In December 2013, I wrote an account of a meeting by famous U.S. psychologist Martin Seligman with James Mitchell only days before the latter flew to Thailand to begin the CIA torture of purported Al Qaeda figure Abu Zubaydah. The account drew upon original reporting by Georgetown University law professor M. Gregg Bloche in his 2011 book, The Hippocratic Oath.
After the article was written, Seligman wrote both Bloche and myself to criticize my article as "entirely fiction." Until recently, that's how the matter stood.
But among the many interesting factual tidbits included in the release of Chicago attorney David H. Hoffman's "independent review" on the American Psychological Association's "Ethics guidelines, National Security Interrogations, and Torture," was an admission by Seligman that the Spring 2002 meeting with Mitchell indeed took place, vindicating Bloche's account and my article.
"So much for 'fiction,'" Bloche wrote in an email to me.
Mitchell's own connection with the CIA torture program has been the subject of analysis by various Congressional investigations (most recently by the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence), various books, articles, and even interviews with Mitchell himself.
I argued in a December 2013 article at The Dissenter/Firedoglake (still available online at FDL's successor website, Shadowproof) that the April 2002 meeting between Seligman, CIA Chief of Behavioral Sciences Staff Kirk Hubbard, James Mitchell, and potentially others, was important, as it came just before Mitchell left to take over the black site interrogation of Abu Zubaydah. It was this interrogation, with its implementation of the CIA's so-called "enhanced interrogation techniques," including waterboarding, that led to the first in a series of Department of Justice memoranda essentially legalizing torture.
Various reports say that Seligman met Mitchell and Jessen twice before, in December 2001 and May 2002. What hasn’t been reported previously was that Seligman also allegedly met with Mitchell literally days before Mitchell and another CIA psychologist, Kirk Hubbard, were called to fly to Thailand, where the CIA was holding a very special “high-value” prisoner, the terribly injured Abu Zubaydah.
While Seligman has discussed his interactions with Mitchell numerous times before (here’s one such link), he never mentioned this other meeting — in late March or early April 2002 — whose timing was so suspicious. Within days, Mitchell arrived in Thailand to take over Zubaydah’s interrogation from FBI agents and institute his “new” version of “enhanced interrogation” that relied on a theory — “learned helplessness” — associated with Seligman himself....
I emailed Seligman to ask him to confirm or deny Bloche’s allegation, and offered him plenty of space in this article to explain himself. I never heard back from him.
But I did hear back from Seligman after the article was published. I published the December 9, 2013 email from Seligman in full as an "update" to the original article:
Dr. Seligman has emailed me this morning with a reply to this article. It states, in full:
“Dr. Kaye: Your allegation is entirely fiction.
“To the best of my knowledge, I have met Mitchell exactly twice. Once at my home in December of 2001, and once at the SERE meeting. There was no other meeting BEFORE or after the SERE meeting.
“Once again, I disapprove of torture. I have never and would never aid or abet it.
Note the precision of his complaint: "exactly twice."
Seligman was evidently furious about the charges I published (taken from Bloche's account). He also wrote to the editor of the Firedoglake/Dissenter blog where it was published, and to Jane Hamsher, the owner and founder of the blog.
But Seligman's account later changed. Here's how the events surrounding the Spring 2002 meeting were described in Hoffman's report. (The footnote numbers refer to emails by Hoffman's team with Seligman, and in one case, an interview with Mitchell himself by Hoffman or Hoffman's associates. See full report for full details - large PDF).
... [CIA psychologist Kirk] Hubbard stated that he, Mitchell, and Jessen met with Seligman in his home to invite him to speak about learned helplessness at the SERE school in Spring 2002.653 As discussed above, Seligman said that he could not recall meeting with Mitchell or Jessen apart from the December 2001 meeting at his home. Rather, Seligman thought that he was invited to speak at the SERE school during the April 2002 meeting with Hubbard and a female lawyer.654 However, after discussing the meeting with Hubbard during the course of the investigation, Seligman "surmise[d]” that there must have been an additional meeting in April with Mitchell and Jessen, and that it must have been at that meeting that he was invited to speak at the JPRA conference in May 2002.655
Kirk Hubbard: Chief of CIA's Behavioral Sciences Staff
Kirk Hubbard is a key figure in the torture scandal. He was ostensibly an employer or agent running Mitchell and Jessen for the CIA (though Mitchell earlier worked for CIA's Office of Technical Services). Hubbard describes himself many times in emails quoted in the Hoffman report as "Chief of the Research & Analysis Branch, Operational Assessment Division, Special Activities Group, CIA." However, on a few other occasions he also refers to himself in emails as "Chief of the Behavioral Sciences Staff at the Central Intelligence Agency."
According to a brief professional biography submitted for his participation in the 2003 APA/RAND Corporation/APA "Science of Deception: Integration of Theory and Practice" workshops, Hubbard spent the 1990s "working for the CIA as an operational psychologist."
In general," Hubbard said, "this involves supporting covert operations in the area of recruiting and handling spies. I conducted cross-cultural psychological assessment for nine years throughout Asia, Africa, Europe, and the Middle East. In 2000, I started a Research & Analysis component within the Operational Assessment Division" [OAD].
According to Hubbard, R&A's work at OAD was focused on "issues such as cross-cultural assessment models (including psychometric and non-psychometric methodology), terrorism and counter-terrorism, detecting deception, motivation and social influence, computer modeling for predicting behavior, and other issues within the realm of the behavioral sciences."
In fact, Hubbard's work with Mitchell and Jessen — and the fact he later joined the latter's company that contracted on interrogations and torture at the CIA's "black site" detention centers — shows he was heavily involved in interrogations work and probably on research on interrogations. "Detecting deception," models for "predicting behavior," "counterterror" are all codewords or euphemisms for work related to interrogation. And when one talks about the CIA and interrogation, it is widely understood now that we are talking about torture.
Failing to Connect the Dots
It is an ancient nostrum that where there is smoke, there is fire. But Hoffman, who my previous research showed had past and somewhat recent associations with top CIA figures George Tenet and Kenneth J. Levit (see here and here), fails to connect the dots on APA and CIA collusion, even as his research adds a number of new "dots" to connect.
In his report, Hoffman and his team couldn't help but see that former top APA officials, including APA ex-presidents Ronald Fox, Joseph Matarazzo, and Martin Seligman "were clearly brought closer to the circle of knowledge through important interactions with Hubbard and Mitchell." Still they said "we did not find evidence that there was a significant link between APA and their interactions or communications with the CIA."
Hoffman's report contains separate sections looking at evidence of CIA/APA connections concerning Joseph Matarazzo, Philip Zimbardo, Martin Seligman, Melvin Gravitz, and yet another former APA president, Robert Sternberg. Yet in each and every case, despite lots of evidence showing connections between all these individuals and contemporary staff at APA and CIA, the individuals in question are found unworthy of further investigation. Other important figures are mentioned, like ex-APA president Ronald Fox, only to be dropped, the significance of his actions left dangling.
Hoffman's own researchers found evidence that Seligman was very important to the CIA's Kirk Hubbard. A March 2004 email from Hubbard to the APA's Geoff Mumford and Susan Brandon plaintively described, "My office director would not even reimburse me for circa $100 bucks for CIA logo t-shirts and ball caps for Marty Seligman's five kids! He's helped out alot over the past four years so I thought that was the least I could do."
In his report, Hoffman seems to accept Seligman and Hubbard's contention that Hubbard's email refers to Hubbard thanking Seligman "only for his involvement in the meetings that have become public knowledge." Indeed, Hoffman contends his research had "not uncovered evidence that Seligman had interactions with the CIA beyond the isolated meetings and lectures in the year after 9/11 that are a matter of public record." (Hoffman report, p. 164)
Yet Hoffman did discover that Seligman had met Hubbard and Mitchell (and it turns out, Bruce Jessen) at a Spring 2002 meeting that Seligman had disavowed. The significance of that lapse of memory, if it was that, is never explored by Hoffman, or is the temporal link between that meeting and Mitchell's abrupt departure to Thailand and an ominous encounter with supposed high-value prisoner Abu Zubaydah, falsely labelled for years as a top Al Qaeda figure.
Most egregious, perhaps, is Hoffman's treatment of Matarazzo, who was himself a member of both Mitchell and Jessen's contracting company and a CIA "ethics" advisory panel (see section below). According to Hoffman, "We did not find any connection between this topic [Matarazzo's role in Mitchell and Jessen's company] and APA actions or decisions about its ethics policies or government interrogation policies or activities, and therefore did not consider this a central part of our investigation. We therefore did not take further steps to determine what Matarazzo’s role was in Mitchell Jessen & Associates."
Here was a key APA and CIA figure at the very heart of the CIA's torture program, who many emails and other documentary evidence showed was involved in numerous interactions with other former and contemporary APA figures. According to Hoffman, it was Matarazzo who introduced Seligman to the CIA's Hubbard, and yet Matarazzo is not deemed "central" to "government interrogation policies or activities"? Matarazzo, who Hoffman documents was on a CIA ethics board staffed by psychologists, and wrote a special document on the ethics of using "sleep deprivation" has nothing to do with "ethics policies"?
Training people to keep things secret
The Hoffman report did add an escape hatch for its authors, in a key caveat to their report findings regarding the CIA (bold emphasis added):
It is a fair question whether important interactions between these very prominent former APA officials also entailed, led to, or were connected to important interactions between APA and CIA. Except for very limited instances, we did not see any evidence of this in our examination of APA emails and other documents, and in our interviews, despite having found a very substantial amount of email and documentary evidence establishing important interactions between APA and government officials in other contexts, as set out above and below. On the one hand, this makes sense, since prominent psychologists who are former APA Presidents and Board members would not necessarily think that their interactions with the CIA about these issues would call for them to contact the APA, unless the CIA had specifically requested something from APA. On the other hand, we keenly recognize that in investigating activities involving the CIA, an agency that trains people to keep things secret for a living, we are especially limited in our ability to determine definitively what occurred, and therefore we are aware that our conclusions can only be based on the evidence available to us. This is especially true when the interactions are between CIA officials and individuals who were not APA officials or employees at the time, since their emails would not necessarily have been within APA’s system. [p. 46]
Indeed, Hoffman's conclusions and emphases appear in part to be an artifact of exactly what information was available to him. This may be appropriate for the role he was in, but even with the facts before him, Hoffman made certain choices of emphasis that were questionable. In addition, the process of gathering information was flawed, as no recordings — and therefore, no reliable transcripts — of his interviews were made, as Hoffman himself told me. All representations of what witnesses said came from notes from investigators, and those notes from interviews have not been released.
Hoffman's conclusions about the CIA's influence appear in part based on assurances given to him by former (?) CIA psychiatrist/researcher Charles Morgan: "CIA contract psychiatrist Andy Morgan told us that he saw no indication that APA officials were read into or received any information about the interrogation program or the interrogation activities of Mitchell, Jessen, or others" [p. 40]. Of course, if Morgan had seen some indication APA officials were "read into" any top secret CIA program, he would not have told Hoffman, or anyone else without a "need to know." In fact, such assurances by a CIA official are meaningless, unless they were given specific permission to speak in that regard by the CIA.
Hoffman, who used to work in a Congressional office that was responsible for intelligence oversight, certainly knows about these kinds of secrecy. His statement seems disingenuous, and possibly deliberately misleading. Yet, Hoffman went out of his way to state that he considered Morgan a "credible source of information," something he did not say about almost anyone else in his investigation.
A full analysis of the interactions of CIA with APA will be matter for a future article. I think it is fair to say that Hoffman and his team minimized the impact and influence of the CIA. Even in a section that briefly summarized the past history of CIA financial support for behavioral research, Hoffman failed to mention a number of key CIA researchers who also had histories as APA presidents, including D.O. Hebb and Harry Harlow. The latter two are important as they supplied key elements to the CIA torture program, namely its emphasis on sensory deprivation, and the use of dependency instilled via fear and induced debility to break prisoners' will.
But because real events in the world, as opposed to say, ideologies, are gray, and not black and white in their effects and implications, the Hoffman report also presents a great deal of value, as for whatever reason, Hoffman saw his role as conducting, within the constraints given to him, a real investigation. As a result, there is much in the report, and even more so in the binders of documentary material gathered by the Hoffman investigation that APA released along with the report, that is valuable to those trying to construct a true history of the U.S. torture program.
CIA's Professional Standards Advisory Committee
One key element is the elucidation of the role of the CIA's Professional Standards Advisory Committee (PSAC). PSAC's members were all high APA officials, past or present, including (either as official members or sometime consultants) former APA presidents Matarazzo and Fox, and CIA psychologists Kirk Hubbard and Mel Gravitz, and possibly also Phil Zimbardo. PSAC invited other psychologists to their meetings.
While the full story behind PSAC's role in interrogations remains to be discovered, Hoffman did mention the fact that two key members of the group, Matarazzo and Gravitz, were involved in interpreting the "ethics" of interrogation techniques.
One PSAC meeting discussed in the report took place on January 25, 2002, and included participation by James Mitchell and Susan Brandon. Mitchell is well-known, if not notorious, but Brandon is much less known, even though today she is a top research official on interrogation in the Obama administration, affiliated with the government's High-value Interrogation Group, also known as the HIG. Hoffman concludes that despite the fact "reasonable people" would have concluded Brandon, and APA associate Geoff Mumford, would have thought Mitchell, Jessen, and other CIA personnel were involved in interrogations at black sites, he finds "denials that they knew about the CIA’s interrogation program to be credible." (Hoffman report, p. 45)
Hoffman states he did not find any "current APA officials like Mumford and Brandon were read into or were aware in any significant way of the CIA’s interrogation program, which was classified, or had any meaningful knowledge of what Mitchell, Jessen, or other CIA personnel involved in interrogations were doing." Of course, such evidence of being "read into" a covert program would not have been available to Hoffman, as the report elsewhere notes.
In 2003, Brandon worked closely with Hubbard and other APA officials, as well as a RAND researcher, Scott Gerwehr, on a workshop sponsored by both APA and CIA that looked into the issue of "deception." The APA later scrubbed references to a workshop to this conference, held at RAND's Virginia headquarters, which discussed ways to "overwhelm the senses" of someone interrogated, and asking, "What pharmacological agents are known to affect apparent truth-telling behavior?"
Hoffman, almost teasingly, let the significance of such topics go unexamined.
The Hoffman report states, "Hubbard said that his work within OAD had absolutely no connection to interrogations, and that OAD was totally separate from the CIA’s Counterterrorism Center (“CTC”).613 Hubbard was aware of only two individuals in OAD who had any involvement in interrogations: Mike McConnell, an operational psychologist in a different branch of OAD, and Judy Philipson,614 who did work on interrogations before joining Hubbard’s Research and Analysis Branch.615 Hubbard explained that he was introduced to Mitchell and Jessen through McConnell, and that he later introduced Mitchell and Jessen to Jim Cotsana, the Chief of Special Missions within the CTC." (Hoffman report, pp. 157-158)
One thing for sure: both Mitchell and Jessen were more highly connected in the national security community than the press or Congress will admit. Jessen's own 2003 resume included reference to consultations conducted with the CIA, FBI, DoD, Department of State, Department of Homeland Security, the NSA, DIA, and "Allied Nations, Civilian Corporations, State and Private Institutions." One of those private institutions was certainly Tate, Inc., whose chair, David Ayers, was also on the executive board of Mitchell-Jessen and Associates. Jessen also notes he worked as a "counter-terror expert" and a "debriefer" for one or another IC organization. (Jessen's resume is on PDF pages 1345-1349 of Hoffman-APA's Binder 2 material [large PDF]. Note, the third page of Jessen's resume is totally blanked out, without explanation.)
Back in September 2003, Ayers told APA Science Directorate staffer Heather Kelly that Jessen worked for Tate. It was Ayers -- whose company also supplied contract psychologists to the military's SERE program, and possibly for other classified purposes -- who sent APA's Kelly Bruce Jessen's resume, with a suggestion APA might use him as a consultant or resource of some sort at some point. Indeed, Jessen's resume touted his connections with special operations, noting "18 years of experience in all aspects of research, selection, training, clinical intervention, and operations of USG Special Mission Units."
Ayers would become, along with Matarazzo, another member of Mitchell-Jessen's governing board.
The mention of CIA psychologist Judy Philipson above is notable as it brings us full around to the Spring 2002 Seligman meeting with Hubbard and Mitchell. According to Seligman's account to Hoffman's investigators, he met Philipson and another CIA-OAD psychologist, Liz Vogt, at a meeting to discuss "learned helplessness" sometime before the April 2002 meeting with Hubbard and Mitchell. In addition to his meeting with one important and well-linked CIA "operational psychologist," Seligman's new account also adds another important piece of information: Bruce Jessen was also at that April 2002 meeting.
According to Hubbard, Judy Philipson was married to Jonathan Fredman, chief counsel to the CIA's Counter-Terrorism Center. Fredman famously visited Guantanamo in October 2002, informing Gitmo interrogators how to obtain "more license to use more controversial techniques." Even more famously, at the same Guantanamo meeting, according to a set of minutes taken there, Fredman reportedly said, "If the detainee dies you're doing it wrong."
Vogt was also said to be married to another CTC attorney. Was this a coincidence, or were the psychologists acting as messengers, or covert actors, for CTC figures -- happened to be their husbands -- who were involved in the CIA's "enhanced interrogation program"? (Was Vogt actually a psychologist, though? According to this December 2007 article, she was a CIA attorney. Maybe she was both?)
There is much to learn from the diligent work of Hoffman and his investigators. There is also much work to be done to link the dots that these same investigators and Hoffman failed to connect, and construct an alternate narrative of the material he covers. Philipson's meeting with Seligman is yet another link between the CIA and top U.S. psychologist Seligman, the author of the theory of "learned helplessness," used by Mitchell and Jessen and other unnamed CIA officials in the construction of their torture program.
A Dubious Narrative
One recent alternate, if dubious, narrative was recently published (PDF) by those who defend the role of the Department of Defense and APA in relation to the torture scandal, and in particular Hoffman's condemnation of DoD-APA collusion in the construction of APA's Psychological Ethics and National Security, or PENS, task force. This new "report" is self-serving and dubious, but worthy also of its own analysis. The report was authored by Colonel (Ret.) L. Morgan Banks (former chief of the Directorate of Psychological Applications of the U.S. Army Special Operations Command); Colonel (Ret.) Debra L. Dunivin (former Behavioral Science Consultant at Guantanamo); Colonel (Ret.) Larry C. James (former chief psychologist at Guantanamo); and former chief of the APA's practice directorate, Dr. Russ Newman.
Banks, et al., have asked that Hoffman release all his interview notes. It is the only supportable argument they make, as their report retails the same alibis and falsehoods DoD and the U.S. government has used for years to hide abusive interrogations. One key lie concerns DoD's supposed adherence to the Convention Against Torture, while masking the fact that the U.S. Reservations and Understandings to that document eviscerated compliance with it. The latter was in fact a key component of the Bush-era OLC memos that used legalese to legitimate torture. It's no prettier when Banks, Dunivin, James and Newman do it.
Most of what has been published in the mainstream press on the Hoffman report has almost no original analysis, but presents the spin of APA critics who have their own agenda. That agenda is certainly worthwhile, i.e., to turn APA away from being a mere facilitator for the national security state. Already the report has had the effect of making APA change its policy (at least on paper) regarding the participation of psychologists in national security interrogations something now forbidden. Whether or not that will ever be enforced is another battle that is now underway within that organization.
Meanwhile, a number of top psychologists and psychiatrists and other scientists and medical officials have managed to once again slip away from full accountability for their actions during the construction and implementation of the U.S. torture program. Given that the torture program was never completely dismantled, and portions of it remain within the official military manual mandated for use by both the military and the CIA, all of the issues discussed herein remain of top relevance.
The full story is still not out there, but with the publication of the SSCI report and now the Hoffman report and associated materials, we are edging closer.