The Fireman: Book One (The Fireman Saga): Ross Elder: 9781492250203: Books

The Fireman – Book One, my novel,  the first in the series titled The Fireman Saga, is now available in print and Kindle versions.

Launched by the short story,  The Fireman, Book One follows Jack, the unlikely vigilante, as he continues his mission to clean up his deteriorating town. The Fireman – Book One (The Fireman Saga) eBook: Ross Elder: Kindle Store

I am pleased to announce the release of my first novel in the Fireman Saga.

Launched by the short story released earlier this year, The Fireman – book one,  the first novel in the thriller series,  is now live on Amazon for Kindle, PC, Mac, iPad, and Smartphone. 

The war with Iran: when, not if

Puzzling. That was my initial reaction following the announcement of a push to invade Iraq. Following the attacks on the United States on September 11, 2001, you would have been hard pressed to find a voice opposing our operations in Afghanistan. We had to go there. An act if war, perpetrated by Al Qaida and launched from their safehaven in Afghanistan had to be answered. It was justified and necessary.

When there was an announcement of “The Global War on Terrorism,” I had to admit that I was pleased. I also thought it launched at least 20 years too late. We should have taken the war to our enemies’ front steps in 1980, in my opinion. My initial reaction to the GWOT announcement was simple: “We are going to Iran.” It made sense to me. Iran was one of the greatest supporters of international terrorism in existence. They had been a thorn in the side of the civilized world for 2 decades.

Imagine my surprise when I learned that our first post-Afghanistan target would be Iraq. Don’t get me wrong, Iraq was a problem for the civilized world as well and he was thumbing his nose at the international community but, he truly wasn’t a threat to us. During terrorism briefings I used to give in the 80s, I always included Iraq. But, it was Iran that garnered more attention.

I had a list in my head of places I thought we should go. Iran, Syria, Lebanon, Libya, Yemen, and a few others. Iraq wasn’t even on my personal list. But, it was now front and center in the GWOT strategy. I didn’t understand why. Soon after, it seemed to make more sense as the U.S. now had military forces positioned all around Iran. The final push, the crushing blow to my nemesis could now take place with ease and from all directions. But, it didn’t happen. Again, I was puzzled.

When President Obama was elected, with his rhetoric of ending our wars, bringing our troops home, and creating better relations with the rest of the world, I thought the GWOT was coming to a premature end. Let’s face it, there were a lot of other places where terrorism and radicalism still reigned. We were far from finished fighting terrorism. Then, inexplicably, Obama becomes a leading voice, backed up by the U.S. military, for regime change throughout an entire region of the world. Not really the anti-war liberal his supporters voted for, some of them multiple times in the same election.

Libya suffered at the might of the U.S. military, followed by other western nations. Riots and coups occurred from Tunisia to Egypt, all supported by previously uncommitted voices in the U.S. administration. Civil war erupted in Syria and our anti-war President committed our support to the extremists, radicals, and terrorists attempting to overthrow Assad. From an observer’s point of view, none of it made a damned bit of sense.

Then I sat and contemplated. I thought long and hard about the current situation in the world. Libya, following our invasion of Iraq, willingly gave up its WMD programs and in many ways was becoming an ally in our war on terror. Assad was in no way a threat to the U.S. and was actually pretty good at abiding by treaties and agreements, maintaining relative stability in that region of the world. It would never be perfect, but it certainly wasn’t critical.

A few years ago I watched the video of retired General Wesley Clark discussing (probably inappropriately) the secret strategy he was exposed to during a visit to the Pentagon. His visit occurred just weeks after 9/11 and many months prior to the invasion of Iraq. As Clark explained in 2006, there was a strategy in place, prior to Iraq, that would reshape that region of the world. The U.S. would not only take action in Iraq, but several other countries, including Libya, Syria, Lebanon, Somalia, Sudan, and Iran.

Then, I recalled a comment from Glenn Beck during the 2008 elections in which he described his brief meeting with President Bush. Beck expressed his anxiety that Obama wouldn’t do the right things with regard to the war on terror. I paraphrase, but President Bush essentially told Beck that it didn’t matter who sat in his chair, that the things that need to be done will be done because upon taking office, Obama will learn the truth about world affairs.

It was relatively shocking to hear. I stored that away in my memory and never put Clark’s words and Bush’s words together in my mind with current global affairs as the backdrop. Now that I have spent the time studying our current, sometimes inexplicable strategies, combined with various leaks and revelations from people who were generally ignored, it all begins to make sense now.

For years, we have railed about Iran’s pursuit of weapons of mass destruction. We have shown time and again that Iran’s assertion that nuclear power is their only goal are a farce. But, we have not taken action against them outside of U.N. approved sanctions. And yet, we have committed our forces to other less immediate threats. Why?

Slowly, deliberately, we are isolating Iran, deteriorating, overthrowing, or destroying any ally they may have had in the event of a major war. We are creating a world in which Iran will have to stand alone. We aren’t going out of our way to stop them in their ambitions to acquire a nuclear weapon. We will wait. We will take away their friends and allies and when they are just on the brink of their own holy bomb, we will strike.

Sanctions didn’t work, we will say. We tried everything else, we will say. Now they are a threat to the entire world, we will show. We will have no choice, you see. And not even Russia would oppose us.

I believe I have deciphered the grand strategy. It all seems very clear to me now. I could be wrong, of course. On occasion, I may wish I was wrong. We know the war on terror is far from over. We are war weary, as many have said. But, we aren’t finished. Not yet. But, perhaps soon. I am convinced of it now.

Without a serious shift in world affairs, we will be at war, directly, not in the shadows like the last 30 years, with Iran.

As always, I look forward to your thoughts.

Ross Elder

Disheartened: The Corporatization of America’s Military

As I scanned through my neglected emails this morning I was attracted to a link that offered to educate me on the “Strategic Plan” for the coming years.  Curious, though I usually ignore such things,  I clicked it. 

In this official military document, I was informed of Command’s objectives.  Within its pages, I found words and phrases such as, execution, initiatives,  administration, STAKEHOLDERS, action plans, strategic priorities,  executive boards, optimize, people, learning, growth, measurement, knowledge management, objective statements, and analysis.

For those of you outside of the armed forces, these may not seem strange at all.  In fact, I’ve seen them many times before.  Not in the military,  mind you, but in my travels through corporate management.  They are catchphrases and nebulous keywords intended to instill confidence in the superior intellect of the architects of the “strategic plan.” 

They mean nothing, for between those immaculately constructed taglines and phrases was nothing of substance.  No ideas of how to accomplish these vague goals, no direction from on high, not a single thing that told me the Command had any “plan” other than to issue a meaningless edict to satisfy a requirement. Its all very corporate. Except for the lack of an executive summary, you would not even know it was a document pertaining to the military and not some board of directors for a national fast food chain.

Is this where we have arrived after 12 long years of war? Is this our new role in society; just another government bureaucracy, producing documents and reports about documents so the powers that be can neglect to review them, delegating that responsibility to an underling who couldn’t care less?

Oh, to be King for a day. The unemployment rolls would swell with the eagle and star bedecked uniforms I would put to the street. “Bring me men! Real men.” I would command. “Angry and experienced men who remember what our mission entails.” Our mission is simple: protect and defend the United States of America, win wars, kill people, and break things. I need no more flashy, corporate slogan than that.

Ross Elder

The Art of Interrogation: part 2, preparation

Note:  This series of articles is only intended to give the reader a basic understanding of interrogation,  its techniques, and its place in operations.  Interested parties seeking a thorough education are encouraged to attend a course on interrogation, available from a respected school of instruction.

In part 1 of The Art of Interrogation, you were given a brief introduction to this oft neglected aspect of operations, security, and investigations.  Part 2 will give you an overview of how to prepare for an interrogation and the various types of interrogation that are utilized in a variety of circumstances.

The most important thing to remember is that, as an interrogator, you are an investigator. Where physical evidence, analysis of the scene, and other forms of investigation may provide you with the “who, what, when, where, and how” the interrogation provides something physical evidence often can’t: why?

From a tactical perspective, why something happened may seem irrelevant. But, strategically, knowing “the why” may be vitally important in preventing a similar event from taking place. As an investigator and student of human behavior, understanding the motivations of perpetrators should be an important aspect of any interrogation. Failing to achieve this goal, however, would not necessarily indicate that your interrogation was unsuccessful.

Preparation for an interrogation is almost as important as the interrogation itself. If you have the time beforehand, you should endeavor to know everything possible about the subject before you sit down for the interview. Under optimum circumstances, you would have that person’s personal information -including information on family members, their financial history, their employment records, criminal and civil records, and school transcripts just as a starting point.

If you lack this pre-interrogation investigative material, such as in a tactical interrogation of someone encountered on the battlefield, you are essentially conducting what we call a “cold” interview. Cold interviews are perhaps the most challenging of the interrogation types. You know nothing about the person beyond, perhaps, that they had just taken part in some form of attack or criminal action. Maybe they were just acting suspiciously and were pulled aside for additional scrutiny. The only information you will have available to you at the time will be the information you extract from the subject during your interrogation.

Prior to talking to a subject of a cold interview, talk to those who detained them. If they are in official custody, talk to those who have been monitoring them prior to your arrival. Examine the pocket litter and any other material confiscated from the subject. It can provide critical clues, not just to the subject’s intentions, but also to how to approach the subject.

As an example, years ago, I was observing an interview conducted by a colleague and the subject would not talk to the interrogator. The subject wouldn’t even offer his name. He did not physically resist apprehension, but he was utilizing his right to remain silent. Completely silent. As I watched the interrogator try a variety of techniques and fail, I casually fished through the items taken from the person during his arrest. Nestled under a few crumpled receipts and coins was a single military ID tag. I looked at it. The persons service number was not a social security number as is used in the modern military. The number was preceded by the letters US. In the old days, this indicated a person who was drafted, as opposed to a voluntary enlistment which gave you a serial number preceeded by RA if you were “regular army.”

I let the investigator struggle for a few more minutes before I took a seat next to the subject and asked a simple question.

“When were you drafted?”

He immediately replied, “1968,” the first words he had spoken in more than 30 minutes. From there, he began talking. Not to my colleague, but to me. It was a simple connection to the subject that opened the door for further questioning. I was able to conduct and conclude the interview without any further difficulty.

During a cold interview, or tactical questioning, if you can find something, anything, to open that initial doorway, you will be ahead of the game. This requires an understanding of cultural norms and at least a moderate understanding of behavioral analysis. The person’s own behavior may give you clues to an opening. Perhaps the person has photographs of their children in their wallet that can open a conversation. It doesn’t matter whether you have children, or not. Tell them you do.

“Are these your children? You have beautiful children. I miss when mine were that small. Its such a great age.” Just make sure its something you can at least be moderately convincing of while discussing it. Get them to talk about something other than the large pink elephant in the room. This might help overcome their fear and anxiety and build a rapport between you.

Now, and this may seem counterproductive, but, the thruthfulness of what the person reveals to you at this stage is irrelevant. They are going to lie. Its okay. So will you. But, letting them lie will give you material later when you break down their story as the interrogation becomes more intense. Just write down what they reveal to you in your notes and move on with your conversation.

In the initial stage of the interrogation, do not reveal whatever pre-interrogation intelligence you were able to build. It IS counterproductive to reveal your case to the subject. By doing so, you are giving them a box within which to operate. That box may serve to protect them as opposed to traping them. For instance, let’s say this person was caught stealing fuel from a fuel point at the edge of your post-apocalyptic compound. He was caught in the act. You have him dead to rights, as it were.

But, what if that is a very small portion of his activities? What if that fuel was just to help keep his family warm during some cold nights? He could be completely truthful about that incident and never exhibit any outward signs of deception. It was a minor incident. A slap on the wrist is administered and he goes on his way. Then, he continues his intelligence gathering activities, his theft of munitions for your enemies, and goes on to provide detailed maps of your compound and locations of vital resources.

He never lied to you because he didn’t have to. You boxed both of you into a very small area of concern. Its the best defense against lie detection: don’t lie. There is no deception, no red flags are raised, and you failed to understand the scope of the person’s activities.


Aside from studying the subject and all of the information available, you, as the interrogator, have to prepare yourself. The worst thing an interrogator can do during an interview is show a lack of confidence. If you are an overly nervous sort of person, fidgety, tend to stammer when under pressure, or generally can’t display self-confidence, being the interrogator may not be for you. I’m not talking about arrogance. Arrogance is just as detrimental to the process. You have to be confident in what you say. You have to give the subject every reason to think you know exactly what you are talking about.

You may have to learn to control your nerves. You may have to fake it. The subject may reveal something that is unexpected, or even shocking. You have to take it in stride and not overreact to that information. You have to learn to control your emotions. That is the most difficult thing for most interrogators to overcome.

“I kidnapped this girl and murdered her. Her body is in a grape vineyard.”

Well, that’s quite a revelation. If you wretch and gasp and mumble, “Oh, my God,” your interview may end right there. It would be more useful to say, “Hey, at least you didn’t eat her. You aren’t an animal. You made a mistake. Let’s talk about that.”

Make notes prior to the interrogation. Write down exactly what information you hope to obtain, what questions you intend to ask, and what your expected outcome might be. This is not a script. It is reference material to keep you on track. People often get caught up in the moment and lose sight of vital areas that need to be addressed. The notes are for you, not anyone else.

You will not read from these notes. You will glance at them and use them as reference. At no time should you be indicating to the subject that you are inexperienced and reading from a script. The interrogation has to remain fluid and you have to adjust with it.

Write an introduction for yourself. This is how you will present yourself to the subject. Memorize it. Practice it, over and over, until it flows out of you naturally in conversational tones. Its not, “I’m commander killing machine from the 1st death squad and I want answers, mister.” It needs to be innocuous and natural.

Greet them. Shake their hand. “Hello. My name is Ross. The commander asked if I would sit down and talk to you for a few moments. Due to the serious nature of what happened today, we are interested in discovering why these things happen. Have you been treated well so far?” This, of course, is just a simple example and isn’t intended as a cut and paste introduction. This casual approach works well in most situations. It is contrary to what most people expect. They expect yelling, anger, and possibly physical abuse. Projecting the opposite of their expectations may be all that is needed to open that first door.


Environmental preparation may not be possible in a tactical environment. The best possible location for the interrogation may happen to be sitting on the ground in the shade of an MRAP on the side of the road. If so, you have to go with it. Improvise. Remain flexible.

If you have the resources and the time, you can prepare your interrogation location prior to having the subject delivered. Arranging the location is also part of your strategy for cooperation. Non-threatening should be the goal. Just like in your innocuous introduction, you want to put the person at ease as much as possible. Naturally, if the subject is violent and dangerous, this is not going to work. They may be handcuffed and shackled or chained to the ground. Work with what you have. But, the surroundings shouldn’t influence your approach.

Taking the position of intimidation and authority is not typically the most productive means of building rapport. Don’t stand over a seated subject. Don’t place a desk between you and the subject. Placing a barrier, such as a desk, between you and your subject can cause them to instinctively become defensive. Think about the times you had to enter the boss’ s office and stand on the carpet while he read you the riot act from behind his, or her, position of superiority behind that desk. You knew your place and there was no way out of it. These things have the same effect on interrogation subjects.

There may be times when that approach is beneficial, but those are more advanced practices for experienced interrogators who understand the psychology of that particular subject. For now, lets stick to the basics.

Safety is always paramount. Sweep the room and remove anything that could pose a danger to the interrogator or that could be used as a weapon by the subject. If the subject must be guarded during the interrogation, arrange the seating so that the guard is behind the subject, seated, and out of their peripheral vision. You want the subject’s attention squarely on you and only you during the interrogation.

This also applies if you are interrogating someone of the opposite sex. Use a witness the same gender as the subject, but keep them out of the line of sight of the subject if possible. Do not allow guards or witnesses to speak to the subject. In fact, don’t let them speak at all if you can help it. You, and only you, should speak to the subject under normal circumstances. Exceptions can be made, but avoid it if possible. Prep your guards and witnesses so they are not surprised by the proceedings and instruct them to not react to them. Even a muffled gasp, or sigh, can be enough distraction to cause your interrogation to be derailed.

Sit facing the subject head-on. Look at them. Make eye contact throughout the process. Engage them actively in conversation. But, never let your guard down. In the blink of an eye, someone can go from amiable informant to violent attacker. You never know what might set the person off so protect yourself accordingly. Your goal is to appear relaxed and confident and put the subject at ease so they open up to you in conversation. For you, that ease and comfort needs to be a facade. Be prepared for anything. Don’t lean back in a reclined position. Don’t cross your ankles. Don’t have both hands occupied at the same time. Those things may be the cues the perpetrator is looking for before they attempt to escape.

In Part 3, I will discuss both good and bad techniques and proper formatting of questions.

Ross Elder

Modern Army Combatives: an old soldier’s viewpoint

From Wikipedia:

There are several reasons that the combatives course is taught:

To educate soldiers on how to protect themselves against threats without using their firearms.

To provide a non-lethal response to situations on the battlefield.

To instill the ‘warrior instinct’ to provide the necessary aggression to meet the enemy unflinchingly.

Mixed Martial Arts, or MMA as it is most commonly referred to, has achieved the status previously reserved for combat related sports like boxing and kickboxing. Its marketing and promotion rivals that of professional wrestling and includes all of the glitz and glamour one would expect from such a comparison. But, is it actually the system we need as warriors on the battlefield? I will attempt to address that question in this post.

I returned to the military after a lengthy break in service. On my first drill weekend after enlisting in the reserves, we had a training session on what I was told was called “Combatives.” As a lifelong martial artists, I was excited about mixing it up with my new comrades. And then the training started.

The training started on the ground, one person in the guard. Various techniques were practiced with regard to passing or maintaining the guard and a simple arm-bar and choke were thrown in for good measure. It was nothing more than basic wrestling and basic jujitsu; basic, non-lethal grappling and compliance techniques. As a military policeman, and this being a military police unit, this was nothing new to me as we were trained in such things during military police school. At least MPs were back in the days when I attended the school.

I asked our instructor, who was certified at level “whatever” (I don’t remember) about the training afterward and was informed that this was not MP specific training but was Army wide.

“Huh? What happened to hand-to-hand combat?” I asked.

“This IS the new hand-to-hand combat, old-timer!” I was told. Imagine my surprise. For those not familiar with the difference, let me attempt an explanation.

Hand-to-hand combat, as was taught to me as a young soldier, and taught by veterans of Vietnam, was designed to quickly dispatch an enemy combatant. It was about killing. Killing quickly and efficiently. You see, you will never be fighting just one enemy. Behind him is another, and another, and another.

Modern combatives seems to emphasize one on one competition (I call it competition because the techniques are sport related in my mind, not combat related) more at home in an octagon shaped ring than the dirt fields of battle. These techniques were appropriate for police activities where your goal is to gain compliance and effect an arrest, but not for combat in the real world.

Level 1 Combatives, taught to every new soldier, emphasizes taking the fight to the ground, which is the last place you want to be in a real confrontation on the street or the battlefield. I speak from experience, having been in enough street confrontations to last me a lifetime during the years I spent making arrests. I came very close to getting killed on two occasions because the suspect’s friends were not content to see their buddy go to jail that night.

In the real world, you are never fighting just one person. Specifically on the battlefields of modern warfare. When was the last time two armies sent their best warriors forward, letting them fight without interference to determine the outcome of a conflict? David and Goliath?

Kids today graduate basic and advanced training thinking they know how to fight. They don’t. They have been taught how to wrestle and how to initiate a confrontation by proceeding to the ground where they are exposed and vulnerable to attack by others. Now, do I think ground fighting has merit and value? Of course it does. But it should not be where a soldier begins their fight training. Striking, shooting, knife fighting, tactics and techniques that keep you on your feet and capable of addressing threats in a 3 dimensional space should be drilled into them long before they learn to go to the ground.

Primacy, or “first learned, best learned” will dictate that the soldier will revert to their most basic teachings under stress. If that first teaching is telling them to wrestle the person to the ground in a combat scenario, we are, essentially, training them to die.

Prior to deploying to Afghanistan, our unit was required to attend Combatives training as a refresher before seeing combat. That refresher involved NO striking training. None. Nada. Zip.

We squared off, rotating opponents as we practiced various grappling techniques, the guard, double-leg takedowns, and a simple rear choke. Continuously, I was trying to school the youngsters to stop trying to take me down. They wouldn’t listen. Occasionally, a smart slap to the side of the head was applied as emphasis to let them know their head and neck was exposed while they attempted to grab for my legs. I gave a Ranger-tabbed officer the hardest slap. He should have known better, but he didn’t.

“This is when I would drive my bayonet right through your neck, kid.” I would inform them as I pushed them away with a slap to the head. They all fought exactly the way they were trained to fight; wrestle, non-lethal, defensively. In short, they were all going to die in a real fight. I was outraged by what we were taught. I couldn’t believe what I was witnessing during supposed, pre-combat hand-to-hand training. It was useless.

There are no rules in fighting, but there are rules in Combatives training. The contradiction is a deadly recipe. The striking techniques and boxing skills taught at the higher levels in Combatives should be the FIRST skills given to our soldiers, not the last. Its backwards and detrimental to our mission which, in case you didn’t know, is to KILL the enemy. The end. No epilogue.

And, if you are lucky enough to have an arrogant instructor, as we did, who seems more interested in displaying his own skill level than imparting any useful knowledge to the troops, you get to have an even less educational experience. He sent two soldiers to the infirmary and seemed so proud of himself. It was a joke.

The training culminated in two soldiers squaring off against three potential aggressors. When the rather large instructor decided to sucker punch me as I was talking to another aggressor, the witneses were sure there would be yet another ambulance call. My “partner” backed away to retreat from the assault, leaving me alone with the three attackers as they all stood there expecting me to go down. This, my friends, is what happens in real fights. You are never fighting one person and you cannot count on your “friend” to jump in to help. It was nothing new for me.

As I was pulled off of the instructor, his head buried under my body armor as he lay on his back, trying to get me off of him, I had to taunt him. Just a little.

“This is when I would shove my knife through your eye. Nice try.”

Sports are not combat. Rules are not combat. Wrestling is not your first priority in a real, life or death struggle. Survival is the priority. Dispatching that particular enemy so you can move on and kill the next enemy is the priority. Killing is the goal, not submission, not a fancy colored belt around your silly, digital, gravel-cam pajamas. We have lost our way when it comes to hand-to-hand combat and it will eventually come back to bite us. We fight from a distance as a rule now in the military. Some day, it may not be that way. When the enemy is within arm’s reach, which skill would you rather have? Wrestling, or killing?

Ross Elder

Survival Essentials: CBRN

With much attention being focused on Syria and the reports of chemical weapons being employed there, I thought I would take a moment to discuss a vital aspect of survival that I believe is neglected.  CBRN (chemical, biological, radiological, nuclear) knowledge should be considered critical to any long term survival strategy. But, it is something I hear very few people discussing.

Some of the silence may be due to the incredible lack of information readily available. Some may be due to the incredible lack of interest. Believe me, the technical information about this subject is very boring. Most would rather go to the range and pretend they are a high-speed death machine than actually have to think and plan. Most of us know those types of preppers, if you can call them that, won’t last a month in a real survival situation. They concentrate on the one aspect of survival they are least likely to use: their trigger finger.

But, any survivalist or survival group that doesn’t possess at least a minor education on CBRN is failing to plan, and therefore, planning to fail. A CBRN incident does not have to be a chemical weapon launched with a missile or dropped from a plane. Trains carrying tankers of toxic chemicals derail, refineries explode, and, as seen in Japan, nuclear disasters can occur. Understanding these situations, how to avoid them, determine what they are, assess the risks, and create a defensive strategy should be on the mind of any dedicated survivalist.

If you have served in the military any time over the last 40 years, you were given basic NBC (nuclear, biological, chemical) training. And, you probably hated it. Nobody likes working in the sun dressed in MOPP4 or having their breathing hindered by a gasmask. It was important, but when I say it was basic, most have no idea just how basic it is. In a nutshell, basic NBC training is designed to ensure continued mission capability, not survival of all concerned. There is a little discussed aspect to military planning called, “acceptable losses.” If it is your family, friends, and community, there are no acceptable losses.

You have to leave the ideas implanted in your mind by the military behind. You are not part of the machine. Your priority is the survival of your friends and loved ones. A 50% casualty rate, which may be acceptable during a critical military mission, is in no way acceptable to a true survivalist.

Within your family or survival community, you must have someone trained in CBRN or CBRN defense. Preferably, several. It is only in those more advanced training schools that you truly begin to understand CBRN and its various threats. Basic NBC education is virtually meaningless in a true disaster of a CBRN nature.

You must also resist the temptation to listen to so-called experts on television news programs. Those of you who were old enough to watch the news after 9/11/01 will remember the duct tape and plastic wrap instructions that were given out as a defense against an NBC attack by terrorists. It was nonsense. But, how many people still believe that to be a plausible method of defense? Most likely, most of the people who heard it on television.

Having someone within your group who can determine dispersion method, agent type, persistence, effects, and mitigation/avoidance procedures should be a priority. Those skills are not learned in standard military NBC training. To acquire them, you have to attend CBRN Defense school or attend AIT at Chemical school and become a chemical specialist. Adding those skills and personnel to your group will go a long way in both survival AND avoiding the panic associated with such an event.

For instance, people are still talking about Fukushima and the horror of nuclear disaster. But, where are the piles of burned, irradiated bodies? How many people have died from the effects of radiation? What are the effects of that radioactivity? Do you know how it is measured and how dosages are rated on a scale? If not, you probably believe thousands of people have died from it and citizens on the west coast of the United States are also dying from the disaster in Japan. But, they aren’t.

You probably believe that the dreaded “Dirty Bomb” is the most horrifying and effective weapon in the terrorist’s arsenal. Did you know its the least effective means of dispersing a radiological agent? The most effective aspect of the oft mentioned device is its ability to create panic. As far as deadliness is concerned, its probably not on the minds of any real terrorists. At least, not if they understand CBRN.

Do you know how to determine the affected area following an attack or disaster? Do you know what level of shielding is necessary to prevent irradiation? Do you know where to go and what to do if your local nuclear reactor has a meltdown? How far do you have to go? Which direction? And for how long? When dealing with radioactive particles, what is the greatest risk? How do you mitigate it? How do you treat the sick?

These answers are not found in your standard NBC course. Find them. Get educated. Take a real course and keep all of your study material. If you are still in the military, volunteer to attend CBRN defense school. Every unit is required to have a certain number of personnel trained through CBRN Defense. Its relatively easy to get a slot for the school because most people have no interest in it and don’t volunteer. Be that guy. You will thank me later. Hopefully because you are smarter and not because you survived a disaster. Either way, you won’t regret it.

Ross Elder, Distinguished Honor Graduate – CBRN Defense School 2010

The Art of Interrogation: part 1, an introduction

“When was the last time you saw Bin Laden?”  The interrogator screams at the beaten and exhausted subject.  Experiencing the difficulty of trying to breath through his sobs and snot covered face; the subject just shakes his head in reply.

As a result, the subject is placed in a “sweat box” or a “hot box” as they are also occasionally called.  Stuffed uncomfortably into the small space, barely capable of filling their lungs with a full breath, the intention is to further break them down until they submit to your line of questioning.  Other techniques can also be used.  Waterboarding seems to be the favorite of the day in most popular films concerning such things.

Or, perhaps, it is Jack Bauer, the relentless agent from the fictional Counter Terrorism Unit made famous by the television series, 24, using the exposed conductors from a broken desk lamp to shock his subject into submission.  Or, Arnold Schwarzenegger, under the heavy influence of some amatol concoction, confessing his secret life to his long-time wife in the film, True Lies.  For police drama, we could always reflect on Dennis Franz’s judicious use of a phone book as a tool in NYPD Blue.

These are the images conjured when someone mentions interrogation.  Unfortunately, they are not only the least likely to be used, they are often the least likely to produce useful information.  They do make for interesting entertainment, however.  But, for those of us who have worked in the field of interrogation, they set a false standard for those who may find themselves in need of interrogation skills.

“When would I ever need to interrogate someone?”  You ask?  The answer is simple:  You do it every day.  You just don’t realize you are.  And, conversely, you probably aren’t doing it correctly.  But, those specifics will be for a future article in this series.  Today, I would like to simply offer an introduction.

My first real experience with interrogation was gained at the tender age of 19 while attending Military Police School in Fort McClellan, Alabama.  As part of our training, we were instructed in the proper techniques for questioning suspects, as well as witnesses, in response to a reported crime.  It is standard police work that is taught to every police cadet in every academy.  It is a simple form of interrogation, actually.  It is very much akin to “Tactical Questioning” as seen on the battlefields of today’s conflicts.  Simple, straight forward questions are posed and relatively simple answers are given.  In-depth interrogation may occur later if the person appears to possess more information that might serve useful in the investigation of the crime.

Near the end of MP School, I did the one thing all soldiers are warned not to do:  I volunteered.  We were simply told that the United States Army needed some volunteers to participate in some training that was not a part of our standard curriculum and for which we would receive absolutely no credit for taking part.  (Sounds great so far, huh?)  But, we would be away from the training compound for a few hours each day for a week.  Since getting out of the training area wasn’t something that was common, I, along with about 10 other soldiers, raised my hand.

The following day, the volunteers were loaded onto a bus and transported to an ugly, single-story building set into the woods of Fort McClellan.  If my memory serves me correctly, the typically colored DOD sign in front of the building informed us that we were entering the U.S. Army Polygraph Institute.  During that week of volunteer duty, which included lots of time to relax, soft drinks, and snacks, I learned much about the human mind and the art of interrogation.  Primarily, I learned that, if managed correctly, the mind really can’t distinguish between fantasy and reality.  The following is one example.

The volunteers were used as guinea pigs for government agents who were gaining their certifications as polygraph examiners.  Agents from various agencies including the CID, FBI, DEA, and CIA, would put us through various scenarios and then subject us to a polygraph examination in an attempt to solve the mystery of that particular scenario.  The center of attention was a female mannequin that the chief instructor innocuously named, Mary.  “Mary” would be placed in the room with the volunteers and various instructions were given, each volunteer receiving a different set of instructions.  In some cases, the volunteer would walk up to “Mary” and bash her in the head with a baseball bat.  Another might shove a knife into her abdomen.  Some volunteers would sit and witness the horrific crime, while others left the room and saw nothing except the now dead “Mary” when they returned.

Each participant was taken into a room with an examiner and the interrogation would begin.  Yes, a polygraph is a form of interrogation.  It is simply using a device to assist in that interrogation.  I learned that even a good polygraph examination was dependent upon good pre-polygraph and post-polygraph interviews.  Interrogations are most often referred to as “interviews” in today’s day and age.  It is much less frightening and reads much more casually in the press.

Oddly enough, even though we all knew very well that “Mary” was just an inanimate mannequin made of plastic; the polygraphs were still accurate and valid.  The reason being, “Mary” was never referred to as anything other than just “Mary.”

“Did you witness Jones causing injury to Mary?”

“Did you at any time cause injury to Mary?”

“Did you witness anyone mistreating Mary at any time today?”

With that line of questioning, your mind simply knows what was, and was not, done to “Mary.”  The fact that she wasn’t real made no difference in the examination.  Facts are facts, no matter how silly they may seem.

The pre and post-polygraph interviews are used to establish a baseline prior to the examination, and to refine follow-up questions afterward.  Pre-examination interviews can be just as useful in standard interrogation.  A baseline must be established.  Much has been written, some of it inaccurate in fact, about common “tells” that people exhibit when telling a lie.  Although these ideas of tells are based in truth, they are not consistent between all people.  Just like in poker, every person will have their own little quirks and ticks that can indicate whether they are playing it straight, or about to lay out a whopper of a bluff.  Most people do not spend any time trying to defeat these tells or reduce their presence.  That is why you see so many people playing poker on television while wearing large, floppy hats, wide sunglasses, and facial hair.  Those coverings can reduce the visibility of the player’s tells.

The baseline is established by creating a relaxed atmosphere for the subject.  Simple, innocuous questions are asked; questions for which you expect an honest answer.  Your age.  Your height.  Where you were born.  The age of your parents.  How long you have lived in a specific area.  These are all baseline questions.  The person may exhibit some form of discomfort or anxiety because they are being questioned, but those traits should be different than when they are exhibiting deceptive behavior.  Once you have the baseline, you now know what that person’s normal behavior are and can judge when that behavior changes.

Discomfort and anxiety in and of themselves do not always indicate deception, however.  Each person will react differently, but within certain parameters of human behavior.  The key is to understand how that person acts and reacts when they are being honest.  That is your baseline for further questioning when attempts at deception will be more likely.  Even those who believe themselves to be smooth and composed under pressure will exhibit some form of behavior that indicates their deception.  It is the job of the trained interrogator to be able to spot them and capitalize upon them during the interrogation.  Some are so subtle that they are referred to as “Micro-tells.”  A very discriminating eye is required to spot them.  This skill generally comes with many years of experience looking into the face of an accomplished liar.

In contrast to the first few paragraphs of this article, a true interrogation, a masterfully orchestrated interview, is nothing more than a conversation.  A very important conversation, one filled with ups and downs, calmness and excitement, flatness and emotion, but just a conversation none-the-less.  Under conditions of actual torture (and my definition will probably differ from yours) a subject may confess to crimes they did not commit in hopes that the torture will stop.  During instruction on interrogation, I was fond of saying, “Give me a hammer, some duct-tape, and a 2×4 and they will tell me anything I want them to tell me.” The key phrase being, “what I want them to tell me.”  It may not actually be the truth.

Chemical interrogations can produce nothing more than fantasy and dreams instead of useful information.  You certainly don’t want to go to the boss and tell him that you found your man… and his unicorn is parked outside next to the spaceship flown by leprechauns.  Although those tactics can be used effectively, it is generally only under specific circumstances.  Perhaps we will visit that in a future offering in this series.

For now, that is your basic introduction to interview and interrogation.  Next in this series, I will discuss both proper and improper methods that are used by professionals, and not-so-professionals, in their search for the truth.

Ross Elder

About the author:  Ross Elder is a graduate of several schools of investigation, interview, and interrogation techniques.  For 15 years, he traveled the U.S. training other corporate investigators and investigation managers in proper investigative practices and interrogation technique.  During the course of his career, he personally conducted well over 1,000 interviews with suspects accused of a variety of crimes that included larceny, embezzlement, child abuse, rape, assault, and attempted murder.

Assessing your assessment

I have read and seen much in the last few years about surviving a coming apocalypse,  whether natural, or man made.  Many self-proclaimed, and even those who could legitimately be called, “Experts” seem to never exhaust their ideas and opinions on the subject of surviving in a World Without Rule Of Law. (WROL)

Through all of these innumerable forum posts, discussion groups, and YouTube videos, there is one aspect of survival that I have seen neglected time and time again. Assessing your situation.

I’m not talking about situational awareness, which is also neglected. I’m talking about assessing your personal survival situation, your bug-out location, or your personal, or community compound. I thought I would offer some simple guidelines for those interested in determining just where they stand.

NOTE: This post isn’t discussing my personal opinions on the WROL crowd, likelihood of such an event, or whether the author agrees, or disagrees with various leading voices within the movement. It is simply adding yet another consideration to your planning.

There is a relatively simple process for performing a security assessment of your facility, no matter how large or small. It isn’t about how to find a location, or construct one, but how to assess your facility and determine what measures to use to secure it. It is broken into three parts. Each can be as complex as you want to make it, but try to be completely objective in your appraisal. Getting caught in the weeds and being biased in your assessment can cost you valuable resources and possibly even lives.

The first step is assessing the probability of being targeted. A probability assessment must be based on facts, intelligence, and historical data. For instance, if you are a lone survivor, barely staying alive in a small cabin in the woods dozens of miles from civilization, who is going to come looking for you? As much as you may want to imagine yourself a one-man army, are you really a threat to anyone? To an oppressive regime? No, you aren’t.

Do you have critical resources that would be needed by that oppressive regime? If you are doing a grizzly Adams routine in the bush and wondering from where you will get your next meal, obviously not. How about other survivors? Do you obviously possess things that would encourage them to come find you?

The probability of being targeted likely increases with the size of your group and compound. Take that into consideration. The probability assessment determines how much of your resources, weapons, fuel, electricity, personnel, etc., will be used for security operations. Avoid creating or imagining nonexistent threats. Be realistic.

The second step is a vulnerability assessment. This is where you get to think like your potential enemies. Analyze your location, every structure, and every valuable resource located there. The first caution is the same here. Be realistic. If you are still doing the grizzly Adams routine, trying to find a way to protect against an air assault raid or airborne assault is a waste of time and resources. Think about who your enemy might be. If it is a roaving band of survivors bent on victimizing others, they won’t have access to those kinds of resources.

If that enemy is an oppressive regime bent on capturing any peasants who escaped their cordon, there isn’t much you could realistically do to prevent them. They will have access to resources, equipment, and personnel that will allow them to commit to such an action. Staying hidden and in a secluded, difficult to traverse area can be a major advantage.

Think outside the box, but don’t start fabricating possibilities for the sake of entertainment. I will caution you, however, against ever deciding your adversary, “won’t do that.” This restrictive way of thinking was used to my advantage when running OPFOR operations during various wargames. Approaching from the most unlikely avenue is precisely what any worthy adversary will do. Allocate security resources accordingly.

Criticality is the least considered assessment but it is critical to your long-term success. The criticality assessment is where you rationally decide what you can live without. Can you continue without that animal pen? That latrine? That particular water source? Those are the hard questions you must answer. Decide what things are absolutely critical for the survival of your group, family, or community.

Oddly enough, deciding what you can’t live without can also be a pitfall. If you think everything in your possession is absolutely critical and cannot be left behind, then you must be down to your boots and a Swiss Army knife. You don’t want to give up anything, but if you must, you must know what those items, areas, or resources are. Be realistic, rational, and lacking nostalgia.

Finally, you apply all of these findings, probability, vulnerability, and criticality and apply them to the allocation of resources for your security. If any such situation were to occur, resources will be limited so utilizing them and protecting them appropriately will be of the utmost importance.