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Living With A Tiny FBI Agent

02/04/2015 8:18 AM IST | Updated 15/07/2016 8:25 AM IST
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I was once interviewed by two FBI agents in Washington DC. I was to do contract work for a US government department and the background check was the last step before I got the job. The interview lasted an hour and although it wasn't an interrogation, it certainly felt like one. It was too Hollywood-esque not to. I was in a grey building in a room with grey carpeting, talking to two agents in grey suits, as they sat silhouetted against a big window that looked out at a solitary leafless tree against a vast grey sky. With impassive expressions the two agents volleyed questions at me faster than the buzzer round of a TV game show. Although I had nothing to hide, I was way too nervous to shift in my chair. This made the situation worse because I could feel all my attention slowly pooling down to the growing numbness in my legs. I knew right then that I would be a pathetic POW if ever the situation came up.

They dug deep into my history--both personal and professional--and I divulged everything with alacrity. By the time we were done, I was so exhausted, I was hoping they'd summon the guards to carry me out. They let me go with an imperceptible smile and a styrofoam cup of the worst coffee I have ever had in my life. At any rate it was a memorable experience and one that I cheerfully narrated at many a dinner parties afterwards.

I thought that was the last of the interrogations I had seen in this life. Not true.

I have a kid now. And that's like living with an FBI agent. Only with slightly better mise en scène.

" [T]he interrogator asks a question and then no matter what the answer is, the interrogator simply counters it with a "Why?" The interviewee answers the second question to which the interviewer again asks-- "Why?" and so on."

There are days, like today, when the inquiry starts early, even before I get out of bed. The questions, as usual, vary from my personal life to my thoughts on other animate and inanimate objects. I answer everything, as one must, to the best of my abilities. Hoping that my replies are satisfactory, I wiggle out of bed.

The respite, however, is brief. There was a chink in my answer and the agent has caught on. Half an hour later as I sit down to eat breakfast, the agent is at my elbow again to cross-examine me. A set of eyes watch me very closely to see if I'd falter. I chew slowly--a delaying tactic. The agent is no little fool and repeats the question. I sense an edge to the voice. In sheer panic I attempt a different answer. Big mistake. Now there are two incorrect answers. And the day has just begun.

In the early days I thought I could outsmart the questioner, dazzling them with my knowledge. Foolish me. In the shifting sands of the third degree, there are no rules. In fact, this agent is so good at interrogations that those people down in Washington DC could learn a thing or two. For example: The agent uses the "Why to Infinity" (Y2I) method. Its an elegantly efficient way to bring prisoners down to their knees with minimum effort. The way it work is this: the interrogator asks a question and then no matter what the answer is, the interrogator simply counters it with a "Why?" The interviewee answers the second question to which the interviewer again asks-- "Why?" and so on. Relentlessly.

The interviewee may start out by giving a chunky enthusiastic answer to the first question, but then Y2I strikes and before they know it, they are standing at the edge of the galaxy whispering a tired monosyllabic reply, hoping against hope that this would be the last "Why?", knowing full well that the next loud "Why?" will blow them out into the infinite unknown, never to return back to life as they know it.

"In the early days I thought I could outsmart the questioner, dazzling them with my knowledge. Foolish me. "

The day is coming to an end but not mine. I lie in bed exhausted. Defeated.

There is a strange glint in the agent's eye. Clearly, its not over yet. With one swift move, the agent climbs on to my stomach as if I were a horse. This agent is not past using physical force to extract information. I can see a thought bubble forming. I feel a question coming up. As the mouth opens to form a word, I close my eyes.

With a big whoosh I am sucked out into the dark, shimmering outer space.

Fade to Black.

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