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The Scharff technique: On how to effectively elicit intelligence from human sources

Journal article
Authors Pär-Anders Granhag
Steven Kleinman
Simon Oleszkiewicz
Published in Journal of Intelligence and CounterIntelligence
Volume 29
Issue 1
Pages 132-150
ISSN 0885-0607
Publication year 2016
Published at Department of Psychology
Pages 132-150
Language en
Keywords The Scharff technique, human intelligence gathering, information elicitation
Subject categories Psychology


‘‘What did he get out of me? There is no doubt in my mind that he did extract something, but I haven’t the slightest idea what.’’ (Hubert Zemke) The quote setting the stage for this report is from U.S. Army Air Corps Colonel Hubert Zemke, one of the many World War II prisoners interrogated by Hanns Joachim Scharff (1907–1992). Scharff worked at the German Luftwaffe’s Intelligence and Evaluation Center (Auswertestelle West), where he interrogated over 500 American and British fighter pilots. Within today’s Intelligence Community, Scharff is often recognized as a constructive—even iconic—role model for interrogators, one typically portrayed as uncommonly affable, with almost psychic powers to obtain information from his prisoners. While all available accounts support this portrayal of Scharff’s engaging personality and refined interpersonal skills, far less emphasis has been placed on the actual strategies and methodologies that, together, might explain his uncommon effectiveness as an interrogator. Where mention is made of his actual tactics, little discussion has occurred beyond the fact that he was reportedly friendly (especially in contrast to his Luftwaffe peers), exceptionally respectful toward the Allied air crewmen he encountered, and deeply knowledgeable about the U.S. air order of battle as it related to fighter operations based in the United Kingdom. Herein we systematically explore and assess the tactics used by Hanns Scharff. We indicate how Scharff’s s uite of techniques came to inspire a major research program on the elicitation of human intelligence. And, for the very first time, a summary of the outcome of this pioneering research program is here presented.

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