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Indiana State alumnus to Trump, students: Waterboarding is torture

February 11, 2016

Presidential candidate Donald Trump may have won the New Hampshire primary Tuesday night, but it would be difficult for him to earn a vote from Indiana State University alumnus Dave Brant.

Trump recently attracted Brant's attention when he said during the Feb. 6 Republican debate, "I would bring back waterboarding, and I would bring back a hell of a lot worse than waterboarding."

The interrogation technique that simulates drowning is a familiar topic to Brant, who after a career of working at every level of the Naval Criminal Investigative Service, led the agency from 1997 until retiring in December 2005. Brant objected to waterboarding when it was used during the Bush administration following the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001.

"I define waterboarding as torture, despite what Donald Trump said Saturday night," Brant said. The practice has since been outlawed.

Brant posed a scenario to Indiana State criminology students when he visited campus Monday: You're sitting in a 10x12 room with a terrorist and tasked with getting information from him.

"You're sitting face to face with him," Brant said. "He wants to kill you. You're now dealing with a person who your standards, your beliefs, your culture has no relevance whatsoever. It doesn't matter what you say to this person. He has a single purpose in life -- to kill you."What do you do?

One student said she'd get a translator. Another suggested talking it out with the terrorist -- to try to find some common ground. Brant agreed.

"There is a way to establish a relationship-based approach with someone in this setting that can yield positive, valuable information, but it takes time, patience and incredible hours of literally guys just sitting in a room and saying nothing," Brant said.

"I can document, as can other agencies, tremendous success of garnering information from these folks through that methodology that would never, ever be achieved otherwise. Never."

NCIS is a criminal investigative, counter-terrorism, counter-intelligence agency with 1,500 employees in more than 300 offices around the world. During Brant's leadership of the agency, detainees at Guantanamo Bay were brought there from the battlefield for two types of interrogation.

The first -- intelligence interviews -- probed for actionable information, he said. Interrogators try to get information related to a specific threat. Time is everything. "We need to know now where your family is, where your co-conspirators are, where the weapons are hidden, anything that would be of immediate intelligence to troops," he said.

The mission for Brant's NCIS agents, however, was to gather information for criminally prosecutable cases in a U.S. court of law or military courts-martial. Time is not a factor for these investigative interviews.

When Brant learned "enhanced" interrogation techniques were being used at Guantanamo Bay, he took action.

"After becoming concerned about the possible utilization of ‘enhanced' interrogation techniques, I went to very senior levels and said, ‘I will pull my people out (NCIS Special Agents) if I confirm information that ‘enhanced' interrogation techniques are being utilized. I won't condone or allow my people to participate in activities that I consider wrong and possibly torture. We simply will not participate in those types of activities. It created a big deal," he said.

Likening it to a cop who shoots first and asks questions later, Brant cautioned students to not react emotionally in highly charged situations.

"You need to be able to step back and ask yourself, ‘Is my action going to produce the outcome I'm seeking ... which is accurate information?'" Brant said. "Do you have a problem getting someone to ‘talk' if they're talking to avoid pain, serious injury or possible death? They'll talk.

They will absolutely talk. There's no doubt about that. The question will be how truthful, credible or accurate is any information they provide?"

In scenarios such as these, the information the suspect provides isn't always credible, according to Brant.

"You're going to say whatever you think someone wants you to say to escape an uncomfortable or perhaps very painful situation," he said.

A relationship-based interrogation approach can produce accurate, credible information.

"Eventually, somebody might say, ‘Could you get a message to my mother?' They might not say a word for two months, and then the person would say, ‘Could you get a message to my mother?'" Brant recalled. "It takes a long time to get there."

That simple request can -- and did -- produce a relationship that led to the obtaining of critically important terrorism relevant information.

Brant earned his master's degree in criminology from Indiana State in 1975. After graduation, he worked for two years as a police officer in Miami and then was hired by NCIS after first making contact with the agency as a student at State.

In 40 years of law enforcement, Brant has worked with the leaders of every major federal agency as well as leaders throughout the Department of Defense. He is currently the managing director of the Public Sector Practice at BDO, the fifth largest accounting firm in the world.

During his time at the helm of NCIS, he led the agency through unprecedented challenges and changes.

"The attack on (the U.S.S.) Cole was unprecedented, it was a precursor to 9/11," Brant said. "Everybody knew then there was no going back. It was a uncertain future, no one knew what it would portend -- ISIS hadn't evolved and the current threat hadn't taken the current form it's taken, but everybody knew the world as we knew it would never be the same."


Photos: -- Dave Brant, former director of NCIS and Indiana State University alumnus -- Dave Brant, former director of NCIS and Indiana State University alumnus -- Dave Brant, former director of NCIS and Indiana State University alumnus, speaks to students on Monday, Feb. 8, 2016.

Media contact and writer: Libby Roerig, media relations assistant director, Office of Communications and Marketing, Indiana State University, 812-237-3790 or