The FBI has confirmed that it’s backing a hush-hush research project involving local Latino immigrants as part of a quest to find legal alternatives to torture in “interrogations of high-value terrorists.”
The research project is taking place inside an anonymous office suite (pictured) on the third floor of the Gold Building at 234 Church St. in downtown New Haven.
It turns out the project is part of an ongoing effort by the Obama Administration to find “legal” ways to get information out of terrorist suspects without torturing them.
The people conducting the study—Yale-affiliated psychiatrist Charles “Andy” Morgan and owners of a for-profit outfit called the “Center for Research and Development”—refuse to speak publicly about the research. They have been recruiting members of New Haven’s Colombian immigrant community to agree to be video-recorded while fibbing in return for $150. The two-year study of 150 local subjects aims “to test how well specific interviewing techniques can be used to tell when a person is lying or telling the truth about their beliefs. ... to test whether these techniques are valid and whether they may be useful to law enforcement professionals tasked with protecting the public against terrorism threats ... [and] whether the methods are valid cross culturally,” according to an “informed consent” form the subjects sign. (Click here to read a previous story about that and about the study itself.) The form identifies the FBI as the project’s sponsor.
The FBI did not confirm its involvement in the study when the Independent first wrote about it. That mattered, because Morgan had previously made claims of federal government support that turned out to be difficult to substantiate. His claims involved a separate controversial project in town. He claimed he had a $1.8 million federal Department of Defense grant approved to set up a research center at Yale to corral local immigrants for research to benefit military “special ops” abroad. Yale quickly quashed that project after an outcry from New Haven’s immigrant community (reported here). Then it turned out that the mysterious Dr. Morgan may never have had that $1.8 million grant in the first place; first the DoD said he did, then it said he didn’t.
The FBI study is not connected to Yale. Like the short-lived putative campus research center, this project has elicited criticism among immigration advocates for its use of local immigrants as subjects. Morgan’s colleagues, on the other hand, say his work in neuroscience has been about treating subjects humanely.
After the Independent revealed its details last week, Yale officials made a point of stating that they do not have any control—including say about treatment of research subjects—in private research projects “voluntary faculty members” like Morgan conduct on their own off campus.
The FBI, on the other hand, does have responsibility. It said in a statement released to the Independent that it is meeting its responsibilities.
“All FBI-sponsored research in this area, is in full compliance with international laws and U.S. federal code (45 CFR Part 46) concerning the protection of the individuals who elect to participate in the research. This project was reviewed and approved by the FBI Institutional Review Board,” stated Special Agent Kathleen Wright of the FBI National Press Office.
“The project explores cultural differences in human behaviors such as lying and truth-telling. The FBI encourages all entities who conduct research activity for us to include diverse groups of people to enhance our ability to better understand the role of culture and to increase our ability to make accurate assessments. The scientific research goal here is to identify existing interview techniques that are the most effective, and to develop new lawful techniques to improve intelligence interrogations.”
The New Haven research project grew out of the work of a special task force established in 2009 by U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder (pictured front left at an unrelated visit to New Haven last December). The Obama Administration, then new in office, created the task force in reaction to the Bush administration’s use of waterboarding and other torture techniques in interrogations of terrorism suspects. The task force proposed policies to ensure that the government conducts “interrogations in a manner that will strengthen national security consistent with the rule of law.”
The task force recommended creating an “elite interrogation group would be gathering intelligence to prevent terrorist attacks and otherwise to protect national security.” As part of that effort, it called for “a scientific research program for interrogation be established to study the comparative effectiveness of interrogation approaches and techniques, with the goal of identifying the existing techniques that are most effective and developing new lawful techniques to improve intelligence interrogations.”
Hence the New Haven project, entitled “Efficacy of Interviewing to Detect Lies about Beliefs.”
The news of the FBI’s planned use of the research “deeply troubles” Fair Haven-based immigration rights activist Kica Matos.
“I’m still deeply troubled that they would decide to experiment in our community, that they would specifically target immigrants in our community, to use them as lab rats. That’s something this community will not tolerate. Interrogations are coercive,” said Matos, the director of immigrant rights & racial justice for the national Center for Community Change. “Why are they targeting people of color? It presupposes that the people they need to most worry about, the people they are most concerned with, are people of color.”
“Even if you take the FBI at face value,” Matos added, “there’s no telling where these experiments are going to end up.”
Roy Eidelson expressed a similar concern about the government’s use of Morgan’s research. Eidelson had an article published this week in Psychology Today about the ongoing Morgan-New Haven controversy. It details how Morgan (pictured) has been a leader for a decade in government-funded neuroscience research along the lines of his current New Haven project.
Eidelson, past president of a group called Psychologists for Social Responsibility, cites military-research conferences in which Morgan has participated dating back to 2003, a couple of which identified him as a Central Intelligence Agency researcher. (His own current online bio does not mention the CIA.)
Taking Morgan at his word that his goal is to promote humane communication between people of different backgrounds, Eidelson argues: “Yale’s Morgan must surely be aware that operational neuroscience research can be used for purposes contrary to its purported intent – as this appears to be what happened with some of his own work.” Eidelson cites “SERE” ( Survival, Evasion, Resistance, and Escape) research as an example: he writes that research conducted by Morgan and his colleagues in the field “was subsequently misused by the Bush Administration after the 9/11 terrorist attacks to illegitimately authorize the abuse and torture of national security detainees held at Guantanamo Bay, Bagram Air Base, and CIA ‘black sites.’ The infamous ‘enhanced interrogation techniques’ (EITs) were developed by former SERE psychologists – working for the CIA – who ‘reverse-engineered’ the SERE interrogation tactics. But even more importantly here, a crucial 2002 Office of Legal Counsel ‘torture memo’ asserted that the EITs did not cause lasting psychological harm, and it cited as evidence consultation with interrogation experts and outside psychologists, as well as a review of the ‘relevant literature’ – which plausibly would have included Morgan’s own extensive work in the area. In short, this appears to be a striking and tragic instance where operational neuroscience research, undertaken in a different context, was subsequently appropriated and misapplied for unconscionable purposes.”
Until the controversy erupted about his stillborn elite military training center at Yale, Morgan spoke openly about his work, characterizing it as an alternative to the euphemistic term “enhanced interrogation techniques.” His supporters have noted that since the 9/11 attacks, the U.S. has been under pressure to develop better intelligence abroad; and since the Bush administration’s waterboarding scandal, the government has also been under pressure to develop that intelligence without breaking the law or torturing people.
Now Morgan has grown more reticent about his work. Contacted last week about his ongoing work with local immigrants on Church Street, he replied, “I really don’t comment on private work with private companies.” Nor did he want to discuss his research, period. “Everybody has assumed a lot of erroneous things,” he said. “Nothing good is going to come from conversations with reporters.”