I. Mr. C — Psychological assistance in recruitment of foreign agents

     I’m a retired army intelligence officer. I worked mostly in technical intelligence analysis. Moving to counterintelligence, and eventually into what we call area intelligence, which is assigned to the CIA. I retired some years ago and I have worked in US business since. My bachelor’s was in government and politics, and then I have a masters in business administration. I’ve just completed all the coursework for my Ph.D. in [another field].

     We particularly wanted to talk with you because you’ve had this experience with field operations. And how things can be different far afield than they are in a detention center.

     Well, I’ve got a couple of experiences that I can draw on. First, in the late ‘80s, I was specifically working on the terrorist problems in the Middle East. So I had a couple of roles that I had to fill. I had to fill one role of recruiting support assets that would support our Special Forces as they were inserted. And the second was to try to infiltrate terrorist organizations.

     However, my hands were quite severely tied. Because when you think about it, for an individual to establish their bona fides with a terrorist organization, they have to embrace the terrorist philosophy, and they have to engage in terrorist activity. And we could not. We were prohibited very specifically from engaging in any illegal activities. So we were not allowed to steal or murder or any of those things that you see on the television sometimes. And along with that, our sources were also not allowed to do that. It was very interesting to try to overcome the hurdle where you could gain access into an organization but not violate any laws.

     How could you know about your sources?

     Well, in sources, you use a lot of psychological techniques. You do remote assessments. As an example, you would use standard psychological assessment tools that you and I might take going into any organization [Myers-Briggs and a variety of other computer assisted “generalist” type reviews where the computer gave a response based on answers to a battery of questions (personal communication, July 28, 2008)]. And I would fill it out on behalf of the individual based on what I think, working with a psychologist. I didn’t want them to know I was filling these things out on their behalf.

     So how would you work with psychologists?

     Well, the psychologist was specifically trained in how to do that sort of remote assessment. He would debrief me. We’d fill it out together. And then he would give his assessment.

     Would these be clinical psychologists?

     Yes. I just always called them “doctor.”  They were a resource. So I worked together with them.

     But the idea is, we would try to understand what the people were doing. Constantly testing the individual to see if they were truthful or lying to us. I would, in an ideal situation I would set traps, more or less, for them to fall into, that if they did something that they weren’t supposed to, then I would find out about it.

     Could you give us some examples?

     Oh, it’s hard to give an example. You would ask them to do something and, based on their response, what they actually did or didn’t do, then you could test whether or not they were being honest in that area. You’d take the information that they gave you, and then you’d validate it against other information. You’d ask them to report on information, potentially that they could never have access to, to see if they came back and gave you an answer. And then if they gave you an answer, you’d have to relook the whole thing. “Well, what is the answer they’ve just given me?” It’s a very intriguing sort of  report.

Mr. C later explained that the psychologist would never have personal contact with the source:

     Because of source identity. In my case, you have to realize I’m running clandestine operations. So I want to limit the number of people who are exposed both ways.


Issue 1:  The need for clinical psychologists to conduct “remote assessments” of foreign agents obviously provides interesting practice and research opportunities. Do civilian ethics codes for practice and research cover such situations?  If not, what additional standards are appropriate?

Issue 2:  Does the validity of remote assessment itself affect the ethics?  Suppose the remote assessment itself has poor validity but the undertaking the process improves the effectiveness of the case officer with agents?

Issue 3:  Does the political context matter to psychological ethics in such assistance to case officers?


Mr. C (pseudonym), Arrigo, Jean Maria, MacMichael, David, & Welsh, Cheryl. (2008, June 29). Psychological assistance in field operations—Conversation with a former clandestine service officer. Meeting for the Psychology and Military Intelligence Casebook (PMIC) on Interrogation Ethics, Herdon, VA. PMIC Case Materials, Intelligence Ethics Collection, Hoover Institution Archives, Stanford University, Stanford, CA. [Audiorecording and transcripts.]  [To be deposited in 2008].