The Alisons, husband and wife, have done something no scholars of interrogation have been able to do before. Working in close cooperation with the police, who allowed them access to more than 1,000 hours of tapes, they have observed and analysed hundreds of real-world interviews with terrorists suspected of serious crimes. No researcher in the world has ever laid hands on such a haul of data before. Based on this research, they have constructed the world’s first empirically grounded and comprehensive model of interrogation tactics.
The Alisons’ findings are changing the way law enforcement and security agencies approach the delicate and vital task of gathering human intelligence. “I get very little, if any, pushback from practitioners when I present the Alisons’ work,” said Kleinman, who now teaches interrogation tactics to military and police officers. “Even those who don’t have a clue about the scientific method, it just resonates with them.” The Alisons have done more than strengthen the hand of advocates of non-coercive interviewing: they have provided an unprecedentedly authoritative account of what works and what does not, rooted in a profound understanding of human relations. That they have been able to do so is testament to a joint preoccupation with police interviews that stretches back more than 20 years.
Each interview had to be minutely analysed according to an intricate taxonomy of interrogation behaviours, developed by the Alisons. Every aspect of the interaction between interviewee and interviewer (or interviewers – sometimes there are two) was classified and scored. They included the counter-interrogation tactics employed by the suspects (complete silence? humming?), the manner in which the interviewer asked questions (confrontational? authoritative? passive?), the demeanour of the interviewee (dominating? disengaged?), and the amount and quality of information yielded. Data was gathered on 150 different variables in all.
Despite its reputation among elite practitioners, “rapport” has been vaguely defined and poorly understood. It is often conflated with simply being nice – Laurence Alison refers to this, derisively, as the “cappuccinos and hugs” theory. In fact, he observes, interviewers can fail because they are too nice, acquiescing too quickly to the demands of a suspect, or neglecting to pursue a line of purposeful questioning at a vital moment.
The best interviewers are versatile: they know when to be sympathetic, when to be direct and forthright. What they rarely do is impose their will on the interviewee, either overtly, through aggression, or covertly, through the use of “tricks” – techniques of unconscious manipulation, which make the interviewer feel smart but are often seen through by interviewees. Above all, rapport, in the sense used by the Alisons, describes an authentic human connection. “You’ve got to mean it,” is one of Laurence’s refrains.