Two Psychologists Who Worked As Interrogation Advisers for the CIA Were Paid $81 Million for Their Services


By Elaine Magliaro

Paul Blumenthal and Christina Wilkie published an article Tuesday night at Huffington  Post about two psychologists who worked as interrogation advisers for the CIA. The two men helped the government agency “implement its brutal interrogation program targeting detainees in the war on terror…” According to the Senate torture report, the psychologists were generously remunerated for services rendered. They were paid $81 million.

Blumenthal and Wilkie:

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.

Blumenthal and Wilkie said that the torture report “details how Swigert and Dunbar traveled the world for the CIA…” They were said to have devised and carried out “interrogations using tactics that meet widely accepted definitions of torture.” In addition, the two psychologists “were also entrusted with judging whether their methods were successful.” The authors of the HuffPo article said the advisers, unsurprisingly, “reported to their CIA bosses that their methods were crucial to persuading prisoners to divulge high-value information.” For six years, beginning in 2002, Swigert and Dunbar “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.”

Blumenthal and Wilkie:

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.”

Click here to read the full text of Blumenthal and Wilkie’s article Architects Of CIA Torture Program Raked In $81 Million, Report Reveals.



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28 Responses to Two Psychologists Who Worked As Interrogation Advisers for the CIA Were Paid $81 Million for Their Services

  1. Bob Kauten says:

    I’m slowly reading my way through the Senate Summary report. It’s obvious to me that all of the CIA interrogators, including “Swigert” and “Dunbar,” and their supervisors, should be incarcerated in prison or in mental institutions. The entire collection of monsters should be kept strictly away from humans.

  2. Mike Spindell says:

    “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.”

    Scumbags deserving a lifetime of their own medicine.

  3. pete says:

    thirty pieces of silver is worth more than I thought.

  4. Guys,
    Like the Operation Phoenix program of forty plus years ago, this goes way deeper and further back than anyone on this site knows. I can trace the roots of it back to the Korean conflict and further. I have neither the time or energy to catalog everything, but let’s say it smells to high heaven. I just had a small offline dustup with some colleagues about this. There are psychologists in high places who don’t pass the smell test, and neither does certain elements within the APA. If I get to feeling better, I want to write about it. No one will ever know all the sordid details, because the cockroaches are scurrying for cover.

    The American Psychological Association has issued a press release. Rather than copy and paste, here is the link. Want to know what I think? This is a CYA maneuver. The APA Executive Director for Professional Practice, Kathy Nordal, is a classmate of mine. She is good people, and wish I could ask her for her plain unvarnished opinion on this, but know she can’t give me a straight answer. Here is the APA press release from earlier today:

    • Mike Spindell says:

      “Like the Operation Phoenix program of forty plus years ago, this goes way deeper and further back than anyone on this site knows. I can trace the roots of it back to the Korean conflict and further. I have neither the time or energy to catalog everything, but let’s say it smells to high heaven.”

      Amen Chuck,

      As professionals in the field we both know that it ha its share of crazies, charlatans and sociopaths, willing to do unethical work for their personal benefit. In this case $81 million was enough to buy their souls, but I suspect those souls could have been easily bought for far, far less. I’d love to see you do a piece on it, given your background and connections.

  5. $81 million!

    Was that at a mil per subject? A 100k$ per. Dud it include a sign on bonus?

    What were the credentials?

    Their resumes?

    Do we get to know who picked these skunks? Who sent out tge memo/ directive?

  6. Talk about hypocrisy

    The only person in jail (John Kiriakou) for the torture program, is the man who tried to expose it

  7. bettykath says:

    According to Rachel Maddow, Mitchell and Jessen worked with military training in preparing our troops to withstand torture. It’s NOT enhanced interrogation, it’s torture. Euphemisms tend to downplay what was really going on.

  8. Elaine M. says:

    Report Portrays a Broken C.I.A. Devoted to a Failed Approach

    The protest from the chief of interrogations came amid weeks of torture of Abd al-Rahim al-Nashiri, a leading suspect in the bombing of two American embassies and a Navy ship. C.I.A. personnel working on the secret program had split into two camps. On one side were the chief of interrogations and nearly all of the personnel who had been questioning Mr. Nashiri. After two months of harsh questioning, the chief wrote, they believed that the prisoner had “been mainly truthful and is not withholding significant information.”

    On the other side were James E. Mitchell and Bruce Jessen, two former military psychologists who had advised the agency to use waterboarding and other coercive methods. With the support of C.I.A. headquarters, they insisted that Mr. Nashiri and other prisoners were still withholding crucial information, and that the application of sufficient pain and disorientation would eventually force them to disclose it. They thought the other faction was “running a ‘sissified’ interrogation program,” the report says.

    If those questioning Mr. Nashiri just had “the latitude to use the full range of enhanced exploitation and interrogation measures,” including waterboarding, Dr. Jessen wrote, they would be able to get more information. Such treatment, he wrote, after the two previous months of extremely harsh handling of Mr. Nashiri, would produce “the desired level of helplessness.”

  9. Eupho’s such as the great misnomers of the Right (who almost always wrong).

    Such as the the Department of [In]Justice

    Or the grand scheme of United States [can’t be trusted] Trustee

    U.S. Attorney Chris Christie Deferred Prosecution Agreement $50 Mill No Bid Contract
    (care to just slap out the real term for paying millions to head fed prosecutor – to no prosecute)

    Which leads U.S. right into the grand new misnom’ of a Fergurson [not so] Grand Jury

  10. Elaine M. says:

    CIA Paid Torture Teachers More Than $80 Million

    Although the committee identified the contractors via pseudonyms, NBC News has previously identified them as Mitchell, Jessen & Associates, a Spokane, Washington, company run by two psychologists, Dr. John “Bruce” Jessen and Dr. James Mitchell, who had both previously worked with the U.S. Air Force.

    The report states that when they were hired the two did not have “specialized knowledge of al Qaeda, a background in counterterrorism or any relevant cultural or linguistic experience.”

    In late July 2002 the CIA turned to the psychologists, according to both former intelligence officials and congressional investigators. Jessen was then a senior psychologist at the Defense Department agency that taught special operations forces how to resist and endure torture via so called “SERE” training, or Survival, Evasion, Resistance Escape training, at a special “SERE” school. Jessen was sent to the CIA “for several days” to discuss the techniques, according to congressional investigators. Jessen immediately resigned from the Air Force and, along with Mitchell, another recently retired colleague, founded Mitchell, Jessen & Associates.

    The business — co-owned by seven individuals, six of whom worked in the SERE program as either employees or contractors — quickly signed a contract with the CIA. In 2006, according to the report, “the value of the CIA’s base contract with the company formed by the psychologists with all options exercised was in excess of $180 million.” The deal initially provided the two principals with $1,000-a-day tax-free retainers.

    The Senate report states the contractor “developed the list of enhanced interrogation techniques and personally conducted interrogations of some of the CIA’s most significant detainees using those techniques. The contractors also evaluated whether the detainees’ psychological state allowed for continued use of the techniques, even for some detainees they themselves were interrogating or had interrogated.”

  11. bettykath says:

    How can the CIA give tax-free payments?

  12. How can they break the law?

    Where do they get the unmitigated gall to break the law and monitor Senator’s/aides?

    Hubris (that believes Lord’s heads never roll)

  13. Elaine M. says:

    Meet the Psychologists Who Helped the CIA Torture

    Both men came from an Air Force background, where they worked on the Survival, Evasion, Resistance, and Escape (SERE) program in which military personnel are trained to resist enemy questioning by enduring oftentimes brutal mock interrogations. Beyond that, though, they seemed otherwise poorly suited for the task of interrogating al-Qaeda detainees. “Neither psychologist had any experience as an interrogator,” the report notes, “nor did either have specialized knowledge of al-Qa’ida, a background in counterterrorism, or any relevant cultural or linguistic expertise.” Despite their lack of experience in these key areas, Mitchell and Jessen “carried out inherently governmental functions, such as acting as liaison between the CIA and foreign intelligence services, assessing the effectiveness of the interrogation program, and participating in the interrogation of detainees in held in foreign government custody.”

    So how did these two men come to play such an outsized role in developing and enacting the CIA’s torture program? Much of the story is captured in a 2009 Times article by Scott Shane. Shane writes that Mitchell, who after retirement “had started a training company called Knowledge Works” to supplement his income, realized that the post-9/11 military would provide business opportunities for those with his kind of experience and started networking with his contacts to seek them out.

    Eventually, Shane writes, Mitchell got himself an audience with the CIA, won some of its members over with his toughness-infused ideas for dealing with terrorists, brought his old friend Jessen onboard, and developed a proposed interrogation method of dealing with al-Qaeda detainees that would grow into the frequently brutal program described in the Senate report summary. Shane writes that Mitchell participated in the 2002 CIA interrogation of Abu Zubaydah, al-Qaeda’s purported third in command, in Thailand:

    With the backing of agency headquarters, Dr. Mitchell ordered Mr. Zubaydah stripped, exposed to cold and blasted with rock music to prevent sleep. Not only the F.B.I. agents but also C.I.A. officers at the scene were uneasy about the harsh treatment. Among those questioning the use of physical pressure, according to one official present, were the Thailand station chief, the officer overseeing the jail, a top interrogator and a top agency psychologist.

    From there, the business would only grow. “In 2005,” the Senate report states, “the psychologists formed a company specifically for the purpose of conducting their work with the CIA. Shortly thereafter, the CIA outsourced virtually all aspects of the program.” And while the company’s contract was terminated in 2009 amid a growing national outcry over government-sanctioned torture, by then Mitchell and Jessen’s years-long relationship with the CIA had already proven extremely profitable.

  14. The Wire writer (David Simon) has a style that is both blunt and direct in candor. Coupled with his extraordinary ability to prose – he makes some good stuff to read.

    Wish he were here! (Though his haughtier does irk me – time to time).

  15. Bob Kauten says:

    Does anyone here still think that the U.S.A. has a DOJ that is actually engaged in justice?
    And this is the group that will be investigating Ferguson and the Garner case?
    I have zero hope that the “DOJ” will do the right thing.
    They have no concept of what is right and what is wrong.
    If you’re still unconvinced, keep reading the Senate Summary report. It’s really hard slogging, not because it’s difficult to understand. It’s difficult to read of what your shadow government, using your taxes, does to living beings.
    We put people in prison for treating animals in this fashion. And we should.

  16. Andrew Kreig of the Justice Integrity Project (get it “JIP”d) – has a piece out about the white wash of investigations in the Bush era thingy’s. Including this issue and the firing of 8 U.S. Attorney’s.

    Mr. Kreig also notes that POTUS Obama has links to the CIA;
    and may even (with good reasons) – fear them.

  17. Concur Bob K;

    That’s why I often refer to it as the Department of [In]Justice.

  18. bettykath says:

    An interview with Mitchell

  19. swarthmoremom says:

    Christopher Hayes retweeted
    Amphibioustradamus ‏@Amphibionus 19m19 minutes ago

    At the least the CIA torture was quintessentially American: We paid unaccountable contractors ungodly sums of money for shoddy service.

  20. Swarth;

    And gave them a pat on the pat and (likely) a ‘Scot Free’ card too.


  21. Elaine M. says:

    The Psychologists Who Taught the C.I.A. How to Torture (and Charged $180 Million)

    The C.I.A.’s chief of interrogations, after seeing one of the interrogation plans devised by the psychologists, wrote to colleagues: “[t]his is a train wreak [sic] waiting to happen and I intend to get the hell off the train before it happens,” according to the report.

    The psychologists were playing so many different roles simultaneously that some C.I.A. and military staff became concerned about the apparent conflict of interest. One such warning, sent in a draft cable to C.I.A. headquarters, noted, “Another area of concern is the use of the psychologist as an interrogator. The role of the ops psychologist is to be a detached observer and serve as a check on the interrogator to prevent the interrogator from any unintentional excess of pressure which might cause permanent psychological harm to the subject.” But as the cable continued, “We note that [the proposed plan] contains a psychological interrogation assessment by psychologist [DUNBAR] which is to be carried out by interrogator [DUNBAR]. We have a problem with him conducting both roles simultaneously.”

    However, the conflict even exceeded the multiple roles played by the psychologists. Ultimately, according to the report, the C.I.A.’s Office of Medical Services raised concerns that the conflicts of interest were “nowhere more graphic than in the setting in which the same individuals applied an [enhanced interrogation technique] which only they were approved to employ, judged both its effectiveness and detainee resilience, and 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 psychologists were actually designing the torture, overseeing its implementation, assessing its effectiveness, and getting paid handsomely for it. Mitchell and Jessen’s consulting business was ultimately awarded $180 million in contracts by the C.I.A., $81 million of which was paid by the time the agreement was terminated in 2009, according to the report.

  22. Elaine M. says:

    Who Are Jim Mitchell And Bruce Jessen? CIA Torture Psychologists Were Experts In Communist Chinese Interrogation

    The architects behind the U.S. Central Intelligence Agency’s brutal torture program were two retired Air Force psychologists considered masters in the art of coercion. Jim E. Mitchell, 63, and Bruce Jessen, 65, were paid upward of $80 million by the U.S. government to devise America’s boldest and most controversial counterterrorism operation in the country’s history that included methods such as mock burials, “rectal feeding” and waterboarding, according to a Senate report released Tuesday. Some of their methods — based on Korean War-era interrogation tactics used by Chinese Communists — were even too gruesome for the CIA.

    Neither man had ever carried out a real interrogation, had language skills or expertise on al Qaeda – the chief enemy in the war on terror – when the CIA handpicked Mitchell and Jessen to spearhead its supposed intelligence gathering program shortly after the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks. Their psychology backgrounds were in family therapy; their Ph.D. dissertations were on high blood pressure. The CIA’s methods were described in detail following a five-year investigation by the U.S. Senate Select Committee on Intelligence.

    “Our goal was to reach the stage where we have broken any will or ability of subject to resist or deny providing us information (intelligence) to which he had access,” Mitchell and Jessen said in a cable published in the report. Not everything the psychologists proposed was approved, however. The CIA rejected the idea of mock burials, among other methods, according to the Senate investigation.

  23. Elaine M. says:


    “It doesn’t matter what tactics you use, you’re not going to get information if people don’t know anything and most of these Gomers didn’t know shit,” he said. “Who in the leadership was stupid enough to think they would? Why would these guys have detailed knowledge about plans and targeting? Even if they were hard-core jihadis who took part in operations, that doesn’t mean they would have knowledge of upcoming attacks.”

    Once the U.S. went into “the business of interrogation,” U.S. allies in the “war on terror” were encouraged to hand over suspects — and they did, no matter how flimsy the evidence. Lots of others were turned in by bounty hunters. And of course we know that a lot of people falsely dimed out their personal enemies or political rivals.

    Torture grew inevitably out of the militarization of the CIA that took place after 9/11, this former CIA officer said, when the agency was tasked with obtaining information to support battlefield needs. “That’s important but it’s tactical information and the military’s intelligence agencies should handle that,” he said. “The agency became more involved in interrogation than intelligence gathering. There’s a whole generation of young officers who think that intelligence gathering is getting information out of a guy shackled to a chair.”

    • Mike Spindell says:

      “The agency became more involved in interrogation than intelligence gathering. There’s a whole generation of young officers who think that intelligence gathering is getting information out of a guy shackled to a chair.”

      I fear that this is all too true. There seems to be a lack of intelligence at the “Intelligence” agencies.

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