The two psychologists at the center of the CIA torture report

Today’s Senate Select Committee on intelligence (SSCI) report on CIA’s use of torture in interrogation provides plenty of new details about the two psychologists at the center of the CIA program. But I suspect there is much more coverage about them to come.

But already by 2007 and 2009 there were reports by Katherine Eban (Vanity Fair) and Scott Shane (NYT) on these two PhD credentialed scholars that should give pause to academics everywhere, and raises important questions about the weaponization of knowledge.

In addition, see the discussion in James Risen’s new book Pay any Price. The role and actions of professional academic organizations (such as the APA) on the application of SERE to CIA prisoners “has never before been fully explained” he says (p. 178).

The two psychologists, James Mitchell and Bruce Jessen, get their own main finding in the SSCI report:

#13: Two contract psychologists devised the CIA’s enhanced interrogation techniques and played a central role in the operation, assessments, and management of the CIA’s Detention and Interrogation Program. By 2005, the CIA had overwhelmingly outsourced operations related to the program.
The CIA contracted with two psychologists to develop, operate, and assess its  interrogation operations. The psychologists’ prior experience was at the U.S. Air Force Survival, Evasion, Resistance and Escape (SERE) school. Neither psychologist had any experience as an interrogator, nor did either have specialized knowledge of al-Qa’ida, a background in counterterrorism, or any relevant cultural or linguistic expertise. On the CIA’s behalf, the contract psychologists developed theories of interrogation based on “learned helplessness,”^^ and developed the list of enhanced interrogation techniques that was approved for use against Abu Zubaydah and subsequent CIA detainees. The psychologists personally conducted interrogations of some of the CIA’s most significant detainees using these techniques. They also evaluated whether detainees’ psychological state allowed for the continued use of the CIA’s enhanced interrogation techniques, including some detainees whom
they were themselves interrogating or had interrogated. The psychologists carried out inherently governmental functions, such as acting as liaison between the CIA and foreign intelligence services, assessing the effectiveness of the interrogation program, and participating in the interrogation of detainees in held in foreign government custody.

In 2005, the psychologists formed a company specifically for the purpose of conducting their work with the CIA. Shortly thereafter, the CIA outsourced virtually all aspects of the program. In 2006, the value of the CIA’s base contract with the company formed by the psychologists with all options exercised was in excess of $180 million; the contractors received $81 million prior to the contract’s termination in 2009. In 2007, the CIA provided a multi-year indemnification agreement to protect the company and its employees from legal liability arising out of the program. The CIA has since paid out more than $1 million pursuant to the agreement.

(The reference to “inherently governmental functions” by the way, indicates activities that contractors are not supposed to do at all, by law, in any context.)

As an academic myself, this is the part of the report that comes closest to my day job. And note that these academics did not just assist in the interrogation process, they actually helped define and create it (SSCI fn.138). The report continues that CTC Legal department actually drafted a letter promising them immunity from prosecution for what they were doing (p. 33/59 pdf).

But this is not about two individuals, but rather the larger academic community in which they worked, as well as their national organization, the APA. (For some reason, and rather horse-boltingly too late, Mitchell and Jessen’s names are given pseudonyms in the report, SWIGERT and DUNBAR.)

As academics we bear a special responsibility to be aware of what went down here. Eban:

Mitchell and Jessen, Sifton says, offered a “patina of pseudo-science that made the C.I.A. and military officials think these guys were experts in unlocking the human mind. It’s one thing to say, ‘Take off the gloves.’ It’s another to say there was a science to it. sere came in as the science.”

The use of “scientific credentials in the service of cruel and unlawful practices” harkens back to the Cold War, according to Leonard Rubenstein, executive director of Physicians for Human Rights. Back then, mental-health professionals working with the C.I.A. used hallucinogenic drugs, hypnosis, and extreme sensory deprivation on unwitting subjects to develop mind-control techniques. “We really thought we learned this lesson—that ambition to help national security is no excuse for throwing out ethics and science,” Rubenstein says.

(The reference here is to the MKULTRA program.)

This appeal to scientificity, scholarly expertise and the triumph of belief over evidence that the techniques even work, is a salient lesson for we academics.

Cyber privacy–what it is, and what it isn’t

There has been a lot of chatter recently throwing around the term privacy in ways that are misleading and unhelpful. For example, US Court of Appeals judge Richard Posner recently stated at a cybercrime symposium held at Georgetown:

Much of what passes for the name of privacy is really just trying to conceal the disreputable parts of your conduct,” Posner added. “Privacy is mainly about trying to improve your social and business opportunities by concealing the sorts of bad activities that would cause other people not to want to deal with you.

Posner questioned why smartphone users need legal protections, saying he doesn’t understand what information on smartphones should be shielded from government searches. “If someone drained my cell phone, they would find a picture of my cat, some phone numbers, some email addresses, some email text,” he said. “What’s the big deal?

Even allowing Judge Posner a degree of latitude for rhetorical effect here, these comments border on willful ignorance and dangerous naivete. (Georgetown law prof David Cole called Posner “short-sighted.”) Judge Posner is naive because he assumes zero bad actors in his scenario, which is not the reality of the cyber landscape (and hasn’t been for some time). So-called “active defense” or offensive cyber attacks have been occurring for many years, on all sides (China and the USA are reputedly the most aggressive).

Second, everybody has something to hide. If the judge disagrees he can email me his credit card numbers and passwords along with permission to publish them, or do so himself. (At least he didn’t say “it’s just metadata.”)

Third, privacy has value and can be monetized. I wonder why the judge is willing to give this up without compensation or other controls? He speaks of “draining” his smartphone for example. But by building up a series of geolocations from his smartphone I could gain actionable information from the story it tells. Geolocation and the mobile are the emerging battlegrounds for valorization of social content. Privacy is a business model.

Fourth, privacy is not anonymity. There are ways of credentialing identity without compromising privacy, just as there are ways of providing information in more targeted ways (eg through encryption, an often overlooked but hugely critical aspect of cyberspace). But these may not be available to all, depending on where you dwell in cyberspace. Shane Harris’ @ War is the most credible report on cyber warfare I’ve read for a while and everyone should at least read his final chapter. He envisages safe zones for some, where you have credentials, but that “anonymity and collective security may be incompatible in cyberspace” (p. 226).

As importantly as all these however is that privacy is not a thing or condition, but a practice or process. One does not have privacy but rather one practices privacy, to a greater or lesser degree. If you don’t practice it you don’t get to keep it. If you prefer, privacy is a series of relations. Trust will require some oversight or transparency. At the moment we are in a highly asymmetrical set of relations with government and corporations. They demand great insight into our privacy but provide remarkably little about themselves. This inequality is neither sustainable nor compatible with democracy. The bad faith by the Obama administration in releasing the so-called torture report on enhanced interrogation and rendition (with Sec State Kerry calling Dianne Feinstein on Friday to essentially blame her for any negative outcomes) is just one example.

But above all we should continue the struggle over the corporatization of our privacy. Companies like Google are basically private versions of the NSA. Similar to the way the Hubble space telescope is just a spy satellite turned the other way, so Google is basically an inverted security service. When you think of Prism/Sec 702 of FISA and the secret government “backdoors” think of that blinking cursor in the Google search box.

By extension, cyberspace may be redefining what is sovereignty away from the government nation-state. According to the classic Weberian formulation, those that have a monopoly on violence are sovereign. But it’s clear that cyber warfare is going to be carried out by non-government actors more so than by the government. (Harris particularly has his eyes on the banks as major actors here.) Presently “hacking back” is illegal (eg Sony can’t retaliate for its recent data losses even if it knew who the culprit was). But is that really a sustainable jus in bello? And what about first strike capability or “offensive defense”? These are as, if not more capably carried out by companies such as Mandiant/FireEye, not to mention the grey market of zero-days and other attack vectors. When Eisenhower warned of the military-industrial complex most people hear the “military” part and ignore the “industrial” part.

Ultimately this is not about Judge Posner but of the many who speak like him, and urge us to give up our privacy in the name of security. Perhaps it’s time to ask why it’s people/organizations in positions of security and little oversight who are so quick to ask others to give up their privacy so they can exploit it.

Call for Papers: Power and Space in the Drone Age – Neuchâtel, 27-28 August 2015


Reblogged from Stuart Elden’s page. Call for papers to Power and Space in the Drone Age, to be held next August in Neuchatel, Switzerland. Keynote speakers include Stuart, Pete Adey, Ian Shaw, Ole Jensen and myself.

Originally posted on Progressive Geographies:

Call for papers for an interesting conference coming up next year – I’ll be one of the keynote speakers.

Call for Papers: Power and Space in the Drone Age

Two-day international workshop, Institute of Geography, Neuchâtel University, Switzerland
27-28 August 2015
Organizers: Francisco Klauser and Silvana Pedrozo, Institute of Geography, Neuchâtel University

Today, a variety of surveillant technologies that were hardly accessible previously to the public are becoming cheaper and more sophisticated at an exponential rate. This includes drones. In Switzerland, 20,000 drones are currently estimated to be in public and private use. The resulting proliferation of aerial control raises a series of critical questions. These range from the changing regimes of visibility across urban and rural space to the novel dynamics of power, counterpower and resistance implied by contemporary drone developments. In approaching these issues, the workshop places centrally the concepts of space and power. Drones are hereby approached as…

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Present organization of geography in State Department (1946)

A useful organization chart of the organization of geography within the Department of State in 1946, that is, after the OSS had been disbanded and elements of the Research and Analysis (R&A) taken into State Dept.

DSC_0359According to the Org chart, obtained from the archives of the American Geographic Society Library (AGSL) at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee, geography was positioned within the Office of Research Coordination and Liaison (OCL). The OCL chief was William Langer, who had been head of R&A at the OSS. Below him was S[amuel] Whittemore Boggs, Special Advisor on Geography, DoS. Boggs is an interesting character, his publications include a piece for the American Philosophical Society (Phila.) in 1949 on the topic of “mappable knowledge.” Boggs argued that there was a desperate need for better world maps, and that we are largely ignorant of vast areas. (He refers to the “Iron Curtain,” a phrase popularized by Winston Churchill in 1945 referring to the Soviet Union.) Boggs also used the phrase “known ignorance” many years before Rumsfeld’s “known unknowns.” The reason for this, Boggs argues, is that we are entering a condition of “world problems,” and a need for global, rather than local, solutions to problems. (As evidenced by the emergence at this time of the United Nations.)

Other parts of the chart reveal where many former OSS men had gone, and the exact set-up of the maps division (under Otto E. Guthe, who was at DoS during the war. Guthe later went on to be quite senior in the CIA (his papers are at Georgetown).

I believe “IFI” refers to the then-division of International and Functional Intelligence (perhaps someone from State can confirm this). Atwood at first I thought may be Walter Wallace Atwood (dec’d 1949) who was in the OSS, and more famously is the founder of the Clark geography department, and president of that institution. (His papers are at Clark, which I need to check over the Orthojector and the ATCOROB device). But actually I believe it is a Rollin S. Atwood, as revealed in this CIA “Directory of Intelligence Personnel” that someone has kindly got under FOIA.

Also notice Robert Voskuil, ex-OSS (including time at the London office), and chief of the Cartography branch at State. Wilson is Leonard S. Wilson (again, former OSS) and well-known cartographer.

Politics of the poppy

Poppy in Poilly, near Reims, France, 2009. Photo by author.

On Remembrance Day, here are my reflections from 2011. (I updated some of the links. Also, as you know, this year is the 100th anniversary of the start of the First World War.)

It’s Remembrance Sunday in the UK today. The Queen has laid a wreath at the Cenotaph. In the UK it’s also traditional to purchase a plastic poppy to wear in your lapel.

Why do people do this? As someone said recently, there’s probably as many reasons to display the poppy as there are people who do so. The history of it is given here by the Peace Pledge Union (UK). It’s obviously not an unproblematic symbol, and I like their idea of a white poppy (white for peace).

To display a red poppy is not to be pro-war in today’s context, at least speaking for myself. I do remember as a schoolchild bitterly resenting the peer pressure to buy a poppy from the goody-goodies who came round every year. (There was even a minor class distinction, the rich schoolkids bought one with the leaf cluster.)

However, today I display red poppies having read a little about WWI and the huge loss of life that occurred, and having visited some of the sites in northern France, such as Verdun where the fighting took place. When I display it, I am doing so in an act of remembrance, the “work of mourning.”

Since my work academically has carried me to WWI and WWII, and now to modern intelligence and its links to the military, I often find myself in a relationship with members of the military, for example as students in my class who ask me for letters of reference to enter officer school. (This is beyond the common experience of being asked to clap soldiers in uniform on planes–I’m still waiting to be asked to clap for nurses, teachers and doctors and let them off first). We also have an ROTC at UK, coincidentally right next to the building housing the Geography Department. And as a geographer, it is hard to deny the discipline’s role in the military-academic complex.

I resolve this, at least for now, by neither seeking out nor ignoring those in uniform on a personal level (trying to treat them the same–this means not clapping them on planes until we also clap others who serve such as school teachers).

How many drones does the US have?

As part of our “Drone Economies” project, last week we traveled to Washington DC to interview various people in government about unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs), otherwise known as remotely piloted aircraft (RPA).

One message that came through is that there is currently a slowdown if not pause in UAV acquisition. Yes, well known systems such as the Predator (MQ-1) have been retired (the DoD only has 228 in inventory as of last summer). But there’s also a pause more generally. So how many drones does the DoD (excluding CIA) possess and what can we expect going forward?

The DoD has over 11,000 UAVs, with the vast majority of these in Groups 1, 2 or 3 (small drones), as this figure illustrates:


DoD spending on UAVs is also decreasing for several reasons. First, their operational deployment in Afghanistan and Iraq is no longer required as the US military withdraws from those regions (even if it is increasing in Syria). Second, the Predator and its big brother the Reaper are not very good at what the military calls the “A2/AD” environment, or anti-access, aerial denial: contested airspace. Over Afghanistan there is nothing to shoot down the UAVs, but in other environments (eg the infamous “pivot to Asia”) this is a different story.

Here’s a recent spending chart, including R&D as well as procurement:


(PB = President’s Budget, OCO = overseas contingency operations, ie wars).

It would be worthwhile going through the recent DoD budget requests and enacted amounts to update this chart.

What factors would prompt the pause to be alleviated? We heard the same things over and over again:

1. Ability to operate in A2/AD. UAVs with defensive capabilities (might include stealth, armaments or flying at higher levels without the need to descend to take surveillance–as some UAVs currently have to do) are required. Some of this might be to do with the sensors. Several of our interviewees referred to UAVs as “trucks,” to de-emphasize the UAV itself as simply a general purpose transport. It’s what it carries and can do that is important (whether manned or unmanned).

2. Autonomy. Despite their name, UAVs are not really unmanned (including the ground control station [GCS] some UASs require over 100 personnel to operate), and are only cheaper to the extent that they eliminate or vastly reduce the human element.

3. UCAVs. Unmanned combat air vehicles, such as the Northrup-Grumman X-47. The future of this seems less certain. Certainly the Navy is pursuing this at the moment with its UCLASS (Unmanned Carrier Launched Surveillance and Strike) program. But as I understand there has been controversy about the program.

4. The “smalls.” Several of our sources emphasized the small UAVs as the most viable way forward (Groups 1-3). They already comprise most of the UAVs by number (about 10,000) in the DoD inventory.

Despite all this, we were actually in town to talk about commercial uses of UAVs! We’ll be going through our interviews and notes and hopefully writing it up as a paper.

Latest in “Snow-lit”: Shane Harris @War

Here’s an excerpt in what might be called “Snow-lit” or books that are firmly based in the post-Snowden era, not so much analyzing the documents he released, but taking seriously the intelligence, surveillance and security landscape they highlight, and writing for the public.

Shane Harris is national security reporter for the Daily Beast (late of Foreign Policy mag), and this is an excerpt from his latest book, @War: the Rise of the Military-Internet Complex.

How the NSA (Sorta) Won the (Last) Iraq War
In an excerpt from his new book, @War, Daily Beast reporter Shane Harris shows how the NSA went partners with the military in Iraq and changed warfare forever.