An interview technique for eliciting intelligence without asking questions has in a series of experiments proven to work very well. The idea dates back to the renowned WWII interrogator Hanns Scharff, but has now -- for the first time -- been empirically validated. The technique can help intelligence agencies reveal plans of future terrorist acts. This is the conclusion drawn in a new dissertation from the University of Gothenburg.
The idea behind the interview technique was developed by Hanns Scharff -- an iconic role model for interrogators worldwide. As an employee of the German Luftwaffe, Scharff became known for an interview style that was based on treating the prisoners with respect and kindness instead of pressuring them with questions and threats of violence.
Instead of an interrogation, Scharff arranged his meeting as a conversation, emphasizing that the most important details were already known, and that all he wanted was help to fill in some minor gaps. This meant that prisoners never knew when they disclosed information that Scharff did not already know, and often ended up revealing much more information than they thought they did.
In Simon Oleszkiewicz's dissertation, Scharff's interview style has been conceptualized as a complete technique that has been experimentally evaluated. The conceptualization includes tactics with respect to storytelling and presenting claims, while avoiding asking explicit questions. The conclusion is that the technique works very well during interviews with persons who are semi-willing to share information.
"Those interviewed with the Scharff technique disclosed more information than those who faced explicit questions," Oleszkiewicz says. At the same time, they themselves thought that they were not disclosing much information.
When interviewers avoid direct questions and instead emphasize what they already know, it becomes difficult for the interviewee to cooperate without contributing with new information, and difficult to assess how much one has revealed.
Previously, Scharff's success has been ascribed to his personality. However, in Oleszkiewicz's thesis Scharff's different tactics has been conceptualized into a technique that can be taught to practitioners and may help improve current practices. The technique can be useful for intelligence agencies who attempt to reveal terror plans.
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