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DHS says FBI “possibly funded” Terrorist Group

11:40 pm in Terrorism by Jeff Kaye

J. Edgar Hoover

It was most surprising to come across the following entry at the website for the National Consortium for the Study of Terrorism and Responses for Terrorism (known by the acronym START), which is run by the Department of Homeland Security out of the University of Maryland. According to DHS, START is one of their “centers of excellence,” an academic center sponsored by the DHS’s Science and Technology Directorate.

The webpage concerns the “Terrorist Organization Profile” for the Secret Army Organization, a right-wing terrorist group in the early 1970s, a group START writes was “possibly funded by the FBI.”

According to START, “The Secret Army Organization (SAO), a right-wing militant group based in San Diego, was active from 1969 to 1972. They targeted individuals and groups who spoke out against the Vietnam War, especially those who organized public demonstrations and distributed anti-war literature.”

Indeed, if we could turn the clock back to June 1975, we would read an article in the New York Times, “A.C.L.U. Says F.B.I. Funded ‘Army’ to Terrorize Antiwar Protesters.”

According to the Times, the ACLU compiled a 5,000 page report on the SAO, a group of former Minutemen and other right-wingers and violent home-grown fascists, for the benefit of the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence, “alleging the Federal Bureau of Intelligence recruited a band of right-wing terrorists and supplied them with money and weapons to attack young antiwar demonstrators.”

But that’s not all, the SAO engaged in bombing and attempted assassination, and guess whose house the weapons turned up in? But I’m getting ahead of myself. Let’s let the DHS’s “Center of Excellence” inform us of this important episode in our history, which came, by the way, after the FBI claimed they had stopped their Cointelpro program of disruption of the Left.

Assassination Attempt, FBI Agent Hides the Weapon

From START’s SAO webpage:

The report also stated that the SAO planned to kidnap and murder protestors of the 1972 Republican National Convention, which was to be held in San Diego before being relocated to Miami Beach. An assassination attempt of Dr. Peter Bohmer, professor at San Diego State University, and Paula Tharp, reporter for the San Diego Street Journal, brought about the arrests of several SAO members who later acknowledge an FBI connection. During the investigation, the gun used in the assassination attempt was found in the home of FBI agent Steven Christiansen, who was subsequently identified as a SAO contact. In 1973, Godfrey, testifying as an FBI informant, claimed he received up to $20,000 in weapons and a $250 per month income from the FBI to recruit new SAO members and provide information to agents. He also testified to the criminal acts of several SAO operatives, including fellow leader Jerry Lynn Davis. Official statements from the FBI claimed no involvement with the SAO, and no agents were prosecuted.

The story of the SAO is a forgotten piece of contemporary history that is directly relevant to a number of current issues, including the prosecution of the bogus “war on terror,” and the FBI’s role in it; the debates about government participation in and legalization of assassination of its own citizens; and government surveillance of and attacks upon dissent in this country.

It also could be considered a prime example of the historical amnesia that plagues our times, an amnesia hastened by disinterest by the major media, cheered on by government agencies none too interested in accountability for government overreach or even criminality.

Links to the President

According to the Ann Arbor Sun at the time, the ACLU tagged the SAO as “an interagency apparatus organized ‘at the direction of Richard M. Nixon.’”

Reportedly the link to Nixon came via Watergate burglar White House “plumbers” operative Donald Segretti, who affidavits claimed had given funds and military hardware to SAO to disrupt the 1972 GOP convention in San Diego. (The convention was subsequently moved to Miami Beach.)

But it was the FBI who seems to have been operationally in charge.

From the Sun: “SAO operative Jerry Lynn Davis, who once participated in the CIA’s Bay of Pigs invasion, revealed that [admitted FBI informant Howard Barry] Godfrey had regularly supplied the SAO with money and weapons on behalf of the FBI.”

A newspaper office was attacked. A car firebombed. Informants infiltrated, while meetings were monitored. There were plans to poison the punch at antiwar meetings. A theater was bombed. Bulletins were published on “how to make booby traps, how to use ammonium nitrate in high explosives,” And then, there was the assassination plot, or rather plots, as the SAO bungled one assassination attempt after another to kill a left-wing professor at San Diego State.

How It Went Down, and the Cover-up

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DoD Whistleblower: Documents Show Intel Withheld from 9/11 Congressional Investigators

2:46 pm in Military, Terrorism by Jeff Kaye

As I reported back on May 24, both here and at Truthout, a Department of Defense Inspector General for Intelligence report, declassified only months ago, corroborated the accusations of a former Acting Chief of the Asymmetrical Threats Division of Joint Forces Intelligence Command (JFIC) that his unit was told to stop tracking Osama bin Laden in the months prior to 9/11. But the IG report (PDF) cleared JFIC of any wrongdoing and declared, regarding charges JFIC withheld information when asked, that the intelligence agency had “provided a timely and accurate reply in response to the 9/11 Commission.”

Except, thanks to the former Acting Chief of the Asymmetric Threats Division, who released his original declassified letter of complaint to the DoD IG to Truthout, we can see that he never made a claim about information withheld from the 9/11 Commission. The complainant, who the IG dubbed “Iron Man” to protect his identity, said in his letter (PDF) that the “purpose” of his coming forward was “to formally complain” to the inspector general that “JFIC, when instructed in or before May 2002 to provide all original material it might have relevant to al-Qa’ida and the 9/11 attacks for a Congressional inquiry, intentionally misinformed the Department of Defense that it had no purview on such matters and no such material” (emphasis added).

The Congressional inquiry, published in December 2002 as “Joint Inquiry into Intelligence Community Activities Before And After The Terrorist Attacks Of September 11, 2001″ (large PDF), never mentions the Asymmetrical Threat Division, called DO5 in government documents, or that JFIC was tracking Osama bin Laden, or perhaps most explosively, that multiple briefings were given on possible targeting by Al Qaeda, as early as summer 2000, of the World Trade Center and the Pentagon.

Indeed, these buildings were considered the top targets by DO5, and the military intelligence analysts considered contacting WTC security and architectural/engineering staff, but held off, as Iron Man put it, “because of a command climate discouraging contact with the civilian community.”

Briefings were given on DO5′s work to other elements at U.S. Joint Forces Command (parent command to JFIC and DO5), to CIA, DIA, NSA, NCIS, and other agencies. Iron Man listed some of the names of who received the briefings in his letter of complaint, but they are redacted in the declassified version provided to Truthout.

The entire story and Iron Man’s documents are the subject of a new article at Truthout, authored by Jason Leopold and myself. Iron Man, a former deputy and then Acting Head of the Asymmetrical Threats Division, came forward for reasons of integrity, both professional and personal. Iron Man wrote to the IG in 2006:

I do believe that knowledge of the work done by DO5 would add to DoD’s understanding of its role in the events leading up to 9/11, and how to avoid future attacks. I have been falsely accused of revealing classified information on DO5′s work, when I am certain that information is not and has not been classified since 9/11, and I do want to see myself cleared of that false accusation. In addition, I and the deputy of that team, [redacted], especially carried the burden of knowledge of how close DoD came to bin Ladin and perhaps being able to reduce the number of lives lost on 9/11. I do not want that burden any longer.”

According to Truthout, both a Defense Department spokesperson and spokespeople for the House and Senate Intelligence Committees did not respond to calls for comment.

Why Does It Matter?

The entire 9/11 field of inquiry has been vilified, poisoned over the years by ridicule, sometimes fantastic conspiracy mongering, and fearfulness by journalists of approaching the material, lest they be branded as irresponsible or some kind of conspiracy freak. As a result, little work has been done to investigate, except by a small group of people, some of whom have raised some real questions, others who were intoxicated by the possibility of some giant conspiracy.

If anything, this story is about an intelligence and oversight scandal. It happens to concern 9/11, a very important and meaningful event in modern times. The official story says that no one knew that Al Qaeda was going to attack the World Trade Center or Pentagon, that there was an intelligence failure. But a whistleblower who was a primary participant in the intelligence work around Al Qaeda, whose department worked closely with the military command responsible for terrorism aimed against the United States (USJFCOM’s JTF-Civil Support), has come forward to say that narrative is not true, and to document how and why.

In the future, I’ll next take a look at the IG report itself, which concentrated on Iron Man’s allegations surrounding JFIC’s cover-up of its activities. The report, titled “Review of Joint Forces Intelligence Command Response to 9/11 Commission,” was either a totally inept job from start from finish — even getting the allegation wrong, as noted above — or it was a suborning of IG function to squelch misdeeds from being reported.

Congress should be looking at this pronto, or it will be assumed that its oversight function is a total joke, and the august Senators presiding over their oversight committees mere stooges.

Top U.S. Behavioral Scientists Studied Survival Schools to Create Torture Program Over 50 Years Ago

12:02 pm in Uncategorized by Jeff Kaye

In commemoration of the passage of the treaty known as the Convention Against Torture (CAT), the United Nations declared June 26 the International Day of Support of Victims of Torture, I want to review where we are in the fight against U.S. torture today. I also want to revisit some important episodes in the history of how we arrived here, including the a look at the role of top U.S. behavioral scientists in the construction of a torture program for the CIA and military.

The U.S. is formally a signatory to CAT, but from the day it was ratified by the U.S. Senate, the treaty was eviscerated by a number of "reservations, declarations, and understandings", which legalisms were meant to shield the United States from actions that any reasonable person would understand constitute torture or cruel, inhumane, or degrading treatment of prisoners. Still, the CAT remained a formidable obstacle to the Bush/Cheney lawyers, when they were drawing up their memorandum to allow torture. Yoo, Bybee and Bradbury made sure they addressed legal problems for the administration faced by the treaty the U.S. signed, and turned rhetorical and forensic somersaults to make sure that no one would charge U.S. actors for the crimes of torture.

Meanwhile, the administration of Barack Obama has made a fetish of the idea that U.S. society must not "look backward," and refuses to promote the necessary investigations and prosecutions of the crimes undertaken by the Bush/Cheney administration — and this is true even after recent revelations indicate that besides torture, illegal human experimentation on prisoners also occurred. Even worse, there is plenty of evidence to now indicate the Obama administration has itself embraced the policies of rendition, secret prisons, assassination, and abuse of prisoners.

Nor has Congress acquitted itself especially well. The Senate Armed Services Committee (SASC) undertook an in-depth investigation of Department of Defense involvement in detainee abuse, producing a fairly redacted public report that described how the Joint Personnel Recovery Agency and its Survival, Evasion, Resistance, Escape school (SERE) personnel were utilized to teach torture methods to the CIA, the DIA, and Special Operations teams (and perhaps others — see PDF report). Nevertheless, the SASC never recommended any specific reforms, and not one high-ranking military officer was held accountable for what had occurred. The use of JPRA personnel in interrogations remained "a policy decision" to be decided by the Secretary of Defense — who happens to remain, over a third of the way through Obama’s current term of office, Bush Secretary of Defense Robert Gates.

The Senate and House Intelligence Committees were supposedly briefed on the CIA’s interrogation program, but as a number of articles by Marcy Wheeler have documented, the CIA lied about who was briefed, and falsified the evidence of the briefings when it was convenient to them.

Even so, one could criticize the overall actions of Congress on the torture issue. The Senate Intelligence Committee currently is investigating the circumstances around the CIA’s interrogation of Abu Zubaydah, and other aspects of the CIA "enhanced interrogation" program, including charges of human experimentation. But this investigation is behind closed doors, and we cannot judge its efficacy, nor does it do what real investigations of torture should do: educate the public about what has occurred, and mobilize society for the necessary task of cleaning up the government from the infection of torture and brutality that debilitates it. In order to keep the truth at bay, ever-increasing attacks against whistleblowers, ever-increasing encroachments on civil liberties and privacy, are taking place.

On this International Day of Support of Victims of Torture, I offer a reposting of an article of mine from last year, posted at Jason Leopold’s The Public Record. This is an important article that details the origins of the torture program, and demonstrates the importance of delaying real accountability. A failure to end the practice of torture has resulted in increasing militarism, increasing governmental secrecy, and the empowerment of a clique of individuals whose operations and immorality have penetrated to every major societal institution.

If this article is too long for you, bookmark it and read it later. Send it to your iPad or Kindle, print it out and read it at your leisure (though you might miss the hyperlinks). As an accompanying piece, you might also wish to take a look at this excellent diary at Daily Kos, which describes the uses of torture domestically, in U.S. jails and Supermax prisons. Torture at home, torture abroad, the question we must be asking ourselves is this: So far down the road to becoming a "torture state," do we have the courage and fortitude to turn back, to create a better society, or will we succumb to barbarism?

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Top U.S. Behavioral Scientists Studied Survival Schools to Create Torture Program Over 50 Years Ago

A couple of recent articles have highlighted the unseemly fact that some past presidents of the American Psychological Association (APA), the foremost professional organization for psychologists in the United States, if not the world, had links to the use of torture, or at least to military research into coercive interrogations.

An article by Jane Mayer in the recent New Yorker on CIA Director Leon Panetta noted in passing the participation of a former APA president Joseph Matarazzo on the governing staff of the Mitchell, Jessen & Associates (MJA) torture firm. First identified as one of the “governing people” of MJA by Bill Morlin in a Spokesman Review article in August 2007, Matarazzo is now known to have also been CIA, as noted in an article by Physicians for Human Rights Campaign Against Torture director, Nathaniel Raymond (emphasis added):

Mayer notes, parenthetically, that she has learned from the CIA’s Kirk Hubbard that former American Psychological Association president Joseph Matarazzo sat on the CIA’s professional-standards board at the time when psychologists James Mitchell and Bruce Jessen were developing an interrogation program for the CIA, based on the US military’s SERE training program.

This new information came at the same time as former APA insider Bryant Welch was publishing his own tell-all about APA and the Defense Department, "Torture, Psychology, and Daniel Inouye". Welch singled out former APA presidents Gerald Koocher and Ron Levant, along with Senator Daniel Inouye’s office, as key lobbyists for the participation of psychologists in interrogations (emphasis added):

One of Inouye’s administrative assistants, psychologist Patrick Deleon, has long been active in the APA and served a term in 2000 as APA president. For significant periods of time DeLeon has literally directed APA staff on federal policy matters and has dominated the APA governance on political matters. For over twenty-five years, relationships between the APA and the Department of Defense (DOD) have been strongly encouraged and closely coordinated by DeLeon.

Another famous former APA president, Martin Seligman, was also linked with the government’s recent torture program. According to Jane Mayer, Seligman taught his “learned helplessness” theories to the Survival, Evasion, Resistance, Escape or SERE psychologists, who reverse-engineered it into the “Enhanced Interrogation Techniques” used by the CIA and DoD to torture prisoners in “war on terror” prisons around the world. Seligman admitted lecturing at SERE, but has denied any role in torture.

The role of former APA presidents DeLeon, Koocher, Levant, Seligman, and Matarazzo in supporting the role of military psychologists in interrogations, even after evidence of torture by the U.S. government was manifest, is perhaps unequalled in the annals of professional societies, as providing political, and possibly organizational and theoretical or practical support to unethical procedures, especially torture. (Stephen Soldz has outlined some of this recent history in an article just posted at ACLU Blog of Rights.) One might think this a terrible offshoot of the former Bush administration’s insane post-9/11 turn to the “dark side.”

But that is not the end of the story; it is not even the beginning.

Before this set of military/CIA-collaborationist APA presidents, there was Harry Harlow, and before him, Donald Hebb. Both were famous, distinguished U.S. psychologists, and both had been presidents of the APA in the 1950s. Both engaged in research, some of it secret, for the military and CIA. Hebb was a pioneer in the study of sensory deprivation. Harlow’s contribution was more synthetic: he helped construct an entire paradigm around the problem of how to break down an individual by torture.

In 1956, in the pages of an obscure academic journal, Sociometry, I.E. Farber, Harry F. Harlow, and psychiatrist Louis Jolyon West published a classic work on interrogation, Brainwashing, Conditioning, and DDD (Debility, Dependency, and Dread) (BCD). It was based on a report for the Study Group on Survival Training, paid for by the U.S. Air Force. (See West LJ., Medical and psychiatric considerations in survival training. In Report of the Special Study Group on Survival Training (AFR 190 16). Lackland Air Force Base, Tex: Air Force Personnel and Training Research Centers; 1956.) This research linked Air Force “Survival” training, later called SERE, with torture techniques, and as we will see, use of such techniques by the CIA, something we would see again decades later in the Mitchell-Jessen “exploitation” plan.

BCD examined the various types of stress undergone by prisoners, and narrowed them down to “three important elements: debility, dependency, and dread”.

Debility was a condition caused by “semi-starvation, fatigue, and disease”. It induced “a sense of terrible weariness”.

Dependency on the captors for some relief from their agony was something “produced by the prolonged deprivation of many of the factors, such as sleep and food… [and] was made more poignant by occasional unpredictable brief respites.” The use of prolonged isolation of the prisoner, depriving an individual of expected social intercourse and stimulation, “markedly strengthened the dependency”.

Dread probably needs no explanation, but BCD described it as “chronic fear…. Fear of death, fear of pain, fear of nonrepatriation, fear of deformity of permanent disability…. even fear of one’s own inability to satisfy the demands of insatiable interrogators.”

The bulk of BCD explains the effects of DDD in terms of Pavlovian conditioning and the learning theories of American psychologist Edward Thorndike. The consequence of the resulting “collapse of ego functions” is described as similar to “postlobotomy syndrome”.

By disorganizing the perception of those experiential continuities constituting the self-concept and impoverishing the basis for judging self-consistency, DDD affects one’s habitual ways of looking at and dealing with oneself. [p. 275]

BCD explains aspects of the U.S. torture program that otherwise to our eyes appear insane. (Not that it isn’t on a moral level “insane.”) Take the painful stress positioning of prisoners documented at Abu Ghraib and other U.S.-run detainee prisons — most recently, at Bagram prison in Afghanistan. BCE explains: it’s all part of inducing dependency through expectation of relief, but in a diabolical way. Forced stress positions are a “self-inflicted punishment”, one which increases the expectancy of relief via “voluntary” means. But the latter is “delusory… since the captor may select any behavior he chooses as the condition for relieving a prisoner’s distress” [pp. 276-277].

This form of carrot and stick torture may not seem that sophisticated, but it is the use of basic nervous system functioning and human instinctual need that makes it “scientific”. The need for sensory stimulation and social interaction, the need to eat, to sleep, to reduce fear, all of these are used to build dependencies upon the captor, using the fact that “the strengthening effects of rewards — in this instance the alleviation of an intensely unpleasant emotional state — are fundamentally automatic” [p. 278]. This impairment of higher cognitive states and disruption and disorganization of the prisoner’s self-concept, producing something like “a pathological organic state”, was subsequently modified and used by the CIA in its interrogations of countless individuals. If more brutal forms of torture sometimes were used, especially by over-eager foreign agents or governments, DDD remained the gold standard, the programmatic core of counterintelligence interrogation at the heart of the CIA’s own intelligence manuals.

Chapter Nine of the 1963 CIA KUBARK manual, ”Coercive Counterintelligence Interrogation of Resistant Sources,” describes coercive interrogation procedures as “designed to induce regression.”

The anonymous authors of KUBARK quote the BCD article specifically:

Farber says that the response to coercion typically contains “… at least three important elements: debility, dependency, and dread.” Prisoners “… have reduced viability, are helplessly dependent on their captors for the satisfaction of their many basic needs, and experience the emotional and motivational reactions of intense fear and anxiety”….

The subheads to the chapter are evocative of the DDD paradigm: “Deprivation of Sensory Stimuli”, “Threats and Fear”, “Debility”, “Pain”, “Heightened Suggestibility and Hypnosis”, and “Narcosis”. That this was all constructed, in part, by the demented genius of a famous U.S. psychologist and former president of the APA only contributes to a deep, dark irony that runs like a blood-red gash through the body politic of this country.

The 2006 rewrite of the Army Field Manual was lauded for banning the beating of prisoners, threatening them with dogs, sexual humiliation, performing mock executions, electrocution of prisoners, and waterboarding, among other “techniques.” But in an appendix to the manual, the following procedures are authorized for certain prisoners: complete separation, sometimes with forced wearing of goggles and earmuffs, for up to 30 days (after which approval for more must be sought); limiting sleep to four hours a day, for 30 straight days (and more, with approval); and other concurrent techniques, including “futility”, “incentive”, and “fear up harsh”. In the latter, fear within a detainee is significantly increased, through knowledge of the person’s phobias, if possible.

In the press, and in the speeches of politicians on both sides of the aisle, the new AFM was praised as a model of reform. The CIA was urged to embrace the AFM’s policies, but has demurred. Meanwhile, the Obama administration is studying the interrogation issue, but so far has advocated the AFM be the government-wide interogation standard. Why, one wonders, as it’s evident the AFM has maintained a core DDD operational capacity (isolation, sleep and sensory deprivation, fear)? The Center for Constitutional Rights, Physicians for Human Rights, Amnesty International and other human rights organization have called publicly for the Obama administration to rescind Appendix M and other offensive sections of the Army Field Manual.

It is important that all elements of the U.S. torture program be exposed and made illegal. If the country can not rise morally to this, then a terrifying future lies before us.

CIA Second Taping System Reported in Zubaydah Interrogation

11:20 pm in Uncategorized by Jeff Kaye

Jason Leopold has published an important article on Abu Zubaydah and the questions swirling around the destruction of the videotapes of his interrogation by the CIA. The Truthout reporter writes that a number of intelligence sources have described a hitherto unreported second taping system that was used on Zubaydah at the black site CIA prison in Thailand where the interrogations took place in 2002-2003.

Reportedly, this second set of tapes appear to have been used to collect "’data’ about Zubaydah, specifically, how much mental and physical pain he could endure after each torture session he was subjected to that took place prior to the issuance of OLC legal memos in August 2002." This data was then used to shape the parameters of the torture program and the types of legal approval John Yoo, Jay Bybee and Steven Bradbury gave in those legal memos.

It is unknown if the purported second taping system was used on other CIA prisoners at the Thailand black site, but Leopold’s article also reports, in another important angle on the scandal, "that a similar taping system was also set up at a secret site at Guantanamo about a year later where interrogations of other high-value prisoners were also recorded." Last January, Scott Horton at Harper’s published a major expose concerning the possible killings of three prisoners in 2006 at a hitherto unrevealed secret site at Guantanamo unofficially known as Camp No. The prisoners had previously been labeled "suicides" by camp officials.

The issue of the tapes disposal has been under criminal investigation for many months by Special Prosecutor John Durham. Last August, Attorney General Holder also picked Mr. Durham to lead an inquiry into the abuse of prisoners subjected to the CIA’s interrogation program.

The investigation into the destruction of the tapes has included grand jury testimony by some CIA principals and a grant of immunity to CIA attorney John McPherson, who, according to the Washington Post, "reviewed the tapes years before they were destroyed to determine whether they diverged from written records about the interrogations."

Leopold is now reporting that the Senate Intelligence Committee has decided to look into the situation surrounding Abu Zubaydah’s CIA interrogation:

The panel will scrutinize thousands of pages of highly classified documents related to Zubaydah’s detention and torture to determine, among other things, whether the techniques he was subjected to [were] accurately reflected in CIA cable traffic sent back to Langley, whether he ever provided actionable intelligence to his torturers, and how the CIA and other government agencies came to rely on flawed intelligence that led the Bush administration to classify him as the No. 3 person in al-Qaeda and its first high-value detainee, Hill sources said.

As was reported in May 2009, FBI interrogator Ali Soufan, who was one of the early interrogators of Mr. Zubaydah, in his prepared statement to the Senate Armed Services Committee investigating prisoner abuse, mentioned the experimental nature of the CIA’s interrogation methods no less than four times. Mr. Zubaydah himself told the International Committee of the Red Cross that he heard or he suspected the CIA was experimenting with torture techniques upon him. I reported at the time:

It seems likely that Abu Zubaydah was a primary subject of JPRA/SERE’s reverse-engineering of torture techniques, using the paradigm of psychologist and former American Psychological Association president Martin Seligman’s theory of "learned helplessness."

According to a report last month by Mr. Leopold, a national security official said that Abu Zubaydah was used as an "experiment. A guinea pig." News of a second taping system, used to gather specific kinds of psychological or psychiatric data on the CIA’s interrogation subject(s), appear at the same time as revelations stemming from a release of CIA documents to the ACLU that describe CIA officials asking for "instructions" regarding the "disposition of hard drives and magnetic media" associated with the torture of Abu Zubaydah. Marcy Wheeler has been following a number of issues associated with the release of these documents at her Emptywheel blog.