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November 19, 2009

Who Will Investigate CIA/RAND/APA Torture “Workshop”?

Posted in: Torture,War on Terror

(photo by hitthatswitch)

(photo by hitthatswitch)

Back in May 2007, while researching the activities of the American Psychological Association (APA) in support of the U.S. government’s interrogation program, I came across evidence that the APA had engaged in a discussion of torture techniques during a workshop organized by APA and the RAND Corporation, “with generous funding from the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA).”

The workshop was held at the Arlington, Virginia, headquarters of the privately-held but long linked-to-the-government RAND think tank. APA Director of Science Geoff Mumford acted as liaison to the CIA for the meeting. Susan Brandon, a key APA “Senior Scientist”, and former member of the Bush White House’s Office of Science & Technology Policy, helped organize the affair, along with psychologist Kirk Hubbard, who was then Chief of the Research & Analysis Branch, Operational Assessment Division of the CIA.

The workshop was titled the “Science of Deception: Integration of Practice and Theory”, and it discussed new ways to utilize drugs and sensory bombardment techniques to break down interrogatees. Those are signal techniques of psychological torture long utilized by the CIA and other intelligence agencies and military around the world.

According to the brief APA account:

Meeting at RAND headquarters in Arlington, VA, the workshop drew together approximately 40 individuals including research psychologists, psychiatrists, neurologists who study various aspects of deception and representatives from the CIA, FBI and Department of Defense with interests in intelligence operations. In addition, representatives from the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy and the Science and Technology Directorate of the Department of Homeland Security were present…. Following brief introductions and welcoming remarks… workshop participants divided into break-out groups to discuss thematic scenarios….

It was one of the particular “break-out groups” that concerned me. According to APA’s Public Policy Office, which publishes an online newspaper called (with perhaps an unconscious taste for irony) “Spin,” the workshops covered Embassy “Walk-in” informants, Law Enforcement Threat Assessment, and Intelligence gathering (“What are the dimensions of truth?”). But the workshop on Law Enforcement Interrogation and Debriefing had some shocking language (emphasis added, quoted material from APA Government Relations: Science Policy website):

Law enforcement routinely question witnesses and suspects regarding criminal activity. How do you tell if the individual is telling the truth, lying, or something in between? Acts of omission and acts of commission are both important to identify.

  • How do we find out if the informant has knowledge of which s/he is not aware? How important are differential power and status between witness and officer?
  • What pharmacological agents are known to affect apparent truth-telling behavior?
  • What are mechanisms and processes of learning to lie? Can these be demonstrated within relatively short periods of time (e.g., within a polygraph test session)?….
  • What are sensory overloads on the maintenance of deceptive behaviors? How might we overload the system or overwhelm the senses and see how it affects deceptive behaviors?

According to writer, Katherine Eban, who wrote about the APA/RAND/CIA workshop in an August 2007 article at Vanity Fair, SERE-cum-CIA psychologists Bruce Jessen and James Mitchell were attendees at the workshop. Eban elaborated  in a July 30, 2007 interview with Amy Goodman:

KATHERINE EBAN: …The attendance list is divided into two parts. One was really academic researchers, and the other one was operational, operational psychologists. So these were a lot of people who were associated with the CIA, some whose identity was so classified that they were only listed by first name in italics. Mitchell and Jessen were there on the list, listed as CIA contractors. And I think without that attendance list, I don’t know if we would have been able to put out this article.

AMY GOODMAN: The CIA funded this APA-RAND conference?

KATHERINE EBAN: Correct. And one of the main CIA participants and organizers, a man named Kirk Hubbard, told a key participant before the meeting, “Don’t ask these psychologists what they do for a living. Don’t ask them to identify themselves, because basically their identity is secret and classified.”

AMY GOODMAN: They debated the effectiveness of truth serum and other coercive techniques.

KATHERINE EBAN: Right. That’s correct.

“Secrecy is the freedom tyrants dream of”

So, one participant is told not to even reveal names of who attended this CIA/APA/RAND affair. At least one APA member has written to Geoff Mumford and Stephen Behnke (the latter is Director of the APA’s Ethics Office) asking for more information on the content of the meeting. To date, they have not bothered to respond.

The secrecy is not surprising, nor even relatively new. The APA and CIA have a very long history of working together on interrogation techniques, in particular on sensory deprivation and use of drugs like LSD and mescaline in interrogations, and other methods of breaking down the mind and the body of prisoners.

Use of drugs to influence interrogations, in addition to sensory deprivation, distortion and overload or bombardment were signal techniques in a decades-long interrogation research program that came to be known by its most famous moniker, MKULTRA (although these torture techniques were studied and tested by the CIA even earlier, in its 1950s projects Bluebird and Artichoke). Such techniques were codified by the early 1960s in a CIA Counterinsurgency Interrogation Manual, also known by its codename, KUBARK.

According to numerous researchers, the CIA, and the psychologists and psychiatrists they contracted to work with them, including many of the top behavioral scientists of their day, experimented with many drugs in their quest to find a “truth” drug that would open up the recalcitrant and expose the liar and the dissembler. The CIA has declassified a paper from its in-house intelligence journal from the early 1960s, “‘Truth’ Drugs in Interrogation,” where they discuss research on drugs for interrogation ranging from scopolamine, amphetamines, and barbiturates to cannabis, LSD, and mescaline. The CIA authors discuss the limitations of using drugs, based on research, and conclude that a special use for drugs may be found in detection of deception.

(A discussion of CIA research into truth drugs, use of LSD, and other topics is thoroughly discussed in H.P. Albarelli’s recently published book, A Terrible Mistake: The Murder of Frank Olson and the CIA’s Secret Cold War Experiments.)

But the quotes from the CIA/RAND/APA deception workshop are not from 40 years ago. They are from 2003. Evidently the research into using drugs on captured or arrested or incarcerated prisoners or “enemy combatants” has not ended.

In an article last June, I noted that the current Army Field Manual carries an allowance for use of drugs on certain prisoners which is less restrictive than even John Yoo allowed for in the Bybee memos. For months, the the Pentagon Inspector General has been investigating the use of drugs upon prisoners at Guantanamo and elsewhere, but we have not heard where that investigation is headed, nor when it will be concluded. An email request for more information was not returned.

It is infuriating that the planning and implementation of torture, such as that which took place under almost public purview–i.e., it was practically bragged about by the APA on its own website–does not lead to a full set of investigations. Psychologists within APA who attempted to bring the issue up were unable to get any answers.

On November 9, members of Psychologists for an Ethical APA jettisoned its attempts to (for the most part) reform the APA from within, stating on their website that they have “initiated a movement to coordinate a mass resignation from the American Psychological Association (APA) on the part of APA members who are concerned about APA’s actions and policies regarding psychologists’ participation in interrogations and detention in extra-legal War on Terror prisons, as well as about APA’s unresponsiveness to widespread member efforts to change these policies.” They set up a petition site to record member’s resignation statements, as well. Who can blame them, at this point? (For the record, I resigned from APA in January 2008, citing the APA/CIA/RAND workshop as one reason for leaving.)

Something very rotten is going on at the heart of American behavioral science, and I’m not talking about decades-old scandals — I’m talking about right now. Along with collaboration with the CIA and military on possible new abusive interrogation methods, the APA is fighting to keep its links with the military, and to keep psychologists as essential components of their interrogation practice. This is the program behind the Intelligence Science Board’s Educing Information (large PDF) report, which was accepted recently by the Obama administration as their new template for interrogation practice. In a future article, I’ll discuss how this report was set up by the CIA and military as  a snow job to mask the use of pernicious interrogation methods that include techniques of psychological torture.

In the meantime, won’t someone with political clout open up an investigation of the CIA/RAND/APA meeting that plotted torture?

[Note, 12/8/2013: Links for this article have been updated, as old links were changed, or in one case, actually scrubbed off APA servers.]


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