New Questions About Conflict-of-Interest Throw Doubt on APA’s “Independent Review” of CIA Links

CIA denies records responsive to request on APA-CIA-RAND meeting

A report by psychologists and human rights workers released at the end of April charged officials of the American Psychological Association with collaborating with Bush administration officials, including members of the CIA, in furthering the CIA’s “enhanced interrogation” torture program. The report, titled “All the President’s Psychologists,” drew upon emails from a deceased RAND Corporation researcher, Scott Gerwehr, who evidently worked in some capacity with the CIA.

“The APA’s complicity in the CIA torture program, by allowing psychologists to administer and calibrate permitted harm, undermines the fundamental ethical standards of the profession,” the report, which was published by The New York Times, said.

APA countered these charges, which also were raised by New York Times journalist James Risen last year, by engaging “David Hoffman of the law firm Sidley Austin to conduct an independent review of whether there is any factual support for the assertion that APA engaged in activity that would constitute collusion with the Bush administration to promote, support or facilitate the use of ‘enhanced’ interrogation techniques by the United States in the war on terror,” according to a statement by the psychologist organization last November.

But this “independent review” into links between APA and the CIA torture program was compromised, according to my own research, by links between its leader, David H. Hoffman, and former members of the CIA, including former director George Tenet, who headed the Agency at the time it constructed and implemented its post-9/11 torture program.

This article will demonstrate that Hoffman and his law firm also have professional links to a former chairman of the think-tank RAND Corporation, Newton Minow. RAND played a key role in the controversies surrounding APA and torture, as discussed below. It is the contention of this article that together with the revelations concerning Hoffman’s ties to former CIA figures, including Tenet, and now links to a key RAND figure, that the potential for conflicts-of-interest can not be ignored.

RAND’s History

According to RAND’s website, its organization is nonprofit and “nonpartisan…. independent of political and commercial pressures.” The Center for Media and Democracy’s Sourcewatch website reports that “one-half of RAND’s research involves national security issues.” RAND reports that roughly five percent of its work is classified. Besides national security issues, RAND has long produced analyses concerning health care, education, and other topics.

RAND was active in the counter-terror/counterinsurgency prosecution of the Vietnam War. They offered expertise to CIA advisers working on the interrogation-torture-assassination program known as Project Phoenix. Such collaboration is mentioned in a 2009 RAND history of Phoenix. This study has nothing to say of Phoenix’s history of torture, and barely even mentions the use of interrogation, while trying to refute charges of assassination by Phoenix teams. According to RAND’s analysis, “decisionmakers would be wise to consider how Phoenix-style approaches might serve to pry open Taliban and Al-Qaeda black boxes.” [pg. 24])

Douglas Valentine in his book, The Phoenix Project, describes how top CIA Phoenix official, Robert “Blowtorch” Komer, left the Agency to work for RAND in 1970.

Perhaps most famously, RAND Corporation was the source of the famous Pentagon Papers, as RAND analysts, including Daniel Ellsberg, had been involved in collecting the papers that made up the famous secret history of U.S. policy in Vietnam. Interestingly, it was Minow, as then-appointed chair of RAND’s Board of Trustees who led the damage control effort there after the Ellsberg leak.

Most recently, RAND has been active in consulting on counterinsurgency tactics in the post-9/11 “war on terror.”

The Role of RAND Corporation in CIA’s Torture Scandal

While charges of APA collaboration with both CIA and the Department of Defense on interrogation policies, including use of torture, go back some years now, the issue took on greater urgency after New York Times journalist James Risen revealed details of such collaboration in his book Pay Any Price.

Risen’s new information was based on a collection of emails he obtained that belonged to a deceased RAND Corporation researcher, Scott Gerwehr. The emails proved Gerwehr worked closely with CIA psychologist Kirk Hubbard. Hubbard was the head of CIA’s Operational Assessment Division, and from 2005-09 was a contractor with Mitchell-Jessen and Associates, a company linked by Senate investigators to use of torture.

A key instance of the alleged collaboration between APA and CIA was the joint sponsorship of a group of workshops on “The Science of Deception,” held at RAND’s Arlington, Virginia offices on July 17-18, 2003. As I reported back in May 2007, one of the workshops included “scenarios” for discussion that included “pharmacological agents… known to affect apparent truth-telling behavior, and the use of “sensory overloads” to “overwhelm the senses and see how it affects deceptive behaviors.”

Journalist Katherine Eban reported much the same about the workshop later that year in a seminal article for Vanity Fair, which exposed the fact CIA psychologists James Bruce Mitchell and Jessen had been present at the event.

The APA-CIA-RAND joint workshops were organized by RAND’s Gerwehr, CIA’s Hubbard, and APA’s then “senior scientist” Susan Brandon, and APA’s Director of Science Policy, Geoff Mumford. In 2010, I reported that APA’s online linkage to the offensive “scenarios” had been scrubbed from APA’s website.

Someone doesn’t want the full story on this event to be known. As recently as November 2011, in a FOIA response to this author, the CIA claimed it could find no records pertaining to the 2003 APA-CIA-RAND meeting or workshops. (See PDF of response.) Risen and his collaborators on the Gerwehr-APA story also have failed to release all the information they have in their possession regarding the same event.

Similarly, in response to a FOIA I filed, the FBI could find no responsive documents regarding documents supposedly turned over to it by one of the authors of the “President’s Psychologists” report,  Nathaniel Raymond. Raymond told me via email, “I directed the FBI and Durham in fall of 2010 during an in person meeting at DoJ HQ to where and how to obtain the [Gerwehr] emails. Durham and the FBI independently obtained the emails in the spring of 2011 based on the information I provided in 2010…. Any requests for access to the additional 600+ emails used in our analysis should be directed to [James Risen].” At the FBI’s request, on May 6, 2015 I provided more information to assist the FBI in their records search. The FOIA request is still active.

Campaign Contributions

The critics who have opposed APA, or at least those who wrote the “President’s Psychologists” report, which highlighted charges of APA complicity with intelligence agencies in the furtherance of the CIA’s torture program, have publicly ignored charges that the APA-initiated “independent investigation” had serious conflict-of-interest problems due to Hoffman’s relationships with Tenet and also Tenet’s CIA Special Counsel from 1998-2000, Kenneth J. Levit.

(The use of “investigation” rather than “review” is a preference of APA’s critics, and has been taken up by most of the press. It is my contention that the “review” barely, if at all, deserves the nomenclature of an “investigation.” The word “investigate” or “investigation” never appears in the APA’s “Board of Directors Resolution Regarding Independent Review.” Hoffman himself, however, has used the term, as will be seen below.)

The “President’s Psychologists” report never mentions or raises any questions about the obscure association between Hoffman and Tenet and Levit, nor do they seem to have investigated any such associations on their own.

The mainstream press fares no better. Articles that mention the Hoffman “investigation,” including by James Risen at the New York Times and Amy Goodman at Democracy Now!, fail to mention Hoffman’s link to CIA figures. One exception to this coverage was James Bradshaw at the National Psychologist who noted Hoffman’s uncovered links to key CIA personnel.

In an email exchange with this author last December, David Hoffman refused to elaborate on the nature or his relationship with both Tenet and Levit in recent years. His known professional relationship goes back to Hoffmann’s work in Sen. David Boren’s office in the early 1990s, when Boren was chair of the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence and Tenet was the SSCI’s Staff Director. Levit also worked in Boren’s office at that time.

Recently I discovered that Levit gave over $1,700 to Hoffman’s abortive Senate campaign in 2010, a fact Hoffman had not revealed. I’ve asked Hoffman whether he knew about Levit’s contributions, but as of press time he has not responded on that issue. I will update this post with Hoffman’s response if or when I receive it. Meanwhile, Hoffman’s response to other issues raised here is discussed below.

Meanwhile, discussion of the role of RAND Corporation in the whole scandal are either muted or totally ignored. In The Intercept’s October 2014 story about the APA controversy, Gerwehr’s employment by RAND is never mentioned. He is only referred to as a “behavioral science researcher.” Gerwehr’s work on counterterrorism and urban combat is never mentioned. The author of the story, Cora Currier, also never mentions either the 2003 joint APA-CIA-RAND workshop described above, even though it is a key part of the narrative of the entire scandal, as reported by Risen, Eban, and others.

Minow’s Links to RAND, Donald Rumsfeld, and David Hoffman

The most intriguing new information regarding the APA-CIA scandal concerns the fact that one of a handful of senior counsels in the Chicago office of Sidley Austin where David Hoffman works is Newton Minow. According to Sidley Austin’s website, Minow was “a partner with the firm from 1965-1991.” For much of that time, and beyond, he was also a member of the Board of Trustees for RAND Corporation, and was Chair of the Board in the early 1970s.

Minow is not only the former chairman of RAND Corporation, he is an incredibly well-linked member of the political establishment, going back to the Kennedy Administration. In more recent years, he has been a political consultant to President Barack Obama. (Obama had been an intern for Sidley Austin in Chicago, recruited by Minow’s daughter, Martha, who is currently dean of Harvard Law School.)

Minow’s resume is by Establishment standards quite distinguished. He is a former chairman of the FCC and of the Carnegie Foundation. He is a former Vice Chairman of the Commission on Presidential Debates, and is still listed as a member of its Board of Directors.

Minow’s plea for more U.S. funding for international broadcasting efforts like those of Radio Free Europe, Radio Liberty and Radio Marti, and his vilification of Al Jazeera as Osama bin Laden’s “favored news outlet” made it into the pages of Congressional Record.

Perhaps most telling in Minow’s resume is the sponsorship of a scholarship in his name at the Frederick S. Pardee RAND Graduate School in Santa Monica, California, which RAND bills as “the largest public policy analysis Ph.D. program in the United States.” The Newton M. Minow Scholarship was initially funded with a $150,000 grant from Donald Rumsfeld, a noted torture figure himself.

Minow’s linkage to RAND does not end there. As recently as 2003, he was on the Board of Advisors for RAND’s Public Safety and Justice division. He is one of a small number of individuals in RAND’s “Legacy Circle,” having contributed an estate gift to RAND. According to RAND’s 2006 Annual Report, Minow has donated something between $100,000 and $249,999 to RAND over the years.

Hoffman’s known public linkage to Minow is sparse, but worth noting. He serves with Minow on the advisory board for the Chicago chapter of the American Constitutional Society. (To be fair, H. Candace Gorman, a noted attorney for Guantanamo detainees, is also on the ACS advisory board.)

Hoffman also served as a co-author for an amicus brief for which he represented Minow, and others, as Amici Curiae. The brief was published in January 2015.

According to an article in The New York Times, in 2002, Minow was one of a number of “outside experts” the Bush Administration consulted with on its implementation of military commissions. The Times described Minow as a “longtime friend of Mr. Rumsfeld.”

Rumsfeld led the Department of Defense at a time it was implementing torture at Guantanamo and in Iraq and Afghanistan. He personally approved “use of ‘stress positions,’ the removal of clothing, the use of dogs, and isolation and sensory deprivation” on detainees. Many forms of torture were countenanced under Rumsfeld, including water torture. Numerous lawsuits have been filed to hold the former Bush administration figure accountable.

In a request for comment from APA, Public Communications Executive Director Rhea Farberman did not respond to a direct question about foreknowledge regarding any link between Hoffman and Minow. In an email, she said only, “APA has complete confidence that Mr. Hoffman is conducting his review in a thorough and fully independent manner.”

But as we shall see, soon after accepting APA’s charge as “independent” reviewer, Hoffman was discussing the project with Newton Minow.

Hoffman Responds

I asked David Hoffman to further explain his contacts with Minow. He replied via email.

As you may know, Newt Minow was FCC Chairman under JFK and gave the famous “TV as a vast wasteland” speech in 1961. At 89 years old, he remains a prominent civic and community figure in Chicago. I had heard of Newt Minow but had not met him before I joined Sidley in 2011. I speak with him from time to time, but not frequently, and do not socialize with him.

As regards possible contact with Minow on the amicus brief noted above, Hoffman explained that Minow “was one of the former governments [sic] officials and public interest groups who were the listed amici in the matter,” and Minow did not work on the brief.

Even more specifically, Hoffman explained, “Mr. Minow is not working on the APA matter, and I have never worked on a matter with him.”

Still, soon after Hoffman took the job to head the APA-initiated review into the charges of collusion with the CIA, raised by James Risen and others, Hoffman did discuss the matter with his firm’s senior counsel:

Shortly after the public announcement by APA in November 2014 that I had been engaged to conduct an independent investigation in this matter, I saw Mr. Minow and told him about this new engagement. At the time, I did not know that he had been affiliated with the Rand Corp. I have not had any contact with Mr. Minow about the matter since then.

Hoffman added, “In response to your inquiry, I looked up when Mr. Minow was chairman of Rand, and I see that it was 44 years ago (1970-71). I do not believe that Mr. Minow’s past affiliation with Rand creates a conflict of interest for us in this matter.”

Indeed, Minow was Chair of the Board of Trustees at RAND at the time the Pentagon Papers were released by former RAND researcher Daniel Ellsberg. A RAND history of the period describes the Pentagon Papers leak as sending RAND management into “a tailspin.” The government took away RAND’s security clearance, and it was Minow who led the campaign to get it back, and make the necessary changes to policy and personnel to restore the think-tank back to the government’s good graces.

But Minow’s contribution to RAND did not end there. As noted above, he served on RAND advisory boards until the 2000s. While he was Chair of RAND’s Board of Trustees as far back as the early 1970s, Minow was a member of the Board almost continuously from 1965-1997. As recently as 2007, he was an “advisory trustee” to the organization.

I also asked Hoffman that, given Minow’s close relationship with Donald Rumsfeld, Hoffman had any contact with George W. Bush’s former Secretary of Defense. Hoffman stated flatly, “I have never met or spoken with Donald Rumsfeld.”

In a follow-up email, I asked Hoffman to elaborate more on the substance of his conversation with Minow about the APA review. Hoffman has not replied.

Minow is not the only person with links to RAND working in the Chicago Sidley Austin office. Another partner in the firm, Anne E. Rea, serves on the RAND Institute for Civil Justice Board of Overseers. In 2014, Rea gifted RAND with something between $25,000 and $49,999. (The same year Minow is listed as donating between $1,000 and $4,999.)

Hoffman said this about Rea, “I know Anne Rea, as she is a partner in Sidley’s Chicago office. We have never worked on a matter together; we have not spoken about the APA matter; and I did not know about any work she has done for the Rand Corp.”

Authors of “President’s Psychologists” report respond

I asked the authors of the report “All the President’s Psychologists” — who told me they did not know about Hoffman’s links to Minow until I told them — to respond to this revelation. Stephen Soldz, Steven Reisner and Nathaniel Raymond sent me an email on May 27:

“We and others have pressed for ‘internal review,’ an independent investigation of APA since our Open Letter in Response to the American Psychological Association Board in 2009 signed by 13 organizations,” Soldz and his colleagues wrote. “Our call was always for the investigatory organization to be selected by independent human rights organizations precisely to avoid the types of potential conflicts of interest you raise. Thus, we were initially concerned when the APA Board itself selected Mr. Hoffman to investigate potential complicity by key staff and elected officials including possible complicity by past and current Board members.”

The email noted that “questions have only escalated” about the investigation when APA Board of Representatives revealed their plan to delay the report’s public release for months of alleged “internal review.” Soldz et al. have alleged such delay violates “the clear precedent that investigations of unethical or criminal behavior by organizations are immediately made public.”

The authors of the critical report told me, “once Mr. Hoffman was selected, we chose to work with his team and have shared whatever information, documents, and opinions they requested…. Our experience with Mr. Hoffman and his team has given us every reason to believe that they are pursuing leads without limitation or constraint…. The proof of their independence will be in the honesty and comprehensiveness of their report.”

Soldz and his co-authors state, “We intend to assess the true independence of the Hoffman team’s work through observing how he accounts for the evidence already in the public domain, including the data we released in our April 30, 2015 report.”

But accounting for “evidence already in the public domain” seems a weak demonstration of investigatory zeal and honesty, much less comprehensiveness. Such accounting has little to do with an investigation qua investigation, but seems to be more about validating previously held beliefs or findings. Such an investigation isn’t expected to dig deeper or make new findings.

Indeed, it seems tendentious to call it an investigation at all, if that is all that is expected from it. The APA has termed only an “internal review of whether there is any factual support” for charges of collusion on torture during the Bush years. Such a “review,” for instance, would not touch on current APA support for psychologists at U.S. detention sites like Guantanamo where Appendix M interrogations take place. Last November, the United Nations stated that some Appendix M techniques created psychosis in prisoners and others amounted to “ill-treatment.”

The APA has been silent about this, even though there is an APA-member initiated referendum that passed some years ago stating APA should tell psychologists not to work at sites that have human rights violations, as determined by organizations such as the United Nations.

Meanwhile, supporters of the “President’s Psychologists” report have launched a petition campaign after news leaked out that the APA was going to take its time in making any release of Hoffman’s findings public.

Such supporters would do as much or more good by asking the authors of “President’s Psychologists” to release the full list of attendees at the 2003 APA-RAND-CIA workshops, which I am under the impression they hold.

[Correction: Stephen Soldz has written to remind me that a list of those attendees was given by him and the co-authors of the President’s Psychologists report to The Intercept. It was disclosed in a link published within an April 2015 article by Cora Currier. The full list and accompanying documentation has been posted online at DocumentCloud. Sadly, Currier never analyzed the document in depth. But most immediately what springs up as important is the presence at these meetings (which included Mitchell, Jessen, and other CIA personnel) of the chief of the FBI’s Behavioral Analysis Unit, Stephen Band, among other FBI personnel. What that means is that the collaboration on interrogation matters was much wider among governmental agencies than previously disclosed.]

In the spirit of complete transparency, the full text of the responses to my inquiries, sent via email by Stephen Soldz, Steven Reisner, Nathaniel Raymond, and David Hoffman, are available at this link.

For a Fair, Just Inquiry

Those who are repelled by the actions of APA and other professional organizations and institutions in regards to the U.S. torture scandal likely will have to look beyond this “independent review” by APA’s contractor. The entire affair is reminiscent of the controversy over the UK torture inquiry that was headed by Sir Peter Gibson.

That inquiry, following on revelations about UK collaboration with the U.S. rendition program and the torture of prisoners like Binyam Mohamed, was announced by the British government. But British human rights groups refused to support this blatant attempt at a whitewash or limited hangout of UK involvement in torture, not least because the man picked to lead the investigation, Peter Gibson, had deep ties himself to the intelligence world. The lack of transparency over procedures was another problem. In 2012, the British government scrapped the investigation, citing conflicts with other investigations.

British human rights groups at the time made clear just what is needed in an inquiry of this sort. They noted that “to comply with basic human rights standards, it is essential that an inquiry, among other things” should be both “independent” and “subject to public scrutiny.”

Amnesty International and eight other UK NGOs wrote: “The persons responsible for and carrying out the inquiry must be fully independent of any institution, agency or person who may be the subject of, or are otherwise involved in, the inquiry.”

As far as I know, Hoffman’s links to the intelligence world are much less dramatic than Gibson’s, and reasonable people may disagree about the degree of conflict of interest involved in his “review” or “investigation.”

Yet, while in the case of the Gibson inquiry, Amnesty and the others were writing about a governmental investigation, the same need for independence and transparency is true for any inquiry, including into the relationships of APA with intelligence or military-linked agencies. It is not any claim upon Mr. Hoffman’s own integrity to say that his links, and that of the firm where he works, to former CIA and RAND officials, not to mention the fact APA chose its own “investigator,” in this instance present conflicts of interest that place into doubt the integrity of his “review,” no matter what results it may claim, or when it is released.