Yale Puts Controversial Military Project On Hold

Paul Bass Photo(Updated 7:28 p.m.) After an outcry from campus groups and New Haven immigration activists, Yale announced Thursday night that it will put on temporary hold plans to launch a Department of Defense-backed research center that would rely on local immigrants as military test subjects.

Yale School of Medicine Dean Robert J. Alpern released the following statement:

“Members of the Yale and New Haven communities have raised concerns about a possible center for operational neuroscience that was reported in the press. In light of the issues raised, we are not moving forward on any such center until we have fully investigated all these issues.

“It is a very important value of both the Yale School of Medicine and the broader University that all research participants, including all members of the New Haven community, are given the highest respect and protected from any unethical treatment.”

Following is an earlier version of this article:

Immigration Activists To Yale: “We’re Not Lab Rats”

An immigrants rights activist blasted Yale’s incoming president for “callous indifferen[ce] to some of the city’s most vulnerable residents” as opposition mounted to a planned research center that would rely on local immigrants as military test subjects.

The hubbub centers on a planned $1.8 million “Center of Excellence for Operational Neurological Science” to be set up at Yale’s medical school in partnership with the U.S. Department of Defense.

The center doesn’t exist yet. Yale Psychiatry Professor Charles Morgan, who has worked with the military in the past, is working with the defense department on a grant to launch the center.

And what the center will do is also unclear. Morgan and Yale officials have depicted it as a do-gooder project: Designed to help our troops figure out how to communicate better with foreigners during operations abroad, through respectful conversation.

Opposition has already flared up both on campus and among New Haven’s immigrant rights activists. Organizers plan to starting conducting protest actions over the next week.

An online petition had collected 550 signatures as of Thursday afternoon. It reads: “Yale University should not partner with the Department of Defense to open a training center that uses New Haven’s immigrant community as test subjects. With no input from the community it represents, the administration has committed itself to training special forces in intelligence gathering techniques. This goes against the values of the global community it professes to uphold. Moreover, it defeats the purpose of a liberal arts education: the free and public exchange of ideas and knowledge.”

The New Haven opposition stemmed from Morgan’s plan to pay local immigrants to serve as test subjects. Critics said they fear the goal is to use “vulnerable” people of color to figure out how to better carry out interrogations and special-ops against people in the Third World. Groups like Junta for Progressive Action and Unidad Latina en Acción (ULA) are leading efforts to organize opposition alongside campus student and faculty groups.

File Photo“New Haven has a proud history of supporting its immigrant population. We’ve worked hard to create a thriving community where immigrants are respected,” said Kica Matos (pictured) of Fair Haven, a longtime local immigrant rights organizer and now the director of immigrant rights & racial justice for the national Center for Community Change.

“The center’s intention to experiment on New Haven’s immigrant communities of color is ethically and morally repulsive, and it flies in the face of everything that this city stands for.”

“We’re not lab rats,” remarked John Jairo Lugo, a ULA organizer born in Colombia. “The information that they are going to collect from the immigrant community is going to be used to train the army of this country. Why are we training the army of this country? For the next invasion. That can be Latin America. That can Africa. That can be Asia.”

The enterprise, he argued, is “bad for Latinos in general.”

A leader of New Haven’s Ecuadorean community, Dixon Jiminez, said he wants to learn more about a plan that he fears has “racist tinges.”

“There has not been a previous conversation with the immigrant community about how this could affect us,” Jiminez said. “It seems pretty obvious to me to think that Yale University, with principles of freedom, equality and justice, should not devote itself to opening a center that uses the immigrant community like test subjects and guinea pigs.”

How To Tell When Colombians Are Lying

Yale PhotoMorgan (at center in photo) is not new to the practice of enlisting New Haven immigrants for government-sponsored research.

Last week, for instance, a Colombian-born New Haven journalist named Hernando Diosa was paid $150 to participate in an hour-long research study overseen by Morgan.

Diosa said he had heard from a friend that the researchers “were trying to get Colombians—only Colombians—to do the study.” When he arrived he was given papers to read and sign. One of the papers described the study as seeking to determine the “efficacy of interviewing to detect lies about beliefs.” It identified Morgan as the person in charge of the study, and the FBI as the study’s sponsor.

At first Diosa was asked to answer orally a set of questions about his beliefs. Next he was asked to write down his answers. Then he was asked to lie about his beliefs as he was observed.

Morgan’s bio on the School of Medicine website cites his ties to government-sponsored military research, including research involving special operations: “His work has provided insight into the psycho-neurobiology of resilience in elite soldiers and has contributed to the training mission of Army special programs. For his work in the special operations community Dr. Morgan was awarded the US Army Award for Patriotic Service in 2008.  In 2010 Dr. Morgan was awarded the Sir Henry Welcome Medal and Prize for his research on enhancing cognitive performance under stress in special operations personnel.  in 2011 Dr. Morgan deployed to Afghanistan as an operational advisor with the Asymmetric Warfare Group.”

Reached by phone Thursday, Morgan said he is not authorized to discuss either that study or the new center with the media.

“I’m supposed to refer all questions Yale,” he said. “You really have to talk to the provost. They approve all interviews now. When they tell me I can talk to you, I’d be happy to talk to you.

“We’re not doing any interviews right now while they try to get their head around how those rumors went around the web.”

The provost’s office referred an inquiry to Yale’s public relations office, where no one was available at press time to answer questions. Click here for a synopsis of how Morgan and Yale have been describing the center.

Old Quandary Raised Anew

Opposition to Morgan’s proposed new center has begun attracting national attention.

And the fledgling controversy flies straight into several broader trends in New Haven, some recent, some going back more than a half-century.

The subject has resonated sometimes painfully in New Haven over the years—and raised tricky ethical questions.

Professor Stanley Milgram misled paid New Haven subjects for his famous 1960s-era Holocaust-inspired research experiments into why everyday people will obey illegitimate authority and participate in torture or other violence against people. Participants in his project, pressing buttons at the behest of a project leader, were led to believe they had acquiesced in inflicting increasingly painful electric shocks on poor “learners” (who turned out to be actors not actually getting shocked). The experience scarred some of the unwitting test subjects. By all accounts human knowledge had been advanced. The question that arose was: At what cost? Yale formed a review board to monitor use of human subjects more closely in the future.

The subject remained sensitive in town in the 1960s and early 1970s when Yale received record amounts of government and foundation dollars to test urban renewal and social program ideas on New Haven. Today, in the aftermath of the city’s economic decline, academic research is more a bedrock of the local economy than ever, a chunk of it relying on paid New Haven subjects. Many people applauded the introduction of programs like Head Start or legal aid or community health clinics; others questioned the razing of city neighborhoods to make way for middle-class apartment towers. Underlying the debate was whether New Haven has helped advance the cause of human knowledge or served as a guinea pigs for advancing Yale’s self-interest.

Meanwhile, Yale has sought to improve its ties with the military—overturning, for instance, a four-decade-old campus ban on ROTC. (Read about that here.)

And in recent years New Haven’s immigrant population has risen dramatically. Community organizing in New Haven, in concert with Yale campus groups, has led the city to embrace newcomers with an immigrant-friendly “Elm City Resident” card and a policy prohibiting police from inquiring into people’s immigration status in most cases.

Amid all that comes the proposed new center.

And a new Yale president.

Media Blamed

File PhotoThat incoming Yale president, Peter Salovey (pictured), who takes office as New Haven’s top CEO on June 30, sent an email response Wednesday to a project critic to allay people’s fears. The email may have backfired.

He wrote it to political science professor Elisabeth Wood, who says she has in the past sat on Yale’s Human Subjects Committee, which monitors the use of human subjects in research experiments.

Here’s what Wood wrote to Salovey:

“In case you’re not aware of the rapidly emerging national media coverage on the center at the School of Medicine to train military intelligence operatives, I append below some of coverage.

“I am very concerned both about the center and the implications for our immigrant community, as well as perceptions about Yale researchers (with particular implications for faculty and students doing field research in challenging settings). I saw the Yale statement. It raises more questions than it answers. Has the Center been proposed? approved? One story claims that it should have opened in January but was delayed due to DoD funding issues, so the perception is certainly that approval is far along.”

In an extensive “Dear Libby” response, Salovey wrote that he “certainly understand[s]” Wood’s concerns—especially given what he called “not entirely accurate” reports by the campus media.

“To begin with, the center has not yet been established.  It has been proposed by a faculty member in the Department of Psychiatry at Yale,” Salovey wrote.

“Furthermore, this proposal, if and when it is formalized, will undergo the same rigorous scrutiny to which any newly-proposed academic center would be subjected. This scrutiny will include evaluation of the academic merits of the center, its alignment with the University’s mission, as well as any ethical reviews that may be called for to ensure that the rights and welfare of participants are fully protected.

“Although we have not yet received a formal proposal, my current understanding is that the aims of the proposed center are to provide training in interviewing techniques and multicultural engagement and to conduct related research in social and cognitive neuroscience.  The intention behind the center’s educational efforts would be to train military personnel, including medics, in the same positive, non-coercive interpersonal and interviewing skills that are routinely taught to medical students and residents in the Department of Psychiatry. 

“The Department of Psychiatry believes that the proposed center would also enable Yale faculty to study the interview process itself, which is central to the discipline and practice of psychiatry.  This research would be conducted in a manner consistent with all other research activities at Yale and in compliance with all applicable federal regulations and University policies and standards, with the expectation that research findings would be openly available and reported in peer-reviewed scientific journals. Of course, in accordance with University policy, the center will conduct no secret or classified research.

“If the center is approved, all protocols to engage volunteer interviewees in its programs would be subjected to ongoing, rigorous ethical review and oversight from Yale’s nationally-accredited Human Research Protection Program, which operates Yale’s Institutional Review Boards.  More specifically, these protocols must include robust, culturally-sensitive measures to assure that the rights and wellbeing of participants from diverse backgrounds are protected at all times. 

“The center, if approved, would be subject to ongoing oversight by the University and School of Medicine administration.  It would also be guided by a scientific advisory board with external representation from academic institutions.

“I appreciate your concerns, in light of the way in which the center has been incompletely described in recent media reports. However, a more accurate description of the proposed center suggests that there may be educational and research benefits that we should explore. That said, I can assure you that we will continue to conduct this exploration with the utmost scrutiny and careful consideration.”

Salovey’s email response made the rounds in New Haven. Immigrant rights advocate Matos called it “disappointing.”

“It is disturbing that he would display such callousness and indifference to some of the city’s most vulnerable residents,” Matos said. “This community will not stand for this.”

Salovey failed to return a request for comment about the controversy.

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posted by: wendy1 on February 21, 2013  6:44pm

Thank you Paul Bass for this information.  New Haven is not Fort Benning Georgia.  This planned “school” is a terrible idea which Yale mistakenly thinks it can gussy up with a fancy name and endless platitudes.  I have not heard from the mayor or the med school’s dean both of whom I have contacted by phone.  We all know what the DoD does and stands for and I don’t want their mitts on my town in any way shape or form.

posted by: HenryCT on February 21, 2013  9:12pm

Maybe we ought not to look at the issue just from the immigrants’ points of view. Maybe we ought to look at it from the military’s point of view.

U.S. military and foreign policy is at its root one of aggression and imperialism. Overthrowing governments, assassinating democratically elected leaders, sabotaging economies, napalming villages, drone-bombing homes. Current policy is moving toward a lighter footprint, but no reduction in intimidation and control. Special Ops in Africa, drone bases, more bases throughout Latin America. Arming religious fanatics in Syria and Libya by way of tyrannical allies such as Qatar and Saudia Arabia. Night raids of family compounds in Afghanistan. Threatening Iran with a new war of choice. Supporting the overthrow of the governments of Honduras and Paraguay.

Now the Yale Center: aimed at improving the military’s ability to extract information from those who don’t support the U.S.‘s invasion of their country - whereever that is. Torture has a bad name, so waterboarding is “enhanced interrogation.” The U.S. military chose Yale to help enhance its ability to destroy democratic movements throughout the world. General Stanley McChrystal does not teach at Yale to promote peace, health, or international good will.

Let’s get over the idea that the role of the U.S. military is to defend the people of the United States from foreign invasion. The U.S. military’s role is to invade foreign countries and control its people and resources. It is the organized, state-sponsored hitman for the oil and other corporations.

posted by: Coleen Rowley on February 22, 2013  9:39am

A bigger question might be whether the US has become the new Sparta. How much of all “academia” is now funded by the Military Industrial Complex?  I have heard that 1/3 of the US economy (jobs! jobs! jobs!) now depends upon war so colleges and universities must not be immune.

posted by: Curious on February 22, 2013  10:32am

The bigger issue here is how disappointing it is that no one understands how research is done.

Research happens at Yale ALL the time, with human participants.  WILLING, fully-informed, human participants. 

This is no different than research done with college students to investigate alcoholism, or with babies to investigate development.  They don’t grab people off the street and force them to participate.

It sickens me that these activists would immediately gin up a media frenzy further misinforming people.  Ignorance is not an excuse, this is a knee-jerk attack on science.

Where is the outrage against Pfizer’s Clinical Research building on Howe Street?  The sole purpose of that place is to give new drugs to people who need the money badly enough, mostly brown people.  Where’s the media storm there?

posted by: HhE on February 22, 2013  11:50am

Well said, Curious.

posted by: Guest90 on February 22, 2013  12:50pm

Curious: we understand well how research works. The problem here is that the center would be bringing in and training Green Berets using immigrants as interview subjects to better approximate ‘the real (non white) thing’. How does that fit with the mission of a university or med school? Your example, of testing new drugs on paying research subjects (who are not even sought out for their ethnicity) is entirely different as it advances the cause of medicine, a primary med school objective.

posted by: SteveOnAnderson on February 22, 2013  1:42pm

HenryCT & Guest90 have hit a couple of nails on the head.

Curious: Far from an “attack on science,” the concern expressed by many members of the Yale, New Haven, and global academic communities is a defense of the integrity of science. The people standing up to talk about this proposed training center are demanding transparency and a discussion around the motivations & uses of science. You may want to check out Democracy Now!‘s report on the issue to see how some people are objecting to the issue: http://www.huffingtonpost.com/democracy-now/an-interrogation-center-a_b_2734285.html

As you put it, some research is based on bringing in human subjects “who need the money badly enough.” There is a great deal of outrage directed at this structural exploitation in “meds and eds” cities, and the particular issue in question is bringing that outrage to the surface. As a member of the New Haven, Yale, and academic communities, I am proud to stand with others who are organizing on this issue.

I simply cannot understand how it “sickens” you that people are speaking out and expressing their concerns and opposition to this proposal. Rather than simply reject any criticisms out of hand as “ginning up a media frenzy and further misinforming people” (as if you know better), perhaps you should listen to criticisms people are making and take others seriously.

posted by: Curious on February 22, 2013  1:58pm

StevenOnAnderson, Guest90

Show me the proposals.  Show me an IRB protocol which outlines exactly what they propose to do, and what’s unethical about it.  Show me the inhumane treatment.

All you’ve got are people flipping out in the popular press. 

Show me the study the article you link to is talking about here:

” In 2010, a study was published in which researchers at the school of medicine studied the use of advanced interrogation techniques to determine whether suspected Islamic terrorists are telling the truth or not. And this study involved Arab immigrants and other Muslim immigrants in New Haven and basically used these immigrants as guinea pigs to test out advanced interrogation techniques. And I think that not only is this unethical, but it violates informed consent, because were these subjects given full information about the Central Intelligence Agency and its use of the advanced interrogation techniques?”

Why didn’t that person name the study?  Why didn’t he write the IRB and just ASK to see the consent form, instead of posing open-ended questions that make it all sound much more nefarious?

I don’t see a single example of “They are planning to to do X”, I just see a lot of assumptions.

posted by: formerNhresident on February 22, 2013  6:06pm

When the Yale Law school clinic defended the illegal immigrants rounded up in the federal raid back in 2007,they took on ICE and the federal government. the same law school clinic won $650,000 for day laborers and put together a case against the East haven PD fiasco. They have been called landmark cases. I don’t think anywhere in the US this has been done. So in a sense the law school clinic was conducting an experiment. Now it’s a problem that the same institution who bred the law school students to advocate for the immigrant community is using same immigrant community for other purposes. WHere is Father Manship?

posted by: Claudia Herrera on February 23, 2013  4:51am

Never an easy subject to discus;Immigrants, and as a usual and one more time directly focus to the Latino community.
Many comments about science, military tactics, training etc. what about culture and ethics or the value of the human being of immigrants. Why this program wants to train a military personal to interrogate me ( a civilian) as “my friend”?

One more quest, what the heck has to do a military interrogation with a medicine of school of global educational institution?  I got lost with this one. PROTOCOLS is my biggest concern, where are those printed?
As a Mexican-American I am 110% oppose.

posted by: FrontStreet on February 24, 2013  11:02am

Just for context.  As you all probably know, while Yale is a university, it also a private corporation with a 19 billion dollar endowment.  That’s right, $ 19 000 000 000. 

And one way the Yale Corporation does quite well, thank you very much, is by hauling in federal research grants.  The incentives for research faculty to bring in research grants is significant; the university/corporation funds only 10 - 20% of their salary. They must make the rest up with monies paid to them by funders(National Institute of Health, for example).  The Yale Corporation takes a modest but significant perecent of these grants for itself. Competition for these funds is fierce and can make or break a person’s career.

Department of Defense is a signifcant source of research funds in the Yale portfolio. Yale has only moderate moral incentive to protect immigrant human rights, and quite a bit of monetary incentive to collaborate with the department of defense.

As they say, follow the money…

posted by: SteveOnAnderson on February 24, 2013  12:28pm

FrontStreet, my understanding is that the Yale administration takes/receives a cut of each grant equivalent to 66% of the grant, supposedly for “overhead.” So grants seeking, say, $1 million in funding for a specific project actually have to apply for $1.67 million. Is that right? The ramifications of this seem quite major.

Given how much grant money for research comes from federal funding, we might ask if Yale is really a private university at all (let alone a “non-profit” one). Or, given the fact that public state universities are themselves no longer funded primarily by public state budgets, we might ask what the difference between public and private universities means in the 21st century.

posted by: Curious on February 25, 2013  11:59am

Faculty have to get these grants in AND they pay for not only most of the faculty members’ salaries, but also for all the materials and support personnel.  There are a LOT of Research Assistants employed at Yale, and their funding is almost entirely grant-based.

The overhead charge is anywhere from 30% to 65%, depending on where the money is coming from, the federal government, or industry partners.  The university takes that money and spends it to run other, less-lucrative departments and services.  For example, the shuttle system.  As far as I know, there is no accounting as to how those monies are spent.

So yes, the federal government would give a researcher $3,000,000 for a five-year project, and the university takes $1,950,000 of that off the top to run other services and pay other salaries.  So your tax dollars are paying to run Yale shuttles, and staff their IT department, and so on.