Emails Reveal Close Relationship Between Psychology Group and CIA

The messages show connections between the American Psychological Association and the psychologists who helped create the architecture of the CIA’s torture program.

Image #: 1652571    An IKONOS satellite image of a facility near Kabul, Afghanistan taken on July 17, 2003. A Washington Post on November 2, 2005 refers to this facility as the largest CIA covert prison in Afghanistan, code-named the Salt Pit.    REUTERS/Space Imaging Middle East/HO /Landov

Newly released emails show a close relationship between the American Psychological Association and the psychologists who helped create the architecture of the CIA’s torture program.

One email between CIA psychologist Kirk Hubbard and an executive from the American Psychology Association, or APA, makes a thinly cloaked reference to the role in interrogations of the now-infamous CIA contractors James Mitchell and Bruce Jessen.

“You won’t get any feedback from Mitchell or Jessen. They are doing special things to special people in special places, and generally are not available,” Hubbard wrote in August 2003.

The APA has denied allegations that it cooperated with the Bush administration to modify its professional guidelines for psychologists so that they would be allowed to participate in CIA interrogations. Those charges resurfaced last fall, in a book by New York Times reporter James Risen, Pay Any Price. In November 2014, the organization appointed an outside counsel to investigate the claims in Risen’s book.

Portions of the emails appeared in the book, but they were published today by the Times. A copy of the emails was also provided to The Intercept, along with a report authored by a group of psychologists and human rights researchers. The report alleges that the APA “secretly coordinated” with Bush officials to give the administration the legal cover they believed they needed for the CIA’s interrogation program to continue.

In December, after the Senate Intelligence committee revealed new details about Mitchell and Jessen’s role in the CIA program, the APA gave Reuters a statement that the details were “sickening and reprehensible,” and that the two should be held “fully accountable.”

Yet over 10 years earlier, relations between the CIA and the association seemed close: In 2003, the APA and CIA even cohosted a conference on “The Science of Deception,” which was attended by Hubbard, Mitchell, Jessen and other Bush administration staffers, according to a report on the conference. The topics covered included “research challenges,” such as the reliability of lie-detecting technology, what pharmacological agents were “known to affect apparent truth-telling behavior,” and “how might we overload the system or overwhelm the senses and see how it affects deceptive behaviors?”

In an email, Hubbard groused about his budget for the conference to the APA’s director of science policy, Geoffrey Mumford. “I can’t stay in the hotel with you guys without violating a half dozen regulations,” he writes. “I can spend several million dollars with no questions asked, but if I stay at hotel for $300 bucks I would rank right in there with pedophiles.”

Mumford replies, “have I got a deal for you … as a special promotion for APA members, who also work in CIA Ops AND are willing to share their last names, I will pull that pawltry (poultry?) room fee out of my policy budget and put you up for the night. This is the very least APA can do given the remarkable generosity your agency has shown in supporting the workshop.”

The emails and conference report came from the files of of Scott Gerwehr, a behavioral researcher with ties to the CIA who specialized in “deception detection.” Gerwehr died in a motorcycle crash in 2008, and his exact relationship with the CIA is not clear. But he was copied on many emails that provide a window into a controversial period in the APA’s recent history.

The organization in 2002 amended its ethics code to permit psychologists to follow “governing legal authority” even if it went against other aspects of the code. Then, in 2005, following the first major revelations of detainee abuse in Abu Ghraib and CIA interrogations, the APA convened a special task force, that, while condemning torture, affirmed that psychologists could supervise and conduct research as part of national security interrogations.

Gerwehr was included on email threads discussing a confidential meeting on “ethics and national security” in the summer of 2004, which included APA executives and intelligence officials. The meeting was framed as a response to the “Abu Ghraib prison situation.”

A later email from the APA credits Hubbard and other intelligence officials with getting the 2005 task force “off the ground,” and notes, “your views were well represented.”

Another email says that then-White House science advisor Susan Brandon had been an “observer” for the APA task force and had “helped craft some language related to research” in the task force’s findings. (Brandon is now with the FBI’s high-value detainee interrogation group.)

The APA has since repealed the changes to its ethics code and disavowed the 2005 task force findings. In response to the findings of the new report and the Gerwehr emails, an APA spokeswoman told the Times that there “has never been any coordination between A.P.A. and the Bush administration on how A.P.A. responded to the controversies about the role of psychologists in the interrogations program.”

In an email to The Intercept in October, responding to allegations in Risen’s book about his role in influencing the task force’s position on interrogation, Hubbard said his involvement was limited to the 2004 meeting. “I don’t see anything inappropriate,” he said. “I’m a psychologist, was a member of APA at the time, and a member of the intelligence community. Why not provide input?”

Photo: Reuters/Landov

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