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Posted on Oct 7, 2004 in Books and Movies

The Interrogators: Inside the Secret War Against al-Qaeda – Book Review

By Steven McWilliams

The Interrogators: Inside the Secret War Against al-Qaeda
Chris Mackey, Greg Miller
Little, Brown, 2004

SFC Mackey starts at the beginning, noting, “Most students slipped quite naturally out of their school uniforms at Immaculate High School in Danbury Connecticut, and into the country’s better universities. I slipped out of my uniform and into army fatigues.” He and a school-mate, who enlisted together at first, “. . . thought the infantry would be good. The army brochures made it look fairly glamorous.” At his father’s urging, and the urgings of his local National Guard unit’s commander and a Senior NCO, both of them opt for the Interrogator field. Known as “Echos” (part of the Army classification for that career field) SFC Mackey finds it somewhat odd that, as late as his enlistment in 1989, training for interrogators still focuses almost exclusively on a Soviet/Warsaw Pact opponent.


At the Defense Language Institute (DLI), a comfortable, modern facility on San Francisco Bay, Mackey initially studies German (another Cold War relic), later picking up some Arabic largely “on-the-job”. During interrogation training, he experiences the many facets of the interrogator’s art, and learns both by his successes and his errors how an interrogation is properly conducted. Two cardinal errors are, 1) allowing the subject to see he has rattled you; and 2) “putting the dagger on the table”, that is, making threats (overt or covert) that both you and the subject know you cannot enforce.

Upon deployment to Afghanistan, SFC Mackey (and his comrades) aren’t quite sure what to expect. However, most of these trained but untested interrogators jump in and perform quite admirably.

SFC Mackey relates his experiences in a matter-of-fact manner that is very readable and most informative. He readily explores both the successes and failings of his unit. He relates tales of contacts with the FBI, British intelligence assets, Army Rangers, Marines, and the nefarious OGA (“Other Government Agency”). He describes the unusual and the mundane, the worrying and the comical with great ease. In reading his accounts, I could hark back to my own interrogations with a wide variety subjects. SFC Mackey makes the interrogation field accessible to the average reader, and brings military operations in general, and interrogation specifically, into sharper focus.