The Gittinger Assessment System

While the special police were being organized, “John [Gittinger] came down for three days to get the program underway,” recalls Cassidy. Then Hans Greiner, a Gittinger associate, ran Wechslers on 20 Uruguayan candidates. One question on the information subtest was “How many weeks in the year?” Eighteen of the 20 said it was 48, and only one man got the answer right. (Later he was asked about his answer, and he said he had made a mistake; he meant 48.) But when Greiner asked this same group of police candidates, “Who wrote Faust?” 18 of the 20 knew it was Goethe. “This tells you something about the culture,” notes Cassidy, who served the Agency all over Latin America. It also points up the difficulty Gittinger had in making the PAS work across cultural lines.

In any case, CIA man Cassidy found the assessment process most useful for showing how to train the anti-terrorist section. “According to the results, these men were shown to have very dependent psychologies and they needs d strong direction,” recalls the now-retired operator. Cassidy was quite pleased with the contribution Gittinger and Greiner made. “For years I had been dealing with Latin Americans,” says Cassidy, “and here, largely by psychological tests, one of [Gittinger’s] men was able to analyze people he had no experience with and give me some insight into them…. Ordinarily, we would have just selected the men and gone to work on them.”

In helping countries like South Korea and Uruguay pick their secret police, TSS staff members often inserted a devilish twist with the PAS. They could not only choose candidates who would make good investigators, interrogators, or whatever, but they could also spot those who were most likely to succumb to future CIA blandishments. “Certain types were more recruitable,” states a former assessor. “I looked for them when I wrote my reports…. Anytime the Company [the CIA] spent money for training a foreigner, the object was that he would ultimately serve our control purposes.” Thus, CIA officials were not content simply to work closely with these foreign intelligence agencies; they insisted on penetrating them, and the PAS provided a useful aid.

In 1973 John Gittinger and his longtime associate John Winne, who picked KCIA men, published a basic description of the PAS in a professional journal. Although others had written publicly about the system, this article apparently disturbed some of the Agency’s powers, who were then cutting back on the number of CIA employees at the order of short-time Director James Schlesinger.

Shortly thereafter, Gittinger, then 56, stopped being president of Psychological Assessment Associates but stayed on as a consultant. In 1974 I wrote about Gittinger’s work, albeit incompletely, in Rolling Stone magazine. Gittinger was disturbed that disclosure of his CIA connection would hurt his professional reputation. “Are we tarred by a brush because we worked for the CIA?” he asked during one of several rather emotional exchanges. “I’m proud of it.” He saw no ethical problems in “looking for people’s weaknesses” if it helped the CIA obtain information, and he declared that for many years most Americans thought this was a useful process. At first, he offered to give me the Wechsler tests and prepare a personality assessment to explain the system, but Agency officials prohibited his doing so. “I was given no explanation,” said the obviously disappointed Gittinger. “I’m very proud of my professional work, and I had looked forward to being able to explain it.”

In August 1977 Gittinger publicly testified in Senate hearings. While he obviously would have preferred talking about his psychological research, his most persistent questioner, Senator Edward Kennedy, was much more interested in bringing out sensational details about prostitutes and drug testing. A proud man, Gittinger felt “humiliated” by the experience, which ended with him looking foolish on national television. The next month, the testimony of his former associate, David Rhodes, further bruised Gittinger. Rhodes told the Kennedy subcommittee about Gittinger’s role in leading the “Gang that Couldn’t Spray Straight” in an abortive attempt to test LSD in aerosol cans on unwitting subjects. Gittinger does not want his place in history to be determined by this kind of activity. He would like to see his Personality Assessment System accepted as an important contribution to science.

Tired of the controversy and worn down by trying to explain the PAS, Gittinger has moved back to his native Oklahoma. He took a copy of the 29,000 Wechsler results with him, but he has lost his ardor for working with them. A handful of psychologists around the country still swear by the system and try to pass it on to others. One, who uses it in private practice, says that in therapy it saves six months in understanding the patient. This psychologist takes a full reading of his patient’s personality with the PAS, and then he varies his treatment to fit the person’s problems. He believes that most American psychologists and psychiatrists treat their patients the same whereas the PAS is designed to identify the differences between people. Gittinger very much hopes that others will accept this view and move his system into the mainstream. “It means nothing unless I can get someone else to work on it,” he declares. Given the preconceptions of the psychological community, the inevitable taint arising from the CIA’s role in developing the system, and Gittinger’s lack of academic credentials and energy, his wish will probably not be fulfilled.


  1. The material on the Gittinger Personality Assessment System (PAS) comes from “An Introduction to the Personality Assessment System” by John Winne and John Gittinger, Monograph Supplement No. 38, Clinical Psychology Publishing Co., Inc. 1973; an interview with John Winne; interviews with three other former CIA psychologists; 1974 interviews with John Gittinger by the author; and an extended interview with Gittinger by Dr. Patricia Greenfield, Associate Professor of Psychology at UCLA. Some of the material was used first in a Rolling Stone article, July 18, 1974, “The CIA Won’t Quite Go Public.” Robert Hyde’s alcohol research at Butler Health Center was MKULTRA Subproject 66. See especially 66-17, 27 August, 1958. Subject: Proposed Alcohol Study—1958-1959 and 66-5. undated, Subject: Equipment—Ecology Laboratory.
  2. The 1963 Inspector General’s report on TSS, as first released under the Freedom of Information Act, did not include the section on personality assessment quoted from in the chapter. An undated, untitled document, which was obviously this section, was made available in one of the CIA’s last releases.
  3. MKULTRA subproject 83 dealt with graphology research, as did part of Subproject 60, which covered the whole Human Ecology Society. See especially 83-7, December 11, 1959, Subject: [deleted] Graphological Review and 60-28, undated, Subject [deleted] Activities Report, May, 1959-April, 1960.
  4. Information on the psychological profile of Ferdinand Marcos came from a U.S. Government source who had read it. Information on the profile of the Shah of Iran came from a column by Jack Anderson and Les Whitten “CIA Study Finds Shah Insecure,” Washington Post, July 11, 1975.
  5. The quotes from James Keehner came from an article in New Times by Maureen Orth, “Memoirs of a CIA Psychologist,” June 25, 1975.
  6. For related reports on the CIA’s role in training foreign police and its activities in Uruguay, see an article by Taylor Branch and John Marks, “Tracking the CIA,” Harper’s Weekly, January 25, 1975 and Philip Agee’s book, Inside the Company: CIA Diary (London: Penguin; 1975).
  7. The quote from Martin Orne was taken from Patricia Greenfield’s APA Monitor article cited in the last chapter’s notes.
  8. Gittinger’s testimony before the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence and the Kennedy subcommittee on August 3, 1977 appeared on pages 50-63.
  9. David Rhodes’ testimony on Gittinger’s role in the abortive San Francisco LSD spraying appeared in hearings before the Kennedy subcommittee, September 20, 1977, pp. 100-110.


  1. Developed by psychologist David Wechsler, this testing system is called, in different versions, the Wechsler-Bellevue and the Wechsler Adult Intelligence Scale. As Gittinger worked with it over the years, he made modifications that he incorporated in what he named the Wechsler-Bellevue-G. For simplicity’s sake, it is simply referred to as the Wechsler system throughout the book. (back)
  2. As with most of the descriptions of the PAS made in the book, this is an oversimplification of a more complicated process. The system, as Gittinger used it, yielded millions of distinct personality types. His observations on alcohol were based on much more than a straight I and E comparison. For the most complete description of the PAS in the open literature, see the article by Gittinger and Winne cited in the chapter notes. (back)
  3. Graphology (handwriting analysis) appealed to CIA officials as a way of supplementing PAS assessments or making judgments when only a written letter was available. Graphology was one of the seemingly arcane fields which the Human Ecology Society had investigated and found operational uses for. The Society wound up funding handwriting research and a publication in West Germany where the subject was taken much more seriously than in the United States, and it sponsored a study to compare handwriting analyses with Wechsler scores of actors (including some homosexuals), patients in psychotherapy, criminal psychopaths, and fashion models. Gittinger went on to hire a resident graphologist who could do the same sort of amazing things with handwriting as the Oklahoma psychologist could do with Wechsler scores. One former colleague recalls her spotting—accurately—a stomach ailment in a foreign leader simply by reading one letter. Asked in an interview about how the Agency used her work, she replied, “If they think they can manipulate a person, that’s none of my business. I don’t know what they do with it. My analysis was not done with that intention…. Something I learned very early in government was not to ask questions.” (back)
  4. A profile of Ferdinand Marcos found the Filipino president’s massive personal enrichment while in office to be a natural outgrowth of his country’s tradition of putting loyalty to one’s family and friends ahead of all other considerations. Agency assessors found the Shah of Iran to be a brilliant but dangerous megalomaniac whose problems resulted from an overbearing father, the humiliation of having served as a puppet ruler, and his inability for many years to produce a male heir. (back)
  5. This source reports that case officers usually used this sort of nonthreatening approach and switched to the rougher stuff if the target decided he did not want to spy for the CIA. In that case, says the ex-CIA man, “you don’t want the person to say no and run off and tattle. You lose an asset that way—not in the sense of the case officer being shot, but by being nullified.” The spurned operator might then offer not to reveal that the target was cheating on his wife or had had a homosexual affair, in return for the target not disclosing the recruitment attempt to his own intelligence service. (back)
  6. While Agency officials might also have used the PAS to select the right case officer to deal with the E agent—one who would be able to sustain the agent’s need for a close relationship over a long period of time—they almost never used the system with this degree of precision. An Agency office outside TSS did keep Wechslers and other test scores on file for most case officers, but the Clandestine Services management was not willing to turn over the selection of American personnel to the psychologists. (back)

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