EDITOR’S NOTE: Slightly modified for stand-alone publication, the excerpt below from Chapter Six: ‘Truckloads of Bad Guys’ of my second nonfiction book, The Clapper Memo, provides insight into how one non-polygraph technology repeatedly proved its value to warfighters in ways polygraph technology simply has not.
While serving in countries like Afghanistan, Iraq, Kuwait and Qatar, “Joe,” a member of an Army Special Forces Group (SFG) trained in counterintelligence and as an interrogator, used the Computer Voice Stress Analyzer (CVSA) to interrogate various types of people. Among those he questioned were third-country nationals (TCNs) seeking employment at U.S. bases, captured enemy combatants and others deemed to pose possible threats to U.S. and allied troops.
Regularly working 18-hour days during a five-year period beginning in 2004, Joe used CVSA to conduct nearly 500 interrogations — more than any other individual in the U.S. military and nearly half of the total number of exams conducted by Army SFGs during that time period.
Following his retirement from the Army, Joe spoke with me about his firsthand experiences with CVSA on the condition I not reveal his real name. After I agreed to his terms, he shared four true stories.
The first story Joe shared had to do with an old building in the Baghdad area to which Special Forces (SF) operators brought detainees upon returning from a mission. Known as “The Barn,” it got its name, Joe said, by virtue of the fact it had several rooms that looked something like horse stalls.
Located in the same neighborhood as the facility housing the Iraqi Special Operations Forces (ISOF — a.k.a., “Iraqi Commandos”) — and members of the U.S. Special Operations Forces (SOF) from all branches of the military, The Barn operated like a police station in many ways, Joe said. It had a booking room, evidence room, holding cells and interview rooms, thanks largely to doors being added to the stalls to provide some degree of privacy when SF operators brought detainees to the facility.
Joe and his colleagues had to be very careful there, he said, because “as the lawyers got involved in this deal and the more time went on, it was more like trying to convict somebody in court than it was to pull a terrorist off the street, or a bad guy off the street.”
Part of being “careful” involved providing medical treatment.
“The doc would check ‘em out, (because) they got banged up a little bit whenever we came to get ‘em,” he continued. “They would address all (of) their wounds and stuff like that.
“We could hold ‘em there up to a couple of days before we had to make a decision on whether to transfer to our detainee facility, go to (Camp) Cropper, release to the Iraqis, so forth and so on. There were about five different ways we could go with them from that area.”
That was the first place where they used CVSA to interview detainees, he said, adding that they often had “truckloads of bad guys” coming in there and only two counterintelligence or two human intelligence (HUMINT) agents there to handle the load.
“When you’re trying to figure out how not to cut the bad guy loose and keep the good guy in custody, CVSA was an invaluable tool,” Joe said, explaining that CVSA enabled them to answer questions such as, “Do we have the right guy sitting in this cell?”
“We would get their initial statement when we brought them in,” he said. “Then we would come back a day or two later with the CVSA and vet that story.
“We weren’t determining guilt or innocence,” he continued. “What we were determining was, ‘Does this guy need any further work or warrant any further effort on our part to try and extract any intelligence from him?’”
Though he was involved in bringing detainees in from target sites, Joe noted that military intelligence people processed detainees through, got their initial stories and so forth.
“I didn’t want to be involved with the processing of them, because I would run into them again later if they were to be developed into a source; then I would run them for further targeting.
“So I didn’t want them to know who I was. I was just some dude with a mask that came to their house. They didn’t have any clue who I was in case I had to meet them later in a different capacity.”
Upon detecting my interest in his stories about happenings at The Barn, Joe made a point of clearing up some of the lies circulating in the press about mistreatment of detainees by U.S. forces.
“The very first thing that they get after they come in and they get their photos — and, of course, we make sure that they’re absolutely clean for our own safety — (is) they go to their stalls, they’re given water, the Iraqi soldiers feed ‘em Iraqi food,” he said. “They’re able to be escorted to the bathroom, they’re no longer blindfolded, the whole deal.”
As for the rumors that inspection teams were not being allowed into the facility because detainees were being beaten there, Joe said The Barn wasn’t inspected because it was a holding facility for further transfer and, as such, wasn’t subject to inspection.
The reason they were successful at getting information from detainees wasn’t because they tortured them, he explained, it was because they did the opposite as a condition for using CVSA with success.
“I couldn’t even put a number to the man-hours CVSA has saved me,” Joe said. “There’s no way to check or vet or verify any information in a country where every ID is fake, all the government systems are down, people who are enrolling in government systems aren’t enrolling under true names in case (someone) ever digs up their old names — you know, they’re trying to get a new start at life.
“There’s just no way to check anything over there other than some type of truth-verification system.”
On more than one occasion, Joe said, CVSA played a direct role in saving American and Iraqi soldiers’ lives.
On one such occasion, Joe used CVSA to help identify an infiltrator.
“We were getting ready to hit a target,” Joe said. “It was a time-sensitive target.”
Joe explained that two Iraqi brothers were playing key roles in the operation. One was with Joe and his men, while the other was on target with the bad guys and reporting back as to their location, the exact time when a meeting was to take place and when the “good guys” could go in and snatch up some key players on the other side.
While they were waiting, Joe said, a call came in, advising them that the meeting was going to take place in one hour.
“Everybody scrambles, and the only people that knew, up until this briefing, that this was even on the target deck and that these sources existed, were Americans,” Joe explained. “Once we briefed the target to the Iraqi leadership, they broke away and they went and briefed their guys.”
From the time Joe’s team was notified, briefed the Iraqi leadership and released them so they could brief their own guys about the mission, he said, 40 minutes had elapsed. Then, another phone call came in from the brother working in the enemy camp, Joe said. His message was urgent: “Hey, man, they know you’re coming! They’re hauling ass right now! Somebody called ‘em and told them!”
“So we lock everybody down that had knowledge to that point,” he explained. “When we locked everybody down that had knowledge to that point, you’ve gotta remember, it’s me and another guy that are getting ready to go and investigate this.
“So, we’re sitting there, and they blow this,” Joe said. “At this point, I go to find out who knows, and the pool of individuals who could possibly tip the target was 96 individuals.”
Joe said they decided to lock down all 96 potential turncoats in the conference room at the theater. Working without sleep during the next 48 hours, they “CVSA’d” every one of them, asking if they had attended the briefing or made any unauthorized phone calls.
“At the end of that, we had three people that couldn’t clear the charts,” Joe said, “It was the lieutenant colonel, the sergeant major, and his driver.
The only reason the driver was snared, Joe said, was because of the rule that, once the target is called, nobody was supposed to have a cell phone.
“The colonel told the sergeant major to call the people on the target and let him know that we were coming,” Joe explained. “The sergeant major told the driver to go get his phone and bring it to him. The driver didn’t know what he was using it for.
“Basically, we took a 96-man suspect pool, narrowed it down to three individuals, and then confirmed… that the results of the CVSA were correct by breaking those guys in interrogation afterward.”
Despite the fact that thousands of examples like the one above prove CVSA far more accurate and effective than the century-old polygraph as an interrogation tool, the Department of Defense banned its use for the third and final time in 2009. During an exhaustive four-year investigation, I tried to find out why it was banned. I share my findings inside The Clapper Memo.
To read more about Joe’s experience with CVSA and what I uncovered during my investigation, order a copy of The Clapper Memo.