WASHINGTON -- Two psychologists were paid $81 million by the CIA to advise on and help implement its brutal interrogation program targeting detainees in the war on terror, according to the Senate torture report summary released Tuesday.
The contract psychologists are identified with pseudonyms -- Grayson Swigert and Hammond Dunbar -- like most of the individuals named in the Senate Intelligence Committee's report on the CIA program. Published reports dating back to 2007, however, identify the two men as James Elmer Mitchell and Bruce Jessen, both former members of the military.
According to the documents released Tuesday, Mitchell and Jessen -- aka Swigert and Dunbar -- played a key role in this grim chapter of American history.
The Senate report details how Swigert and Dunbar traveled the world for the CIA, devising and carrying out interrogations using tactics that meet widely accepted definitions of torture. The two men were also entrusted with judging whether their methods were successful. Not surprisingly, they reported to their CIA bosses that their methods were crucial to persuading prisoners to divulge high-value information.
For six years, starting in 2002, the two psychologists operated what amounted to a feedback loop of torture, coming up with new ways to inflict pain on detainees and then convincing CIA brass that the harsh tactics had worked.
Although Jessen has previously said that a confidentiality agreement prevents him from discussing his work for the CIA, the two men in 2007 issued a statement saying, "The advice we have provided, and the actions we have taken have been legal and ethical." They added, "We are proud of the work we have done for our country."
The report reveals that for Dunbar and Swigert, that work was also a cash cow.
After initially helping to devise the "enhanced interrogation" efforts, they were designated as the only two contractors allowed to oversee these interrogations at sites around the world. In 2005, they formed a company to receive contracts from the CIA. According to the Senate report, the base value of their contract in 2006 was in excess of $180 million.
By the time the CIA terminated their contract in 2009, the consulting firm founded by the two men had collected $81 million in taxpayer money. In May of that year, ProPublica reported, the firm abruptly gave up the lease on its Spokane, Washington, headquarters and disconnected the phone.
Still, according to the Senate report, the CIA will provide $5 million in indemnity costs to the firm to cover all legal expenses for potential criminal prosecution and investigations through 2021. The firm has already received $1.1 million from the CIA to cover legal expenses, much of that related to interviews with the Senate Intelligence Committee. In addition, Swigert and Dunbar received payments of $1.5 million and $1.1 million, respectively, as individuals.
Attempts to locate Jessen, Mitchell or their firm Mitchell, Jessen & Associates on Tuesday were unsuccessful.
The psychologists and their company were responsible for overseeing interrogations under the torture program and were the “sole source contract to provide operational psychologists, debriefers, and security personnel at CIA detention sites,” according to the Senate report. The contract also stipulated that Swigert and Dunbar’s company would conduct long-term interviews with detainees to learn about the “terrorist mind set,” write the history of the program and develop “[redacted] strategies.”
The company would come to employ an undisclosed number of former CIA officers (the figure is redacted in the report) while the torture program would ultimately be staffed largely by contractors. At least officially, this gave the CIA a certain distance from the brutality that was used. According to the report, contractors accounted for 85 percent of the program’s staff by 2008.
In 2002, Dunbar and Swigert were contractors for the CIA’s Office of Technical Services, but it was their previous work as psychologists for the U.S. Air Force Survival, Evasion, Resistance and Escape (SERE) school that brought them to the attention of officials seeking to create a new interrogation program after 9/11. Military personnel attending the SERE school are put through a series of abusive interrogation techniques in order to teach them how to resist, should they ever be captured by an enemy.
The psychologists used this training to build the CIA’s torture program.
According to the Senate report, neither Swigert nor Dunbar had any relevant experience in traditional interrogation methods used by the CIA and the FBI. “Neither psychologist had experience as an interrogator, nor did either have specialized knowledge of al-Qa’ida, a background in terrorism, or any relevant regional, cultural, or linguistic expertise,” the report states.
This lack of experience was seen as bonus by the CIA as the two men were tasked with implementing a new form of interrogation. A footnote in the report includes a statement from the agency explaining why they were employed: “Drs. Swigert and Dunbar had the closest proximate expertise CIA sought at the beginning of the program, specifically in the area of non-standard means of interrogation. Experts on traditional interrogation methods did not meet this requirement.”
According to the report, they were brought on early to assess the interrogation of Abu Zubaydah, then considered a high-value al Qaeda target, and immediately began suggesting more oppressive techniques. The report says the CIA accepted all of their recommendations.
In April 2002, Dunbar and Swigert suggested subjecting Zubaydah to sensory deprivation. In July 2002, the CIA discussed employing “novel interrogation methods” against Zubaydah. The report indicates that Swigert proposed the use of the 12 methods of interrogation training from the SERE school. These were “(1) the attention grasp, (2) walling, (3) facial hold, (4) facial slap, (5) cramped confinement, (6) wall standing, (7) stress positions, (8) sleep deprivation, (9) waterboard, (10) use of diapers, (11) use of insects, and (12) mock burial.”
The idea was to create a “level of helplessness” that induced the detainee to provide the desired information. As detailed in the report, tortured detainees often provided false information just to tell their captors something.
According to the report, the two psychologists were sent in June 2003 to a detention site to interrogate Khaled Sheikh Mohammed, the mastermind of the 9/11 attacks, and to "assess KSM's 'psychological stability.'"
As early as 2003, the report shows that concerns were raised about the conflicts of interest that could arise when Dunbar and Swigert, who devised and monitored the aggressive techniques, were also tasked with judging their effectiveness. Essentially, the two were being paid to assess their own work, a practice that violated the CIA's stated policy.
Conflicts of interest were "never more graphic," the Senate report notes, than when Dunbar and Swigert performed all three phases of an interrogation. First, they "applied an [enhanced interrogation technique] which only they were approved to employ." Second, they "judged both its effectiveness and detainee resilience." And third, they "implicitly proposed continued use of the technique -- at a daily compensation reported to be $1800/day, or four times that of interrogators who could not use the technique."
The problem was there from the start, in the aftermath of Swigert and Dunbar’s interrogation of Zubaydah. The two contractors performed every technique from the SERE school on Zubaydah, according to the report, and ultimately discovered that the detainee did not have the information they were seeking from him.
In a cable that the Senate report states was written by Swigert and Dunbar, the two call Zubaydah’s interrogation a success and argue that the techniques employed “should be used as a template for future interrogation of high value captives.”
The cable also indicated who should participate in future interrogations: Psychologists, like Swigert and Dunbar, “familiar with interrogation, exploitation and resistance to interrogation should shape compliance of high value captives prior to debriefing by substantive experts.”