"A child's learning is the function more of the characteristics of his classmates than those of the teacher." James Coleman, 1972

Saturday, July 11, 2015

KIPP Psychology Guru Inspired CIA Torture Program

Dr. Martin Seligman is the man to see if you have questions about how to turn human beings into compliant automatons with persistent positivity.  His experiments torturing dogs in the late 1960s was seminal to the development of "learned helplessness," whereby subjects are pacified by repeated and unpredictable electric shocks that cannot be avoided.  Google "learned helplessness" for the readily accessible history of the research.

The subsequent "learned helplessness" exhibited by torture victims is countered by another Seligman invention, "learned optimism," which turns compliant human subjects into persistent, self-controlled, and gritty go-getters who will not let any amount of abuse or degradation interfere with beliefs in self-heroic capabilities.  

The Seligman treatment has been used by David Levin at KIPP to behaviorally neuter children and then to have the same children self-administer heavy doses of No Excuses positivity in order to maintain high test scores regardless of children's home life marked by pathological economic conditions.

The clip below (my bolds) is from a 542 page report on how well-known psychologists who were once highly respected worked to manipulate and shape APA standards and practices in order to comply with CIA torture of detainees who were swept up in illegal arrests and kidnapping in the wake of 9/11.

Seligman's "learned helplessness" techniques were central in the CIA torture program, and Seligman's assistance to the CIA to understand how his techniques work was critical to implementing torture programs.  Seligman's payoff for his assistance came in 2010 when his Positive Psychology Center at UPenn was handed a $31,000,000 no bid contract to do work for the Army to develop what amounts to a positive brainwashing technique that was hoped to counter the epidemic of PTSD among returning vets.  

It didn't work, but Seligman and his colleagues cashed the check anyway.  Meanwhile, veterans served as guinea pigs, and who knows how many committed suicide as a result of not receiving legitimate treatments.

B. Seligman Gathering

In December 2001, Martin Seligman, a former president of APA credited with developing the theories of learned helplessness and positive psychology, hosted a meeting at his home for “an international group of sixteen distinguished professors and intelligence personnel” to discuss how America could respond to Islamic Extremism. The group included “experts in terrorism and related topics from psychology, political science, history, Islam, sociology, the CIA and the FBI.”

Seligman said that this meeting was not at the request of any government agency, and was convened because he “wanted to send to the White House unsolicited recommendations to help the nation in a time of great need.”

At the close of the meeting, the group had made “six policy recommendations aimed at winning a victory that will lastingly contain global terrorism”: Isolate Jihad Islam from Moderate Islam worldwide; [n]eutralize Saudi support for jihad Islamic fundamentalism worldwide; [p]olice the Arab Diaspora in Western Europe forcefully; [s]ubvert the social structure of terrorist organizations; [b]reak the link between the terrorists and the pyramid of sympathizers; [and] [b]uild American knowledge of Arab and Muslim culture and language.

Seligman denied that there was a “single mention by anyone of interrogation, captives, or torture or any related subject” at the meeting, and the summary document produced by the group does not reflect that discussion of any of these topics occurred. Indeed, Seligman said that he has never worked on interrogations or held a contract with the CIA or any other entity related to interrogations.

Steven Band, Chief of the Behavioral Science Unit at the FBI attended the meeting, as did Kirk Hubbard, Chief of the Research and Analysis Branch in the Operational Assessment Division of the CIA, and James Mitchell, whose only listed affiliation was “CIA.”

After communicating with the parties who attended this meeting, we cannot say with any certainty how Hubbard and Mitchell came to be present. Seligman said that he did not know who had invited Hubbard, Mitchell, or Band, and he described all three as “almost totally silent throughout” the meeting.

Hubbard also said that he could not recall how he had been invited
to this meeting, though he thought that Joseph Matarazzo had brokered
his initial introduction to Seligman. Mitchell said that Hubbard had invited him to the meeting, though he did not know how Hubbard had received an invitation.

It seems most likely that Matarazzo introduced Seligman, a fellow former APA president, to Hubbard, whom he had worked with on the CIA’s Advisory Committee, and that this introduction led to an invitation for Hubbard to attend the gathering at Seligman’s home.

Communications between Steve Band and Geoff Mumford suggest that Band discussed Seligman’s meeting with Susan Brandon and Mumford within days after it occurred, and that he encouraged them to brief Kurt Salzinger.

Band also seemed eager to share the report produced after the meeting, promising to show both Mumford and Brandon a copy of the “write-up” the next time he saw them, though he could not provide a copy. Band described the report to Mumford in provocative terms:

Seligman’s ‘gathering’ produced an extraordinary document that is being channeled on high (very high)... I did not get the impression from Seligman that it was intended for wide distribution or readership... some of the national strategies and supportive statements proposed by ‘the gathering’ are pretty intense; the authors may want their involvement to remain discrete.

Band later confirmed, based on email traffic between Seligman and Brandon, that his “gut feeling about not releasing [Seligman’s] product outside of its intended audience was on-point and . . . it may have discomforted [Seligman] to learn that Kirk [Hubbard] did.”

Brandon assured Band that she had not distributed the Seligman paper, but indicated that it had sparked some “lively debate here.”

During their interviews, both Brandon and Mumford stated that they did not believe they had ever seen the paper, but it seems likely that Brandon did see the paper and discuss it with some of her colleagues in the Science Directorate.  Hubbard stated that Seligman met with Hubbard and his staff several more times after the initial meeting in Seligman’s home. One of these meetings was with Hubbard and two psychologists on his staff, Judy Philipson and Liz Vogt, both of whom were married to attorneys in CTC.

Seligman confirmed that he met with Hubbard and a female lawyer at his home in April 2002, and they discussed Seligman’s theory of learned helplessness at length in the context of how the theory might help “our people who are captured.”

At another of these meetings, Hubbard stated that he, Mitchell, and Jessen met with Seligman in his home to invite him to speak about learned helplessness at the SERE school in Spring 2002.

As discussed above, Seligman said that he could not recall meeting with Mitchell or Jessen apart from the December 2001 meeting at his home. Rather, Seligman thought that he was invited to speak at the SERE school during the April 2002 meeting with Hubbard and a female lawyer.

However, after discussing the meeting with Hubbard during the course of the investigation, Seligman “surmise[d]” that there must have been an additional meeting in April with Mitchell and Jessen, and that it must have been at that meeting that he was invited to speak at the JPRA conference in May 2002.

APA’s critics have hypothesized that Seligman took a far more active role in supporting the CIA’s interrogation program than the relatively tangential interactions described above. They point to the December 2001 meeting at Seligman’s home and an email from Hubbard in March 2004 expressing gratitude for Seligman’s help “over the past four years” as evidence that Seligman was an active participant in supporting the CIA’s interrogation program. Seligman and Hubbard had similar, though not identical, explanations for Hubbard’s comment. Seligman explained that he had previously asked Hubbard about the email and that Hubbard had explained that he was referring to the pro bono lecture Seligman had given to the Navy SERE school in May 2002.

Hubbard said that he was “basically” thanking Seligman for hosting the meetings in his home in 2001. Thus, both Hubbard and Seligman explained that Hubbard was thanking Seligman only for his involvement in the meetings that have become public knowledge. 

Critics also allege that the University of Pennsylvania’s Positive Psychology Center, founded by Seligman, received a $31 million sole source contract from DoD in 2010 because of assistance Seligman provided to the government with its counter-terrorism efforts. Seligman said that this contract was awarded because there were no competing entities who had the same experience in training and research on the topic of positive psychology, and there was an urgent need for a program in positive psychology to help returning troops. Seligman clarified that during negotiations on this contract, there was never any mention that the contract related to past work he might have done for DoD or other intelligence agencies. Sidley has not uncovered evidence that Seligman had interactions with the CIA beyond the isolated meetings and lectures in the year after 9/11 that are a matter of public record. It is possible that more interactions occurred, particularly given Hubbard’s comment that Seligman had provided assistance over the course of four years, but no evidence suggests that interrogations were ever directly discussed at these meetings, despite the fact that the scientific theories that Mitchell and Jessen later adapted to construct the CIA’s interrogation program clearly were. On balance, it seems difficult to believe that Seligman did not at least suspect that the CIA was interested in his theories, at least inpart, to consider how they could be used in interrogations. However, we found no evidence to support the critics’ theory that Seligman was deeply involved in constructing or consulting on the CIA’s interrogation program, and no evidence that such consultation would have involved APA officials even if it had occurred.


  1. Also see:
    KIPP's Character Guru, Uncensored ( Angela Duckworth)

    She runs the Duckworth Lab at the University of Pennsylvania. Their Mission Statement:

    Duckworth's Ted Talk: The key to success? Grit

  2. U. S. Government to collect data on 'grit' levels of students.
    The Answer Sheet: The Washington Post


  3. Meanwhile, veterans served as guinea pigs, and who knows how many committed suicide as a result of not receiving legitimate treatments.liedetectortest.uk/