Psychologists’ Firm Got $81 Million for CIA Work, Report Finds

The CIA paid $81 million to a company founded by two psychologists who had no knowledge of al-Qaeda to develop and run an agency program for interrogating terrorism suspects, according to a Senate report.

The psychologists, who formed a company in 2005 that was hired by the CIA through mid-2009, had no prior experience as interrogators or background in counterterrorism, according to the Senate report. They interrogated some of the CIA’s most significant detainees, including 9/11 mastermind Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, according to the Senate intelligence committee report.

The report said contractors accounted for 85 percent of employees in the detention and interrogation unit. Some Central Intelligence Agency officers in the program had workplace anger management issues or reportedly admitted to sexual assault, according to the report.

“The CIA deployed officers who had history of personal ethical and professional problems of a serious nature,” Senator Dianne Feinstein, a California Democrat and chairman of the committee, said today as she outlined findings of the report. “These include histories of violence and abusive treatment of others and should have called into question their employment with the United States Government.”

The Senate intelligence committee report, which cost $40 million and took six years to complete, is the most comprehensive assessment of CIA “black site” detention facilities and “enhanced interrogation techniques” on terrorism suspects after the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks. President Barack Obama, who said the program amounted to torture, ordered that the practices never be used again when he took office in 2009.

‘Learned Helplessness’

The two psychologists, who previously worked at a U.S. Air Force survival school, were identified by pseudonyms in the report. They developed interrogation theories based on “learned helplessness” and came up with a list of enhanced interrogation techniques approved to be used in questioning Abu Zubaydah and other detainees, according to the report.

In addition to the $81 million to run the program, the CIA also paid the unnamed company more than $1 million under a 2007 indemnification agreement to protect the company and its employees from legal liability through 2021.

CIA records indicate that officers and contractors who conducted interrogations in 2002 didn’t undergo any interrogation training. Training didn’t begin until Nov. 12, 2002, when at least 25 detainees were already in CIA custody.

The report said the psychologists also evaluated whether detainees’ psychological state allowed for the continued use of enhanced interrogation. Those evaluated included some detainees whom they were themselves interrogating or had interrogated. Feinstein today said that amounted to a conflict of interest.

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