Thursday, October 27, 2016

Classified Science: The Search for 'Truth That Works'

In developments surrounding the intelligence community, Science reports the forming of an "unprecedented" alliance between intel agencies and "the nation's most prestigious scientific body." VIPs at the Office of the Director of National Intelligence (ODNI) reportedly aim to strengthen national security through the use of what they termed an Intelligence Community Studies Board. It will be made up of top social and behavioral scientists. A two-day summit on the venture was recently held.

DNI James R. Clapper
Director of National Intelligence James R. Clapper and staff want to better understand things like when people are lying. Scientists recruited for the project "will help to protect us from armies of snake oil salesmen." Obviously, they're unhappy with results of past attempts to identify deception. 

As a matter of fact, Robert Fein, referred to as "a national security psychologist," described a 2006 ODNI study on interrogation techniques as "disappointing." He should know, he led the projectHow disappointing? He said there were serious flaws and few useful results even after millions of dollars were spent.

"For example," Fein explained, "none of the studies [of deception] involved people who didn't speak English."

I BS you not.

Some scientists expressed concern over the prospect of participating on the board and working with intelligence agencies. Career setbacks are subject to arise due to conspiracy theories resulting from a lack of public trust. Others are no doubt cautious due to the challenges that come with applying their expertise to classified projects in which ethics, competence, adequate peer review and the implementation of the scientific process itself have been called into serious question.    

Additional comment on the board and its purpose was offered to Science by Charles Gaukel of the National Intelligence Council. "We're looking for truth. But we're particularly looking for truth that works," he said.

I still BS you not.


The two-day summit was conducted in DC, where presenters included doctors with decades of intelligence experience. Researchers, psychologists, behavioral specialists and others whose careers are essentially sponsored by agencies such as the CIA made their case for "looking for truth that works." 

While the forming of the Intelligence Community Studies Board may very well be unprecedented in some way or other, the mingling of spies and psychologists is certainly not. Attempts to perfect interrogation techniques and behavior modification - and extremely questionable tactics - have a dark, well documented history. Perhaps first to come to mind would be Project MKULTRA, its sister operations, and the CIA recruitment of such leading academics and medical experts of the mid-20th century as Martin Orne, Harold WolffGeorge Estabrooks and Ewen Cameron, among many more. The projects are now infamous for their exploitation and abuse of involuntary human research subjects.

Camp Delta of Guantanamo Bay
Much more recent times saw turmoil arise when a partnership was once again struck between the CIA and American Psychological Association (APA). The CIA-APA alignment and the interrogation-related activities it undertook at prisons such as Abu Ghraib and Guantanamo Bay were sharply criticized, and in some instances labeled involuntary human experimentation. The physical and psychological responses of prisoners to torture sessions were monitored, studied, and attempted to be maximized.

International courts ruled CIA "extraordinary rendition" programs were in violation of human rights in Italy, Poland, and Macedonia, among other nations. At least 54 countries were reportedly complicit in allowing operation of CIA secret prisons, or "black sites," where prisoners were indefinitely detained and tortured, often without being charged with crimes. In October, 2015, the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) filed a lawsuit against two CIA-contracted psychologists, James Mitchell and John "Bruce" Jessen, whose consulting company was paid some $81 million to design and facilitate the "enhanced interrogation techniques" employed.

Hypnosis and Implications

The use of hypnosis is one of the many ways the intelligence and UFO communities overlap. In spite of all that leading experts such as Elizabeth Loftus reported on the lack of reliability and even potential damage done by implementing hypnosis as a memory enhancer, the UFO community persists in doing so. Those familiar with the work of so-called investigators of alleged alien abduction are well acquainted with popular reliance on hypnotic regression and its induced mental imagery as literal interpretations of objective reality. 

Similar to Loftus, experimental psychologist and memory expert Julia Shaw reports false memories and resulting confessions are surprisingly simple to create. All it takes, her work shows, is a friendly interview environment, mixing incorrect details with some accurate information, and the use of faulty memory enhancing techniques - and people will "remember" and confess to crimes they never committed.

Are such tactics employed by UFO researchers primarily for the purpose of manufacturing extraordinary tales among susceptible subjects? It could quite likely be the case, at least some of the time. But what about the intelligence community? Is it intentionally inducing false memories and confessions to shape an agenda?

The Hoffman Report is a 500-plus page document on national security interrogations and torture compiled by the law offices of Sidley Austin LLP. It was presented to the APA and included information on the case of Navy Petty Officer Daniel King. He was detained from 1999-2001 under suspicion of spying. King was eventually released without charges, but not before being visited by psychologist Michael Gelles who acted as an agent for the Naval Criminal Investigative Service (NCIS). 

The actions of Gelles were questioned during an APA ethics investigation because he arguably undertook dual and conflicting roles, as both a doctor for King and an asset for NCIS. The psychologist defended his position, explaining he was not serving in two capacities, but "assisting NCIS in determining whether or not Petty Officer King was a proper subject for hypnosis," whatever that's supposed to mean exactly.

APA Ethics Committee liaison Elizabeth Swenson described Gelles' actions with King, who was emotionally overwrought from interrogation techniques and sleep deprivation, as "ethically very marginal." She added Gelles was "misleading" and "omitted information that could have really helped [King] about how false memories can be established and solidified."

Gitmo detainees, 2002
It may be noteworthy Gelles maintained his status with NCIS and was appointed in 2002 to the Criminal Investigations Task Force (CITF), where he was deployed to Afghanistan to train interrogators. He was later sent to Guantanamo Bay.

Prominent psychologist Mel Gravitz served on a "Professional Standards Advisory Committee" for the CIA, where he was employed for many years as a contractor. The memory and hypnosis expert declined requests to meet with authors of the Hoffman Report or answer their questions.

This week Miami Herald reporter and veteran Gitmo journalist Carol Rosenberg sued the Pentagon for information it refused to disclose about $340 million in planned upgrades at the facility. Rosenberg filed an FOIA complaint, citing the dissonance between Obama's statements the base will close and the Department of Defense increased investments. The upgrades reportedly include new construction and staff.

"Despite the shrinking prison population, the Obama Administration's stated intent to close the base, and presidential candidate [Hillary] Clinton's support for closing the base, evidence suggests that the level of staffing at Guantanamo is nearing a historic high," the complaint states.

Whatever one may choose to think about covert interrogation techniques, the induction of false confessions, and the actual purposes behind detaining the so-called "worst of the worst" without charges at Guantanamo, one thing should be easy enough to surmise about hypnosis in UFO investigation: There's no place for it in a sincere search for truth. That is, of course, unless you're only looking for truth that works.


  1. Military/intelligence spending is pretty much the only source of federal research funding left since the budget hawks in Congress began their slash and burn tactics several years ago (just talk to anybody hoping to get an NIH grant). So researchers need to partner up with the Pentagon or the intelligence community because there’s tons of money for the never ending, totally bogus and racist “War on Terror” (which in nothing more than a huge trough meant for the greedy snouts of defense and intelligence contractors) but not one red cent for replacing obsolete, collapsing interstate highway bridges or to develop vaccines for emerging potentially pandemic viruses. We have nobody to blame but ourselves because we willingly and eagerly elected these clowns to Congress because they appealed to our basest fears and prejudices. So much for an intelligent electorate . . .

  2. Conducting scientific research under a veil of secrecy is inherently risky because it short-circuits critical quality assurance safeguards. The unfortunate situation you describe appears to be a prime example of a program lacking viable peer review inputs from start to finish. In this case the final outcome was a debacle.

    There is no doubt an advisory panel of National Academy-endorsed experts will be able to provide guidance to channel future scientific work in productive directions. Unfortunately, the challenges ahead involve far more than conducting a productive research program in secret. History suggests the relationship between the various factions on the Intelligence Community Studies Board will be uneasy at best.

    The MK Ultra projects and hypnosis work mentioned in your essay have an interesting connection; both are perverse weaponizations of research information re-purposed by intelligence services. Clearly, the public will never be privy to all that is involved in getting ‘the truth that works.’ However, what has been revealed in public suggests these efforts will entail research with a high probability of transgressing ethical boundaries. In addition, if and when perfected the techniques and technologies developed may prove useful beyond their original scope of operations. These ethical concerns may make it impossible for some civilian researchers to participate.

    In principle the scientific issues are solvable. Perhaps the Intelligence Community Studies Board will both point the research in the proper direction and help draw the ethical guidelines that have been overlooked or violated in previous programs. If not, the Intelligence Community will have to fall back on the standard method of appropriating and adapting research results to serve new goals. Something best done in secret.