Shhh: Terrorism Study’s Already In Full Swing

Paul Bass PhotoBehind this anonymous door three floors above downtown New Haven, a Yale-affiliated shrink is paying local immigrants $150 to help the FBI sniff out liars when hunting terrorists.

At least that’s the officially stated purpose of the work quietly taking place at the “Center for Research and Development.”

The center is a for-profit contract-research shop that shares space with other psychiatrists in a small suite of offices with an unmarked entrance on the third floor of the Gold Building, the glass tower that reflects the sky and surrounding buildings next to the state courthouse at 234 Church St.

A psychiatrist affiliated with the Yale Medical School, Charles A. Morgan, has been paying local Colombians, among other immigrants, $150 apiece to give honest answers to a set of questions about their beliefs, then to lie.

The title of the study: “Efficacy of Interviewing to Detect Lies about Beliefs.” The study involves interviewing and video-recording 150 participants over two years.

Who’s paying the bill? The study’s sponsor, according to an “informed consent” sheet signed by study participants, is the “Federal Bureau of Investigation.”

The local FBI office referred questions about the study to the national office, where Special Agent Ann Todd said she did not have any information immediately available about such a study.

The goal of the study, according to the informed consent sheet: “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.”

All of which may have transpired unnoticed beyond the immigrant community in New Haven if not for a separate controversy that erupted last week over similar work conducted by Charles Morgan. That controversy involved another center he was allegedly setting up at Yale with a $1.8 million federal Department of Defense grant 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.

Be Believable, Get The $150

Hernando Diosa (pictured), a Colombian-born reporter for the Spanish-language weekly La Voz Hispana, heard about Morgan’s private, putative FBI research project from fellow immigrants. The researchers “were trying to get Colombians—only Colombians—to do the study,” fellow Colombian immigrants told him.

Diosa stopped by the center’s office in the Gold building on Feb. 15. He spent an hour or so answering questions about how he feels about, say, whether foreign-born students should wear ponchos to an American school, he said. He was asked to give the honest answer, then to lie, he said.

Participants are asked to sign the five-page single-spaced “consent form” before beginning the study. The form lists phone numbers to call if participants have any concerns later on. And it spells out how the experiment unfolds, with some potentially hard-to-follow conditions governing whether participants might forfeit their money:

“• One meeting with the research team that will be approximately 1 hour in duration. During the first 1/2 hour of your time you will be given instructions about the study and participate in an English comprehension test. After this you will be given a questionnaire and have approximately 20 minutes of time to complete the questionnaire. The questionnaire will ask you about your personal beliefs on a series of topics that range from gun control, the military, abortion, the rights of women, reproductive rights, gay rights, political violence, etc. Once you have completed the questionnaire you will then be informed as to whether or not you will be asked to be truthful or deceptive in our study. If you are asked to be TRUTHFUL, this will mean that when you are interviewed about your beliefs you can be completely honest. If you are asked to be DECEPTIVE this will mean when you are interviewed and asked about your belief, you will need to lie and claim that you hold a view that is OPPOSITE to your true belief. ...

“• After you learn whether you are to be truthful or deceptive, you will then participate in an interview with a research person.

“• During this interview you will be asked questions about your beliefs in several topic areas (like the topics you saw on the questionnaire). If you have been assigned to the truthful condition it is important you appear as honest and sincere as possible so that the interviewer believes what you say about your beliefs. If the interviewer believes you then you will keep the money you have earned in the study; if the interviewer decides that you are lying, you will risk losing the money you have gained in the study.

“• If you have been assigned to the deceptive condition, when you are interviewed you should try to appear as honest and sincere as possible when you are lying so that the interviewer believes that you are telling the truth about what you say you believe. If the interviewer believes you, you keep the money you have earned in the study; if they do not you risk losing the money you have earned in the study. ...

“Your interview will be videotaped in order that we may later analyze what happened during your participation in the study.  Your interview will be transcribed and reviewed by a member of our research team. Your videotape will be identified only by a research number. Our research team will keep the videos and will not give them to other people or organizations. You will not be identified in the videotape.

“If at any time you wish to stop participating as a subject in this study, let your interviewer know by verbally stating your desire to end your participation. Once you state your desire to end your participation to the interviewer, the video camera will be stopped and any recorded materials will be erased.”

A proviso later in the document reveals that in fact others may at some point review the participant’s performance: “Records of your participation in this study will be held confidential so far as permitted by law. However, the investigator, the sponsor or it’s [sic] designee, and, under certain circumstances, the Office for Human Research Protections (OHRP) and the New England Institutional Review Board (NEIRB) will be able to inspect and have access to confidential data that identifies you by name. ... By signing this consent form, you authorize the investigator to release your medical records to the sponsor, the OHRP, and the NEIRB.”

Diosa passed. He got his $150.

“For me,” he said, “it was fun.”

“Nothing Good”

Yale PhotoAdvocates for Latino community groups in town, on the other hand, blasted the similar project Morgan announced he was planning to conduct at the now-quashed Yale research institute. They criticized the idea of relying on local immigrants to help the federal grants weed out alleged liars; they questioned the eventual use of such research, whether it would help the U.S. conduct future foreign interventions like past ones in Nicaragua and Angola. “We’re not lab rats,” said one of the advocates, John Jairo Lugo. (Read more about that here.)

In interviews before the controversy broke last week, Morgan (pictured) defended the research, saying it was for benign purposes: to help the military communicate better with people abroad. In one interview with a weekly campus publication, the Yale Herald, he discussed his research approach with a reporter at the private center on Church Street.

Morgan was less forthcoming about his private research center at the Gold Building when reached by phone for this story. “I really don’t comment on private work with private companies,” he said.

He was reminded that he had in fact conducted an interview with the Yale Herald there.

“The Yale Herald has a lot of erroneous information in it. I actually am talking to an attorney. I think I have a good defamation suit,” he replied.

“Everybody has assumed a lot of erroneous things,” about his research, he said. “Nothing good is going to come from conversations with reporters. I am not legally allowed to comment on” work for private companies. He declined to offer any information about the Center for Research and Development except to say he doesn’t own it.

Which is true, according to state business records. A Yale-affiliated psychiatrist named Vladimir Coric, Jr. started the business in 2005 and serves as its president.

Reached by phone Friday, Coric sent questions about the study back to Morgan. “It’s a contract research organization,” he said of the research center. “Specific questions should be referred to the principal investigator of the study, who is Dr. Morgan.”

Some colleagues in the field argue that Morgan got a bum rap in last week’s controversy. They say he opposes torture or other “advanced interrogation” techniques, that he has pioneered a humane, respectful way of communicating with people from other cultures.

Local immigrant advocates like Kica Matos are more skeptical of Morgan’s use of New Haven immigrants for terrorism-related or military research. Matos, a longtime Fair Haven-based immigrant rights activist, said she and fellow organizers are gearing up a campaign to urge local Latino immigrants not to participate in Morgan’s research.

Matos said Morgan’s current study at the Gold building “troubles” her because it racially profiles “vulnerable communities of color.” She also questioned the ultimate purpose of the research into how to question and assess responses from foreign-born Latinos.

“Interrogations are inherently coercive,” said Matos, the director of immigrant rights & racial justice for the national Center for Community Change. “The FBI is not a friend of communities of color. They have a long history of engaging in the most subversive and devious engagement with communities of color. COINTELPRO is an example.”

Tags: , , , ,

Post a Comment

Commenting has closed for this entry


posted by: streever on March 1, 2013  8:42pm

I think Mr. Diosa’s quote should be the headline.

“For me,” he said, “it was fun.”

posted by: Walt on March 2, 2013  7:48am

If Latinos are discouraged from picking up $150 for a couple of hours of easy work, how about an old, straight,  Irish-descent, opinionated,non - bike-riding,  white guy?

Sounds like fun!

Am I eligible?

posted by: FrontStreet on March 2, 2013  12:57pm

Considering US government history of subversive manipulation and armed intervention in Central and South American politics, psychological studies targeting Columbians with intent to improve interogation techniques is, at best, really creepy, and, at worst, on thin ethical ice.  Not where I want my tax dollars going, that’s for sure.

posted by: streever on March 2, 2013  4:10pm

Interrogations will continue to happen until John Lennon gets world peace.

I’d rather see that military personnel are being trained in non-violent and gentle forms of interrogation and learning that it is possible to obtain information by bonding with someone and working with them rather than by waterboarding them.

If we teach people to respect and talk to one another, we can get to a better world.

The revolution will not happen in 30 seconds, no matter how impatient the internet conditions us to be.

posted by: Nashstreeter on March 3, 2013  12:42am

Just because the interrogation training is about talking rather than water-boarding doesn’t mean the interrogation isn’t coercive. Why do they focus on Colombians? Why not old Irish white guys, as Walt says?  My first guess would be that the FBI doesn’t have many Colombians in its ranks and they seem exotic to them.  And maybe also because Colombians in this town don’t have much in the way of social or political power. That means that the person interrogated (er, “bonded with”) will feel a bit more reticent in the interview than, say, a relative of John De Stefano, or of Dick Lee or Jorge Perez—members of more established and powerful immigrant groups in the city.

This is ugly, because it presumes a powerful-to-less powerful interview relationship. And it is stupid because it ignores the fact that in conflict situations it is often the interviewee who has more power (language, culture, motivated population, willingness to die for one’s beliefs) and who may be more worried about imprisonment and torture than earning $150 for the interview.

And I love the way that Yale keeps an arms-length relationship to this training. Yale (and any university worthy of the name) shouldn’t be about training police and military operatives; it should be about investigating, sifting and evaluating events, data and human behavior.  Supporting sideline ventures for the likes of the FBI under Yale’s imprimatur is pretty shkeevy, I say.

posted by: Walt on March 4, 2013  7:31am

It is about the money for me and also for Yale I guess.

The FBI,(DEA?)  which,  because Columbia has been such a big source of drugs,  apparently has a tough time telling whether Colombians are telling the truth or not,  which needs this info,  as I read this story

I’ll side with Streever mostly , although in situations dealing with protection of our troops I don’t object too strongly to some more aggressive moves.
Editor:  I assume you know that your spellcheck, which is usually helpful,  really mangles the word   badly if you check one of its own selections. 

It can’t be made to spell correctly itself??

posted by: robn on March 4, 2013  9:49am

If FBI agents have a problem telling if Colombians are lying or not, the solution is to get new FBI agents. As any good poker player will inform you, every person has their own “tell” and it takes a gifted person to spot it. You can’t learn that in a manual.

Ditto on the spell check; not all the time but every once and a while it goes bonkers and merges adjacent words…haven’t identified a triggger event yet.

posted by: HhE on March 4, 2013  11:53am

Guys, while I am generally loathe to speak for someone else, I read streever’s comment as for some participants this could be a positivee experience—interesting and $150 payout—for other participants and non participants this could be a very negative and destructive experience.  (Am I right, streever?)

For myself, I opine that while this be unnerving, it may well be appropriate.  Different cultures do things differently (Didn’t I learn that at great cost on the domestic front?), including when and how they lie. 

Some of the finest people I know come from Columbia, but also, a lot of evil has come from their too, and I dare say the Colombian people have been the greatest victims of this by far. 

I find it interesting (a word we often use for art we do not like) that many conservatives wish to limit law enforcement’s relative power by having equal firepower, and many people on the left wish to limit agency’s abilities by denying them tools—intellectual as well as hardware.

PS The NHI’s spell check stinks.

posted by: Walt on March 4, 2013  12:38pm


What you say re the FBI makes sense,  so what other reason would there be to limit the program to Colombians? 

I’m still available @  $75 per hour

As to spellcheck my experience is that for longer words it will pretty consistently screw up in one way or the other..

For instance instance if I misspell antidisestablishmentarianism (just spelled it right but spellcheck suggested I had left out the first “a”)  It still says so,)

Will try again as that was not the operation about which I griped.

DisDistributions what happened when I misspelled “distribution”  intentionally and spellcheck suggested the correct spelling which I then used but spellcheck   threw in the extra “Dis”  on its own.It does not now recognize that the word Disdistribution is wrong

Far from rare, but even worse than I expected when I tried to show you what happens re spellcheck

Examples above just happened,and are not faked I   promise

Try it yourself—-same words or others and see what happens to you,

If the cause is at my end, not spellcheck’s, I have no idea why.

Spellcheck helps by alerting me on misspelling but I very   often have to re-correct the system from my mind, but not by the system itself.

I assume the Independent pays   a bundle for the checking system so it should work much better.

posted by: robn on March 4, 2013  1:10pm


I think that if you are, as you write, really Irish, you’d be eligible for the other program…the one where they try to determine when you’re telling the truth.

Just joshing :)

Slainthe Mhaith!

posted by: HhE on March 4, 2013  1:21pm

Walt, like many research projects, this one is focused on a particular demographic.  Also, now that the IRA has quieted down, who cares about the Irish?  Central and South America, The Middle East, and central Asian is where it is at. 

I don’t know why we are complaining about the NHI spell check.  It is almost as good as that pathetic program I had in the mid ‘80s, that assumed the first three letters were right, had no proper nouns, and would not let you rere-fix any mistakes you made while using it.

posted by: cedarhillresident! on March 4, 2013  3:22pm

Ya know I have read all these story’s about this. At first I was utterly horrified. Knee jerk reaction. And I am still a bit taken back by the whole thing. But then I remember laying on an operation table or walking though a specialists office and being asked if I would allow students to examine or be part of medical things. Giving you the choice to or not to. Medical experiments all the time at Yale..many praying they can be part of those. I was even part of a quit smoking thing (almost killed me I had a reaction to the drug (by the way had the same reaction to chantex when I tried that years later was in the hospital for 2 days!) but again I signed off on it.
Even letting students examine me…I get nothing for it but it is to teach so you let them. So although I saw and still feel yucky about this one has to remember this is a learning city and you are asked if you want to take part..a simple no is all it takes.

And I also liked the comment about teach out forces to take and not waterboard is a plus. Again still feel yucky but can see the other side of it.

posted by: Walt on March 4, 2013  5:20pm


Thank you very much for the Gaelic greeting

It was especially appropriate this afternoon as I had just returned from a doc who told me that a problem about which   I was quite concerned was really no where near as serious as I feared

Must admit that as a third generation Irish- American on both sides of the family, I had no idea what your phrase meant.  The only Gaelic phrase I can recall right now is very insulting.

Looked up the definition but my computer gives no appropriate Gaelic reply.

So, thanks again!

posted by: streever on March 6, 2013  10:05am

Hhe: Yes, definitely. I’m also shaking my head a little that this is the worst thing in the world to some of these people, while Yale medicine does exploitative studies every day! on people with addiction problems. We accept some of those studies because the long-term good may out-weight the short-term cost. This study may also do that, and to see some of my fellow liberals hand-wring and pretend that world peace is around the corner is a bit maddening.

Where are you when Yale does studies that involve drug abuse and exploit people with addiction?

When they offer a placebo to one group that absolutely needs & can not afford a medication, and has signed up hoping for real treatment?

When the 30 day study ends and the person being helped by the actual medication is now left without?

Seriously, where are the hand-wringers when those studies—which happen every week!—go down? They are also exploitative and awful.

I’m just a bit disenchanted with you—and other New Haveners—who seem to use the exploitation of people who are not white as an excuse to bash Yale, which is what I suspect a lot of this is.

Yes, New Haven loves to hate Yale, especially grad students and grumpy alums and former/current staff members, but I don’t think that this is Yale’s fault. I think it is a complex problem, and by calling it “interrogation” and cetera you do no one any favors and instead reveal your own bias against Yale.

I don’t think you’ve made a reasonable case for why THIS study is as bad as you suggest and why Yale has to be exposed for their very limited part in it. I think this study is just in the news, and provides a convenient vehicle for New Haven liberals who want to show off how liberal they are.

posted by: lkulmann on March 6, 2013  7:30pm

Unless you know Yale and have experienced the internal workings of Yale you really cannot speak to it. Yale does what Yale wants to do. There are no rules and if there are rules they are on paper only.

posted by: Nashstreeter on March 7, 2013  12:28am

Chill out, Streever. No need for name-calling. All that “Yale bashing,” “hand-wringers” and “grumpy alums and staff members” stuff doesn’t really help a discussion along. It’s especially weird when you call yourself a “fellow liberal.” This is not even a Yale experiment we’re talking about. It’s FBI training, with a Yale connection.

I didn’t mean to imply that the study was bad because it exploited our Colombian population. I meant it was bad because it was stupidly designed, partly because of it’s failure to recognize and account for the difference between a cheerful immigrant perhaps earning $150 and a hostile combatant who speaks a language in a whole nother alphabet. And it failed to account for the implicit power imbalance between the study’s investigators and the interviewees.

There may be some misunderstanding about my use of the word “interrogation.” I was referring to the skills the trainees were looking to improve, not to the interviewing process in the study. Maybe I didn’t make that clear.

For me, the most troubling aspect of Yale’s arrangement with the FBI has to do with the difference between military-type training and a university education.

Military training has a narrow educational goal: to teach people how to effectively perform their designated roles within a rigidly hierarchical enterprise, which itself is the servant of the current government’s various policies. Those roles are quite restricted and do not easily allow critical, individual or moral calculations, except when military personnel decide to employ that kind of thinking on their own initiative against orders.

Even those in the military whose primary job is analysis and strategizing have been thoroughly indoctrinated in the structure of saluting and obeying orders before they are promoted to higher positions.

A university education, on the other hand, is (or should be) about something quite at odds with the military model: against indoctrination and a promoter of critical (even rebellious) thinking. It asks students (not “trainees”) to figure out for themselves the ethical, moral and societal implications of their actions.

Clearly, Yale does not offer a university course in, say, How To Tell If Someone Under Interrogation Is Lying 101. It also (I hope) doesn’t offer courses in Advanced Sniper Techniques 202. But it has offered a Yale connection to those whose interests lie in learning how to more effectively wage war. Don’t we have a Quantico or West Point for that?

posted by: Nashstreeter on March 7, 2013  12:33am

It’s hard for me to imagine just how effective interrogation technique fits in with the Yale Medical School’s mission—to improve the practice of medicine, to treat disease and improve health. Now that Yale has re-embraced ROTC and military recruiters on campus—and with this new revelation of supporting training for FBI personnel in interrogation techniques—the university seems bent on trying to become a “player” in governmental defense support services.

It’s not “Yale-bashing” to want to understand—and be free to criticize—the conduct of New Haven’s largest employer. It dominates our city. It affects our tax rates. It can be generous at times and insular and arrogant at others. It is a huge institution over which we citizens have very little control. We need to be critically engaged with its presence here.