly associated with religious fanaticism, but my experience tells me the fanatic is actually fruitful territory for exploitation. Instead, I’m referring to the captive with a scholarly knowledge and deep understanding of his or her faith. Atheists and agnostics are not in this category, as science and disbelief cannot hold a candle to faith under rigorous and physical pressure. This goes against popular understanding, but it is my experience.
A combination of Street Urchin, English Gentleman, and True Believer is my personal favorite for “Who would survive the fucked-up situation?” It happens all the time—people who plead guilty to crimes they didn’t do because of the pressure of interrogation. Bottom line: don’t go into an interrogation squishy. You’ll get squished.
In my opinion, the “best” method of preparing for an interrogation is through Stress Inoculation (SI). The concept is simple, but the methods can be complex. Raise the stress level in an individual until they are about to break. This can be scary; you are working with a man’s self-concept and possibly his soul. After he experiences what it feels like to almost break, pull him out of the situation and teach him what he did, why he did it, and what can be done to counter what he experienced. Rinse and repeat. This process can be accomplished in a very short time (one to two weeks) and for those in the “Highly At-Risk” category, it can still be done in as little as a month. Lacking the opportunity for SI, I refer you to the last two sentences of the previous section.
Maintaining one’s integrity, character, and honor in hell is tough. It is also doable. You will fail. You will make mistakes. Forgiveness is powerful; forgive yourself and move on. Bounce back. Learn from your mistakes and get better.
Things outside of your control will either happen or not. The world may be clamoring for your release; a team of Special Operators may be flying to your location, locked and loaded, but it does you no good until it happens. Stay centered on Positive Mental Attitude, and never give up hope. We call it “keeping the faith,” which is accurate but a bit dated in today’s vernacular.
Are you a kind person? Be kind to other captives, even to your captors, even to the guy that just broke your wrist and nose and pissed on you. Bitterness and anger fester in a captive environment and bear forth fruit that will fuck you up and skew your SA.
When the beatings commence, focus on your Health & Welfare. HW should be foremost in your mind when under torture or immense psychological pressure. This is a battle of wills, not wits. Your captor has time and space on his side; you have your will. Do not compromise. You want to be the guy that the captors talk about: “He doesn’t have anything else to say.”
The goal is to navigate this horrible world you are in until you leave it. Leaving can mean repatriation, rescue, or death. Act in such a manner that whatever the outcome, you can still hold your head up. This is also a great way to throw up the middle finger once repatriated, rescued, or at the pearly gates. Vietnam POW and Medal of Honor recipient Rocky Versace insulted the Viet Cong during his interrogations and repeatedly cited the Geneva Conventions; the last time fellow prisoners heard his voice before his execution, he was loudly singing “God Bless America.”
Propaganda is everywhere. Since we’ve “evolved” into functional humans reliant upon phones, propaganda is much more obvious, prevalent, and accessible. It has been a very successful tool in steering modern thought-constructs, our economy, our foreign policy, and our lives. If you want to know what is happening in the world and are using your phone to get that information, you are exposing yourself to someone else’s agenda.
Everything has the taint of propaganda, whether from economic, ideological, or social causes. I tend to look at my news with high skepticism, especially on topics I’m predisposed to agree with. A saying in the SERE community is “The Devil’s best lies are 99% truth.”
The quality of propaganda we receive in the US is amateurish and obvious. It’s the JV team. It relies upon social consensus pushed by those with the biggest microphone. It’s also very successful. This is sad. The Arab Spring was a grassroots movement for freedom. The Arab Spring was a Western PsyOp to increase friendly, stable markets. Can both be true? Yes.
These are broad questions to ask yourself when analyzing information, but useful if applied:
Who is telling me this information? Is it a recognized authority? Arguing relative? Media? Trusted friend? Group I belong to? Group I detest?
What am I being told? Does it require action? Passivity? Compliance? What are they asking of me?
Where am I being told? In my home? In conversation? On my cellphone? In a cell?
When am I being told? When I’m safe, threatened, compromised, or confident?
How am I being told? Loudly? Forcefully? Seductively? Authoritatively? Is there room for dissent? What facts do they offer in support, and are they valid, cherry-picked, or vague? Do I have the personal ability to examine primary sources?
Why am I being told this? You tell your spouse you love them because you want them to know they are loved. We are told to recycle so we can individually partake in saving the planet. We are told to wear masks because people are afraid of germs that will kill billions. Why is certain information communicated to you, and who stands to gain from its spread?
Figure out what you believe to be true. Then stick to it. Like a seed, it will grow. If you believe in batshit crazy stuff, the results will be commensurate. If you believe in sound reasoning, the results will be commensurate. You are responsible for what you choose to believe and how you live. It’s okay to modify this belief; it’s similar to bouncing back. We all make mistakes. This way of thinking will not immediately win you any friends, but it can start the process of thinking for yourself.
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