2014: Pay Any Price: Greed, Power, and Endless War by James Risen

Pulitzer Prize winning journalist and author James Risen, whom Newsweek called “the finest national security reporter of this generation,” infuriated government intelligence officials with his article about massive, surveillance without a warrant by the National Security Agency (NSA) which The New York Times shelved in 2004 for more than a year, having succumbed to pressure from the White House which claimed that the story “would severely damage national security.”  (Sarah Ellison. What Was New York Times Reporter James Risen’s Seven-Year Legal Battle Really for? Vanity Fair, April, 2015)

Risen took a leave from The Times to write State of War: The Secret History of the CIA and the Bush Administration (Jan. 2006) which became a bestseller. Prior to the book’s publication, The Times finally published the original article, co-authored by Eric Lichtblau, in Dec. 2005; and it won both authors the Pulitzer Prize in 2006.

Risen was subsequently subpoenaed (in 2008) to testify and name the source— a CIA whistleblower—who provided the information about covert surveillance of Americans; Risen refused to testify. Then, in 2010, the Obama Justice Department and re-issued the subpoena and threatened him with prison. The case was a cause célèbre about freedom of the press; it was a seven-year legal battle. (Times Reporter Will Not be Called to Testify in Leak Case…2015)

In his recent book, Pay Any Price: Greed, Power, and Endless War (2014) Risen exposes the “homeland security industrial complex” and the corrupting opportunity the War on Terror provides for corporate profiteering.  His book focuses mainly on stories of profiteering, fraud, incompetence, and mendacity in the vast system of military and intelligence contracting that sprang up in and around Washington after September 11.

“A decade of fear-mongering has brought power and wealth to those who have been most skillful at hyping the terrorist threat. Fear sells. Fear has convinced the White House and Congress to pour hundreds of billions of dollars — more money than anyone knows what to do with — into counterterrorism and homeland security programs, often with little management or oversight, and often to the detriment of the Americans they are supposed to protect. Fear is hard to question. It is central to the financial well-being of countless federal bureaucrats, contractors, subcontractors, consultants, analysts, and pundits. Fear generates funds.”

“The rush to transform the United States from an open society to a walled fortress, prompted by the 9/11 attacks and propelled by billions of dollars spent on homeland security,” as Risen puts it, has left little room for serious public debate about “how best to balance security, civil liberties and freedom of movement. It is no longer much of a debate—security always wins.”

In the latter part of the book, Risen exposes the corrupt process by which the leadership of the American Psychological Association (APA) maneuvered to accommodate the government’s illicit torture policy—within the context of the “war on terror.” The APA gave the CIA and the White House a professional ethics seal of approval; by lending its support for psychologists’ involvement in CIA’s “enhanced interrogation” experiments – which are universally recognized as torture; and by providing professional justification for their involvement – when no other professional medical association would.

Risen’s source for the chapters about the APA collusion is a cache of e-mail correspondence between APA’s leadership and key players in the government’s “enhanced” interrogation program, showing how APA colluded with officials from the CIA, the Pentagon, and the White House to provide professional indemnity for psychologists involved in CIA and military-intelligence interrogations. Alberto Mora, the former General Counsel of the U.S. Navy described “enhanced interrogations” as “at a minimum, cruel and inhuman treatment and, at worst, torture.” (Torturing Democracy. Key Documents archived at the National Security Archive)

When the Justice Department Office of Legal Counsel (OLC) issued its infamous “torture memos” redefining torture, and requiring the presence of healthcare professionals during interrogations, the APA followed suit by providing professional justification for the participation of psychologists during interrogations of enemy combatants to shield the psychologists involved in the government’s covert torture enterprise. APA’s leaders did so by twice amending APA’s professional code of ethics – in 2002 and in 2005 – to be in accord with the OLC memoranda. The APA absolved psychologists of their primary professional ethical obligations to “do no harm.”  The e-mails provide “smoking gun” evidence showing, as Risen states that:

“for the first time the degree to which behavioral science experts from within the government’s national security apparatus played roles in shaping the PENS task force. They show that APA officials were secretly working behind the scenes with CIA and Pentagon officials to discuss how to shape the organization’s position to be supportive of psychologists involved in interrogations – long before the task force was even formed.” (p. 197) (Read Smoking Gun above)

The emails belonged to Scott Gerwehr, a research analyst at the Rand Corp. who was under contract with the CIA who died in a motorcycle accident in 2008. They were written by Susan Brandon, APA’s “Senior Scientist” who became the Assistant Director of Social, Behavioral, and Educational Sciences (SBES) at the White House Office of Science & Technology Policy in the Bush administration; Geoff Mumford, APA’s director of science policy; Kirk Hubbard, the CIA’s chief behavioral scientist.

The e-mails show that these key players maneuvered to lend legitimacy to the government’s illicit torture program, working closely together, secretly organizing meetings for invited attendees whom they carefully selected, bringing together behavior science researchers and psychologist operatives to formulate a coordinated operational national security policy encompassing research on effective surveillance and interrogations techniques.

In the wake of the widely disseminated, shocking Abu Ghraib photographs, a pivotal secret luncheon meeting was convened in July 2004 by Geoff Mumford, APA’s director of science policy; and Stephen Behnke, APA’s ethics director. The APA reached out, as Risen points out, to psychologists inside government intelligence agencies who had a clear vested interest in expanding their turf – “deception detection” – rather than their own membership:

“APA was opening the door to psychologists and other behavioral science experts inside the government’s national security apparatus to provide advice and guidance about how to address the furor over the role of psychologists in torture before the APA went to its own membership. The insiders were being given a chance to influence the APA’s stance before anyone else.” (p. 199)

APA officials and all those involved were fearful of publicly being exposed; they recognized the controversial aspect of this covert alliance and the necessity of maintaining the collaboration secret. The e-mail invitation assured the invited guests that the APA would shield their identities and keep the meeting secret:

“We will not advertise the meeting other than this letter to the individual invitees, that we will not publish or otherwise make public the names of attendees or the substance of our discussions, and that in the meeting we will neither assess nor investigate the behavior of any specific individual or group.” (p. 198)

A among the operatives who attended a series of invitation-only meetings organized by Brandon, Mumford, Hubbard, and Gerwehr, were James Mitchell and Bruce Jessen, the architects of CIA’s torture protocol who had been recommended to the agency by Hubbard. Risen reveals that in 2005, Hubbard left the CIA to work for Mitchell Jessen & Associates which between 2005 and 2009 collected more than $81 million from the CIA. (Read more here, here and here)