The Dark Science of Interrogation. I was fascinated by this article because I graduated from the SERE program at the US Air Force Academy in the summer of 1991, after my freshman year there. SERE teaches how to resist the interrogation methods used against prisoners of war. When I attended the school, the content was based on techniques used by Korea and Vietnam against American POWs in the 1950s-1970s.
As I read the article, I realized the subject matter reminded me of another aspect of my professional life.
In intelligence, as in the most mundane office setting, some of the most valuable information still comes from face-to-face conversations across a table. In police work, a successful interrogation can be the difference between a closed case and a cold one. Yet officers today are taught techniques that have never been tested in a scientific setting. For the most part, interrogators rely on nothing more than intuition, experience, and a grab bag of passed-down methods.
“Most police officers can tell you how many feet per second a bullet travels. They know about ballistics and cavity expansion with a hollow-point round,” says Mark Fallon, a former Naval Criminal Investigative Service special agent who led the investigation into the USS Cole attack and was assistant director of the federal government’s main law enforcement training facility. “What as a community we have not yet embraced as effectively is the behavioral sciences...”
Christian Meissner, a psychologist at Iowa State University, coordinates much of HIG’s research. “The goal,” he says, “is to go from theory and science, what we know about human communication and memory, what we know about social influence and developing cooperation and rapport, and to translate that into methods that can be scientifically validated.” Then it’s up to Kleinman, Fallon, and other interested investigators to test the findings in the real world and see what works, what doesn’t, and what might actually backfire.
Does this sound familiar? Security people know how many flags to check in a TCP header, or how many bytes to offset when writing shell code, but we don't seem to "know" (in a "scientific" sense) how to "secure" data, networks, and so on.
One point of bright light is the Security Metrics community. The mailing list is always interesting for those trying to bring counting and "science" to the digital security profession. Another great project is the Index of Cyber Security run by Dan Geer and Mukul Pareek.
I'm not saying there is a "science" of digital security. Others will disagree. I also don't have any specific recommendations based on what I read in the interrogation article. However, I did resonate with the article's message that "street wisdom" needs to be checked to see if it actually works. Scientific methods can help.
I am taking small steps in that direction with my PhD in the war studies department at King's College London.