August 2009: Obama creates the High-Value Detainee Interrogation Group

Although most Americans mistakenly believe that President Obama ended the use of torture in interrogations, the reality is that he merely shifted the operations from the CIA, created a newly christened agency, but entrusting its research operation to the same individual that President Bush had appointed.  (Read more here, here and here)

The High-Value Detainee Interrogation Group (HIG) whose charter was drawn up April 2010, was established to interrogate terrorism suspects soon after their arrests to extract information, ostensibly to head off unfolding plots and track down accomplices. HIG mainly interrogates people overseas, but the Director of National Intelligence Dennis Blair said in January 2010 that HIG would begin interrogating people in the U.S. as well. President Obama appointed Dr. Susan E. Brandon to be Chief of Research High Value Detainee Interrogation Group.

Brandon was a key APA “Senior Scientist” who helped organize the secret invitation only meetings for top echelon officials of the APA/CIA/Pentagon/ RAND Corp at which “enhanced” interrogation policy and techniques were discussed. Brandon was instrumental in the formulation of the PENS policy explicitly endorsing the participation of psychologist in torture. Brandon was formerly Chief of Research in the Defense Intelligence Agency (DIA), Defense Counterintelligence and Human Intelligence Center (DCHC) Behavioral Sciences Program. Brandon also served as assistant director of Social, Behavioral, and Educational Sciences for the Office of Science and Technology Policy in the George W. Bush White House.

According to a report in The Atlantic, the DIA Counterintelligence Center (DCHC) provided interrogators who used various psychological torture techniques — including mind control, sleep and sensory deprivation, sensory overload, intense pain, and extreme isolation on prisoners held at Bagram airbase in Afghanistan and other “black prisons.” These interrogators also utilize the Army Field Manual’s “restricted” interrogation techniques described in Appendix M. The use of Appendix M techniques on prisoners of war is explicitly prohibited.

These techniques have been condemned by numerous human rights groups because they are tantamount to torture and/or cruel, inhumane and degrading and illegal by domestic and international law. (Ambinder, Harper’s Magazine, May 2010; Horton, The Atlantic, May 2010; Geoffrey Mumford. “Making psychological research a priority for countering terrorism” APA, 2005; Jeffrey Kaye. Obama Interrogation Official Linked to U.S. Mind Control Research, The Public Record, 2010)

On April 5, 2012 a broad agency announcement was posted to the Federal Business Opportunities website. The announcement is designed to elicit “research proposals for behavioral science research to advance the science and practice of intelligence interviewing and interrogation.” These are primarily listed as “laboratory “or “field studies:” These research areas include but are not limited to:

  • Field observations of military and strategic interrogators, intelligence interviewers and debriefers in order to document strategies, methods and outcomes;
  • Surveys and structured interviews of interrogators, intelligence interviewers and debriefers specified by the Government in order to document what these operational personnel think works and does not work and the development of operationally-based best practices which may be later investigated via laboratory or field studies;
  • Development, testing and evaluation of metrics for assessing the efficacies of interrogations, intelligence interviews and debriefs and of the use of particular interrogation, intelligence interview and debrief strategies and methods;
  • Field quasi-experimental studies to evaluate the efficacy of new evidence-based interrogation, intelligence interview and debrief strategies and methods;
  • Laboratory studies to test and/or discover new interrogation, intelligence interview and debrief methods;
  • Laboratory or field studies to assess the validity of evidence-based interviewing, deception detection, and other relevant principles and/or methods across non-U.S. populations both with and without the use of interpreters;
  • Laboratory or field studies on fundamental psychological processes (to include but not be limited to decision-making, emotion, motivation, memory, persuasion, social identities and social development) as these are relevant to interrogations, intelligence interviews and debriefs;
  • Laboratory or field studies of interpersonal processes (e.g., social influence, persuasion, negotiation, conflict resolution and management), with particular attention to cultural and intercultural issues; and
  • Topics considered out of scope for this BAA include the development of technologies for credibility assessment or other performance support aids, methods relying exclusively on case studies, and language training.
    (FBI High Value Detainee Interrogation Group “Advance the Science of Interrogation” Contract Announcement , April 2012)

Since her employment under the Obama administration Brandon has co-authored several articles about interrogation research – some are referred to as “field studies” others as “laboratory experiments.” The stated purpose of the research was to compare the traditional rapport building “information gathering approach” to “accusatorial” interrogation methods. The stated purpose of the “accusatorial” approach is to “obtain a confession;” whereas the rapport building approach is “truth seeking,” to obtain information.

The articles to which her name is penned give no indication where either the “field studies” or the “laboratory experiments” were conducted. Furthermore, no details are provided in the publicly accessible abstracts about the nature or severity of the “accusatory” methods used. The subjects of the experiments were prisoners; some in U.S. prisons, others in unidentified “field” locations. None of these subjects were likely to have been given an opportunity to exercise the human right to informed consent to research.

The reported findings corroborate an existing body of research overwhelmingly demonstrating that coercive interrogations don’t yield valid reliable information, whereas traditional, rapport-building information gathering techniques provide valid information. (Read more here)