Consult with a Social Scientist

 

A Social Science Consultation

October 22, 200880-minute teleconference

Transcribed by Jean Maria Arrigo

Edited and anonymized by Ray Bennett and Consultant


Teleconference Participants:  “Consultant” (anonymized upon request), Jean Maria Arrigo, Ray Bennett, Dan Christie, Martha Davis, Jancis Long, Stephen Soldz


Note:  The text has been streamlined a bit for ease in reading.


Transcript of the Telephone Consultation with a Social Scientist

on Martha Davis’ case narrative“

Recruiting Research Psychologists for National Security Applications”


ARRIGO:  [The usual introduction]

CONSULTANT:  I’m a social psychologist, more recently in political psychology. So, in general, I’m interested in intergroup conflict and intergroup emotions.  I’ve been involved in research on several projects relating to terrorism supported by agencies of the federal government.

DAVIS:  I’m Martha Davis.  I had a clinical practice, which I’ve retired from, but I about 40 or 45 years of research.  I’m a visiting scholar at John Jay College of Criminal Justice.  My research, since the early 90s, was on criminal confessions, specifically behavioral cues to deception. 

This work, including work with homicide detectives, got me very focused on, and interested in, the APA’s interrogation policy.  A couple of years ago I became active in the opposition to the policy.   Recently I did a documentary called, Interrogation Psychologists:  The Making of a Professional Crisis, which is now available on the internet.  I could give you the site for that if you like [http://focusreframed.com/?p=99].

CHRISTIE:  I was Professor of Psychology at Ohio State University for 31 years and retired about a year-and-a-half ago.  I see myself as developmental, political, social, maybe peace psychologist — that might not have been the order.  In my retirement I’ve been enjoying the role of series editor for volumes on peace and social justice.  At present we have ten in the pipeline and five that are in production at the moment.  That’s moving along nicely.  And I think that the work that’s being done here relates well to the books in that series, so that’s, in part, where my interest lies.  And I’m involved internationally in developing graduate programs along those same lines.

CONSULTANT:  Doesn’t sound very retired.

CHRISTIE:  Well, you get that.  It’s a permanent sabbatical.

BENNETT:  In 2006 I retired from the United States Army as a senior interrogator, after 22 years in the field.  I’m involved in this project because of my concern with the direction that interrogation has taken in recent years. 

ARRIGO:  Has anyone else come in on the line?  Jancis?  Leila?

    So, if our guest would like to start and talk to us about whatever you have in mind regarding Martha’s case here on the recruitment process.

CONSULTANT: After 9/11 there were meetings set up by the various security services.  One in particular at the headquarters of the FBI down in Quantico had all these people at the meeting, many academics, and the general tenor of the meeting was: how can the academics help us to develop new sources amongst American Muslims?  Even today there aren’t very many FBI agents who are Muslim or from Muslim origins.  At the time I think they had none.  But anyway, terribly few.  They wanted advice, and they invited people who were social scientists.  Some of the social scientists had done research on Muslim populations of some sort.  A couple of people had been studying Arab Muslims in the Detroit area, even though most of those are actually Christian Arabs.  So the upshot was: how can you help us get sources of information in the Muslim community?  Someone commented that rounding up a thousand or two young male Muslims, without any kind of legal nicety and no recourse to lawyers, many of whom were quickly shipped off for one reason or another on visa violations, which, if they hadn’t been Muslims, would never had been a problem – this roundup was a problem.  This same person suggested that the government was probably going to have trouble developing a community policing model that they had mentioned when they had just rounded up all these people and held them without due process, and that this was not a confidence-inspiring start in developing new sources in the Muslim community.  Well, there was quite a furor about that.  The chairman of the meeting pretty much had to save him from the slings and arrows that resulted from this—

DAVIS:  You mean they found that debatable?

CONSULTANT:  Oh, it was worse than debatable.  It was unconscionable.

DAVIS:   What was unconscionable?

CONSULTANT:  That the federal government was responsible for some malfeasance which was getting in the way of community policing.

SOLDZ:  What year was that?

CONSULTANT:  Spring of 2002.

DAVIS:  Was this the February 2002 Quantico meeting on counterterrorism?

CONSULTANT: It was kind of early in 2002 but I couldn’t swear that —

DAVIS:  I believe that one was cosponsored by the Behavioral Science Unit of the FBI, by the APA, and by the Solomon Asch Institute from U Penn.  Would that be it?

CONSULTANT:  Yes, I think all of that is true.  It sounds like the one,  The chairman at the session was the one who had to save the commenter from the sling and arrows.  He played his cards much closer to his chest.  He didn’t disagree, but he didn’t get himself in trouble.

DAVIS:  You should know that the report of that meeting makes it sound like they were a very enlightened group and that they took that input seriously.

CONSULTANT:  Well, I’ve never seen the report. 

DAVIS:  Jean Maria, I’ll send you the reference to that.  It’s on the Internet as well, if it’s the meeting I’m thinking of.  I say that a little bit exaggerated because, reading the report, you wouldn’t say that was the tenor of the meeting.  They tried to present a very balanced view of the social issues and the sensitivities and the civil liberties issues in this report.

CONSULTANT:  Did they, by George! 

DAVIS:  If it’s the same meeting.

CONSULTANT:  Well, the personnel are correct.

DAVIS:  I was briefly exposed to some of these meetings.  I went to one.  The area that I was involved it was very behavioral, about specific cues and specific behaviors in relation to— It was my impression that the pressure even then, and this was 2004, was on operationalizing, stuff that could be quickly applied.  Maybe that’s not the case for the DHS quite in the same way, although it looked like the type of research the DHS would be interested in was also the very practical, what could be applied, what could be used.  Is that your experience, too?

[Jancis Long comes on the line.]

LONG:  Hello.  I’m Jancis Long.  I’m President of Psychologists for Social Responsibility.  I’m a clinical psychologist, and I’m very interested in the issues of ethics, how one deals with doing harm or tries to negotiate complicated ethical situations.

ARRIGO:  Okay, so we’re on Martha’s operationalization question.

ARRIGO:  What are your relationships to groups like Rand [Corporation] or HumRRO [Human Resources Research Organization]?

CONSULTANT: I keep track of some of the relevant reports from Rand.  They share some databases about terrorist incidents.

DAVIS:  Is some of the research you participate in reviewed by the Institutional Review Board (IRB) at the contracting university, as well as at your university?

CONSULTANT:  Since the project goes through the contracting university, I think their IRB has to agree to it.  But, of course, the individual members of the project have to get the IRB at their respective universities to pass on anything that deals with human subjects, as well -- a not inconsequential barrier to getting things done, to have two levels of IRB to deal with. 

DAVIS:  Could you give an example of how human subjects are used?

CONSULTANT:  Everything from anonymous surveys to interviews in Muslim countries, which can be quite sensitive.

DAVIS:  It’s hard to get information about the role of the IRB in classified projects.

CONSULTANT:  If indeed there is one!

DAVIS:  The most I could find was that in 1996 or 7, President Clinton signed a bill requiring that there be a civilian member on an IRB for classified projects, which implies that there must be IRB for classified projects.  CONSULTANT:  But somebody doing the classified projects at a university, are they going to get the university IRB to pass on it?

DAVIS:  This is the murky area, because some of these projects are army/university projects, or they’re contracts, or they’re solely in the military research units of different sorts.  They seem be a spectrum.  Your censor seems to be primarily university-based.  It’s not classified, but it hooks to the interests of the Department of Homeland Security.  And, what you’re doing, as it gets sensitive, you still are within the purview of the traditional academic setting with the IRB’s.  But there are a number of projects, especially in the detection of deception and these kinds of projects, where they seem to be half university and half military.  It’s just hard to get information on them.  But there are definitely projects which appear to be classified.  For example, we know that they do the research on soldiers getting SERE training.  That must be completely classified, because the work itself must be classified or protected by military rules or something.  So one wonders, are they doing an IRB for the use of SERE soldier students, going through the torture of the SERE training to test how they respond to “stress,” which is their word.

CONSULTANT:  What’s the interrogator got to say about research in the context of SERE training?BENNETT:  Well, I don’t know anything about the research in the context of SERE training.

CONSULTANT:  Have you ever seen any research going on at one of these SERE training places?BENNETT:  I’ve never been to a SERE training place.

CONSULTANT:  I was just talking to an interrogator a week ago, and from that conversation I mistakenly generalized that most of the experienced interrogators had been in some kind of relation with those SERE training sites.

BENNETT:  No problem, but you’re going out on a limb there, because most interrogators — When I was in there were 120 of us, warrant officers, and, of those, I’d say no more than a dozen, 10%, would have had exposure to that particular training.

DAVIS:  And, of course, they had nothing to do with applying the techniques to interrogation.  That came in a small group within Guantanamo, right?

BENNETT:  No, no, that came through a completely different channel, how those SERE techniques ended up at Guantanamo.  Trained interrogators like myself, we’re against all that.  It did not come from interrogators.  Those techniques did not get there from interrogators.

DAVIS:  It got there through SERE psychologists, according to the OIG [Office of the Inspector General] Report and the Senate [Armed Services] Committee [refs needed _____].  They were ordered to apply these SERE techniques, to reverse engineer them to up the ante in Guantanamo.

LONG:  Who decides the questions that are going to be asked in this research?  Is there an order from the government, “We want to find out this, this, and this,” or is there brainstorming among academics what questions ought to be asked?  I just wondered how the research gets framed.

CONSULTANT:  In the beginning, the project was all investigator-initiated research.  More recently it is more shaped by the agencies supporting the research.  This may be a trend to look out for in government-supported research.

DAVIS:  All of the publications in your project are in the public domain?  There’s nothing that has to go to the government as a secret document?

CONSULTANT:  Right.  Anything can be published.

ARRIGO:  Speaking of Martha’s case, it seems very different from the situation of the project you described.  Martha’s experience, and my experience of a kind of sleazy, undercover vetting and invitation — I wonder if you have any insight into that process that she describes: being invited there for one meeting, then being one of the people who was invited to stay for another meeting, held in more sumptuous circumstances, and having the CIA people without name tags and the APA people involved.

DAVIS:  I hope that didn’t sound naive, in the sense that I have no illusions.  Given who they are and what they were doing, there was nothing inappropriate in that sense.  The only thing I thought was inappropriate, and this is debatable, was that I didn’t realize that the first group was funded by the War on Terror money.  The law enforcement group was presented as a general law-enforcement-and-how-psychology-could-help-it meeting.  I only subsequently found out that it was woven into the plan to have meetings with psychologists for — That was a little bit underhanded.  When they asked me to the second one and they said it was Rand and it was over by the Pentagon and everything, I knew enough from my earlier experience in the nineties that they were talking intelligence and it was probably going to be CIA.  I went because I was going to present something that was all in the public domain anyway, and it looked like everybody else was, too.  The thing that got to me though was, knowing my field, seeing what was happening to it, and seeing how the pressure was on the researchers to do what they wanted, to operationalize things way too soon, to push things in a way that —  You can imagine a mechanism for a mobile EEG system on a cap put on somebody’s head, you know, some suspect out at a black site.  This is what it looked like they were pushing for.  I have a feeling that, as I said in the report [my case narrative], this is going to be very selective.  This is going to lead to a lot of highly selective activity, who ends up doing this research.  The people who know the problems with the research and the limits of this are not going to be doing it.  That part feels to me very uncomfortable.  Also, I believe most of this will be classified.  There was already stuff that they were talking about at that meeting, if it wasn’t classified it was proprietary, so that even they couldn’t get some of the information because the people were making products with copyright protection.  It’s a new world.

CONSULTANT:  I think I understand your sense of unease here.  But I’ve got to say I’m still taking a somewhat different perspective.  If they want to have a meeting where they invite a lot of people and then another meeting where they invite fewer people because they’re more interested in this, and I think I can see where they’re going, and they’re going to emphasize the stuff that I think is less good or less well founded, and they’re going to emphasize the researchers who are less thoughtful or less well prepared or less theoretically sophisticated or whatever, then that’s the very place to go.  Because I would want to tell them the story.  I want to tell them my story.  I want to tell them these other things they’re listening to are half-baked and dangerous.  And they can ignore me.

DAVIS:  At the meeting itself?

CONSULTANT:  At the meeting! If I saw one of those coming, I’d actually be more motivated to go than the first one, because I can see that they’re about to go down some bad roads here.  If I got a chance to try to straighten them out, how to think about it better, I feel it would actually be my obligation to go and try to do it.  When they say, “Are you going to do some of this work?”  “No, I’m not, and here’s the reasons I’m not.”

DAVIS:  Right. At the time, it was like a format in which people presented their wares.  “Well, I do this and this and this.”  And they’re looking at it in terms of what’s useful and operational, right?  So it was like auditioning.  Frankly, I didn’t have the moxie and the experience to say, “I’d like to go m____a [58:18] to this whole situation here,” because I was taking it in.  I was saying, what’s going on here?  It was in later reflection I felt, “I think this, this, and this is developing,” and I had no format for talking about that at that point.  I clearly wasn’t going to do — What I do takes hours and hours they didn’t want to take!  I hear what you’re saying.  I think that is true.  And one could do that from the outside as well.

ARRIGO: A question for our guest: wouldn’t your rationale logically lead you to get clearance?CONSULTANT:  No.  Why would I do that?

ARRIGO:  In order to get further —

CONSULTANT:  No!  The only reason to do that is you want to get money that can only go to cleared research.  But I don’t want to do cleared research. 

ARRIGO:  I thought it was a matter of getting in far enough to be able to —

DAVIS:  — to influence.

CONSULTANT:  Yes, it might be faster.  But you’ve got to give away so much on your way in the door.  It’s like the politician who goes to Washington to be an element of change.  Then after 30 years they’re just another part of the problem.  You’ve got to think about that.

DAVIS:  I met a woman at the John Jay conference on September 12 — unfortunately, I didn’t get her name — doing research on interrogation effectiveness, different methods.  She heard my remarks about “you’ve got to be really clear about what’s going to be asked of you,” and she said, “Actually, we’re at the stage where they’re beginning to talk to us as if what we’re going to do is classified.”  She was a younger researcher, and I have a feeling that there is some process that happens — especially if it’s a contract, like you were saying, because contracts are much more demanding and shaping — and I think that she was getting into the contract stage with her research.  Now, at that point I don’t think the person can come in and be the voice that you’re describing.

CONSULTANT:  She could be.  All she has to do is decide ahead of time that she doesn’t want their money.

DAVIS:  Well, then, she just doesn’t do the research and she’s not in on the project.

CONSULTANT:  No, she can do the research.  She just can’t do the research with their money.

DAVIS:  Right, right.  And you don’t think that the money is going to dry up for people who — Maybe I’m being too concrete in my thinking.  It my field it looks like that’s where the money is.  So there’s not going to be a lot of money for people outside of DoD funds.

CONSULTANT:  This isn’t just a problem in the military.  We live in a world where there’s fad and fashion in every discipline.  If you go with the fad, you can get money a lot easier.  People say, “Where’s the money in the social psychology of persuasion?”  Well, it’s in neuropsychology.  It’s putting people in big MRI machines.  No matter what you’re studying, if you can just do it in an MRI, you can get money.  And if you don’t, probably no.  What’s pushing the money in NSF in one direction rather than another is the fad and fashion in the field.  So I have to decide: Do I believe that fMRI, as an investment of my time and effort in using this machine, is this really going to help me learn the things that I’m interested in learning or not?  So I’m saying the issue is much bigger than whether the security is pushing a particular line.  We have these fads in every discipline that I can think of.

ARRIGO:  Can we wrap up here with last questions from people?

CHRISTIE:  I think all of this has been a useful discussion.  In light of what was just said, from Martha, in particular, about influence of the situation on your behavior and how we might expect others to behave, it seems to me that’s a useful exercise.  And our guest’s noting resistance in that context is useful, too.  It’s useful for me to think about options in this context because, in reading what you’ve sent around, Martha, I was taken by the approach that was used and think I would have had reactions very similar to yours.  One question I had in that regard was whether there’s solid evidence of deception by APA staff.  I’m asking that because I think it would be useful to build that kind of evidence in and ask a question about the code of ethics under which APA staff operate.

DAVIS:  To be fair and balanced about it, I think that they didn’t have to talk about that at the first one.  The meeting in itself was appropriate and well attended and well designed.  The fact that the funds came from [____] is a side issue.  What makes me uncomfortable retrospectively, it’s not the first meeting and then the second meeting, which I knew full well what it was about, it’s that the APA has not been forthcoming about what it’s really, really involved in.  This is the point that I make in the documentary.  Some of the things it’s involved in, it’s making policy on without having worked out the ethical ramifications. 

    The most obvious one is the interrogation policy, supporting psychologists’ involvement in interrogations in Guantanamo was an outrageously unthought-out policy.  It was a whole new policy, done in a way that violated all the procedures of the organization.  That’s not just my opinion; that’s the opinion of many old-time ethics chairmen.  They short-circuit everything in the name of developing this new field of national security psychology.  And they’re not up front about that.  One could argue that there are many, many valid things to be done in national security psychology and many very important topics, like our guest is talking about.  But the way that they’re going about it is so indirect and so devious in the organization itself that it makes for — Well, they’re just violating their bylaws, for one thing.  They’re not being up front, I think, because it would be so controversial and they want to get it established in various ways before all the controversy comes out.  To me the meetings were less evocative — They were personally evocative to me, when I did the research and said, “Oh, wow, that meeting I went to was funded by the funds for national security." —That's not a big deal because they were doing something that was completely interesting and above board in itself. 

    But it turns out that [APA] presidents, like Dr. Zimbardo, didn’t even know they were having these meetings.  They were doing this all very intently, with all kinds of funds.  When he asked them, “Well, how much funds do you get from the Department of Defense?” they told him, “Oh, just a few thousand dollars.”  It turns out they’re getting big bucks.  You see what I mean?  We find out that an awful lot is being worked through a small group of people who are very, very intent on making certain things happen.  And they do not allow a broad dialogue.

LONG:  This is very important, as to “what are the motivations of this secrecy?”  I think we know that they want to get it done before the outcry stops it, or because it gets too controversial.

CHRISTIE:  To get some sense of the scope of this, I don’t have any idea how much national security funded research is going on, promoted by APA.  It sounds like there’s this secret part to the organization that developing and we’re not aware of that.  I’m having a little trouble connecting that with the experience you’ve described here, which raises all kinds of flags.

DAVIS:  It turns out that one of the people who organized those meetings and asked me for my papers, so I got to know her, Susan Brandon, was very active in what I call the national security caucus.  She was actually one of the key people.

CHRISTIE:  What’s the national security caucus?

DAVIS:  That’s just an expression I use for this group.  There’s a group of psychologists and they ended up running the PENS task force.  It’s a story that we’ve been able to identify more now, the story I tell in the documentary.  Mind you, in terms of motivation, I have no question that these psychologists feel they are doing is totally honorable and ethical in terms of the goals for the research.  They are very committed, not only to a greater hegemony for psychology and more research grants but also because they believe in it.  The issue is how they’re going about getting it and what they’re not dealing with.  They’ll make a policy, and they will not look at the ramifications of that policy.  They have the power to make the policy. And that’s the issue. 

LONG:  My feeling basically is that we probably do need to go more deeply into not just the money but also the motivations and beliefs.  Martha just said that she sincerely believed that everybody believed that they were doing the right thing.  But that is an interesting problematic in itself.  I was suspect that there have been, within those groups, some heated debates as they got things going. 

    What’s also interesting from the ethical point of view is how they spread this to the research work.  It sounds to me that as the project you described started to do its research, it has a pretty free hand.  But it may be getting more closed up, with it getting more contract like.

CONSULTANT:  The project people want to do what they want to do.  They don’t want to talk to people about how they should give them money to do what they want them to do.

LONG:  But my major point is, as it gets more contract-like, do you feel you’re going to be leaned on to get the results people want or just to ask the questions people want?

CONSULTANT:  They haven’t felt any problem yet.

ARRIGO: Do you see any role for the APA in all this?

CONSULTANT:  I was thinking about that as we’re talking.  Some of the things that we’re now talking about, some of us have learned by experience.  APA might try to do something for its members, not so much the clinicians but the researchers to apprise them of some of these distinctions, like the difference between a grant and a contract, and about how there are various kinds of organizations inside the beltway.  There are profit-making corporations which exist to take various arms of the security and government money and to make contact with academics and to run conferences, to invite academics, so it’s not just DoD inviting them, it’s some named beltway-bandit kind of corporation. I think maybe the APA could do something for its members to give them a head start on these things, how the game is played, just in the interests of transparency, so you don’t have to find them all out the hard way — which is the way many learn a lot of it, and maybe Martha, too.

DAVIS:  Yes, I learned the hard way!

ARRIGO:  Well, time is up now.  Thanks to everybody.  I think this carried us a long way.