No Comment — May 17, 2010, 7:57 am

APA’s Unpredictable Past

Stanford historian Robert Conquest was fond of saying that the Soviet Union was the only nation in human history with a completely unpredictable past. Legions were employed in carefully scrubbing historical accounts to ensure conformity with the leadership’s statements about the present. Figures who fell in various purges were airbrushed from photographs and excised from texts. Voilà, they never existed.

The leadership of the American Psychological Association (APA) has been busy airbrushing its own history recently to remove traces of the undesirable past. Jeff Kaye reports that the APA

has scrubbed the webpage describing “deception scenarios” workshops that were part of a conference it conducted with the CIA and Rand Corporation on July 17-18, 2003. In addition, the APA erased the link to the page, and even all mention of its existence, from another story at its July 2003 Science Policy Insider News website that briefly described the conference.

In May 2007, in an article at Daily Kos, I noted that the workshops were describing “new ways to utilize drugs and sensory bombardment techniques to break down interrogatees.” Quoting from the APA’s description (and note, the link is to an archived version of the webpage; emphasis is added):

-How do we find out if the informant has knowledge of which s/he is not aware?
-How important are differential power and status between witness and officer?
-What pharmacological agents are known to affect apparent truth-telling behavior?….
-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?

There’s little reason to doubt that information gained from the application of these techniques on prisoners held at Guantánamo, Bagram, and CIA black site facilities was shared in some form with the participants at these APA functions, and that feedback was sought to help make the process even more effective, from the CIA’s perspective. Some more detail about this may emerge from the Padilla lawsuit or some of the criminal investigations into torture at Guantánamo or other detention facilities.

An article from the APA’s “Spin” newsletter, which has been retrieved and archived here, also disappeared:

On July 17-18, [2003,] RAND Corp. and the APA hosted a workshop entitled the “Science of Deception: Integration of Practice and Theory” with generous funding from the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA). The workshop provided an opportunity to bring together individuals with a need to understand and use deception in the service of national defense/security with those who investigate the phenomena and mechanisms of deception. Meeting at RAND headquarters in Arlington, VA, the workshop drew together approximately 40 individuals including research psychologists, psychiatrists, neurologists who study various aspects of deception and representatives from the CIA, FBI and Department of Defense with interests in intelligence operations. In addition, representatives from the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy and the Science and Technology Directorate of the Department of Homeland Security were present.

The article specifically credits Susan Brandon, an APA “research scientist,” who worked in the Bush Administration’s White House Office of Social and Behavioral Sciences, where she had dealings with interrogation policy. She now works for the Defense Intelligence Agency’s (DIA), Defense Counterintelligence and Human Intelligence Center (DCHC). Marc Ambinder has just reported that DIA is the actual operator of the notorious Black Jail at Bagram, which continues to be the major source of reports of torture and abuse from prisoners released from U.S. custody in Afghanistan.

With such an aggressively bad memory, APA’s leadership needs a little help from the public in remembering what it’s been up to in the past.

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More from Scott Horton:

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