If you were to envision what the detention center for America’s worst enemies would look like, would family visitation be part of it?
The Pentagon is currently weighing whether or not to grant that privilege to the 172 terrorist detainees remaining at the Guantanamo Bay (Gitmo) Detention Facility. Meanwhile, Republican lawmakers in the US House of Representatives are drafting legislation to ban such visits. On its face, allowing family visits would seem to go against what the facility is designed to do … and certainly present some security concerns. However, it would serve as a useful instrument for collecting intelligence to foil future terrorist attacks and degrade the capabilities of organized terror groups.
The terrorist detainees at Gitmo are important assets to the US in the Global War on Terror. They know how the enemy operates, their patterns, trends and tactics, techniques and procedures. Allowing family visits would be a tool for interrogators to collect intelligence and glean important information about the terror groups that threaten US interests. Simply put, more tools available to intelligence collectors and detainee interrogatorsamount to better intelligence … And better intelligence leads to better National Security.
There is no universal interrogation formula used to extract information from a detainee. The best way for interrogators to elicit quality information is to design a custom, long-term interrogation agenda according to each detainee’s unique personality and character strengths and weaknesses. Not all detainees respond similarly to one all-encompassing interrogation template, just as not all athletes respond to the same style of coaching, not all employees respond to the same style of supervision and not all students respond to the same style of teaching. Interrogators must use an individualized and uniquely balanced combination of harsh consequences and generous rewards or withholding of rewards to achieve the best results. This is known as the “Carrot-Stick” approach.
Much like Classical, or “Pavlovian” conditioning, the carrot-stick approach seeks to reinforce positive behavior (compliance with interrogators) and discourage negative behavior (non-compliance). The judicious use of rewards and punishment is a very effective method of extracting information. Allowing family to visit a detainee can be a very effective “carrot” or reward/incentive for detainees who cooperate with intelligence collectors. Interrogators cannot succeed in eliciting accurate information using punishment alone. Detainees must have a personalized combination of positive and negative reinforcement presented to them if they are to return accurate intelligence.
The US found and killed Osama Bin Laden by a complex series of intelligence “Threads”. This intelligence coup was not the result of a single source telling the US where the terror mastermind was. It began with one guy who had vague information about some guy who may know something about Bin Laden’s modus operandi. US Intelligence then did its leg-work and followed the information trail from one asset to the next until they hit the bull’s eye. Each time an intelligence asset provides information that leads to another useful source of information that moves collectors and analysts closer to their intelligence goals, a thread is established.
Determining Bin Laden’s whereabouts was the result of multiple threads accumulated over a decade of intelligence operations, and the intelligence cycle did not end with his demise: Documents and digital information found in his home will lead US Intelligence to many more valuable information trails, and thereby constitute yet another thread in the shadow front of the Global War on Terror.
Allowing family members to visit detainees in Gitmo would provide US Intelligence with more intelligence threads.
The US should make whatever security provisions necessary, allow family members to visit, and see who shows up. It is my experience that hardcore terrorists are rarely the black sheep of the family. Although family may not be directly involved in terrorist operations, they are frequently in the know as to what their loved one is doing. Often, family members yield more intelligence than the terrorist himself because they are not trained in operational security and do not know the value of the information they possess.
All visitors to the Guantanamo Bay Detention Facility must undergo an ID check, which will allow US authorities to conduct a thorough background investigation. This will inevitably uncover family members with dubious associations, which will result in yet another intelligence thread. Additionally, if the US is lucky enough to have a visitor present a fake ID, they would then have cause to interrogate that individual, which would more than likely uncover still more information of intelligence value.
Finally, although highly unlikely, but none the less conceivable, a family member could potentially be persuaded into becoming an asset for US Intelligence. If a terrorist’s family member were to work for the US, it would be a true intelligence coup and could yield volumes of useful data.
On its face, permitting family to visit Gitmo detainees is highly offensive to the US populace, but it would serve as a useful instrument for collecting intelligence to foil future terrorist attacks and degrade the capabilities of organized terror groups. Unfortunately, it seems as though there are few in Washington with the vision to see the value in this tactic and it is unlikely to come to pass. If the US is to win the war on terror, it must learn to think unconventionally and to seize opportunities like this to gain an advantage over the adversary.
De Oppresso Liber