Interrogating the Interrogator - Interviewing the Author of 'Interview With a Terrorist'
Updated: May 7, 2019
I was ten pages into the book, and I had to reach out to the author. At first I was fascinated by the book's summary, an interrogator's memoir on his two thousand hours of interrogating terrorists. Once I got into the book, the realism smacked me in the face, the author’s ability to draw you into the story and make you feel that you’re a fly on the wall and experiencing every moment was astounding.
On Thursday, May 2nd, I got the opportunity to sit across from James Rosone, author of Interview with a Terrorist. I wanted to ask him about his book and his life as an interrogator, and what made him tell his compelling story.
Me (Javier): Tell me about yourself, James.
James R. (Author): I’m a full-time author, who’s now written thirteen novels. All of my books are military related in one way or another. I wasn’t always an author, I spent some time in the Army, and subsequently transitioned to the Air Force where I had a successful career as an Interrogator.
Me: What got you in to writing, and what made you want to write this particular book that is so close to you?
James: It’s my therapy. It’s my way of dealing with PTSD. As part of my Cognitive Processing Therapy, my doctor asked me to write down what I felt, saw, smelled. This kind of therapy is intended to help desensitize things that happened and may be inflicting me. I eventually started writing so much that I organically became the author I am now.
Me: Tell me about this story, and what you wanted to share with the reader.
James: The book was originally called, Dinner with a Terrorist. I wanted to demystify the whole approach to interrogation, and what people think it is. To start, you can’t interrogate everyone the same way. Culture has a huge influence on your approach. For example, in the Arab culture there are three opportunities every day, that no matter who you are, they will treat you as an equal: prayer, tea time, and when you sit to eat. During these times, you don’t fight, argue, or create tension. This is a time to rejoice in each other’s company and make peace.
As you have these peaceful conversations you pepper in questions. You ask things that will help to bring peace, limit the continued fighting, and hopefully put an end to this issue you're trying to solve. What people don’t realize is that a good interrogation revolves around a win-win situation. The person you’re interrogating wants something, and you do too. It can be more security for their village, better access to medical care or infrastructure, or even better conditions in a prison cell. And, I want information.
Me: Obviously, this can be a touchy subject for many people. Have you encountered any issues with readers?
James: Yeah, you get those crazy people that troll you online and harass you about everything under the sun. What’s worse though, are those people you meet in person who’ve never served in the military and ask you questions such as: how many times have you water-boarded someone, etc.
Me: Yeah, I know what you mean. When I first transitioned to a job outside of the DoD community, I was surprised by the kind of questions people would ask. Especially the one: how many people did you kill?
James: With only 4% of the U.S. population ever serving, people don’t know much about the military, and they’re completely naive to the lifestyle and situation.
Me: In the last few years, there’s been stories that have been published that have gotten authors in trouble with the Department of Defense for writing more than they should have. For example, the book No Easy Day written by Mark Owen (pen name, his name is actually Matt Bissonnette). He got sued by the U.S. government for breaking his non-disclosure agreement, and eventually had to pay $6.6 million. Do you feel you may have crossed the line with your book?
James: No. To start, the military Interrogation manual is on sale on Amazon. The techniques used to interrogate people aren’t secret. When I wrote my book though, I did take extra care to change names, locations, bases, time-lines, etc. There’s nothing that would reveal sources or methods that would compromise a mission, an organization, any persons, etc.
Me: What life lessons did you learn from your interrogations?
James: Interrogations taught me the art of negotiations, and how establishing rapport with someone is the most critical element in communications. When you sit across from someone, you need to quickly ascertain what they value, and you do that by listening and looking for non-verbal queues. You learn and eventually master mirroring, which is a key component to building commonality and eventually trust.
Me: Has your book been successful?
James: It has. It constantly ranks in the Top 30 books about the Iraq war.
Me: Why do you think it has done so well?
James: I’m trying to fill a gap out there in the writing world. Everyone is writing about Special Forces. I wanted to write about those elements in the military you rarely hear from. In my other books, I talk about division-to-division warfare. What it takes to logistically position a tank army from one country to another and engage in combat.
Me: Where can people find your book, and anything else you’ve written?
James: Obviously Amazon and also our home page: https://www.author-james-rosone.com/