A close reading of the CIA’s Inspector General Report and the Senate Intelligence Committee’s narrative on the Office of Legal Counsel (OLC) torture memos reveals a more detailed picture of the CIA’s involvement in the construction of the OLC memos. What emerges is consistent with recent charges of CIA experimentation on prisoners, and of the overall experimental quality of the torture program itself. It also points to a crucial piece of “analysis” by the CIA’s Office of Technical Services, a memo which may or may not include damning medical and psychological evidence of the damaging effects of SERE techniques, and which the IG report maintains was utilized “in substantial part” in the drafting of the August 1, 2002 Bybee memos. If one is looking for a smoking gun in the torture scandal, in my opinion, one doesn’t have to look much further than this.

The quote below is from the April 22, 2009 Senate Intelligence Committee narrative of the Office of Legal Counsel’s opinions on the CIA’s interrogation program. Please keep in mind as you read the quote and the added bolded emphasis, that recent documentation has shown that for years the CIA and Special Operations had researchers studying the effects of SERE training. Moreover, the research had been published in peer-reviewed journals, in part because the research was also meant to add to the psychiatric community’s understanding of the mechanisms of Post-traumatic Stress Disorder. Some of the research had also been published in the June 2000 edition of Special Warfare, “The Professional Bulletin of the John F. Kennedy Special Warfare Center and School.”

So, keeping this all in mind, consider the following from the Intel Committee’s narrative (emphasis added):

According to CIA records, because the CIA believed that Abu Zubaydah was withholding imminent threat information during the initial interrogation sessions, attorneys from the CIA’s Office of General Counsel met with the Attorney General, the National Security Adviser, the Deputy National Security adviser, the Legal Adviser to the National Security Council, and the Counsel to the President in mid-May 2002 to discuss the possible use of alternative interrogation methods that differed from the traditional methods used by the U.S. military and intelligence community. At this meeting, the CIA proposed particular alternative interrogation methods, including waterboarding.

The CIA’s Office of General Counsel subsequently asked OLC to prepare an opinion about the legality of its proposed techniques. To enable OLC to review the legality of the techniques, the CIA provided OLC with written and oral descriptions of the proposed techniques. The CIA also provided OLC with information about any medical and psychological effects of DoD’s Survival, Evasion, Resistance and Escape (SERE) School, which is a military training program during which military personnel receive counter-interrogation training.

While the fact that the OLC accepted at face value the CIA’s statements regarding the safety or the effects of the interrogation procedures they were proposing is no surprise to anyone who has read the torture memos — and evidence of the unprofessionalism and bias of the memo’s authors — the degree to which the conspiracy (by CIA or OLC, or both) to withhold evidence of the real effects of the “Enhanced Interrogation Techniques” (EITs) by the CIA has never been made more concrete than now.

To my knowledge, we do not have the specific document wherein the CIA provides the “medical and psychological effects” of SERE school. I have been told that this document is still classified. But it seems possible that the CIA did pass on the details of the research that was available to it, including the debilitating effects of SERE techniques, which sent stress hormone levels, according to one research report, “some of the greatest ever documented in humans.” Another report cited “neuroendocrine changes… [that] may have significant implications for subsequent responses to stress.”

One of the authors of these reports, Charles A. Morgan, III, M.D., who has identified himself in certain settings as a “Senior Research Scientist” on the CIA’s Behavioral Science Staff, has criticized my coverage of CIA experiments on the psychological and physiological effects of SERE training upon human subjects. While he could not specify what aspects of this coverage he felt were “inaccurate and misleading,” he did insist:

The research conducted by our research team at the National Center for Post Traumatic Stress Disorder is not, and never has been, conducted for any other purpose than to help us understand the pathophysiology of stress disorders and we might better help in the treatment of veterans.

In making his mea culpa, Dr. Morgan never mentions that some of this research was funded (over $400,000) by the Army and the Office of Naval Research. He doesn’t mention his acquaintance with “great people who do military interrogations.” He also forgets to cite his book contribution, where he states (emphasis added):

The SERE training environment affords the military services the opportunity to collaborate with various other government agencies in exploring old and new techniques in gathering human intelligence.

Of course, he neither confirms nor denies his affiliation with the CIA, an affiliation which I have traced to the CIA’s Science and Technology directorate, through his association (large PDF) with the Intelligence Technology Innovation Center, which is “a research organization under the CIA’s authority” that “answers directly to the CIA’s Science and Technology directorate.”

But most of all, Dr. Morgan’s arrows fall way short of his target, as I have never accused him of personal involvement in the reverse-engineering of SERE techniques for use in the torture program. What is disturbing is his seeming lack of concern over the possiblity that the research he helped conduct was either used to further experiments upon torture victims in the CIA’s clandestine prisons, or contrariwise, was withheld from Office of Legal Counsel lawyers who relied upon CIA advice concerning the effects of techniques derived from the SERE schools.

What is indisputable is that by virtue of his position, Dr. Morgan had access to CIA officials just at the time that another department of the CIA, one to which he is affiliated, was, according to the CIA’s own Office of Inspector General Report (large PDF) involved in vetting the SERE techniques for use in interrogations. The other department was the Office of Technical Services (OTS), part of the CIA’s Science and Technology Directorate. This, by the way, is the same division that was responsible for the MKULTRA experiments of the 1950s and 1960s. From the OIG report:

…CTC [CIA’s Counter-Terrorism Center], with the assistance of the Office of Technical Service (OTS), proposed certain more coercive physical techniques to use on Abu Zubaydah….

CIA’s OTS obtained data on the use of the proposed EITs and their potential long-term psychological effects on detainees. OTS input was based in part on information solicited from a number of psychologists and knowledgeable academics in the area of psychopathology….

OTS also solicited input from DoD/Joint Personnel Recovery Agency (JPRA) regarding techniques used in its SERE training and any subsequent psychological effects on students. DoD/JPRA concluded no long-term psychological effects resulted from use of the EITs, including the most taxing technique, the waterboard, on SERE students. The OTS analysis was used by OGC [DoD’s Office of General Counsel] in evaluating the legality of techniques.

OTS’s solicitation of information on SERE from JPRA elicited some sort of feedback from JPRA, which supposedly told OTS that SERE training caused no long-term effects. The IG Report does not say if this was in the form of a memo and only speaks of OTS’s analysis. In any case, we should not confuse any OTS “analysis” with the information provided by JPRA itself to the Office of General Counsel, which produced a number of memorandum and attachments in late July 2003. Marcy Wheeler has been analyzing the timing of these JPRA items, including the fact that one of these key documents is missing.

The CIA IG Report is relating a story whose emphasis differs from that produced in the narrative of the Senate Armed Services Committee investigation (PDF) into SERE torture. In the latter, JPRA is the main culprit in providing cover for the supposed safety of using SERE techniques. Yet, in the OIG account it looks like the CIA used DOD/JRRA as a cover for the safety of techniques that it knew were in fact harmful from their own analysis of the “data.” Moreover, it was the OTS analysis that was used — “in substantial part” — as the basis of the August 1, 2002 memo approving the “Enhanced Interrogation Techniques” (EITs).

That legal opinion was based, in substantial part, on OTS analysis and the experience and expertise of non-Agency personnel and academics concerning whether long-term psychological effects would result from use of the proposed techniques.

Moreover, the CIA’s Office of Medical Services was frozen out of “the initial analysis of the risk and benefits of EITs,” and not even provided with a copy of the OTS report given to the White House Office of Legal Counsel. Such compartmentalization of information is indicative of a covert operation, such as a Special Access Program (SAP). This SAP would have included personnel in CIA’s CTC, OTS, OGC, and Directorate of Operations, also portions of DOD (JPRA and Special Operations Command), and probably the White House’s OLC, Office of the Vice President, and National Security Council.

It seems highly likely that the CIA report to the OLC on the medical and psychological effects of the SERE school program, mentioned in the Senate Intelligence Committee narrative quote above, is in fact the OTS report, which came from the same CIA directorate to which Dr. Morgan belongs. This does not speak to Morgan’s foreknowledge of what would be used, nor to the amount of his involvement. But it does speak to the likelihood that the government research he conducted (with others) was available and likely used by his associates in the CIA.

To what purpose was this information used? It seems Dr. Morgan has serendipitously given us the answer himself: “exploring old and new techniques in gathering human intelligence.” The CIA appears to have used torture to conduct what Physicians for Human Rights, in a “white paper” (PDF) recently published, called “possible unethical human experimentation, [which] urgently needs to be thoroughly investigated.” The government should declassify the OTS report, and bring the process of investigating the CIA’s role in the torture conspiracy fully into public purview.

Jeff Kaye

Jeff Kaye

Jeffrey Kaye is a retired psychologist who has worked professionally with torture victims and asylum applicants. Active in the anti-torture movement since 2006, he has his own blog, Invictus, previously wrote regularly for Firedoglake’s The Dissenter, as well as at The Guardian, Truthout, Alternet, and The Public Record. He is the author of Cover-Up at Guantanamo, a new book examining declassified files on treatment of prisoners at the Guantanamo detention camp.