During his Congressional testimony on December 5, 2023, FBI Director Christopher Wray stated “Given the steady drumbeat of calls for attacks by foreign terrorist organizations since October 7, we’re working around the clock to identify and disrupt potential attacks by those inspired by Hamas’s horrific terrorist attacks in Israel.” Wray added “so many of the threats are all elevated at the same time.”
Accordingly, it’s not unreasonable to anticipate that domestic law enforcement will face acts of terrorism within the United States which are inspired by Hamas, Hezbollah, Islamic Jihad, or other allied organizations and supportive nations. The policies of municipal, county, and state agencies may require standing down until the arrival of federal specialists. But what if time and circumstance do not permit the luxury of such deference? What if the interests of public safety and the prevention of further blood-shed require local law enforcement investigators to immediately interrogate a suspected terrorist?
What, then, does an interrogator say to radical Islamic jihadists whose violence upon the United States is motivated by Hamas’ October attack upon Israel and its aftermath?
The cornerstone of the Reid Technique of interrogation is a persuasive argument, or “theme”, which appeals to a suspect’s mentality, beliefs, and perspective. Effective themes capitalize upon a suspect’s motives, thereby objectively and non-judgmentally building with the suspect a rapport that’s based upon understanding and mutuality of respect.
Fundamentally, theme development involves:
- a primary concept of shifting blame for the misconduct to the suspect’s life circumstances, social/economic/political events beyond their control, or even the victim’s own behavior;
- a secondary concept of contrasting the suspect’s misconduct to something more heinous;
- describing a moral/emotional/psychological justification for the misconduct;
- expressing empathy toward the emotions which the suspect likely experienced as a precipitator to their misconduct; and
- socially influencing the suspect’s perspective of the issues in dispute and solidifying their altered viewpoint through positive reinforcement.
Applying Reid’s theme concept to a Hamas-incentivized terrorist, the motivation behind an attack upon the United States should be incorporated into the interrogator’s argument. Al Jazeera reported on November 3 that less than a month after the Hamas attacks upon Israel, Hezbollah’s leader Hassan Nasrallah publicly described the October 7 Hamas intifada in Southern Israel as “a big event to shake this oppressive, occupying, usurping Zionist regime and its supporters in Washington and London.” Nasrallah is seen on the right, meeting with Hamas’s deputy leader Sheikh Saleh al-Arouri, and Islamic Jihad’s Secretary General, Ziyad al-Nakhalah, in the below photograph which was jointly released by all three organizations on October 25, 2023. A picture is worth a thousand words, and from this photo the alliance shared by this triumvirate of jihadist organizations is clear, accented by the overarching portraits of their national sponsor, Iran’s first and second supreme leaders, Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini (1979-1989), and Ayatollah Ali Khamenei (1989-present).
Within their collective statement which accompanied the above photograph, Hamas, Hezbollah, and Islamic Jihad identified that their goal on October 7 was to halt Israel’s “treacherous and brutal aggression against our oppressed and steadfast people in Gaza and the West Bank.”
At the risk of over-simplification, these three terrorist organizations blame the events of October 7 upon the United States as a result of America’s historical loyalty and unwavering support for Israel. Since the jihadists’ own words articulate the primary concept of shifting blame to the United States for the allegedly “brutal aggression” against Palestinians, it’s appropriate for an interrogator to accept their ideological gift and weave that idea into an effective theme. By extension, the interrogator can persuasively justify to the jihadist that their acts of terror within the United States were motivated by their perceived desire to vindicate the “oppressed and steadfast people in Gaza and the West Bank” whose plight they attribute, at least in part, to the United States.
Consider the following hypothetical case study. At noon in the Eastern time zone on a Saturday in late December, amidst the height of the Christmas/Hanukkah holiday season, the Renaissance Center in Detroit is rocked by an explosion resulting in multiple casualties. Thirty minutes later, a similar explosion occurs resulting in mass casualties during Shabbat services at a Jewish Synagogue in Bloomfield Township near Dearborn, Michigan. One hour later, at noon in the Midwest time zone, another explosion occurs at the Mall of America in the Minneapolis-St. Paul area, once again resulting in mass casualties. Thirty minutes thereafter, another bomb explodes at a Minneapolis synagogue during Shabbat services, with dozens of casualties. Hamas issues a statement acknowledging responsibility for the attacks in retribution against the United States and in accordance with their stated goals of the October 7 attack in Israel.
One hour later, the pattern fails to repeat itself within the Mountain time zone. But two hours after the noon Minneapolis bombing, i.e., three hours after the noon Detroit bombing, another explosion occurs at noon within the Pacific time zone at the Monte Vista Crossings Shopping Center in Turlock, California. Witnesses identify to responding officers an injured man at the Shopping Center as having detonated the bomb. His injuries are minor, and he is taken into custody at 12:10 pm., ostensibly 20 minutes before a second blast may be anticipated at one of the many nearby synagogues. The FBI is notified, but their estimated arrival time is more than 15 minutes. The clock is ticking, as local law enforcement investigators decide that in the interest of preventing further loss of life an immediate interrogation of the injured terrorist should be undertaken to obtain information on the next intended target.
The suspect is asked for his name and address. He identifies himself as Ibrahim Nasseem, a resident of Turlock, California. He is advised of his Miranda rights before being asked directly whether there are more bombs, where they are planted, who controls them, and when they will be detonated. Ibrahim responds that he’s a Hamas fighter joining with his brothers from the October 7 intifada victory against Israel in waging jihad against the United States and Israel. He says he knows the answers to each of the questions posed to him, but he refuses to disclose any answers. Time is precious, so the on-scene senior investigator proceeds as follows.
“Ibrahim, you’re facing a moment of opportunity that will affect your own self-respect for the rest of your life. It’s up to you whether you decide to stay on a path of destruction or do something to help others. I understand where you’re coming from. You see the United States as the Great Satan, because that’s what the United States government has been called since the days of the Iranian Revolution in 1979. The United States has supported Israel in everything it’s done since 1948. Through your lenses, that also means the subjugation of Palestine and the isolation of Palestinians in Gaza and the West Bank. If I were in your shoes, I might also blame the United States for supplying so many weapons, so much financial aid, and all the political support to Israel in the oppression of Palestinians.
“But, Ibrahim, that moment of opportunity you have is going to only last about another 20 minutes until that next bomb goes off. Right now, things are pretty minor. A bomb went off in a shopping mall. That’s nothing compared to carpet bombing Gaza City, displacing millions of people, destroying homes, and causing tens of thousands of casualties. It’s also nothing compared to what may happen in the next half hour if hundreds of people who are praying to God in their Temple are left to lose their life because you didn’t have the strength of character to intervene. You can prevent that from happening if you have it in you to tell me the truth before this thing escalates and gets blown out of proportion. You know two wrongs don’t make a right, Ibrahim, and even though the United States is to blame for turning a blind eye upon the plight of the Palestinians, don’t let this thing become worse than it already is. It’s something minor right now, but if you let that next bomb go off then it means you really just don’t care.
“I get the fact that you’re desperate to vindicate the wrongs that have been perpetrated upon your people for decades if not centuries. Political discourse failed and negotiations have fallen flat. There’s been no solution to Palestinian independence and no dignity for those in Gaza and the West Bank. That kind of frustration always leads to good people killing other good people. But don’t let your understandable desperation and frustration control you.
“There’s some hard reality for you to see, Ibrahim. Right now, you’re caught. Your jihad is over. Look at your own life and the control you still have over how you’re going to see yourself down the road. You can fool yourself into thinking you made a moral choice by allowing others to die in their synagogue over the next half hour. Maybe you’ll get a short-term rush from it by seeing yourself as a Hamas fighter and part of the October 7 intifada. But that indifference to the suffering of others will haunt you the rest of your life. You’ll talk yourself through it on the outside, but when you’re alone you’ll know inside your heart that you let others die when you could have saved their lives. If you do nothing to intervene, then you’re really no better than the people you’re complaining about who have oppressed innocent Palestinians. You’ll have to live with it. Or…, have the guts to stop it right now. You’ve clearly made your point for the intifada, and you’ve already carved your legacy into the battle for Palestinian independence. While I don’t agree with the way you went about this, I certainly respect your strength of conviction for your cause. For that reason, I’d like to believe you also have the fortitude to take the necessary steps to prevent further loss of human lives. Show the world you’re better than those whom you criticize. I think you’re better than that, but it has to come from you. Later in life, you’ll look back on this moment of opportunity with pride that you had the vision to see the forest despite the trees and that you acted to save lives of people you thought you hated. You’ll rise above it all. It’s your life, Ibrahim, and your self-respect. You have to make a decision, and you have to do it right now.”
A comparison of the above case study narrative to the previously listed five fundamental components of theme development reveals the following.
First, shifting blame to the United States is made easy in this instance by the very words contained within the October 25 statement issued jointly by Hamas, Hezbollah, and Islamic Jihad. The thematic argument explicitly blames the behavior of the victim (the United States) for unwavering support of Israel in the face of perceived Palestinian oppression by Israel. An interrogator does not have to believe the argument. Instead, the interrogator must first know that the suspect believes the argument and then must positively persuade the suspect to believe the interrogator’s apparent respect for it.
Second, the contrast between Ibrahim’s relatively “minor” mall explosion to full scale destruction of Gaza City with tens of thousands of civilian deaths underscores the disparity between him and his purported aggressors (Israel/USA), thereby effectively minimizing Ibrahim’s terrorist behavior.
Third, the theme highlights Ibrahim’s psychological justification for taking decisive action in vindicating the perceived oppression of Palestinians when political advocacy and formal negotiations over a span of decades proved to be feckless.
Fourth, the theme elevates Ibrahim’s motives within his own mind through a contrived empathy toward Ibrahim’s “understandable desperation and frustration” as the final precipitator for his murderous misconduct.
Fifth, Ibrahim’s conversion from defiance into disclosure culminates with his altered perspective which is influenced by social factors (living the rest of his life with the reality of having taken lives he otherwise could have saved) and positive reinforcement not only for having saved those lives by disclosing the next bombing target before detonation but, more importantly, for having “already carved your legacy into the battle for Palestinian independence” and having the “fortitude” and “self-respect” to be “better than those whom you criticize”.
Given the existing climate of international tension surrounding events in Israel, Gaza, and the West Bank since this past October 7, local law enforcement as well as all national law enforcement agencies, intelligence and counterintelligence personnel are properly on heightened alert for Hamas-inspired violence upon the United States’ homeland and assets abroad. FBI Director Wray’s words are ominous and foretell the likelihood that the fabric of our nation may once again be torn by acts of terrorism.
Proactive human intelligence collection at every level is but one antidote to mitigate the potential damage. While the Reid interrogation techniques and themes described herein will advance that intelligence collection process, they are by no means complete. There are more. Each, however, requires intellectually engaging the Hamas-inspired jihadist with persuasive arguments which are based upon their unique life experiences, beliefs, perspectives, and motivations.
* Philip A. Mullenix has been affiliated with John E. Reid and Associates since 1978 and has delivered Reid training programs for both civilian and military intelligence, counter intelligence, Special Forces, SERE units, as well as public law enforcement within North America, Europe, and the Middle East.