March 27

Psychologists involved in “Interrogation science” & “deception detection” thrive under Obama

Psychologists involved in “interrogation science” and “deception detection” – otherwise recognized as experiments in torture – appear to be thriving under the Obama administration. Most prominent among them is psychologist Susan Brandon, PhD who after 9/11 served as “Senior Scientist” at the American Psychological Association (APA) where she steered much of APA’s scientific outreach to counter-terrorism.

Brandon organized several invitation-only meetings for academic scientists focusing on “deception detection” and “interrogation techniques” with CIA, FBI and Defense intelligence officials. In 2003, an APA news article indicated that Susan Brandon “jointly conceived” the APA/CIA workshops with Scott Gerwehr, a Rand Policy Analyst. After leaving APA, Brandon oversaw funding for research into affect and deception at the National Institutes for Mental Health. In early 2004, Brandon joined the Office of Science and Technology Policy (OSTP) at the White House as Assistant Director for Social, Behavioral, and Educational Sciences, where she was a member of the Committees on Science and Homeland and National Security. She served at the White House until early June 2005, three weeks before the PENS Task Force meeting.(Read more, here, here, and here)

Brandon was one of the “silent observers” at APA’s Psychological Ethics and National Security (PENS) Task Force (2005) described by Task Force member Jean Maria Arrigo as exerting pressure on members to adopt a policy favoring psychologists’ participation in CIA, Guantánamo, and other interrogations. Brandon’s pivotal role in formulating the PENS policy was recognized when she was awarded in 2005, APA’s Presidential Citation in “recognition of her visionary efforts to promote the value of psychological and behavioral sciences as they apply to our counter-terrorism, homeland security, and national security interests.”

Susan Brandon moved seamlessly from the Bush administration to Obama’s
President Obama appointed Brandon to be Chief for Research of the Behavioral Science Research Program at the Defense Intelligence Agency (DoD); after which he appointed her Chief of Research Unit of High Value Detainee Interrogation Group, Department of Justice.

She is also listed as a “Member-At-Large” of the FABBS (Foundation for Advancement of Behavioral and Brain Sciences).  FABBS is an umbrella “coalition of scientific societies that share an interest in advancing the sciences of mind, brain, and behavior.” FABBS is strategically aligned to the APA whose activities which are primarily focused on lobbying on behalf of psychologists in the “behavioral and brain sciences” — in particular psychologists focused on deception detection. (Propaganda and Persuasion: Psychology’s Use in Intelligence, August 2, 2006)

“As part of its advocacy efforts, FABBS continually works for sustained and future funding opportunities for the sciences of mind, brain, and behavior. FABBS advocates for these sciences in a number of ways: working in coalitions; providing Congressional testimony; and Congressional visits.” (Massachusetts Neuropsychological Society)

Throughout her career, Brandon worked on “deception detection” and other matters relevant to interrogations; including in the FBI’s Behavioral Science Unit (BSU); as Assistant Director of Social, Behavioral, and Educational Sciences (SBES) for the White House Office of Science & Technology Policy in the Bush administration; and served as Assistant Director for Social, Behavioral and Educational Sciences for the Bush White House. Brandon was an instrumental member of the Subcommittee of the National Science and Technology Council Committee on Science and Homeland Security.

In the early 2000s, Brandon served as Behavioral and Social Science Principal at MITRE Corporation,   a federally funded “nonprofit” organization that “performs systems engineering and integration work for the Command, Control, Communications, and Intelligence (3CI) systems of the Department of Defense with long-standing relationship with the Air Force. This so-called “nonprofit” company reportedly operates five Federally Funded Research & Development centers (FFRDC) providing technical assistance. According to the Professional Services Council White Paper (2012):

“the limited available government evidence suggests that there is a substantial cost differential between FFRDC support contractors and industry SE&I contractors. In broad terms, the average cost of Aerospace and MITRE “Staff Technical Years” (STE = one year of fully burdened labor) is estimated to be approximately 30-40 percent higher than for-profit SE&I companies. The components of this differential include overhead as well as base compensation. The Aerospace and MITRE FFRDCs have overhead costs far exceeding industry and they have a higher ratio of overhead employees to delivered STEs and they incur and pass to the government other extraordinary costs.”

“Virtually all of the revenue reported by Aerospace Corporation and MITRE in their annual reports is derived from U.S. government contracts or grants for which funds are authorized and appropriated annually. These institutions are exempt from federal income taxes, but receive billions in federal funding under sole-source arrangements for services that can be procured as effectively from the private sector under competitive procedures.”

Subsequently Brandon joined the Defense Intelligence Agency’s (DIA) Counterintelligence Field Activity(CIFA) group which conducted interrogations using “enhanced techniques” parallel to those employed by the CIA. After CIFA was accused of spying on American political groups — as was the CIA — the unit was disbanded and integrated into the DIA’s Counterintelligence and Human Intelligence Center (DCHC). Brandon became Chief for Research in the DCHC Behavioral Science Program.

A report in The Atlantic (2010) indicates that DCHC provides the “intelligence operatives and interrogators…who perform interrogations for a sub-unit of Task Force 714, an elite counter-terrorism brigade inside the ‘black jail’ at Bagram Air Base in Afghanistan.”

According to The Atlantic, interrogations at Bagram have included use of sleep deprivation, sensory deprivation, brutality, and isolation. Interrogators utilize the Army Field Manual’s “restricted” interrogation techniques described in Appendix M. Use of Appendix M techniques on prisoners of war is 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.  (Marc Ambinder. Inside the Secret Interrogation Facility at Bagram, The Atlantic, 2010; Scott Horton. APA’s Unpredictable Past, Harper’s, 2010; Jeffrey Kaye. Obama Interrogation Official Linked to U.S. Mind Control Research, The Public Record, 2010)

In a 2014 list of speakers at an “IACP” conference, Susan E. Brandon is listed as:

Chief of Research for the High Value Detainee Interrogation Group, an multi-agency group formed by Executive Order 13491. She previously served as Chief for Research of the Behavioral Science Research Program at the Defense Intelligence Agency (DIA), which focused on evidence-based methods to support HUMINT and Counterintelligence operations, analyses and investigations. Previously, she was at the National Institutes of Health, the Office of Science and Technology Policy (OSTP), and Visiting Scientist at the American Psychological Association. She spent 15 years as a faculty member of the Department of Psychology (Behavioral Neuroscience) at Yale University, where her primary research interests were the development and evaluation of real-time, computational models of learning and behavior.

“Field Studies” and “Laboratory Experiments”
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 stated purpose of rapport building approach is “truth seeking,” to obtain information.

The publicly accessible descriptions are sketchy and devoid of specifics. There is 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 who were likely to have been given an opportunity to exercise the human right to informed consent to research.

“Towards a Science of Interrogation” Applied Cognitive Psychology (2014)
“Accusatorial And Information-Gathering Interrogation Methods And Their Effects On True And False Confessions: A Meta-Analytic Review” Journal of Experimental Criminology (2014) “Information Gathering Interrogation Approach” (2012)
“Interview and Interrogation Methods and Their Effects on True and False Confessions” (2012)

There is nothing new in the findings of any of these reports about interrogation methods co-authored by Brandon. They corroborate the long-validated evidence showing that the information-gathering approach… increased the number of true but not false confessions” So one might wonder, what possible purpose does this repetitive research serve, other than to provide employment for behavioral psychologists who tinker with coercive interrogation techniques under the cover of the government national security shield.

Information Gathering Interrogation Approach (2012) abstract:
“The interviewing and interrogation of suspects can be particularly important to securing convictions against the guilty and freeing the wrongly accused. There are two general methods of questioning suspects: information-gathering and accusatorial. The information-gathering approach, used in the United Kingdom, New Zealand, Australia, and elsewhere, as more generally in Western Europe, is characterized by rapport-building, truth-seeking, and active listening.

The accusatorial approach, used primarily in the United States and Canada, is characterized by accusation, confrontation, psychological manipulation, and the disallowing of denials. Which method is more effective has become a hotly debated topic as the number of false confessions identified continues to rise.”

The findings: “information-gathering approaches significantly increased true confession rates, but showed no significant increase in the rate of false confessions …. In fact, information-gathering approaches appeared to show a numerical decrease in the rate of false confessions obtained.” (2012)

Interview and Interrogation Methods and Their Effects on True and False Confessions” (2012) abstract  confirmed that: “information-gathering approaches significantly increased true confession rates, but showed no significant increase in the rate of false confessions when compared with a no-tactic control condition. In fact, information-gathering approaches appeared to show a numerical decrease in the rate of false confessions obtained.”

Towards a Science of Interrogation (2014) abstract:
“We conducted a systematic review of the published and unpublished literatures on the interview and interrogation of suspects. Our focus was to examine the impact of accusatorial versus information-gathering approaches on the elicitation of confessions. Two reviews were conducted; one that focused on experimental, laboratory-based study in which the ground truth was known (i.e., known whether the confession is true or false), and one that focused on quasi-experimental, field studies of actual suspects in which the ground truth was unknown.

To be eligible, experimental studies must include 1) at least two distinct interviewing or interrogation styles (e.g., control method and accusatorial) and 2) sufficient data on true and/or false confession outcomes. Field studies must include 1) at least one coded and quantified interviewing/interrogation method; and 2) data on confession outcomes tied to the questioning style. After an exhaustive search, 12 eligible experimental and 5 field studies were located.

Results revealed that the information-gathering approach was more diagnostic in that it increased the number of true but not false confessions. Overall, the number of independent samples was small and thus we consider our findings preliminary.

“Accusatorial And Information-Gathering Interrogation Methods and Their Effects On True And False Confessions: A Meta-Analytic Review” (2014) abstract Results: Field studies revealed that both information-gathering and accusatorial approaches were more likely to elicit a confession when compared with direct questioning methods. However, experimental studies revealed that the information-gathering approach preserved, and in some cases increased, the likelihood of true confessions, while simultaneously reducing the likelihood of false confessions.

Conclusions: The available data support the effectiveness of an information-gathering style of interviewing suspects. Caution is warranted, however, due to the small number of independent samples available for the analysis of both field and experimental studies. Additional research, including the use of quasi-experimental field studies, appears warranted.


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