Orwell Award Announcement SusanOhanian.Org Home

NCLB Outrages

2 U.S. Architects of Harsh Tactics in 9/11’s Wake

Ohanian Comment: When I say, "Think of the parallels between the CIA and Reading First," you may roll your eyes. But I invite you to recall the chart I made showing all the people with degrees in psychology, with an emphasis in special education and direct instruction. Scroll down to page 2. The lines on the chart shifted in the move to the web but I think you can get a pretty good idea.

The preponderance of psychology degrees is important because it shows that the people determining how ALL children must be taught reading under NCLB rules had no knowledge of reading or of how the majority of children learn. As with the CIA psychologists detailed below, the business opportunities were plentiful.

The Times says of the psychologists who were paid $1,000 a day, "They had no relevant scholarship; their Ph.D. dissertations were on high blood pressure and family therapy." There was only one teacher included among the Reading First Experts. A teacher, an accountant, and zealots outspoken in their disdain for educators' professional organizations.

Any classroom teacher could enumerate the skills that this group--named Experts by the U. S. Department of Education--lacked. I've spent seven years documenting the deficiencies.

Note on the chart I made seven years ago how many of the "experts" come from the same few states, belong to the same few organizations, and so on. The moral seems to be that when the federal government decides who's Expert, anyone with a different opinion need not apply. And once the government is married to a certain expert opinion, things can quickly get out of hand. . . with tragic results. As the reporter puts it "wrenching conflict over torture, terror and values that seven years later has not run its course."

So, too, in public schools. Seven years later, in public schools as in the CIA, a wrenching conflict of values has not run its course. In fact, in public schools, the Feds are determined to escalate the torture with Race to the Top and the Common Core national standards and testing. Meanwhile, scared to jeopardize their place at the experts' table, the unions and the professional organizations remain silent.

By Scott Shane

WASHINGTON â Jim Mitchell and Bruce Jessen were military retirees and psychologists, on the lookout for business opportunities. They found an excellent customer in the Central Intelligence Agency, where in 2002 they became the architects of the most important interrogation program in the history of American counterterrorism.

They had never carried out a real interrogation, only mock sessions in the military training they had overseen. They had no relevant scholarship; their Ph.D. dissertations were on high blood pressure and family therapy. They had no language skills and no expertise on Al Qaeda.

But they had psychology credentials and an intimate knowledge of a brutal treatment regimen used decades ago by Chinese Communists. For an administration eager to get tough on those who had killed 3,000 Americans, that was enough.

So "Doc Mitchell" and "Doc Jessen," as they had been known in the Air Force, helped lead the United States into a wrenching conflict over torture, terror and values that seven years later has not run its course.

Dr. Mitchell, with a sonorous Southern accent and the sometimes overbearing confidence of a self-made man, was a former Air Force explosives expert and a natural salesman. Dr. Jessen, raised on an Idaho potato farm, joined his Air Force colleague to build a thriving business that made millions of dollars selling interrogation and training services to the C.I.A.

Seven months after President Obama ordered the C.I.A. interrogation program closed, its fallout still commands attention. In the next few weeks, Attorney General Eric H. Holder Jr. is expected to decide whether to begin a criminal torture investigation, in which the psychologistsâ role is likely to come under scrutiny. The Justice Department ethics office is expected to complete a report on the lawyers who pronounced the methods legal. And the C.I.A. will soon release a highly critical 2004 report on the program by the agencyâs inspector general.

Col. Steven M. Kleinman, an Air Force interrogator and intelligence officer who knows Dr. Mitchell and Dr. Jessen, said he thought loyalty to their country in the panicky wake of the Sept. 11 attacks prompted their excursion into interrogation. He said the result was a tragedy for the country, and for them.

"I feel their primary motivation was they thought they had skills and insights that would make the nation safer," Colonel Kleinman said. "But good persons in extreme circumstances can do horrific things."

For the C.I.A., as well as for the gray-goateed Dr. Mitchell, 58, and the trim, dark-haired Dr. Jessen, 60, the change in administrations has been neck-snapping. For years, President George W. Bush declared the interrogation program lawful and praised it for stopping attacks. Mr. Obama, by contrast, asserted that its brutality rallied recruits for Al Qaeda; called one of the methods, waterboarding, torture; and, in his first visit to the C.I.A., suggested that the interrogation program was among the agency's "mistakes."

The psychologists' subsequent fall from official grace has been as swift as their rise in 2002. Today the offices of Mitchell Jessen and Associates, the lucrative business they operated from a handsome century-old building in downtown Spokane, Wash., sit empty, its C.I.A. contracts abruptly terminated last spring.

With a possible criminal inquiry looming, Dr. Mitchell and Dr. Jessen have retained a well-known defense lawyer, Henry F. Schuelke III. Mr. Schuelke said they would not comment for this article, which is based on dozens of interviews with the doctors' colleagues and present and former government officials.

In a brief e-mail exchange in June, Dr. Mitchell said his nondisclosure agreement with the C.I.A. prevented him from commenting. He suggested that his work had been mischaracterized.

"Ask around," Dr. Mitchell wrote, "and I'm sure you will find all manner of 'experts' who will be willing to make up what you'd like to hear on the spot and unrestrained by reality."

A Career Shift

At the time of the Sept. 11 attacks, Dr. Mitchell had just retired from his last military job, as psychologist to an elite special operations unit in North Carolina. Showing his entrepreneurial streak, he had started a training company called Knowledge Works, which he operated from his new home in Florida, to supplement retirement pay.

But for someone with Dr. Mitchell's background, it was evident that the campaign against Al Qaeda would produce opportunities. He began networking in military and intelligence circles where he had a careerâs worth of connections.

He had grown up poor in Florida, Dr. Mitchell told friends, and joined the Air Force in 1974, seeking adventure. Stationed in Alaska, he learned the art of disarming bombs and earned bachelor's and master's degrees in psychology.

Robert J. Madigan, a psychology professor at the University of Alaska who had worked closely with him, remembered Dr. Mitchell stopping by years later. He had completed his doctorate at the University of South Florida in 1986, comparing diet and exercise in controlling hypertension, and was working for the Air Force in Spokane.

"I remember him saying they were preparing people for intense interrogations," Dr. Madigan said.

Military survival training was expanded after the Korean War, when false confessions by American prisoners led to sensational charges of communist "brainwashing." Military officials decided that giving service members a taste of Chinese-style interrogation would prepare them to withstand its agony.

Air Force survival training was consolidated in 1966 at Fairchild Air Force Base in the parched hills outside Spokane. The name of the training, Survival, Evasion, Resistance, Escape, or SERE, suggests its breadth: airmen and women learn to live off the land and avoid capture, as well as how to behave if taken prisoner.

In the 1980s, Dr. Jessen became the SERE psychologist at the Air Force Survival School, screening instructors who posed as enemy interrogators at the mock prison camp and making sure rough treatment did not go too far. He had grown up in a Mormon community with a view of Grand Teton, earning a doctorate at Utah State studying "family sculpting," in which patients make physical models of their family to portray emotional relationships.

Dr. Jessen moved in 1988 to the top psychologistâs job at a parallel "graduate school" of survival training, a short drive from the Air Force school. Dr. Mitchell took his place.

The two men became part of what some Defense Department officials called the "resistance mafia," experts on how to resist enemy interrogations. Both lieutenant colonels and both married with children, they took weekend ice-climbing trips together.

While many subordinates considered them brainy and capable leaders, some fellow psychologists were more skeptical. At the annual conference of SERE psychologists, two colleagues recalled, Dr. Mitchell offered lengthy put-downs of presentations that did not suit him.

At the Air Force school, Dr. Mitchell was known for enforcing the safety of interrogations; it might surprise his later critics to learn that he eliminated a tactic called "manhandling" after it produced a spate of neck injuries, a colleague said.

At the SERE graduate school, Dr. Jessen is remembered for an unusual job switch, from supervising psychologist to mock enemy interrogator.

Dr. Jessen became so aggressive in that role that colleagues intervened to rein him in, showing him videotape of his "pretty scary" performance, another official recalled.

Always, former and current SERE officials say, it is understood that the training mimics the methods of unscrupulous foes.

Mark Mays, the first psychologist at the Air Force school, said that to make the fake prison camp realistic, officials consulted American P.O.W.'s who had just returned from harrowing camps in North Vietnam.

"It was clear that this is what we'd expect from our enemies," said Dr. Mays, now a clinical psychologist and lawyer in Spokane. "It was not something I could ever imagine Americans would do."

Start of the Program

In December 2001, a small group of professors and law enforcement and intelligence officers gathered outside Philadelphia at the home of a prominent psychologist, Martin E. P. Seligman, to brainstorm about Muslim extremism. Among them was Dr. Mitchell, who attended with a C.I.A. psychologist, Kirk M. Hubbard.

During a break, Dr. Mitchell introduced himself to Dr. Seligman and said how much he admired the older man's writing on "learned helplessness." Dr. Seligman was so struck by Dr. Mitchell's unreserved praise, he recalled in an interview, that he mentioned it to his wife that night. Later, he said, he was "grieved and horrified" to learn that his work had been cited to justify brutal interrogations.

Dr. Seligman had discovered in the 1960s that dogs that learned they could do nothing to avoid small electric shocks would become listless and simply whine and endure the shocks even after being given a chance to escape.

Helplessness, which later became an influential concept in the treatment of human depression, was also much discussed in military survival training. Instructors tried to stop short of producing helplessness in trainees, since their goal was to strengthen the spirit of service members in enemy hands.

Dr. Mitchell, colleagues said, believed that producing learned helplessness in a Qaeda interrogation subject might ensure that he would comply with his captor's demands. Many experienced interrogators disagreed, asserting that a prisoner so demoralized would say whatever he thought the interrogator expected.

At the C.I.A. in December 2001, Dr. Mitchell's theories were attracting high-level attention. Agency officials asked him to review a Qaeda manual, seized in England, that coached terrorist operatives to resist interrogations. He contacted Dr. Jessen, and the two men wrote the first proposal to turn the enemy's brutal techniques â slaps, stress positions, sleep deprivation, wall-slamming and waterboarding â into an American interrogation program.

By the start of 2002, Dr. Mitchell was consulting with the C.I.A.'s Counterterrorist Center, whose director, Cofer Black, and chief operating officer, Jose A. Rodriguez Jr., were impressed by his combination of visceral toughness and psychological jargon. One person who heard some discussions said Dr. Mitchell gave the C.I.A. officials what they wanted to hear. In this personâs words, Dr. Mitchell suggested that interrogations required "a comparable level of fear and brutality to flying planes into buildings."

By the end of March, when agency operatives captured Abu Zubaydah, initially described as Al Qaedaâs No. 3, the Mitchell-Jessen interrogation plan was ready. At a secret C.I.A. jail in Thailand, as reported in prior news accounts, two F.B.I agents used conventional rapport-building methods to draw vital information from Mr. Zubaydah. Then the C.I.A. team, including Dr. Mitchell, arrived.

With the backing of agency headquarters, Dr. Mitchell ordered Mr. Zubaydah stripped, exposed to cold and blasted with rock music to prevent sleep. Not only the F.B.I. agents but also C.I.A. officers at the scene were uneasy about the harsh treatment. Among those questioning the use of physical pressure, according to one official present, were the Thailand station chief, the officer overseeing the jail, a top interrogator and a top agency psychologist.

Whether they protested to C.I.A. bosses is uncertain, because the voluminous message traffic between headquarters and the Thailand site remains classified. One witness said he believed that "revisionism" in light of the torture controversy had prompted some participants to exaggerate their objections.

As the weeks passed, the senior agency psychologist departed, followed by one F.B.I. agent and then the other. Dr. Mitchell began directing the questioning and occasionally speaking directly to Mr. Zubaydah, one official said.

In late July 2002, Dr. Jessen joined his partner in Thailand. On Aug. 1, the Justice Department completed a formal legal opinion authorizing the SERE methods, and the psychologists turned up the pressure. Over about two weeks, Mr. Zubaydah was confined in a box, slammed into the wall and waterboarded 83 times.

The brutal treatment stopped only after Dr. Mitchell and Dr. Jessen themselves decided that Mr. Zubaydah had no more information to give up. Higher-ups from headquarters arrived and watched one more waterboarding before agreeing that the treatment could stop, according to a Justice Department legal opinion.

Lucrative Work

The Zubaydah case gave reason to question the Mitchell-Jessen plan: the prisoner had given up his most valuable information without coercion.

But top C.I.A. officials made no changes, and the methods would be used on at least 27 more prisoners, including Khalid Shaikh Mohammed, who was waterboarded 183 times.

The business plans of Dr. Mitchell and Dr. Jessen, meanwhile, were working out beautifully. They were paid $1,000 to $2,000 a day apiece, one official said. They had permanent desks in the Counterterrorist Center, and could now claim genuine experience in interrogating high-level Qaeda operatives.

Dr. Mitchell could keep working outside the C.I.A. as well. At the Ritz-Carlton in Maui in October 2003, he was featured at a high-priced seminar for corporations on how to behave if kidnapped. He created new companies, called Wizard Shop, later renamed Mind Science, and What If. His first company, Knowledge Works, was certified by the American Psychological Association in 2004 as a sponsor of continuing professional education. (A.P.A. dropped the certification last year.)

In 2005, the psychologists formed Mitchell Jessen and Associates, with offices in Spokane and Virginia and five additional shareholders, four of them from the militaryâs SERE program. By 2007, the company employed about 60 people, some with impressive résumés, including Deuce Martinez, a lead C.I.A. interrogator of Mr. Mohammed; Roger L. Aldrich, a legendary military survival trainer; and Karen Gardner, a senior training official at the F.B.I. Academy.

The companyâs C.I.A. contracts are classified, but their total was well into the millions of dollars. In 2007 in a suburb of Tampa, Fla., Dr. Mitchell built a house with a swimming pool, now valued at $800,000.

The psychologists' influence remained strong under four C.I.A. directors. In 2006, in fact, when Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and her legal adviser, John B. Bellinger III, pushed back against the C.I.A.'s secret detention program and its methods, the director at the time, Michael V. Hayden, asked Dr. Mitchell and Dr. Jessen to brief State Department officials and persuade them to drop their objections. They were unsuccessful.

By then, the national debate over torture had begun, and it would undo the psychologists' business.

In a statement to employees on April 9, Leon E. Panetta, President Obama's C.I.A. director, announced the "decommissioning" of the agencyâs secret jails and repeated a pledge not to use coercion. And there was another item: "No C.I.A. contractors will conduct interrogations."

Agency officials terminated the contracts for Mitchell Jessen and Associates, and the psychologistsâ lucrative seven-year ride was over. Within days, the company had vacated its Spokane offices. The phones were disconnected, and at neighboring businesses, no one knew of a forwarding address.

— Scott Shane
New York Times


This site contains copyrighted material the use of which has not always been specifically authorized by the copyright owner. We are making such material available in our efforts to advance understanding of education issues vital to a democracy. We believe this constitutes a 'fair use' of any such copyrighted material as provided for in section 107 of the US Copyright Law. In accordance with Title 17 U.S.C. Section 107, the material on this site is distributed without profit to those who have expressed a prior interest in receiving the included information for research and educational purposes. For more information click here. If you wish to use copyrighted material from this site for purposes of your own that go beyond 'fair use', you must obtain permission from the copyright owner.