Hanns Joachim Scharff was a renowned interrogator working for the German Luftwaffe during the second world war. Not only did he gather a large amount of critical intelligence from his British and American prisoners, but he managed to do so without them realizing that they had revealed any information of value. Recently, Scharff’s approach to interviewing has been theoretically conceptualized (i.e., categorized as five interrelated tactics) and empirically evaluated in the lab.
Briefly explained, Scharff identified some counter-interrogation strategies adopted by his prisoners (e.g., I will not say very much; I will figure out what they are after and make sure not to provide that information; it is meaningless to deny what they already know), and then developed his own tactics to counteract the resistance strategies. The five tactics of the Scharff technique are: (i) to have a friendly approach, (ii) not to pressure for information, (iii) establish the illusion of knowing it all, (iv) confirmation/disconfirmation claims, and (v) ignore new information.
When compared to a direct approach (i.e., asking open-ended and direct questions), the Scharff technique has consistently resulted in (a) more new information, (b) better masked information objectives, and (c) that the sources underestimated the amount of new information they had revealed. Furthermore, the technique has shown to be successful during single interviews, repeated interviews and when interviewing cells of sources. Hence, the Scharff technique has shown to be a very promising tool for gathering intelligence from human sources.
Although the Scharff technique has shown promising results when compared to a direct approach, little is known about the versatility of the technique. For example, how can the interviewer steer conversation topics unobtrusively (i.e., without asking questions)? Is it possible to establish an illusion of “knowing-it-all” while strategically withholding key pieces of evidence? What happens to the efficacy of the technique when the interviewer cannot share information or when there is information that the interviewer cannot possibly hold? Etc.
Scharff technique; human intelligence gathering; human sources; interviewing
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Granhag, Kleinman, & Oleszkiewicz (2016). The Scharff technique: On how to effectively elicit intelligence from human sources. International journal of intelligence and counterintelligence, 11, 132-150.
Oleszkiewicz (2016). Eliciting human intelligence: A conceptualization and empirical testing of the Scharff technique. Doctoral thesis: University of Gothenburg.
Oleszkiewicz, Granhag, & Cancino (2017). The Scharff-technique: Eliciting intelligence from human sources. Law and human behavior, 38, 478-489.
Meissner, Surmon-Böhr, Oleszkiewicz, & Alison (2017). Developing an evidence-based perspective on interrogation: A review of the US government’s high-value detainee interrogation group research program. Psychology, Public Policy, and Law, 23, 438-457.