The Interview & Masada

Yesterday several of my GAPPI colleagues I had the opportunity to sit down over lunch with Brian Garrett and converse about some of his experiences during his counterterrorism days with the FBI. As you may imagine the names several different groups of people on the FBI watch list came up and, yes, one in particular became the topic of conversation.

The discussion centered on the art of the interview: how to interview someone who is not a part of your culture; and, who may very well have a different value system than you do. Why is this worth mentioning, you ask? Because these basic interview ideas can be applied to every day life and every day people whether you are of the same ideology or not.

Here’s what Garrett offered. Arrive on time; be courteous and be sincere. Keep your questions as general as possible until you have established a rapport with the Subject. Obviously you are after details, but you can only move through the interview at the pace of the Subject. Do not pass judgment on the answers you receive; and do not underestimate your Subject or the interview will be over. Maintain interest; and keep the interview alive. Remember the interview is largely about trust; the interviewer has to establish enough of a rapport with the Subject in order for the interview to be successful. Leave on good terms in case you need to return…or, in case you need to interview someone who is close to the Subject; this way you are able to capitalize on the relationship previously established.

Garrett spoke about the time he was in Israel and related a story of being with some of the locals near Masada. You may be familiar with the piece of history that tells of a small group of Sicarii Rebels, more commonly known as Zealots, who overtook a fortress called Masada and claimed it as their home. 960 Sicarii and their families came to live on Masada but the Romans devised a plan to take Masada back which forced the Sicarii to defend their home. When it became apparent to the Sicarii that they would not win the battle, they decided they would rather kill one another than be killed or enslaved at the hands of their enemies. When the enemy finally ascended Masada and broke through the barricade they found: carnage… massacre… death, which was certainly not what they expected.

The Romans never considered the Sicarii would kill one another rather than be taken prisoner because, they underestimated their opponent… and their interview, so to say, was over. Garrett used this example of the Sicarii massacre at Masada to emphasize the importance of knowing the mindset of your Subject; which, Garrett said, is the basis for a successful interview.

*Note: The photograph posted is an original; taken by Holly Hunter March 18, 2015 from the top of Masada overlooking the Dead Sea. The photograph is copyright protected and may not be reused without permission.

Lane Taylor