Military Interview Techniques
One of the critical aspects of our representation involves a strategic approach to dealing with military law enforcement.
The Special Agents of the Army Criminal Investigations Division, Navy Criminal Investigative Service, the Air Force Office of Special Investigations, and the Coast Guard Investigative Service are Federal law enforcement officers who receive their training at the Federal Law Enforcement Training Center (FLETC).
Because they receive similar training they all use the same basic strategy when conducting interviews of ‘subjects.’ Regardless of the branch of service, the Agents are trained to use the same techniques to manipulate subjects into making incriminating statements.
Many military members are innocent, have nothing to hide, and believe they should simply cooperate with investigator . . . Far too often that approach leads to disaster. An innocent person will find their words misunderstood, twisted, and used against them.
How do Special Agents do it?
Agents use several different approaches for interviews. These approaches play on the integrity, sense of honor, and loyalty of military members to obtain ‘confessions.’ Rather than getting deep into the techniques or the psychology of the process, I have broken the basic tactics into simpler terms.
1. The “Bro Approach.”
Referred to as rapport building in the textbooks, the Bro Approach involves an Agent attempting to use something about where you are from or your past to build common ground and make you feel like they are on your side. Often the Agent will lie to you and tell you they are from a hometown near yours or have some other experience in common to set you at ease. Once the Agent has tricked you into believing they are your bro they will turn to technique number 2.
2. The “Joe Friday Mantra.”
Military investigators love to tell you that their only job is to gather the facts, that they do not work for the prosecution and that they are neutral truth finders. This statement is simply not true.
- They work for the government and when you are on trial in the military the case is “United States vs. You.”
- When the prosecutor or your commander calls and asks the agent to do something they will do it and do it immediately. They will never do the same for a subject.
- Military investigators often have a personal agenda that drives their investigation. They receive awards and stellar performance reports, or evaluations based on getting confessions and convictions. These evaluations are not unsubstantiated investigations or unsolved crimes.
3. The “I will help you if you help me” promise.
Agents love to say that if you tell them the truth they will advocate for you. They will say things like, “If you do not talk to me now then your commander will never hear your side of the story.” Followed by, “If you help me out then I will tell your commander you are a good guy and that could really help you get leniency.” Bottom line, Agents tell subjects these things to get them talking and for no other reason.
4. The Fake Polygraph (lie detector) Examination.
The Department of Defense has put a renewed emphasis on asking subjects to submit to a polygraph test. Not only are polygraph examinations notoriously unreliable, they are a favorite interrogation tool of investigators. Investigators use fake polygraph results as a way to manipulate suspects. I know of cases where the military member passed the polygraph examination but was told by the Agent they failed.
This lie is often tied to the next technique, the ‘hypothetical’. After a polygraph the Agent will conduct a post-polygraph interview. They use the fake results to try and get you to explain why you might have failed.
5. The ‘Hypothetical’.
Agents have long been using the hypothetical as a way to obtain incriminating statements. They will say, “We believe you did not do it, but let’s say you had done it. How would you have done it?” They will then take any statements you make and twist them. The investigator will surmise that you must have done it because you talked about how it could have happened.
The agent may also be subtle and get you to agree to a statement like, “We know you never meant to hurt anyone, but you can see why something else might have thought what you said was a threat, right?” They will also combine the hypothetical with polygraph results and say, “Well you failed the polygraph, so there must be a reason.”
If you say yes to the hypothetical or try to explain why you may have “failed the polygraph”, you will find the government claiming you confessed because you agreed that what you said was a threat. That is not what you said or what you meant. However, the Agent and a prosecutor may use it as proof you confessed to crime you did not commit.
Consult with Legal Counsel
If you are under investigation or suspected of a crime in the military, it may be tempting to think that you should waive your Article 31 rights and cooperate. You will likely get advice from Barracks Lawyers and First Sergeants or others. They will claim that if you had nothing to hide you will waive your rights and talk to investigators.
No one facing an investigation should make that decision without first consulting with an experienced attorney.
If you decide to make a statement, you should have an attorney present or on the phone to guide you. They can shut down the interview if that is the best way to avoid being wrongfully accused or convicted.
Never forget that our American heroes are prepared to give their lives if necessary to protect our Nation and our freedom. One of our most important freedoms is the right to remain silent.
Do you need an attorney to represent you? Contact Crisp and Associates Military Law for a consultation. Our veteran owned and operated firm understands your military rights.