What’s the difference between interrogating a captured militia fighter and interviewing an entrepreneur who’s seeking funding?
That’s according to the executive MBA student whose work as a U.S. military interrogator led to the capture of Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein.
There is, however, one small difference between the two scenarios: “An interview’s where someone can get up and walk away,” says Eric Maddox, a former Department of Defense interrogator studying for his EMBA at the Washington University Olin Business School. Now a motivational speaker and consultant, the 42-year-old veteran trains corporate recruiters, lenders, NBA basketball scouts, and other clients to effectively interview job seekers, loan applicants, college hoops stars – and anyone else who might have reservations about spilling the truth.
“Any conversation where somebody might not be completely transparent, I can help you out,” Maddox says.
Maddox has come a long way from the days of ducking through blown-open doorways in the footsteps of Delta Force commandos and prying information out of militants, but the lessons he learned at war in Iraq have made him an expert in the art of business interviewing.
Now he’s at Olin to learn the art of business.
“A lot of what I do since I retired from the Department of Defense is I do consulting for private businesses,” Maddox says. “And I didn’t know the language – balance sheets, the accounting, operations, all of it. I’m learning more than just the language, but that really helps me communicate in the private sector.”
From 1994 to 2004, Maddox served in the U.S. Army, first as a paratrooper in the 82nd Airborne, then as an intelligence officer with the Defense Intelligence Agency of the defense department. In 2003, Maddox deployed to Iraq as an interrogator. He was a rookie at the job, and at first, he was questioning low-level suspected insurgents in the city of Tikrit, northwest of Baghdad. The information he was getting led him to narrow his focus to the associates of a single target: Mohammed Ibrahim Omar al-Musslit, aka “The Fat Man.” A relative of Saddam’s, and a close and trusted bodyguard to the Iraqi leader, al-Musslit had fled with Saddam in a white Oldsmobile when U.S. troops entered Baghdad in April 2003. If anyone could lead U.S. forces to Saddam, it was likely to be The Fat Man.
ONCE IN A WHILE, BULLETS AND GRENADES WOULD FLY
“We were going after this bodyguard,” Maddox recalls. “We’d gone after him day after day after day.” And that meant seizing people connected to the man.
Usually, the Delta Force raids went smoothly, but in about one out of every dozen, someone in the building would attempt to fight back, Maddox says. “It changes the whole dynamics of the raid – an individual in the house who has a weapon or grenades who decides they’re going to open up, fire, and bullets start flying.”
During his time in Iraq, Maddox conducted some 300 interrogations, about 200 of them producing useful information, he says. But he had faced a fairly steep learning curve. To start, he was not following a protocol with a record of success. “The army interrogation techniques don’t work,” he says. “They’re completely ineffective. When I got there in 2003, most of the prisoners were being tortured. The interrogators were torturing the prisoners, beating the hell out of them, stress positions, whatever you could imagine. They didn’t know what else to do.”