You’ve probably wanted information out of someone that they weren’t exactly forthcoming with before. We are going to cover all the different interrogation techniques used by intelligence operators, the police, the military, and attorneys in depositions. By the end of this article you will know all the possible ways to extract information out of someone. Keep in mind some techniques are for informational purposes only.
Table of Contents
A Word Of Caution
It should be noted that the worst thing you can have happen in an interrogation is to gain false information that appears true.
Beginner Techniques (Use These First)
These techniques will get you enough information most of the time. Start here. Remember, preparation is often the most important step. Study the person, their environment, and develop a narrative and plan for what you are trying to accomplish.
WIIFM (The Incentive Approach)
WIIFM (what’s in it for me) is a persuasion technique that can be used to get confessions. Simply tell the person what they get by confessing or telling you the truth. Law enforcement individuals often use lesser sentences in exchange for full confessions. Check out this article or this article for more on how to effectively use this technique.
This technique simply involves treating the person with respect. An effort is often made to connect with them via events or experiences. This is because people are more likely to cooperate with those that seem similar to them. Basic rapport techniques apply here. Visit this article to learn about how to really create rapport.
The Story Trick
When someone is making up a story it is hard to tell it out of order. If you are wondering if someone is telling a true story, start asking them questions about details or events out of order. Start in the middle and then ask them what happened before that. Basically do anything other than ask them sequential questions.
The Confession Method
Reciprocity makes people feel like they need to return the favor when someone initiates. Use this to your advantage by making a confession. Then ask the person the question you want to know. Often people will reveal their hand if you simply go first.
The Silence Trick
Anxious people often fill silence in order to avoid social awkwardness. Use this against them by asking a question and then closing your mouth. When they seem done, don’t speak and just stare at them as if they have more that they could say. You will be surprised by how often people keep sharing information they might not have shared with out the silence.
We call these techniques “advanced” not because they are difficult, but because they should only be used after the basic techniques. You will find the basic techniques will get you most of the results you need. Many of the advanced techniques can be found in more detail here.
Elicit Information With Body Language
Social pressure can make people give up information. Use skeptical facial expressions or hand movements to pressure the person into sharing more. You can also try positioning yourself above the person physically as this makes it seem like you are more in charge and increases the probability that they will comply.
The Establish Yourself Trick
The establish yourself trick is useful in very specific situations. Simply pretend to not know anything about the person. Tell them they need to establish who they are and while they are talking make a skeptical face. You are basically reframing the situation as one where the other person has trespassed and they need to explain themselves to your satisfaction.
Pride & Ego Up/Down
This technique uses flattery or abuse to trick the person into revealing information. This works best against people who display lower levels of confidence. Ask yourself what image the person is trying to display and then attack or build that image up.
Pride and ego up is best used against people who aren’t used to much respect. They are typically lower on the totem pole. Using a “in awe” tone, the interrogator compliments the person’s appearance, background, and other elements of their character, making them sound very impressive. What happens is the person being interrogated wants to rise to the occasion and prove that this way they are being perceived is accurate, so they start revealing information that ‘proves’ they know things.
The ego and pride down approach bombards the person’s identity with accusations. The person then tries to defend themself by sharing information that supports the identity being attacked. For example if you want someone to reveal information about where checkpoints are, you would accuse them of being a lowly solider who isn’t important enough to know anything. Thus they would prove you wrong by sharing the location of a check point.
The emotional approach uses fear, hatred, or love to coerce a confession. For example, love is used by focusing the person on how complying or confessing can get them back to their family faster. Focus on the anxiety they must be feeling because of the circumstance they are currently in.
The hate approach operates in the same way but focuses on how the person wants to take revenge. This works well when there is resentment towards the superiors or other individuals. This can also be applied by focusing their hatred on the ideology they are fighting against. You can ask questions like “why do you think they left you to die when they could have rescued you?”
Fear can be increased by interrogating in a loud and overpowering manner. Some throw objects or shout. But fear is best increased more subtly by bringing up possible events or interpretations of actions that the person already fears. For example if they were found on the other side of a country’s border, they could be seen as either lost or a terrorist. This negative and fear inducing interpretation must be a reasonable or credible distortion.
Sometimes fear needs to be decreased for someone to confess. Fear can be decreased with soothing voices, calm tones, and minimization of possible negative events.
This technique is more of a visual trick. Get a folder and fill it with files. Pretend the files are all the proof against the person. Simply pat the file and say “we know everything.” “Make it easier on yourself and just confess.” This probably works best after the emotional approach.
Minimization & Maximization
Both techniques are about creating a story that reinterprets the facts of an event. This reinterpretation either puts the person in a positive or negative light. Ask yourself how the person wants to be perceived and then choose the technique that will threaten that perception. See REID technique (below).
Minimization is when the action or event’s moral or other significance is minimized using a narrative. The goal is to minimize the consequences or perception in order to get the person to confess. For example instead of saying “you robbed the store for fun,” you could say “you borrowed money from the store in order to feed your child.” This technique takes facts and then reinterprets the motive behind the action.
Maximization is a fear based technique where the person tries to scare the individual into thinking they need to confess in order to not get a worse outcome. For example an accomplice to a robbery might be nudged into revealing their assistants with a longer jail sentence.
Guess And Check
This simple technique involves planing a piece of information in a story to see if a person corrects it. For example, say you wanted the person to confirm where they had been that afternoon. Instead of asking if they went to Taco Bell, you might say “how was the taco sauce this afternoon?” The key is to place the thing you are trying to confirm into the story as if it was already a fact. Wait to see if they correct, modify, or confirm that information. You could also make a statement you know bothers them to to see if they correct it like “well you probably aren’t strong enough to break into that house by yourself.” This is similar to the maximization technique listed above as you are seeking to bother the person into confessing.
Good Cop Bad Cop
Good cop bad cop is a technique used to gain a confession. One person acts more mean and aggressive while the other is more friendly. The idea is that the suspect fears the bad cop so they comply with the good cop in order to minimize their interactions with the bad cop.
Cognitive interviewing has 4 steps and is focused on information gathering.
- Reconstruct the circumstances. They are asked how the incident started and other circumstances. They also focus on details of the situation like their emotional state.
- Instruct the person to report everything.
- Recall events in a different than sequential order. Ask them questions starting backwards or in the middle. This helps figure out how truthful they are. It is hard to tell a fake story out of order.
- Switch perspective. This is when the witness is asked to switch perspective with someone else involved in the indecent and speculate on what they could have seen. Location switches are common as well. Wicklander & Zulawski,1993.
FAINT uses rapport, posture evaluation, questions, and interpretation to gather information. See this article for more. We recommend you just skip to the PEACE and REID techniques as they are the most unique.
The Morgan Interview Theme Technique asks the individual to make up stories for five different pictures. These stories must include what led to the picture, what is happening in the picture itself, and what will happen after the picture. Since the brain must access memories in order to create even the most fictitious events, suspects end up revealing information indirectly via the stories they make up. The difficulty is figuring out what is fake vs real. This study estimates that 30% of what is told in the story comes from their history.
This technique was created in response to more coercive techniques that led to false confessions. It emphasizes gathering information over a confession and accusation based approach like the REID technique. The PEACE method has 5 steps.
- Planning and preparation is the step where information is gathered including what specific people need to be interviewed and what happened.
- Engage and Explain is a step where they try to establish rapport and make the person feel respected. To do this they do things like ask how they want to be addressed. You can be patient with them, find common ground, establish shared experiences, and show concern. You don’t need to be the person’s friend but you do need to treat them with respect.
- Next they clarify the account and possibly challenge it. This is the step where they let the person talk and explain their side of the story. This is also where contradictory evidence is brought up in an effort to seek the person’s explanation. See also the Griffiths Question Map, the ECI, Cognitive interviewing. Open ended questions are also used.
- Closure is when they summarize what the person said and ask if there are any other things that need to be addressed.
- Finally evaluation is where the interviewer reflects on what they found and decides whether they should change their approach the next time.
More “modern” versions of interrogation follow this technique where rapport and understanding are the main goals. This tends to yield more accurate information. Studies found that if the interviewers who were trained, 63% obtained full accounts or confessions.
Here is another journal article about PEACE.
Tactics For Getting Information Out Of Someone They Don’t Want You To Know
The deposition questioning techniques used by attorneys can be quite useful in almost any situation.
- The Assumptive Guess – this is useful for hiding questions you want to know the answer to but the other side doesn’t want you to know. For example, say you want to know how the person got to work but they don’t want you to know. Ask “what was the weather like when you walked to work?” Another example of an assumptive question is “when did you stop beating your wife?”
- Non Sequential Questions – this is a useful technique for discovering truth. It is hard for people who are lying about their story to keep their lies straight if they are being asked about the story in a non sequential order.
- Red Herring Question – these are questions that focus on topics that you don’t care about. They are useful when you are trying to make someone think you are focused on a different topic. Throw a few of these in to distract or confuse them, or ask a whole bunch of these focused on a separate topic make them think you want something else while you slip in the important questions.
- Appeal To Ego – some people think they can outsmart the person asking them questions. Take advantage of this by making it seem like the questions you are asking will actually benefit them, then toss in the difficult ones at the end.
- Box Them In – this technique is used at the beginning of depositions and interrogations. Simply think about all the excuses and arguments your opposition might make. Ask questions to eliminate those options at the beginning.
Keep in mind these techniques are more coercion based and so they can backfire and give you negative information. These are here for informational purposes only.
The REID Technique
The REID technique was used in the past by the police to elicit confessions from supposed perpetrators. It was supposed to be used only against those the police were certain committed the crime, because of its overall accusatory tone. But the technique came under suspicion when people started finding out that it led to false confessions. It has 9 interrogation steps.
- Positive confrontation comes first. The interrogator tells the suspect that the evidence has led the police to them as a suspect. They are to give the suspect a chance to explain why the offense happened. Notice the assumption of guilt and the attitude of certainty in regards to conclusions drawn from the evidence. See also the dossier technique listed above. Police can completely fabricate evidence and lie in this step.
- Developing a theme. This step is where the interrogator creates a story that explains the crime. The story minimizes the seriousness of the crime and explains the suspect’s needs for acting that way. This steps is to be done sympathetically. Shift the blame away from the suspect to some other person or set of circumstances that prompted the suspect’s actions. In other words develop themes, facts, or motives that will appear to justify the crime. For example “no woman should be on the street looking like that,” “the door to the car was wide open it like they were inviting you in,” and so on. The idea here is to make them feel like it isn’t a big deal to admit what they did.
- Handling suspect denials. Three is to minimize denials. While you are creating a blame shifting narrative and telling them how conclusive the evidence is against them, they will undoubtedly start denying the accusations. The interrogator must minimize these denials by cutting them off mid denial. For example, when the suspect says they would never steal a car, the interrogator would cut them off and say “don’t bother, the only thing that is going to help you now is the truth.”
- Overcome objections. When suspects see that denials don’t work, they will usually start trying to poke holes in the case. For example “I would never steal that money, I love my job.” Don’t deny these statements, instead, twist them to further develop the motive and theme set forth in step two. “So you are saying you didn’t steal the money on your shift because you love your job, instead you came back later that night while no one was there so none of your friends would get hurt.”
- Preventing withdrawal by obtaining and retaining attention. At this point the suspect would start fearing the punishment that seems inevitable given the police attitude. Keep attention focused on the theme you developed in step two by closing the physical distance between you and the suspect. Eliminating their space keeps them focused on the here and now.
- Handling the passive mood happens when the interrogator intensifies the theme and focuses on the original psychological justification presented in step 2. The goal of this step is to get them to verbalize agreement to various parts of your narrative. This keeps the suspect from shutting down. If they cry, infer guilt.
- The alternative question. In this step the interrogator presents two questions. One has a moral and minimized undertone to it while the other has a viscous and accusatory tone. The goal is to present a false dilemma where both options are what the interrogator could work with. The suspect will choose the one with the better moral explanation. Here is one example of alternative questions “so did you rob the store because you were angry that you didn’t get a promotion and you hate the manager, or did you borrow the money because you needed to pay rent and you knew you’d pay it back?”
- Have the suspect relate the details of the crime. This step seeks to further validate the interrogator’s whole theme and attitude by seeking details that only the criminal would know.
- Elements of verbal and written statements. This step simply involves documenting their confession.
Overall, the REID technique can be simplified into three steps. First you develop a story that minimizes why the person committed the crime and gives them a favorable moral interpretation. Second you take denials and objections and misinterpret them to further your original narrative. Finally you present two questions where one seems like the lesser option so they choose it.
Enhanced Interrogation (CIA & Chinese Communist Techniques)
These techniques are typically associated with the CIA’s torture in Guantanamo Bay. Some versions of these techniques were supposedly reverse engineered from techniques used by the Chinese during the Korean War. These techniques involve things like stress positions, hoods, deafening noises, sleep deprivation, and waterboarding. It also involves isolation, cornering prisoners, invading personal space, and torture techniques. In addition to these techniques causing false confessions, they were also attacked on moral grounds.