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    With all the current furore about waterboarding, I was wondering what the typical interrogation techniques of the various Cold War agencies were, ranging from civilians under general suspicion to spies caught redhanded in the act.

    [edited to change forum category - RE]


    My readings about the Stasi reveal a number of terrifying techniques, all aimed at subordinating the person's future actions to the state, as well as generating a list of useable names. As with many "who are your co-conspirators" aims, the latter aim did not care whether the results were true, only in the list of names as an object for the next wave of interrogations.

    The primary method was sleep deprivation - after a couple of days, a person will sign anything. Apparently the Stasi, in its later days especially, considered pain-based methods to be counter-productive. As I am a sensitive soul, to me, even methods without direct pain seem to be describable as torture, especially the infamous U-Boat cells, where a person was submerged up to the neck all night. If I understand correctly, the person did not know this would happen; he or she was simply incarcerated "for questioning" and then later, when alone, would find the water seeping in.

    All of this should be distinguished, I suppose, from the situations in the actual GDR prisons, administered by the police system, in which political prisoners were routinely mistreated, and overseen by trustee prisoners who'd perpetrated the worst physical crimes. However, since the police and their policies were infiltrated and manipulated by the Stasi (along with the border guards and the courts), I don't see much reason to distinguish.

    The CIA should be considered in tandem with its predecessor, the OSS, and its mentor, the SIS (MI-6) and the SOE, and in particular, in the context of two specific situations. The first is as a paramilitary partner to in-theater military operations, as during WWII and during the Vietnam War (specifically Operation Phoenix), and the second is its in-house crisis of counterintelligence, particularly during the infamous mole-hunt of the 1960s. So, that's pretty complicated. It's not really possible to talk about "the" CIA as a single entity, either at a given moment or through a historical trajectory.

    All that said ... the "gloves are off" techniques currently employed in the context of the GWOT (global war on terror) are apparently all from the CIA and SIS repertoire over the many years of the Cold War, and also from military interrogation that dates all the way back the U.S. intervention in the Philippines. The history of waterboarding is pretty easily found with some Googling, but you can look; I did it once, and that was enough. Operation Phoenix included a lot of electric shock, quite crude using car batteries, and apparently not particularly concerned with the person's survival. Current detainees are getting shocked now too.

    I recently finished Cold Warrior, a biography of James Angleton, which includes another of many accounts of Yuri Nosenko's treatment in the late 1960s. Most of it was based on isolation, as well as relatively inexpert dosing with various drugs. The interesting thing to me was how CIA DDOs and DCIs reacted when they realized this was going on under their watch - they were instantly terrified that Congress or anyone would find out, believing that their unconstitutional treatment of this one man would be enough to sink the agency forever, once confronted by official American justice.

    Funny how that doesn't really seem to be a concern today.

    P.S. This European keyboard is giving me fits. It's great to have the umlauts, but the transposed Y and Z are crayz!

    • CommentAuthorRon Edwards
    • CommentTimeDec 20th 2007 edited

    Here's a fantastic editorial from the Washington Post: 5 Myths about Torture and Truth. Its final point rings true to me, based on all my readings and discussions about intelligence, counter-intelligence, and military intelligence over the past few years.

    That point bears repeating: torture serves the emotional needs of the torturer, not the policy needs of any kind. In other words, people torture because they get off on it, are frustrated with any other approach to their perceived task, and because it gets ostensible "results" they can pretend to themselves are real results. The last one is the one that really hits me. I have two points to make about this.

    1. I think confessions are over-rated in the modern perception of law enforcement. The reason they are used at all is that it permits cops to close cases; i.e., if a guy confesses, then you don't have to deal with that thorny "beyond a reasonable doubt" stuff any more. I mean, technically, you do and you should, but practically, a judge or a jury learns about the confession and tends to say, "Oh, well then, he admits it," and moves on to some other more difficult case. It's fabulously easy to flip this particular bit of logistic practicality around and to begin thinking that confessions are the gold standard of crime-solving. So why not elicit confessions from the guy you have in hand? A few full-power smacks of a phone book to the head, dangling someone out of a high window, and the low-tech waterboarding technique with a handy toilet will get you the confession - or hell, a few nights in a vomit-stained cell with a very big and dangerous cellmate who's been slipped some extra smokes or the promise of a prostitute. And look! The crime's solved! We found the guy!

    2. The business of justifying something because "well, we had to do something, and it made us feel like we were accomplishing something, and that's what matters anyway," is articulated fully in the book The Blond Ghost, referring to Ted Shackley's and others' case-officer work in eastern Europe during the 1950s. Bluntly, it was a colossal waste of time: the SIS and CIA sent hundreds if not thousands of guys over the borders into all the Warsaw Pact nations as well as Yugoslavia and Albania, and wham - they were all found, turned, used for disinformation, and incarcerated or shot. The interviews in the book are shocking to me, because they are all spun so thoroughly inside the minds of the men speaking. They really think that "well, it didn't work, and we knew it wasn't working, but it had to be done, and doing it was itself a triumph" makes sense, although when I read it, it's like a chilly blast of madness.

    With officers completely committed to #2, and with a public and policy-makers at least in part accustomed to #1, the recipe is there for truly despicable, awful policy.

    Best, Ron
    (edited to fix book title; I'd typed the wrong one)


    Very intelligent arguments. I'll sleep on them!


    The big mystery is the KGB. It's a staple of CIA culture and of CIA/SIS centered spy fiction that the Lubyanka was (and probably still is) a torture hole of the very worst kind. The thing is, though, we don't really know a damn thing. During the 1950s, it served U.S. and Brit propaganda, but also Khruschev's power-base, to demonize Lavrenty Beria as much as possible, and so for different reasons on each side of the curtain, the Lubyanka became popularized as the primary orc-citadel of Mordor. SMERSH, although actually disbanded after WWII, was taken as not only a given in the west, but was feared as an active and determined feature of Soviet policy. The unexpected bullet to the back of the traitor's head is a staple of film and fiction, and there are all sorts of tales of officers who'd given information to the CIA being fed into furnaces while alive, and so on. I remain entirely skeptical about the famous assassination of the Bulgarian defector, via the umbrella device that pumped a poison pellet into his thigh, which is probably worth a whole thread one day.

    Yet some of it is true, and not just in the NKVD/KGB's crude operations in the 1950s either. In his book spy about Robert Hanssen, David Wise refers to a film of one of the KGB officers sold out by him, being held and beaten during his (the officer's) arrest. Still, awful as the scene is, it's not thumbscrews and weird injections and other Hollywood stuff.

    Here's an important point about that agency, too - its separation into Main Directorates. The First M.D. was the foreign-intelligence service (pretty much continuous with today's SVR, in Russia), and it conducted its own counterintelligence with very little desire to coordinate with the Second M.D., which was sort of like the FBI or Stasi. So who would oversee the treatment and interrogation of spies? And which ones: case officers serving a foreign government under diplomatic cover, the same under non-official cover (NOCs, like Valerie Plame), native intelligence officers recruited by the CIA or FBI or whoever, and plain old citizens who'd been so recruited? Jeez, that's so not discussed, in all those post-1991 KGB memoir books.

    So to me, that's a big Don't Know.

    Best, Ron


    I realized that I hadn't really addressed an important part of your first inquiry, Roland, which had to do with the distinctions among whom was identified as a spy, specifically in the GDR.

    The answers are especially interesting because the U.S. did not recognize the nation until the middle 1970s, so events which were at least routine, among other nations, had to be handled in a kind of state of denial in this case. Although there was no official U.S. embassy, for instance, there was a "diplomatic center" (I'll have to look up the official designation, but I recall that it was equally inane-sounding), and it was staffed by U.S. State officials. On the other hand, American tourists were always warned before leaving that "over there," if caught or even accused of breaking GDR laws, there was nothing to be done for them, and they would most likely rot forever in some kind of communist gulag.

    So who might be so accused, and what might become of them?

    1. American or British tourists with no official standing whatever might be charged with a crime. If it was espionage, they'd indeed go to prison. They were typically swapped back over the Glienicke Bridge, in one of those dramatic misty mornings where spies, dissidents, and who-knows-who of either side walked past one another to their respective "rescues." I know of no cases in which such individuals were brutally mistreated, and John Koehler, for instance, would certainly have reported any such cases in his book - he certainly dug up every possible example of everything else, from which most of my posts in this thread are taken. (Incidentally, anyone like a journalist or professional of that kind was shadowed by the Stasi and their acquaintances pressured to become IMs. Timothy Garton Ash demonstrates very well that the Stasi had worked up quite a convincing case to themselves that he was a spy, all based on chicken feed, wishful thinking, and IMs striving to make themselves useful.)

    2. Officials from the "centers" who were accused of espionage ... here I can only speculate, because there's not a peep about this in any of the sources I've read. For dramatic purposes in playing Spione, I imagine I'd handle it as a non-expulsion of a non-official from a non-embassy, in other words, exactly as normal only everyone would pretend it didn't happen even more so than usual.

    3. German citizens who left the GDR and for one reason or another were able to go back professionally or to "return" without defecting. These were very frequently now agents of the CIA or BND, as both agencies pretty frantically tried to penetrate the GDR without being able to establish actual case officers there (NOCs did not operate there). It is now known that such individuals were almost universally doubled back by the HVA, feeding disinformation back to their handlers, sometimes for a very long time. This is also a typical case of where Wolf differed with his MfS boss, Erich Mielke, who would much rather have treated them as traitors.

    4. Dissidents or other political undesirables in the GDR who, for instance, had a few too many friends in the west, or were a little too outspoken in their criticisms of the regime from positions of influence (e.g. artists). The playwright in the film The Lives of Others is an excellent example. These are the people of whom I wrote in my first post - seized, chewed up, and spat out by the GDR prison system, with their lives ruined.

    Best, Ron

    • CommentAuthorDemiP
    • CommentTimeJul 6th 2011

    The United States Department of Justice plans a full-scale criminal investigation into a couple of deaths. The two fatalities occurred while in CIA guardianship abroad. The deaths occurred during interrogations by the Central Intelligence Agency.The attorney general said that he accepted the recommendation of a federal prosecutor, John Durham, who since August 2009 has conducted an inquiry into CIA interrogation practices during the Bush administration. Holder said Durham looked at the treatment of 101 detainees in U.S. custody since the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks and concluded that only these two deaths required criminal investigation.Holder did not identify the two death cases. But former and current U.S. officials who requested anonymity to discuss an ongoing investigation said Durham was looking at the deaths of Gul Rahman and Manadel al-Jamadi.I hope that the investigation will be give the waiting public a clear answer. The deaths of these two prisoners should be given justice. All the people behind this incident should face all the possible outcome of their actions.Here is the proof: CIA investigated in two deaths