The Gittinger Assessment System

Along this line, Gittinger and his staff had a good idea how various personality types acted after consuming a few drinks. Thus, they reasoned, if they watched a guest at a cocktail party and he started to behave in a recognizable way—by withdrawing, for instance—they could make an educated guess about his personality type—in this case, that he was an I. In contrast, the drunken Russian diplomat who became louder and began pinching every woman who passed by probably was an E. Instead of using the test scores to predict how a person would behave, the assessments staff was, in effect, looking at behavior and working backward to predict how the person would have scored if he had taken the test. The Gittinger staff developed a whole checklist of 30 to 40 patterns that the skilled observer could look for. Each of these traits reflected one of the Wechsler subtests, and it corresponded to some insight picked up from the 29,000 scores in the data base.
Was the target sloppy or neat? Did he relate to women stiffly or easily? How did he hold a cigarette and put it into his mouth? When he went through a receiving line, did he immediately repeat the name of each person introduced to him? Taken as a whole, all these observations allowed Gittinger to make a reasoned estimate about a subject’s personality, with emphasis on his vulnerabilities. As Gittinger describes the system, “If you could get a sample of several kinds of situations, you could begin to get some pretty good information.” Nevertheless, Gittinger had his doubts about indirect assessment. “I never thought we were good at this,” he says.

The TSS assessment staff, along with the Agency’s medical office use the PAS indirectly to keep up the OSS tradition of making psychological portraits of world leaders like Hitler. Combining analytical techniques with gossipy intelligence, the assessors tried to give high-level U.S. officials a better idea of what moved the principal international political figures.[4] One such study of an American citizen spilled over into the legally forbidden domestic area when in 1971 the medical office prepared a profile of Daniel Ellsberg at the request of the White House. To get raw data for the Agency assessors, John Ehrlichman authorized a break-in at Ellsberg’s psychiatrist’s office in California. John Gittinger vehemently denies that his staff played any role in preparing this profile, which the White House plumbers intended to use as a kind of psychological road map to compromise Ellsberg—just as CIA operators regularly worked from such assessments to exploit the weaknesses of foreigners.

Whether used directly or indirectly, the PAS gave Agency case officers a tool to get a better reading of the people with whom they dealt. CIA field stations overseas routinely sent all their findings on a target, along with indirect assessment checklists, back to Washington, so headquarters personnel could decide whether or not to try recruitment. The TSS assessment staff contributed to this process by attempting to predict what ploys would work best on the man in the case officers’ sights. “Our job was to recommend what strategy to try,” says a onetime Gittinger colleague. This source states he had direct knowledge of cases where TSS recommendations led to sexual entrapment operations, both hetero- and homosexual. “We had women ready—called them a stable,” he says, and they found willing men when they had to.

One CIA psychologist stresses that the PAS only provided “clues” on how to compromise people. “If somebody’s assessment came in like the sexual psychopaths’, it would raise red flags,” he notes. But TSS staff assessors could only conclude that the target had a potentially serious sex problem. They could by no means guarantee that the target’s defenses could be broken. Nevertheless, the PAS helped dictate the best weapons for the attack. “I’ve heard John [Gittinger] say there’s always something that someone wants,” says another former Agency psychologist. “And with the PAS you can find out what it is. It’s not necessarily sex or booze. Sometimes it’s status or recognition or security.” Yet another Gittinger colleague describes this process as “looking for soft spots.” He states that after years of working with the system, he still bridled at a few of the more fiendish ways “to get at people” that his colleagues dreamed up He stayed on until retirement, however, and he adds, “None of this was personal. It was for national security reasons.”

A few years ago, ex-CIA psychologist James Keehner told reporter Maureen Orth that he personally went to New York in 1969 to give Wechsler tests to an American nurse who had volunteered her body for her country. “We wanted her to sleep with this Russian,” explained Keehner. “Either the Russian would fall in love with her and defect, or we’d blackmail him. I had to see if she could sleep with him over a period of time and not get involved emotionally. Boy, was she tough!” Keehner noted that he became disgusted with entrapment techniques, especially after watching a film of an agent in bed with a “recruitment target.” He pointed out that Agency case officers, many of whom “got their jollies” from such work, used a hidden camera to get their shots. The sexual technology developed in the MKULTRA safehouses in New York and San Francisco had been put to work. The operation worked no better in the 1960s, however, than TSS officials predicted such activities would a decade earlier. “You don’t really recruit agents with sexual blackmail,” Keehner concluded. “That’s why I couldn’t even take reading the files after a while. I was sickened at seeing people take pleasure in other people’s inadequacies. First of all, I thought it was just dumb. For all the money going out, nothing ever came back.”

Keehner became disgusted by the picking-at-scabs aspect of TSS assessment work. Once the PAS had identified a target as having potential mental instabilities, staff members sometimes suggested ways to break him down, reasoning that by using a ratchet-like approach to put him under increased pressure, they might be able to break the lines that tied him to his country, if not to his sanity. Keehner stated, “I was sent to deal with the most negative aspects of the human condition. It was planned destructiveness. First, you’d check to see if you could destroy a man’s marriage. If you could, then that would be enough to put a lot of stress on the individual, to break him down. Then you might start a minor rumor campaign against him. Harass him constantly. Bump his car in traffic. A lot of it is ridiculous, but it may have a cumulative effect.” Agency case officers might also use this same sort of stress-producing campaign against a particularly effective enemy intelligence officer whom they knew they could never recruit but whom they hoped to neutralize.

Most operations—including most recruitments—did not rely on such nasty methods. The case officer still benefited from the TSS staffs assessment, but he usually wanted to minimize stress rather than accentuate it. CIA operators tended to agree that the best way to recruit an agent was to make the relationship as productive and satisfying as possible for him, operating from the old adage about catching more flies with honey than vinegar. “You pick the thing most fearful to him—the things which would cause him the most doubt,” says the source. “If his greatest fear is that he can’t trust you to protect him and his family, you overload your pitch with your ability to do it. Other people need structure, so you tell them exactly what they will need to do. If you leave it open-ended, they’ll be scared you’ll ask them to do things they’re incapable of.”[5]

Soon after the successful recruitment of a foreigner to spy for the CIA, either a CIA staff member or a specially trained case officer normally sat down with the new agent and gave him the full battery of Wechsler subtests—a process that took several hours. The tester never mentioned that the exercise had anything to do with personality but called it an “aptitude” test—which it also is. The assessments office in Washington then analyzed the results. As with the polygraph, the PAS helped tell if the agent were lying. It could often delve deeper than surface concepts of true and false. The PAS might show that the agent’s motivations were not in line with his behavior. In that case, if the gap were too great, the case officer could expect to run up against considerable deception—resulting either from espionage motives or psychotic tendencies.

The TSS staff assessors sent a report back to the field on the best way to deal with the new agent and the most effective means to exploit him. They would recommend whether his case officer should treat him sternly or permissively. If the agent were an Externalizer who needed considerable companionship, the assessors might suggest that the case officer try to spend as much time with him as possible.[6] They would probably recommend against sending this E agent on a long mission into a hostile country, where he could not have the friendly company he craved.

Without any help from John Gittinger or his system, covert operators had long been deciding matters like these, which were, after all, rooted in common sense. Most case officers prided themselves on their ability to play their agents like a musical instrument, at just the right tempo, and the Gittinger system did not shake their belief that nothing could beat their own intuition. Former CIA Deputy Director Ray Cline expresses a common view when he says the PAS “was part of the system—kind of a check-and-balance—a supposedly scientific tool that was not weighed very heavily. I never put as much weight on the psychological assessment reports as on a case officer’s view…. In the end, people went with their own opinion.” Former Director William Colby found the assessment reports particularly useful in smoothing over that “traumatic” period when a case officer had to pass on his agent to a replacement. Understandably, the agent often saw the switch as a danger or a hardship. “The new guy has to show some understanding and sympathy,” says Colby, who had 30 years of operational experience himself, “but it doesn’t work if these feelings are not real.”

For those Agency officers who yearned to remove as much of the human element as possible from agent operations, Gittinger’s system was a natural. It reduced behavior to a workable formula of shorthand letters that, while not insightful in all respects, gave a reasonably accurate description of a person. Like Social Security numbers, such formulas fitted well with a computerized approach. While not wanting to overemphasize the Agency’s reliance on the PAS, former Director Colby states that the system made dealing with agents “more systematized, more professional.”

In 1963 the CIA’s Inspector General gave the TSS assessment staff high marks and described how it fit into operations:

The [Clandestine Services] case officer is first and foremost, perhaps, a practitioner of the art of assessing and exploiting human personality and motivations for ulterior purposes. The ingredients of advanced skill in this art are highly individualistic in nature, including such qualities as perceptiveness and imagination. [The PAS] seeks to enhance the case officer’s skill by bringing the methods and disciplines of psychology to bear…. The prime objectives are control, exploitation, or neutralization. These objectives are innately anti-ethical rather than therapeutic in their intent.

In other words, the PAS is directed toward the relationship between the American case officer and his foreign agent, that lies at the heart of espionage. In that sense, it amounts to its own academic discipline—the psychology of spying—complete with axioms and reams of empirical data. The business of the PAS, like that of the CIA, is control.

One former CIA psychologist, who still feels guilty about his participation in certain Agency operations, believes that the CIA’s fixation on control and manipulation mirrors, in a more virulent form, the way Americans deal with each other generally. “I don’t think the CIA is too far removed from the culture,” he says. “It’s just a matter of degree. If you put a lot of money out there, there are many people who are lacking the ethics even of the CIA. At least the Agency had an ideological basis.” This psychologist believes that the United States has become an extremely control-oriented society—from the classroom to politics to television advertising. Spying and the PAS techniques are unique only in that they are more systematic and secret.

Another TSS scientist believes that the Agency’s behavioral research was a logical extension of the efforts of American psychologists, psychiatrists, and sociologists to change behavior—which he calls their “sole motivation.” Such people manipulate their subjects in trying to make mentally disturbed people well, in turning criminals into law-abiding citizens, in improving the work of students, and in pushing poor people to get off welfare. The source cites all of these as examples of “behavior modification” for socially acceptable reasons, which, like public attitudes toward spying, change from time to time. “Don’t get the idea that all these behavioral scientists were nice and pure, that they didn’t want to change anything, and that they were detached in their science,” he warns. “They were up to their necks in changing people. It just happened that the things they were interested in were not always the same as what we were.” Perhaps the saving grace of the behavioral scientists is summed up by longtime MKULTRA consultant Martin Orne: “We are sufficiently ineffective so that our findings can be published.” With the PAS, CIA officials had a handy tool for social engineering. The Gittinger staff found one use for it in the sensitive area of selecting members of foreign police and intelligence agencies. All over the globe, Agency operators have frequently maintained intimate working relations with security services that have consistently mistreated their own citizens. The assessments staff played a key role in choosing members of the secret police in at least two countries whose human-rights records are among the world’s worst.

In 1961, according to TSS psychologist John Winne, the CIA and the Korean government worked together to establish the newly created Korean Central Intelligence Agency (KCIA). The American CIA station in Seoul asked headquarters to send out an assessor to “select the initial cadre” of the KCIA. Off went Winne on temporary duty. “I set up an office with two translators,” he recalls, “and used a Korean version of the Wechsler.” The Agency psychologist gave the tests to 25 to 30 police and military officers and wrote up a half-page report on each, listing their strengths and weaknesses. Winne wanted to know about each candidate’s “ability to follow orders, creativity, lack of personality disorders, motivation—why he wanted out of his current job. It was mostly for the money, especially with the civilians.” The test results went to the Korean authorities, whom Winne believes made the personnel decisions “in conjunction with our operational people.”

“We would do a job like this and never get feedback, so we were never sure we’d done a good job,” Winne complains. Sixteen years after the end of his mission to Seoul and after news of KCIA repression at home and bribes to American congressmen abroad, Winne feels that his best efforts had “boomeranged.” He states that Tongsun Park was not one of the KCIA men he tested.

In 1966 CIA staffers, including Gittinger himself, took part in selecting members of an equally controversial police unit in Uruguay—the anti-terrorist section that fought the Tupamaro urban guerrillas. According to John Cassidy, the CIA’s deputy station chief there at the time, Agency operators worked to set up this special force together with the Agency for International Development’s Public Safety Mission (whose members included Dan Mitrione, later kidnapped and killed by the Tupamaros). The CIA-assisted police claimed they were in a life-and-death struggle against the guerrillas, and they used incredibly brutal methods, including torture, to stamp out most of the Uruguayan left along with the guerrillas.

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