The CIA, Interrogation, and Mortimer Snerd

I’ve written before about the creepy interrogation manual the CIA issued in 1983 on “Human Resource Exploitation.” The precursor to this manual is the infamous Kubark report, written in 1963. This CIA document outlines various coercive and non-coercive methods of gathering “counterintelligence information” from uncooperative sources. Over forty years later, some of the coercive techniques remain uncomfortably familiar: electric shock, self-inflicted pain, and sensory deprivation in a cell (or even better, confinement in a “water-tank or iron lung”).

But even more disturbing than the interrogation techniques Kubark teaches is the report’s tone.

Kubark is written with a sense of humor.

Consider the page here (larger image), excerpted from a section on “Techniques of Non-Coercive Interrogation Methods of Resistant Sources.”

This page details an interrogation tactic that taps into the deep psychological need to feel intelligent. Kubark explains, “continued questioning about lofty topics that the source knows nothing about may pave the way for extraction of information at lower levels.” Quite simply, ask the subject questions he couldn’t possibly know the answer to. And then, when the interrogator asks something the subject probably does know the answer to, he’s more likely to answer. After being asked impossible questions (often questions which highlight the subject’s low rank in his organization’s hierarchy of command), the subject often experiences a “tremendous feeling of relief…when [the interrogator] finally asks you something you can answer.”

Now where do I see the humor? Look at heading of this section: “Spinoza and Mortimer Snerd”—two examples of lofty topics that the victim presumably knows nothing about.

It’s supposed to be a joke, but there is a serious disconnect between the material and the gratuitously obscure allusions in the heading.

Especially when you consider who Mortimer Snerd is.

I’ll admit—I didn’t know myself. My first thought was just as incongruous as the CIA’s little joke: Wow, now that’s a great name for a rock band.

A quick search revealed two things: first, that Mortimer Snerd was, alongside the more famous Charlie McCarthy, one of the characters of the great puppeteer and ventriloquist Edgar Bergren; and two, that in the seventies Mortimer Snerd was the name of a small-time rock band—supposedly the first Kiss tribute band, in fact.

Now that’s trivia worth being tortured for. But should the CIA ever come knocking at my door, at least I now know the answer. Now I just have to figure out who this Spinoza fellow is.