A much-touted "independent review" initiated by the American Psychological Association (APA) into charges it secretly supported the Bush administration's policy of torture after 9/11 turns out to be led by a man who worked with the CIA's George Tenet and Kenneth J. Levit over twenty years ago. Tenet went on to become Director of the Central Intelligence Agency during the period the CIA initiated a torture and extraordinary rendition program. Levit was Tenet's choice for special counsel at CIA from 1998-2000.
David Hoffman, a Chicago attorney for the international law firm Sidley Austin, was handpicked by APA as an "independent reviewer" to investigate charges in a new book by New York Times writer James Risen that some of the American Psychological Association's (APA) top leadership colluded with the CIA and the U.S. military in the implementation of the Bush Administration's torture program. Hoffman is to report to a "special committee" drawn from APA's Board of Directors.
His Sidley Austin biography states that Hoffman "has conducted and directed many internal investigations involving serious allegations of fraud and corruption, frequently under intense media scrutiny.... His investigative experience in the public and private sectors has ranged from long-term, multi-national federal criminal investigations involving large teams of investigators and many wiretaps, to internal investigations involving senior corporate and political officials, lower-level employees, corporate entities, and others."
In a November 12 press release, APA called Risen's charges "highly charged and very serious." The release stated, "The independent reviewer [Hoffman] will consider and report to the special committee as to whether APA colluded with the Bush administration, CIA or U.S. military to support torture during the war on terror."
In an e-mail exchange, I asked Hoffman to comment on his links to Tenet and Levit when he worked as a Press Secretary and legislative assistant on foreign policy in Sen. David Boren's office. At the time, Boren was director of the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence (SSCI), and George Tenet was SSCI's staff director.
Hoffman replied, "Yes, I worked with George Tenet and Ken Levit when I served on Senator David Boren’s staff over 20 years ago, prior to attending law school, from 1990 to 1992. I was on Senator Boren’s personal staff, as was Mr. Levit, while Mr. Tenet was on the Senate Intelligence Committee staff. Since then, I have not worked with either of them. Over the last ten years, I have seen and spoken with each of them occasionally, probably on a handful of occasions."
I asked Hoffman under what kinds of circumstances he spoke to Tenet and Levit in the past ten years, or whether he felt past associations could produce any kind of bias. Hoffman did not explain the nature of those contacts, except to say they amounted to "limited, occasional contact."
Hoffman wrote, "I appreciate your questions but I can assure you that my knowing Mr. Tenet and Mr. Levit from a job I held 22 years ago – before I was in law school and well before they were at the CIA – and my limited, occasional contact with them since then will have no bearing on how we conduct our review or our willingness to reach particular conclusions about the APA, the CIA, or any entity or individual. I can assure you that our review will be independent and driven solely by the evidence we are able to gather."
One example of Hoffman's work in Boren's office was recounted in a May 9, 1991 article in the Los Angeles Times, which identified Hoffman as a "spokesman for Senate Intelligence Committee Chairman David L. Boren." The article quoted Hoffman as stating Boren's support for the potential nomination of Robert M. Gates as CIA director. Gates, who indeed did serve as CIA Director in the early 1990s, later served as Secretary of Defense under both George W. Bush and Barack Obama, running DoD during nearly half the time Guantanamo has been open as a "war on terror" strategic interrogation and detention center.
Hoffman's resume after leaving Sen. Boren's office has other links worth noting. He followed his Senate job with law school at the University of Chicago, and then clerkships for two conservative judges, U.S. Court of Appeals Judge Dennis Jacobs, and Chief Justice William Rehnquist. Hoffman later went to work as an Assistant U.S. Attorney with the U.S. Attorney’s Office in Chicago under Patrick Fitzgerald, and a stint as Inspector General for the City of Chicago. According to an article in The Hill, in 2010 Hoffman engaged David Axelrod's former media firm, AKPD, in a run for Democratic nominee for the Senate in Illinois. Hoffman lost, but his political career may not be over.
As regards any potential links to APA itself, Hoffman stated, "I have never done any work for or with the APA or any of its affiliated organizations or individuals. And a search shows that Sidley has not done any work for the APA, any affiliated entity, or any individual who is affiliated with the APA in Sidley’s records for at least the last ten years."
None of the press reports thus far, including articles in Science, The Intercept, and Forbes, have mentioned Hoffman's Tenet link. James Risen's article in the New York Times never mentions it. The same is true for statements by either the APA or the Coalition for an Ethical Psychology (CEP), a group of psychologists who have been highly critical of APA's policy of supporting use of psychologists in national security interrogations.
APA itself seemed to be nonplussed by the fact their "independent reviewer" had a past association with the man who would later lead his organization in the implementation of the very torture program the APA is charged with abetting. In an e-mail exchange with Rhea K. Farberman, Executive Director of APA's Public and Member Communications, Farberman said, "Mr. Hoffman was selected after a review process based on his experience as an investigator and in conducting independent reviews. We have full confidence in Mr. Hoffman’s ability to do a thorough and unbiased review."
Farberman said Hoffman was one of two attorneys first considered for the job, and that the "selection process was managed by APA senior staff."
APA is certainly not unaware of the influence of former Sen. David Boren on national security issues. APA's website listing of scholarships, grants and awards includes the David L. Boren Scholarship Program, which is sponsored by the National Security Education Program (NSEP). The National Security Education Board, which administers the Boren scholarship and similarly named fellowship, includes members of the Office of the Director of National Intelligence, Department of Homeland Security, Booz Allen Hamilton, the departments of State, Defense, Energy, and Education, and the CIA (see PDF, p. 8).
The NSEP was established by law in 1991. Sen. Boren authored the bill that created it. According to NSEP's own website, the program is "critical to U.S. national security." Furthermore, it states, "The program is implemented by the Secretary of Defense, who has delegated his authority to the Under Secretary of Defense for Personnel and Readiness."
Hoffman is not known to have any association with the NSEP Boren scholarships or fellowship programs, but the program was a special project of Boren's office while Hoffman worked there.
Actual or Perceived Bias
The unbiased nature of the APA-initiated investigation is called into question not only by the chief investigator's links to the former head of the CIA, with which APA is charged with collusion, but also by the constitution of the APA's "special committee."
According to APA's press release, APA's committee consists of "2014 APA President Dr. Nadine Kaslow, 2015 President- Elect Dr. Susan McDaniel and APA CEO Dr. Norman Anderson. The special committee will be assisted by APA General Counsel Nathalie Gilfoyle."
In a undated response to APA's announcement of its "independent review," CEP issued a public announcement of its concerns about the investigation. First among these was the participation of CEO Anderson. According to the CEP statement, "The allegations in Risen’s book include claims of inappropriate activity by two top APA officials, the Ethics Office and Science Policy Directors. These officials reported directly to Dr. Anderson’s office, and Dr. Anderson had operational responsibility for APA actions during the entire post-9/11 period under review.... it is entirely inappropriate for Dr. Anderson, or any other APA leader who may be a subject of the investigation, to have any involvement, however tangential, in this process."
CEP has called for an investigation of Anderson's office. It also said the APA Special Committee should "include the participation of an equal number of prominent critics of APA policies regarding relations with national security agencies in general and interrogation and detention operations in particular." [Note: Since going to press, I've been told Anderson has since left the APA review committee. He's been replaced by APA Treasurer Bonnie Markham. Markham has her own history supporting the presence of psychologists in national security interrogations, as seen in this transcript from a discussion at the APA 2007 convention.]
But Anderson is not the only person who may or may not have bias on the committee. Both Kaslow and McDaniel have long histories at APA. Dr. Kaslow's mother, Florence Kaslow, was a former president of APA's Family Psychology division, and a past winner of APA's Distinguished Contributions to the International Advancement of Psychology Award. She also founded Division 41 of the APA, the division on Psychology and the Law, which is widely considered the division that concerns itself with forensic psychology. Div. 41 has in the past produced work around controversies in the science of interrogation, such as the production of false confessions.
Would Nadine Kaslow help render a decision that would taint the reputation of APA? One can't know, but without the presence of countervailing forces on the committee, it's hard to imagine Kaslow bucking any trend to cover-up past APA misdeeds.
Last February, Dr. Kaslow reportedly told APA supporters who lost a bid within the organization to ban psychologists from working with military interrogations, that she would work with them to get the proposal reintroduced at last summer's annual APA convention. But the interrogation ban was never reintroduced. (It "lost" in February only because it failed to get 2/3 of the votes needed; instead it got 53%.)
Dr. McDaniel, along with CEO Anderson, are both members of APA's Division 19, the Society for Military Psychology. Division 19 has been a strong supporter of the presence of psychologists at national security interrogations, including at Guantanamo.
As further evidence of potential bias, in 2007 Dr. McDaniel was the co-recipient of the $50,000 Psyche award from the APA-linked American Psychological Foundation (APF) and the Nicholas and Dorothy Cummings Foundation. While there is no indication that Dr. McDaniel would let the award money influence her handling of "highly charged and very serious" charges against APA top personnel, the appearance of bias attaches to her participation by virtue of the large cash award.
The APF Board of Trustees include APA CEO Anderson, as well as psychologists Gerald Koocher, APF Treasurer, and Ronald F. Levant. Both Koocher and Levant were identified in an article by a former APA official Byrant Welch as strong proponents at APA of psychologist participation in interrogations.
According to numerous accounts, including one at the Washington Monthly in January 2007, "in February 2005, Koocher and APA president Ronald Levant led the creation of the blue-ribbon, 10-member Psychological Ethics and National Security (PENS) task force to study the problem" of psychologist's ostensible ethical participation in military and CIA interrogations.
The stacking of the PENS task force with members of the military and intelligence community was the source of later scandal. Not surprisingly, PENS issued a report which supported the continuing presence of psychologists in interrogations. The machinations behind the appointments for the task force forms a central part of the charges of CIA collusion in Risen's book.
An Opaque Review
New York Times writer James Risen made headlines with revelations stemming from his book, Pay Any Price: Greed, Power, and Endless War. Not least of these was a chapter that centered on links between APA officials and members of the Department of Defense and CIA. Risen's central evidence concerns various emails from a former RAND researcher, Scott Gerwehr. Gerwehr died in an motorcycle accident in 2008, but his emails and possibly other documents from his computer were mysteriously obtained by Risen and former Physicians for Human Rights official Nathaniel Raymond. The emails were reportedly turned over to the FBI, who did nothing with them.
Risen has refused thus far to publicly release the emails, so we do not know all the people who may have been involved in the alleged APA collusion. But Risen does name as involved in connivance with CIA and DoD on interrogation policy, Geoff Mumford, former director of Science Policy at APA (now associate executive director, Science Policy); former APA Senior Scientist, and Bush administration science official, Susan Brandon, who is currently Chief of Research for President Obama's High-Value Interrogation Group (HIG); and Stephen Behnke, APA Ethics Office director. (Neither Koocher nor Levant are named in Risen's book.)
The central incidents include a July 2004 email invite, which included top CIA and military psychologists, from Behnke to attend a private meeting to discuss ethical issues for psychologists in the wake of the Abu Ghraib torture revelations.
Behnke wrote: "The purpose of the meeting is to bring together people with an interest in the ethical aspects of national security-related investigations, to identify the important questions, and to discuss how we as a national organization can better assist psychologists and other mental health professionals sort out appropriate from inappropriate uses of psychology." [Risen, James (2014-10-14). Pay Any Price: Greed, Power, and Endless War (p. 198). Houghton Mifflin Harcourt. Kindle Edition.]
Behnke stressed attendance at the meeting would be kept secret. He reportedly wrote that APA wanted to "convey a sensitivity to and appreciation of the important work mental health professionals are doing in the national security arena” (p. 198).
The other primary piece of evidence Risen presents is a July 2005 email from Geoff Mumford to CIA psychologist Kirk Hubbard. According to Risen, who quotes the email: "Mumford thanked Hubbard for helping to influence the outcome of the task force. 'I also wanted to semi-publicly acknowledge your personal contribution... in getting this effort off the ground,” Mumford wrote. 'Your views were well represented by very carefully selected task force members'” (p. 200).
The CEP's statement in response to the APA's announcement of the "independent review" zeroed in on the nature of the APA's alleged collusion.
"The main allegations of APA collusion do not involve the direct promotion of torture," the CEP statement said. "Rather, the central concern targets the access and oversight that APA leaders apparently gave to Bush administration, CIA, and Defense Department officials to shape APA policies in a way that would allow continued psychologist involvement in abuses. That is, the primary issue is potential institutional corruption that served the interests of those promoting the enhanced interrogation program, not direct involvement in that program."
Whatever the involvement, one problem with Risen's book is that it buries the long history of such involvement, a history that the APA itself once owned up to many years ago, as exemplified in this December 1977 article in the APA house organ, APA Monitor. Risen also claims that before the "war on terror," "the U.S. military had a well-earned reputation for the humane treatment of prisoners of war" (p. 168). Apparently Risen never heard, for instance, about the tiger cages at Con Son Island during the Vietnam War, or Project Phoenix.
Everyone, myself included, who writes or works on the controversy around U.S. torture has an agenda of some kind. It's important that the public know what that agenda might be, whether it comes from Jeff Kaye, James Risen, APA, or David Hoffman.