Police Psychology Interview: Intelligence and Counterintelligence

Posted: July 12, 2017 in Public Information Bureau
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Police Psychology Interview:  Intelligence and Counterintelligence

with James Turner, Ph.D.


Some of the earliest use of psychology in operational policing was by the military.  I remember reading stories of how B. F. Skinner invented a pigeon-controlled missile which were much more accurate than the guidance systems available at the time.  Police psychology: counterintelligenceEbbinghaus had military applications of his memory work at the turn of the twentieth century, and we all know the history of the IQ tests had military motivations.  Jim Turner worked in developing many uses of intelligence and counterintelligence while working for military agencies and police agencies some of which are still classified.  His last work was for the Joint Counterintelligence Training Academy where he taught.  This was an interview with Jim to learn a little more about intelligence in the police psychology world.

Gary:  Jim, what exactly is intelligence?

Jim:  Intelligence is a collection of information from a variety of technologies, that have to be interpreted.  Different types of intelligence include actionable intelligence, direct action and responses, then there is background intelligence on ongoing, internal and external processes.

Gary:  Then what is Counterintelligence?

Jim:   Counterintelligence is what people process about us, and what we attempt to monitor and evaluate.   It is important in counterintelligence that you learn what needs to be protected form who and determining what is someone’s motive for stealing it.  It can also be the selective interjection of information to get a particular out come to divert attention away from what we want to protect, all designed to influence strategic and tactical decision making.

Gary:  Damn, Jim that is a mouthful and hard to decipher itself.  Can you say it in easier terms?

Jim:  Intelligence help us make decisions and counterintelligence helps us have control over what decisions are made against us.

Gary:   What is the role of psychologist, or of psychology in intelligence?

Jim:  The psychologist plays a role at many levels.  He understands how people process information, their biases and heuristics.   So firstly, it is a generalized information processing where the psychologist can add value.  The second area is understanding how people will respond to particular information.  Will they take action?  Will they sit back be frozen with overload, or will they sit back and watch things unfold?  The third area is assessing the level of stress of all persons in intelligence are experiencing.  BY applying the principles of social psychology and the understanding how particular individuals may react to certain situations.  Finally, psychologist also can contribute to the understanding of cultural issues and the biases rather than purely their own country’s point of view.  Many world events occur as a cultural misinterpretation.  A psychologist brings a different level of education and specifically psychological education to look at cultural heuristics and biases.

Gary:  What is role of psychology in counterintelligence?

Jim:   It’s again interpreting how to not give away protected information and identifying what needs to be protected.  Secondly, it’s looking at what others are trying to collect and helping to figure out their interests and what are their goals.  A third level is helping assess risk and vulnerabilities.   Fourth, using deception to steer people away from protected information.   And finally, showing how certain pieces of information will affect policy and decision making, showing how things affect people.

Gary:  I know psychologists are often used in designing brochures and propaganda.

Jim:  Of course, what word will get what effect.  The psychologist often helps an agency define what will get a visceral reaction, rather than just something that get seen and thrown away without a thought.

Gary:   How can the psychologist be used in a police department for intelligence matters?

Jim:   In police department, psychology is used in understanding pattern of criminal groups, drug rings, patterns of behavior of subcultures or cultures.  How do we use those patterns as police to further law enforcement goals?   Second, which individuals in a network might be most vulnerable to helping the police and how do we get to them.  Third, psychologist can be helpful in neighborhood policing for getting the community involved, creating perception of police by the public and getting people to cooperate,  from helping police develop strategies for terrorism to getting people to report to police and suspicious events or people engaged in threatening behavior, essentially help people become safer.

Gary:   I know gang information is often processed through a department psychologist.

Jim:   That is probably the best example of how a psychologist can function in a department, the subculture of a gang.  What goes through their minds?  Where are they likely to target?  Who can you get to in the gang?  Who might fear prison more than the gang?  How can you get the community to report what a gang is doing?  All roles a psychologist or person who studied psychology could assist the police.

Gary:   How do you get some training in intelligence and counterintelligence?

Jim:  There are some research-oriented American Intelligence journals, but formal training is limited.  Most learning is through apprenticeships.  You are educated by the developing techniques in many social sciences, and particularly social psychology.  There are some good courses studying the applied side of psychology, but intelligence and counterintelligence is your own training.  You have to develop a different set of consultation skills.  It is essentially the person “who gets it” that is the best at working in intelligence and counterintelligence.

Gary:  Thank you Jim Turner on making us more intelligent in this field.


Site Administrator:  Gary S. Aumiller, Ph.D. ABPP

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