Wednesday, August 1, 2007

MKULTRA Redux: New CIA Scandal Heads for Hearings

Cross-posted at NION and Daily Kos

Last May, I reported on an American Psychological Association (APA) workshop entitled "Science of Deception: Integration of Practice and Theory". It was held in July 2003 at RAND headquarters in Arlington, VA, "with generous funding by the CIA". Geoff Mumford, APA Director of Science was liaison to the CIA for the meeting.

This workshop scandalously included a section that looked at the use of "pharmacological agents... known to affect apparent truth-telling behavior", i.e., so-called truth drugs. It also asked workshop attendees to consider:

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? [emphasis added]

As I wrote then, use of drugs in interrogation and sensory overload techniques are "signal techniques of psychological torture long utilized by the CIA and other intelligence agencies and military around the world".

A Torturer's Tea Party?

Now, according to an important recent article in Vanity Fair, we know that two military psychologists, on contract to the CIA, and implicated in use of torture in U.S. interrogations in Afghanistan and Iraq, attended this "workshop". Also attending were other psychologists, psychiatrists, neurologists, CIA and FBI agents, representatives from the Defense Department, the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy, and the Science and Technology Directorate of the Department of Homeland Security. This must have been some get together!

The author of the Vanity Fair article, Katherine Eban, was interviewed by Amy Goodman on Democracy Now! a few days ago, and Goodman questioned her about the APA/CIA workshop. Eban's tale closely follows my own reporting.

James Elmer Mitchell and Bruce Jessen, who are referred to in the following quote are two former psychologists for the military's Survivial, Evasion, Resistance, Escape or SERE program, training U.S. military to withstand the POW experience. Recent revelations from the Pentagon itself show that SERE psychologists were involved in reverse engineering SERE techniques for use in coercive interrogations for the CIA and military in recent years.

From the Goodman-Eban interview:

AMY GOODMAN: But what didn't happen was a call for a moratorium on military -- psychologists’ involvement in military interrogations. Can you talk about the APA-RAND meeting with these two CIA psychologists, where they spoke?

KATHERINE EBAN: Yeah. The APA-RAND meeting proved to be very important to my reporting, because I was able to obtain the attendance list, which is basically a catalog of the psychologists who are most involved in studying deception and interviewing, which is effectively those who are involved in interrogation policy. And lo and behold, Mitchell and Jessen were on the attendance list.

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.

Eban had more to say in her article:

A key participant said that, before the conference, [Kirk] Hubbard [chief of the C.I.A.'s Research and Analysis Branch] called and warned him not to publicly identify attendees from the C.I.A. or ask them what they do, saying, "These people have jobs where deception and interviewing is very important."

Hubbard, who recently retired from the C.I.A., told me when I called him at his home in Montana that he has "no use for liberals who think we should be soft on terrorists." Asked about the work of Mitchell and Jessen, he was silent for a long time, then said, "I can't tell you anything about that."

"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. Whenever I have asked those who may know even a little about the conference and workshop, they have assured me that nothing sinister necessarily happened there, or that discussions were only "hypothetical", not operational.

Then why the secrecy? I'd be deceptive myself if I didn't admit that I believe I know why. 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 detainees.

Katherine Eban's recent article goes a long way towards understanding what went wrong when Bush, Cheney, Tenet, Gonzales, and Rumsfeld started ordering U.S. forces to start torturing, or as Cheney put it, go to "the dark side". But in concentrating on Jessen and Mitchell, one runs the danger of forgetting that this is only one episode in a long and scary history of torture by the U.S., which was exemplified by the abomination that was MKULTRA, the CIA's mind control program of the 1950s and 60s. In addition, the use of psychologists and the efforts of their official organization, the APA, in assisting the CIA and Pentagon in its research and implementation of coercive interrogation is far greater than is typically known. I wonder what the military psychologists who must have talked to Ms. Eban have to say about the use of sensory deprivation, sleep deprivation, techniques such as "Fear Up Harsh", and the like? Up until now, no one is asking them.

Something very rotten is going on at the heart of American behavioral science, and I'm not talking about scandals now decades old, I'm talking about right now. Along with collaboration with the CIA 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. Other psychologists are struggling to stop the unethical use of psychological expertise in Bush's "war on terror", from Guantanamo to Abu Ghraib and the secret CIA prisons that span Europe to Asia.

Next up... Senate Investigations

Senator Carl Levin is said to have the Senate Armed Services Committee investigating the SERE-CIA-torture connection, and I call on Senator Levin to pay close attention to the July 2003 APA/CIA so-called workshop. (One APA member, who was on a hand-picked APA committee to make policy last year on psychologists and interrogations, turned over her notes on the meeting to Senator Levin after realizing that the committee was stacked with military psychologists, and the proceedings were atypically held in -- what else? -- secrecy.) Only when we get the individuals involved, like Geoff Mumford, Susan Brandon, Kirk Hubbard, and others, in front of a congressional committee, under oath, do we have any chance to find out what this motley crew is really up to.

You can do something about this! Write to Sen. Levin and tell him you want this investigated. Write the APA and tell them you want them to go public about the contents of the workshop. The Pentagon and the CIA have, in the Bush-Cheney era, stepped up the process of integrating intelligence agencies into the organizations of civilian society in a way that hasn't been seen since the Cold War. These are dangerous times.

Write your representatives, write or call Sen. Levin, write or call the APA.

Senator Carl Levin, 269 Russell Office Building, U.S. Senate, Washington, DC 20510-2202

Phone (202) 224-6221, Fax (202) 224-1388

Stephen Behnke, Ph.D., Director, APA Ethics Office, 750 First Street, NE, Washington, DC 20002.

Phone (202) 336-5930 or use APA's toll free number (800) 374-2721, extension 5930, FAX: (202) 336-5997

P.S. For those wondering, the "secrecy" quote in the subhead above is reportedly from Bill Moyers.

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