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On the Economics of Interrogation: The Big 4 Versus the Little Fish Game


  • Walter Enders

    () (Department of Economics, Finance, and Legal Studies, University of Alabama)

  • Paan Jindapon

    (Department of Economics, Finance, and Legal Studies, University of Alabama)


While military protocol requires that POWs provide only name, rank, serial number, and date of birth (the so-called Big 4), it is naive to think that all detainees, including terrorists, behave in this fashion. Instead, there is evidence that detainees partially cooperate with their captors by revealing a limited amount of valuable information during the interrogation process. Such a strategy makes it appear that the detainee is cooperative and, since interrogations can be costly, serves as a disincentive for further interrogation. In order to capture the essential differences between the two strategies, we model two different types of games between the interrogator and the detainee. Specifically, we compare the Big 4 game to a two-stage game (the Little Fish game) in which the detainee is permitted to reveal low-level information to the interrogator. We formalize both games, derive the optimal rules for each player, and show that the Big 4 game may not be optimal for either player or for the overall well-being of the interrogating nation. As such, the Little Fish game can Pareto-dominate the Big 4 game. Hence, it is possible that the al-Qaeda strategy of partial cooperation is superior to that used by most standing armies. We also show that the level of intensity selected by the interrogator must be balanced by such factors as the moral values of the society and recruiting potential of the terrorists versus the likelihood of obtaining important information.

Suggested Citation

  • Walter Enders & Paan Jindapon, 2011. "On the Economics of Interrogation: The Big 4 Versus the Little Fish Game," Journal of Peace Research, Peace Research Institute Oslo, vol. 48(3), pages 287-301, May.
  • Handle: RePEc:sae:joupea:v:48:y:2011:i:3:p:287-301

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