Milennials get the KUBARK Treatment

In 1997, a document was declassified. It was called the KUBARK Counterintelligence Manual and was seen as a blueprint for the CIA’s “interrogation” skills dating all the way back to the 1960s. In her terrific work Shock Doctrine, author Naomi Klein goes to great length to detail the KUBARK manual and how it was used all through the Latin American revolutions and ruling juntas in the 1970s, 1980s, and beyond.

Yes, in case you were curious: the USA supported hard-right takeovers of Democratic governments who were leaning toward socialist policies in order to install, by force if necessary, the Chicago School policies of Milton Friedman that championed deregulation, privatization, and free trade. Sound familiar? Well, here’s a graph showing how well the Friedmanite policies have worked for us since the hard-right takeover in the early 1980s:



Needless to say, these policies are only beneficial to a very small amount of people. So why do we push those so much not only in our own country, but abroad as well, often using the questionable interrogation techniques found in the KUBARK?

For that answer, I guess you’ll have to read Shock Doctrine. I’ve got a copy I’m willing to loan: it was handed to me almost secretly through the door of a woman whose door I’d knocked on while canvassing against Walker in the recall, like we were passing information on the Underground Railroad. Her instructions were simple: no, I don’t want it back, just read it, and pass it along to someone else like I have done to you. Any takers?

But look at the title up there. How does this KUBARK, this manual for what is ostensibly torture, fit in to Generation Y, the Millennials, or as they might be known in your neighborhood, “my lazy good-for-nothing son who won’t go out and get a REAL job.” Well, I’m going to posit here that the Millennials, nearly en masse, are what could be the first case of the KUBARK being implemented, either purposefully or inadvertantly, on an entire societal group as a whole as opposed to on an individual interrogation business. This is still in the hypothesis stage, but I felt I had to at least put it out there for peer review.

“The short-range purpose is to enlist his cooperation toward this end or, if he is resistant, to destroy his capacity for resistance and replace it with a cooperative attitude.”
KUBARK, page 38

The year is 2007. Millennials, or at least the oldest of them, are just finishing up college and getting ready to head out into the real world. This generation came of age during the time of 9/11, warrantless wiretapping, and the Second Iraq War. Nearly every day they woke up to see stories of soldiers killed by the same people who were supposed to greet us as liberators… unless it was a 9/11 anniversary, where instead we ate our morning Pop-Tarts while watching a re-re-re-re-replay of people falling to their deaths from the World Trade Center. Never Forget: because it gets us good ratings. Over time, we begin to become disoriented: we were old enough to have formed opinions on that day in 2001, old enough to understand what was going on, and as such it is confusing to see us going to war in a country that doesn’t (or did it? The data isn’t clear) have anything to do with the terrorist attacks. Furthermore, what about the WMDs in Iraq? Where are they? We were told they were there, that’s why our countrymen are dying… right? Or was it 9/11? And what’s going on in Afghanistan? One day we have bin Laden in a cave, the next day we don’t know where he’s gone to. The Taliban are the enemy… but what about the Afghan civilians that are attacking us because we accidentally bombed his brother’s wedding? Just what exactly is going on?

“The chief effect of arrest and detention, and particularly of  solitary confinement, is to deprive the subject of many or most of the sights, sounds, tastes, smells, and tactile sensations to which he has grown accustomed.”
-KUBARK, page 87

And so we graduated into the world just in time for the economy to collapse on top of everything else. Now, on top of a foreign policy nightmare that was brought on by the Bush administration in a decision that cost us every last scrap of goodwill we had gained since 9/11, we have a domestic policy nightmare brought on by the same Friedmanite ideas of deregulation in Wall Street. There is rarely a case in the history of this country where a generation has been thrust out the door into full-fledged adulthood into such a disorienting situation… and disorienting is the first step in the KUBARK for “softening'” an interrogatee. Whether it’s keeping them in the dark or depriving them of other sensations light touch or hearing, the first step of the KUBARK is to make sure the subject does not know where, or when they are, or maybe even how, what, who… or why. Following that, the subject is dragged from his or her confinement and sensory deprivation to a position of sensory bombardment: loud music, bright flashing lights, screaming, even sudden physical abuse, all again to shock the subject into a state where they will be easier to pry answers from. The chaos that followed the financial crisis in 2007-2008 was just such a sensory bombardment: banks failing, stocks plummeting, houses foreclosed right and left. Suddenly, you may not be able to live where you had been living, or have any security in some of your basic ideas of life.

“The threat of coercion usually weakens or destroys resistance more effectively than coercion itself. The threat to inflict pain, for example, can trigger fears more damaging than the immediate sensation of pain. In fact, most people under estimate their capacity to withstand pain.”
KUBARK, page 90

What’s more, the economic crisis brought with it a jobs crisis as the economy contracted hard, shedding jobs at an alarming rate. For a generation either just entering the workforce or trying desperately to enter it for the first time as a professional adult, this caused further disorientation. The constant, beating pressure to find a job, to use your degree that you are tens or hundreds of thousands of dollars in debt for, to make sure you can make good on the promises of your youth and hard work to secure a job and a career… all are met with silence. And that silence becomes like a torture. It stabs, it burns, it aches with the overwhelming uncertainty that comes with no response from employers or, possibly even worse, a cold and informal form letter saying that, although your resume is “impressive,” they have gone with another candidate. It is dehumanizing, a key step in the KUBARK: to be repeatedly denied by a disembodied voice spat out by the thousands from a printer, never hearing a human voice or invoking human connection with an interview, and after a while the Millennial begins to wonder “what’s wrong with me?” Depression sets in, dismay reigns, and the entire generation begins to wonder, slowly at first but then rising to a fevered pitch, “what did I do wrong?”

“It has been plausibly suggested that, whereas pain inflicted on a person from outside himself may actually [focus]  or intensify his will to resist, his resistance is likelier to be sapped by pain which he seems to inflict upon himself.”
KUBARK, page 94

The KUBARK warns against going too hard or too fast in the interrogation, because that will breed hard resistance and render a subject unusable for getting the required information. In the Occupy protests of 2011 we saw what happens when the torture is too hard and too fast, and what happens to the subject as a result. And yet still there are others, millions of others who did not suffer as fast or as hard, and are still asking the question of “I did everything right, what did I do wrong?” because after so many attempts and so many failures, it would seem illogical for the larger system to be the failing culprit. Instead, the victim turns inward with the blame, and here is where the KUBARK accomplishes its goal. Much media hay was made from the revelations that torture often results in horribly unreliable or flat-out false information from interrogatees, mostly because they are in such pain and misery that they will say anything to make it stop. The KUBARK claims on page 83 that “all coercive techniques are designed to induce regression,” and here we have a generation on the cusp of adulthood, with many of them forced to endure the shame of moving back home with their parents, living an entire life out of the room they occupied as a teenager, feeling like they are back to where they were as a child. And so, shamed and confused, our Millennial subject is ready to blame his or herself, even though it is a falsehood. 

“But even if the source has no further value after his fund of information has been mined,  spending some extra time with him in order to replace his new sense of emptiness with new values can be good insurance.”
KUBARK, page 51.

In short… the subject is ready to talk.

“This principle also affects the decision to employ coercive techniques and governs the choice of these methods. I£ in the opinion of the interrogator a totally resistant source has the skill and determination to withstand any non-coercive method or combination of methods, it is better to avoid them completely.”
KUBARK, page 65

“If he is to be released upon the local economy, perhaps blacklisted as a suspected hostile agent but not subjected  to subsequent counterintelligence surveillance, it is important to avoid an inconclusive ending that has warned the interrogatee of our doubts but has established nothing. The poorest interrogations are those that trail off into an inconclusive nothingness.”
KUBARK, page 50.

Millennials, don’t let this happen to you. It’s not your fault. It’s their fault. They crashed the economy, they started the pointless wars, and they are the ones who are hoping you will break so they can suggest policies and laws that will only make things worse for the future and for the vast majority of Americans. Don’t break, be strong. Get angry, get active, and show the old and dying Boomers just what the “Echo Boomers” can do. The old know their road is rapidly aging, and that we can become a wave that crashes over them, and that is why they are fighting hard to break us so they can stay in power. For the first time in History, let’s make the echo louder than the boom.


The following is a list of KUBARK techniques, with Millennial commentary in bold:

2. Nobody Loves You

An interrogatee who is withholding items of no grave consequence to himself may sometimes be persuaded to talk by the simple tactic of pointing out that to date all of the information about his case has come from persons other than himself. The interrogator wants to be fair. He recognizes that some of the denouncers may have been biased or malicious. In any case, there is bound to be some slanting of the facts unless the interrogatee redresses the balance. The source owes it to himself to be sure that the interrogator hears both sides of the story.

“So-and-so has a good paying job, so why don’t you?”

3. The All-Seeing Eye (or Confession is Good for the Soul)

The interrogator who already knows part of the story explains to the source that the purpose of the questioning is not to gain information; the interrogator knows everything already. His real purpose is to test the sincerity (reliability, honor, etc.) of the source. The interrogator then asks a few questions to which he knows the answers. If the subject lies, he is informed firmly and dispassionately that he has lied. By skilled manipulation of the known, the questioner can convince a naive subject that all his secrets are out and that further resistance would be not only pointless but dangerous. If this technique does not work very quickly, it must be dropped before the interrogatee learns the true limits of the questioner’s knowledge.

“Maybe it’s time to admit that you might be the problem. I mean, it’s not like all these jobs could be wrong…”

5. News from Home

Allowing an interrogatee to receive carefully selected letters from home can contribute to effects desired by the interrogator. Allowing the source to write letters, especially if he can be led to believe that they will be smuggled out without the knowledge of the authorities, may produce information which is difficult to extract by direct questioning.

This is one part “emails from your hometown where so-and-so has a job, kids, house, etc” and one part writing letter after letter, resume after resume, and receiving insufficient responses.

6. The Witness

If others have accused the interrogatee of spying for a hostile service or of other activity which he denies, there is a temptation to confront the recalcitrant source with his accuser or accusers. But a quick confrontation has two weaknesses: it is likely to intensify the stubbornness of denials, and it spoils the chance to use more subtle methods.

One of these is to place the interrogatee in an outer office and escort past him, and into the inner office, an accuser whom he knows personally or, in fact, any person — even one who is friendly to the source and uncooperative with the interrogators — who is believed to know something about whatever the interrogatee is concealing. It is also essential that the interrogatee know or suspect that the witness may be in possession of the incriminating information. The witness is whisked past the interrogatee; the two are not allowed to speak to each other.

I once met a college classmate as I was part-timing and he was full. When asked how he got the job, he looked at me like one who had seen Hell and whispered “I’m one of the lucky ones.” Several attempts to communicate with coworkers about stresses or difficulties also often leads to uncomfortable silences.

7. Joint Suspects

If two or more interrogation sources are suspected of joint complicity in acts directed against U.S. security, they should be separated immediately. If time permits, it may be a good idea (depending upon the psychological assessment of both) to postpone interrogation for about a week. Any anxious inquiries from either can be met by a knowing grin and some such reply as, “We’ll get to you in due time. There’s no hurry now .”

You finish college, and your former classmates, like you, are scattered to the four winds. After a few months of fruitless searching, you feel as if you can’t talk to them, because you don’t want to be seen as the “pathetic” one who can’t find a job. This feeling of unworthiness has been punched into your head from years of accepted knowledge that only a “loser” could go to college and still not find a job, move back in with his parents, etc.

8. Ivan Is a Dope

It may be useful to point out to a hostile agent that the cover story was ill-contrived, that the other service botched the job, that it is typical of the other service to ignore the welfare of its agents. The interrogator may personalize this pitch by explaining that he has been impressed by the agent’s courage and intelligence. He sells the agent the idea that the interrogator, not his old service, represents a true friend, who understands him and will look after his welfare.

I have received several job rejection notices that say my skills and qualifications are “impressive” but they’re not going to even interview me. This leads to a feeling that maybe there was something wrong with the training, or something wrong with the way it was all put together.


If the recalcitrant subject speaks more than one language, it is better to question him in the tongue with which he is least familiar as long as the purpose of interrogation is to obtain a confession. After the interrogatee admits hostile intent or activity, a switch to the better-known language will facilitate follow-up.

Each job application, each job interview, is akin to navigating a minefield of preferred and particular language for that company, that position, that day. Each application or interview must be a delicate balancing act of studying the job entity’s language and making sure not slip up.

Spinoza and Mortimer Snerd

If there is reason to suspect that a withholding source possesses useful counterintelligence information but has not had access to the upper reaches of the target organizations, the policy and command level, continued questioning about lofty topics that the source knows nothing about may pave the way for the extraction of information at lower levels.

After the process had been continued long enough, the source was asked a question to which he did know the answer. Numbers of Americans have mentioned “…the tremendous feeling of relief you get when he finally asks you something you can answer.” One said, “I know it seems strange now, but I was positively grateful to them when they switched to a topic I knew something about.”

Job interviews can be bombardments of bizarre terms like “servant leadership” or a blizzard of confusing acronyms specific to this position or company. To finally hear them ask “what is your biggest strength and weakness” is almost a reprieve.

The Wolf in Sheep’s Clothing

It has been suggested that a successfully withholding source might be tricked into compliance if led to believe that he is dealing with the opposition. The success of the ruse depends upon a successful imitation of the opposition.

Hey, I’m just like you. I worked my way up in this company, I know what it’s like, etc, etc… and you still don’t get the job.

Alice in Wonderland

The aim of the Alice in Wonderland or confusion technique is to confound the expectations and conditioned reactions of the interrogatee. He is accustomed to a world that makes some sense, at least to him: a world of continuity and logic, a predictable world. He clings to this world to reinforce his identity and powers of resistance.

“I was told to get a degree, that I could pay off these loans with a good job, that there would be jobs in my field, and now even McDonald’s won’t talk to me because I’m ‘overqualified.’ If you have a degree, why are you applying at McDonald’s?
… what happened?”

The Polygraph

The polygraph can be used for purposes other than the evaluation of veracity. For example, it may be used as an adjunct in testing the range of languages spoken by an interrogatee or his sophistication in intelligence matters, for rapid screening to determine broad areas of knowledgeability, and as an aid in the psychological assessment of sources. Its primary function in a counterintelligence interrogation, however, is to provide a further means of testing for deception or withholding.

The average job application is rife with tests for deception: who did you work for, and when, and why did you leave? Have you ever been convicted of anything, and why, and how, and where and when? What is your ethnic makeup, and will you feel guilty if you choose to voluntarily not answer? Do you agree that any falsification on this document is a violation of law?

Davis examines three theories regarding the polygraph. The conditional response theory holds that the subject reacts to questions that strike sensitive areas, regardless of whether he is telling the truth or not. Experimentation has not substantiated this theory. The theory of conflict presumes that a large physiologic disturbance occurs when the subject is caught between his habitual inclination to tell the truth and his strong desire not to divulge a certain set of facts.

“Yes, I have experience with that system… yes, I am familiar with that acronym…”

Davis suggests that if this concept is valid, it holds only if the conflict is intense. The threat-of-punishment theory maintains that a large physiologic response accompanies lying because the subject fears the consequence of failing to deceive. “In common language it might be said that he fails to deceive the machine operator for the very reason that he fears he will fail. The ‘fear’ would be the very reaction detected.” This third theory is more widely held than the other two. Interrogators should note the inference that a resistant source who does not fear that detection of lying will result in a punishment of which he is afraid would not, according to this theory, produce significant responses.

And so you learn to give the proper responses, to steel yourself against uncomfortable questions, to build up a facade that you throw all of your strength into and hope it survives the onslaught. But underneath it all is the fear you will be detected, that they will know, and that you’ll be back into nothingness again. In a job market as competitive as this, it often comes down to who is the best liar and who is best at hiding their fear.


There are a number of non-coercive techniques for inducing regression, All depend upon the interrogator’s control of the environment and, as always, a proper matching of method to source. Some interrogatees can be repressed by persistent manipulation of time, by retarding and advancing clocks and serving meals at odd times — ten minutes or ten hours after the last food was given.

“I’m working odd hours to pay bills, so I eat at odd hours, I sleep at odd hours, wherever I can catch it.”

Day and night are jumbled. Interrogation sessions are similarly unpatterned the subject may be brought back for more questioning just a few minutes after being dismissed for the night.

My own personal experience featured a third-shift job where I had enough time to run home, clean up, and run off to a 9am interview without sleeping.

Half-hearted efforts to cooperate can be ignored, and conversely he can be rewarded for non-cooperation. (For example, a successfully resisting source may become distraught if given some reward for the “valuable contribution” that he has made.)

I have begged employers for a chance, only to receive no response, but a job interview I went into specifically not to get the job wanted to hear back from me.

The Alice in Wonderland technique can reinforce the effect. Two or more interrogators, questioning as a team and in relays (and thoroughly jumbling the timing of both methods) can ask questions which make it impossible for the interrogatee to give sensible, significant answers.

Recently, I was told I was guaranteed a second interview. I called them several times when an interview was not spoken of, only to find a rejection letter in my mailbox days later.

A subject who is cut off from the world he knows seeks to recreate it, in some measure, in the new and strange environment. He may try to keep track of time, to live in the familiar past, to cling to old concepts of loyalty, to establish — with one or more interrogators — interpersonal relations resembling those that he has had earlier with other people, and to build other bridges back to the known. Thwarting his attempts to do so is likely to drive him deeper and deeper into himself, until he is no longer able to control his responses in adult fashion.

I want to be an adult! I want to own a home, pay bills, have a steady job, have kids! Please… please, I’ll do anything, just give me the job. Please, show me some token of affection, I’m lost out here. Nothing makes sense, my life is two mistakes away from falling apart. Please, I’ll do anything! ANYTHING!

And so it ends. The subject has been broken. You may now do with the subject what you please, and discard them when needed. There will always be others.

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