Smoking Gun on CIA Torture Conspiracy? Human Experimentation Central to EIT Program

photo by johnnyalive via flickr

photo by johnnyalive via flickr

A close reading of the CIA’s Inspector General Report and the Senate Intelligence Committee’s narrative on the Office of Legal Counsel (OLC) torture memos reveals a more detailed picture of the CIA’s involvement in the construction of those documents.

What emerges is consistent with recent charges of CIA experimentation on prisoners, and of the overall experimental quality of the torture program itself.

It also points to a crucial piece of “analysis” by the CIA’s Office of Technical Services, a memo which may or may not include damning medical and psychological evidence of the damaging effects of SERE techniques, and which the IG report maintains was utilized “in substantial part” in the drafting of the August 1, 2002 Bybee memos. If one is looking for a smoking gun in the torture scandal, in my opinion, one doesn’t have to look much further than this.

The quote below is from the April 22, 2009 Senate Intelligence Committee narrative of the Office of Legal Counsel’s opinions on the CIA’s interrogation program. Please keep in mind as you read the quote and the added bolded emphasis, that recent documentation has shown that for years the CIA and Special Operations had researchers studying the effects of SERE training.

Moreover, the research had been published in peer-reviewed journals, in part because the research was also meant to add to the psychiatric community’s understanding of the mechanisms of Post-traumatic Stress Disorder. Some of the research had also been published in the June 2000 edition of Special Warfare, “The Professional Bulletin of the John F. Kennedy Special Warfare Center and School.”

So, keeping this all in mind, consider the following from the Intel Committee’s narrative (emphasis added):

According to CIA records, because the CIA believed that Abu Zubaydah was withholding imminent threat information during the initial interrogation sessions, attorneys from the CIA’s Office of General Counsel met with the Attorney General, the National Security Adviser, the Deputy National Security adviser, the Legal Adviser to the National Security Council, and the Counsel to the President in mid-May 2002 to discuss the possible use of alternative interrogation methods that differed from the traditional methods used by the U.S. military and intelligence community. At this meeting, the CIA proposed particular alternative interrogation methods, including waterboarding.

The CIA’s Office of General Counsel subsequently asked OLC to prepare an opinion about the legality of its proposed techniques. To enable OLC to review the legality of the techniques, the CIA provided OLC with written and oral descriptions of the proposed techniques. The CIA also provided OLC with information about any medical and psychological effects of DoD’s Survival, Evasion, Resistance and Escape (SERE) School, which is a military training program during which military personnel receive counter-interrogation training.

While the fact that the OLC accepted at face value the CIA’s statements regarding the safety or the effects of the interrogation procedures they were proposing is no surprise to anyone who has read the torture memos — and evidence of the unprofessionalism and bias of the memo’s authors — the degree to which the conspiracy (by CIA or OLC, or both) to withhold evidence of the real effects of the “Enhanced Interrogation Techniques” (EITs) by the CIA has never been made more concrete than now.

To my knowledge, we do not have the specific document wherein the CIA provides the “medical and psychological effects” of SERE school. I have been told that this document is still classified. But it seems possible that the CIA did pass on the details of the research that was available to it, including the debilitating effects of SERE techniques, which sent stress hormone levels, according to one research report, “some of the greatest ever documented in humans.” Another report cited “neuroendocrine changes… [that] may have significant implications for subsequent responses to stress.”

One of the authors of these reports, Charles A. Morgan, III, M.D., who has identified himself in certain settings as a “Senior Research Scientist” on the CIA’s Behavioral Science Staff, has criticized my coverage of CIA experiments on the psychological and physiological effects of SERE training upon human subjects. While he could not specify what aspects of this coverage he felt were “inaccurate and misleading,” he did insist:

The research conducted by our research team at the National Center for Post Traumatic Stress Disorder is not, and never has been, conducted for any other purpose than to help us understand the pathophysiology of stress disorders and we might better help in the treatment of veterans.

In making his mea culpa, Dr. Morgan never mentions that some of this research was funded (over $400,000) by the Army and the Office of Naval Research. He doesn’t mention his acquaintance with “great people who do military interrogations.” He also forgets to cite his book contribution, where he states (emphasis added):

The SERE training environment affords the military services the opportunity to collaborate with various other government agencies in exploring old and new techniques in gathering human intelligence.

Of course, he neither confirms nor denies his affiliation with the CIA, an affiliation which I have traced to the CIA’s Science and Technology directorate, through his association (large PDF) with the Intelligence Technology Innovation Center, which is “a research organization under the CIA’s authority” that “answers directly to the CIA’s Science and Technology directorate.”

But most of all, Dr. Morgan’s arrows fall way short of his target, as I have never accused him of personal involvement in the reverse-engineering of SERE techniques for use in the torture program. What is disturbing is his seeming lack of concern over the possiblity that the research he helped conduct was either used to further experiments upon torture victims in the CIA’s clandestine prisons, or contrariwise, was withheld from Office of Legal Counsel lawyers who relied upon CIA advice concerning the effects of techniques derived from the SERE schools.

What is indisputable is that by virtue of his position, Dr. Morgan had access to CIA officials just at the time that another department of the CIA, one to which he is affiliated, was, according to the CIA’s own Office of Inspector General Report (large PDF) involved in vetting the SERE techniques for use in interrogations. The other department was the Office of Technical Services (OTS), part of the CIA’s Science and Technology Directorate. This, by the way, is the same division that was responsible for the MKULTRA experiments of the 1950s and 1960s. From the OIG report:

…CTC [CIA’s Counter-Terrorism Center], with the assistance of the Office of Technical Service (OTS), proposed certain more coercive physical techniques to use on Abu Zubaydah….

CIA’s OTS obtained data on the use of the proposed EITs and their potential long-term psychological effects on detainees. OTS input was based in part on information solicited from a number of psychologists and knowledgeable academics in the area of psychopathology….

OTS also solicited input from DoD/Joint Personnel Recovery Agency (JPRA) regarding techniques used in its SERE training and any subsequent psychological effects on students. DoD/JPRA concluded no long-term psychological effects resulted from use of the EITs, including the most taxing technique, the waterboard, on SERE students. The OTS analysis was used by OGC [DoD’s Office of General Counsel] in evaluating the legality of techniques.

OTS’s solicitation of information on SERE from JPRA elicited some sort of feedback from JPRA, which supposedly told OTS that SERE training caused no long-term effects. The IG Report does not say if this was in the form of a memo and only speaks of OTS’s analysis. In any case, we should not confuse any OTS “analysis” with the information provided by JPRA itself to the Office of General Counsel, which produced a number of memorandum and attachments in late July 2003. Marcy Wheeler has been analyzing the timing of these JPRA items, including the fact that one of these key documents is missing.

The CIA IG Report is relating a story whose emphasis differs from that produced in the narrative of the Senate Armed Services Committee investigation (PDF) into SERE torture. In the latter, JPRA is the main culprit in providing cover for the supposed safety of using SERE techniques. Yet, in the OIG account it looks like the CIA used DOD/JRRA as a cover for the safety of techniques that it knew were in fact harmful from their own analysis of the “data.” Moreover, it was the OTS analysis that was used — “in substantial part” — as the basis of the August 1, 2002 memo approving the “Enhanced Interrogation Techniques” (EITs).

That legal opinion was based, in substantial part, on OTS analysis and the experience and expertise of non-Agency personnel and academics concerning whether long-term psychological effects would result from use of the proposed techniques.

Moreover, the CIA’s Office of Medical Services was frozen out of “the initial analysis of the risk and benefits of EITs,” and not even provided with a copy of the OTS report given to the White House Office of Legal Counsel. Such compartmentalization of information is indicative of a covert operation, such as a Special Access Program (SAP). This SAP would have included personnel in CIA’s CTC, OTS, OGC, and Directorate of Operations, also portions of DOD (JPRA and Special Operations Command), and probably the White House’s OLC, Office of the Vice President, and National Security Council.

It seems highly likely that the CIA report to the OLC on the medical and psychological effects of the SERE school program, mentioned in the Senate Intelligence Committee narrative quote above, is in fact the OTS report, which came from the same CIA directorate to which Dr. Morgan belongs. This does not speak to Morgan’s foreknowledge of what would be used, nor to the amount of his involvement. But it does speak to the likelihood that the government research he conducted (with others) was available and likely used by his associates in the CIA.

To what purpose was this information used? It seems Dr. Morgan has serendipitously given us the answer himself: “exploring old and new techniques in gathering human intelligence.” The CIA appears to have used torture to conduct what Physicians for Human Rights, in a “white paper” (PDF) recently published, called “possible unethical human experimentation, [which] urgently needs to be thoroughly investigated.” The government should declassify the OTS report, and bring the process of investigating the CIA’s role in the torture conspiracy fully into public purview.

This report was originally published on

Jeffrey Kaye, a psychologist living in Northern California and a regular contributor The Public Record, has been blogging at Daily Kos since May 2005, and maintains a personal blog, Invictus. E-mail Mr. Kaye at sfpsych at gmail dot com.

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7 Responses for “Smoking Gun on CIA Torture Conspiracy? Human Experimentation Central to EIT Program”

  1. Jesse Hemingway says:

    We have the Geneva Convention for the protection of military members during legally declared wars. The creation of SERE training would be for only one reason involvement in illegal warfare. It is that simple darling. Yes I was very impressed with the coup d’état that occurred in the 2000 presidential election.

  2. Thomas says:

    I remember reading years ago how the bush administration interrogators had one of the Al Qaeta suspects on an I.V, and they would make the drop cause pain or provide naracotic relief as they saw fit to show their pleasure or displeasure with the answers……

    Upon this reading of the this article… It struck me that Dr. Mangala would find theze ways like his own…

  3. TomC says:

    This artlicle was difficult to read. I’ve never seen a piece with more acronyms.

    A worthy article nonetheless. DOJ should be given free reign to run with anything they find.

    To Jesse, SERE School, invented for the purpose of hardening our personnel (those who stand the greatest risk of capture like our aircraft pilots) against harsh interrogations, has been running for over 30 years. It was not developed to, or intended to train our personnel to commit crimes. The reverse engineering, the spoiling of the system, happened because of the Bush administration’s newly acquired hubris.

  4. Jesse Hemingway says:

    TomC, SERE was initiated in 1955 just about the time the French folded their hand on Indochina. The question is this, if the Geneva Conventions are created to protect military personal in wars; these guidelines of treatment of captured personal clearly do not condone any type of torture of POW’s. So as the French are getting their ass kicked at Dein Bein Phu Eisenhower and Nixon could not resist the opportunity to get involved their. Yet covert involvement would require that American personally would have to illegally enter Indochina. If American personal illegally enter that theater then you can bet your ass they will be tortured if their caught the have no legal protection to be their.

    So Eisenhower being the general he was, he knew, Richard Nixon did not give a fuck about captured Americans in their phony war. So Eisenhower created the SERE training in 1955. Yes many aspects of the SERE training helps our military to surive in adverse condotions but the torture simulations is a goddam indictment that OUR leaders knew they were involved in illegal activities. The torture simulation in SERE was the training to prepare military personal; that they were not protected by the Geneva conventions thus total illegal under the UCMJ and Unconstitutional.

  5. Susana B Christianson says:

    Also well documented in certain circles is the government’s use of the disabled, retarded of both young, middle aged, and elderly years in experimental studies with various types of post traumatic stress, torture, yes even torture, and other types of abuse. There is a secret Senate subcommitee meeting on this subject ongoing. I just hope the Senate exposes such gross misconduct by our supranaturally empowered and entittled military and rogue science research agencies. I pray for a world in which human rights of the vulnerable are truly respected.

  6. Michael says:

    Do you think the experimentation is limited to prisoners?
    How about everyday regular Joe?
    Rorschach test – a.k.a. inkblot test.
    Originally – inkblots were just random shapes.
    But from about 1985 – all test booklets are approved by CIA.
    Why would that be necessary?
    May be the sequence of shapes which are not recognized by the conscious mind; i.e. which affect the sub-concsious directly – is not as random as one would think !!!


  7. Lida Shafaghat says:

    I Have sent a report before , I am the innocent civilian victim of conspiracy , tortured to death alongside with my family In our house in Tehran and now in Dubai. The survival machine is working in the opposit direction , degenerating my body . I have no communication security , there are interferences even while sending this, my e-mail , phone ( landline or mobile ) financial constant damage

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