The Search for the Manchurian Candidate
10. The Gittinger Assessment System
With one exception, the CIA’s behavioral research—whether on LSD or on electroshock—seems to have had more impact on the outside world than on Agency operations. That exception grew out of the work of the MKULTRA program’s resident genius, psychologist John Gittinger. While on the CIA payroll, toiling to find ways to manipulate people, Gittinger created a unique system for assessing personality and predicting future behavior. He called his method—appropriately—the Personality Assessment System (PAS). Top Agency officials have been so impressed that they have given the Gittinger system a place in most agent-connected activities. To be sure, most CIA operators would not go nearly so far as a former Gittinger aide who says, “The PAS was the key to the whole clandestine business.” Still, after most of the touted mind controllers had given up or been sent back home, it was Gittinger, the staff psychologist, who sold his PAS system to cynical, anti-gimmick case officers in the Agency’s Clandestine Services. And during the Cuban missile crisis, it was Gittinger who was summoned to the White House to give his advice on how Khrushchev would react to American pressure.
A heavy-set, goateed native of Oklahoma who in his later years came to resemble actor Walter Slezak, Gittinger looked much more like someone’s kindly grandfather than a calculating theoretician. He had an almost insatiable curiosity about personality, and he spent most of his waking hours tinkering with and trying to perfect his system. So obsessed did he become that he always had the feeling even after other researchers had verified large chunks of the PAS and after the CIA had put it into operational use—that the whole thing was “a kind of paranoid delusion.”
Gittinger started working on his system even before he joined the CIA in 1950. Prior to that, he had been director of psychological services at the state hospital in Norman, Oklahoma. His high-sounding title did not reflect the fact that he was the only psychologist on the staff. A former high school guidance counselor and Naval lieutenant commander during World War II, he was starting out at age 30 with a master’s degree. Every day he saw several hundred patients whose mental problems included virtually everything in the clinical textbooks.
Numerous tramps and other itinerants, heading West in search of the good life in California, got stuck in Oklahoma during the cold winter months and managed to get themselves admitted to Gittinger’s hospital. In warmer seasons of the year, quite a few of them worked, when they had to, as cooks or dishwashers in the short-order hamburger stands that dotted the highways in the days before fast food. They functioned perfectly well in these jobs until freezing nights drove them from their outdoor beds. The hospital staff usually called them “seasonal schizophrenics” and gave them shelter until spring. Gittinger included them in the psychological tests he was so fond of running on his patients.
As he measured the itinerants on the Wechsler intelligence scale, a standard IQ test with 11 parts, Gittinger made a chance observation that became, he says, the “bedrock” of his whole system. He noticed that the short-order cooks tended to do well on the digit-span subtest which rated their ability to remember numbers. The dishwashers, in contrast, had a poor memory for digits. Since the cooks had to keep track of many complex orders—with countless variations of medium rare, onions, and hold-the-mayo—their retentive quality served them well.
Gittinger also noticed that the cooks had different personality traits than the dishwashers. The cooks seemed able to maintain a high degree of efficiency in a distracting environment while customers were constantly barking new orders at them. They kept their composure by falling back on their internal resources and generally shutting themselves off from the commotion around them. Gittinger dubbed this personality type, which was basically inner-directed, an “Internalizer” (abbreviated “I”). The dishwashers, on the other hand, did not have the ability to separate themselves from the external world. In order to perform their jobs, they had to be placed off in some far corner of the kitchen with their dirty pots and pans, or else all the tumult of the place diverted them from their duty. Gittinger called the dishwasher type an “Externalizer” (E). He found that if he measured a high digit span in any person—not just a short-order cook—he could make a basic judgment about personality.
From observation, Gittinger concluded that babies were born with distinct personalities which then were modified by environmental factors. The Internalized—or I—baby was caught up in himself and tended to be seen as a passive child; hence, the world usually called him a “good baby.” The E tot was more interested in outside stimuli and attention, and thus was more likely to cause his parents problems by making demands. Gittinger believed that the way parents and other authority figures reacted to the child helped to shape his personality. Adults often pressured or directed the I child to become more outgoing and the E one to become more self-sufficient. Gittinger found he could measure the compensations, or adjustments, the child made on another Wechsler subtest, the one that rated arithmetic ability. He noticed that in later life, when the person was subject to stress, these compensations tended to disappear, and the person reverted to his original personality type. Gittinger wrote that his system “makes possible the assessment of fundamental discrepancies between the surface personality and the underlying personality structure—discrepancies that produce tension, conflict, and anxiety.”
Besides the E-I dimensions, Gittinger identified two other fundamental sets of personality characteristics that he could measure with still other Wechsler subtests. Depending on how a subject did on the block design subtest, Gittinger could tell if he were Regulated (R) or Flexible (F). The Regulated person had no trouble learning by rote but usually did not understand what he learned. The Flexible individual, on the other hand, had to understand something before he learned it. Gittinger noted that R children could learn to play the piano moderately well with comparatively little effort. The F child most often hated the drudgery of piano lessons, but Gittinger observed that the great concert pianists tended to be Fs who had persevered and mastered the instrument.
Other psychologists had thought up personality dimensions similar to Gittinger’s E and I, R and F. even if they defined them somewhat differently. Gittinger’s most original contribution came in a third personality dimension, which revealed how well people were able to adapt their social behavior to the demands of the culture they lived in. Gittinger found he could measure this dimension with the picture arrangement Wechsler subtest, and he called it the Role Adaptive (A) or Role Uniform (U). It corresponded to “charisma,” since other people were naturally attracted to the A person while they tended to ignore the U.
All this became immensely more complicated as Gittinger measured compensations and modifications with other Wechsler subtests. This complexity alone worked against the acceptance of his system by the outside world, as did the fact that he based much of it on ideas that ran contrary to accepted psychological doctrine—such as his heretical notion that genetic differences existed. It did not help, either, that Gittinger was a non-Ph.D. whose theory sprang from the kitchen habits of vagrants in Oklahoma.
Any one of these drawbacks might have stifled Gittinger in the academic world, but to the pragmatists in the CIA, they were irrelevant. Gittinger’s strange ideas seemed to work. With uncanny accuracy, he could look at nothing more than a subject’s Wechsler numbers, pinpoint his weaknesses, and show how to turn him into an Agency spy. Once Gittinger’s boss, Sid Gottlieb, and other high CIA officials realized how Gittinger’s PAS could be used to help case officers handle agents, they gave the psychologist both the time and money to improve his system under the auspices of the Human Ecology Society.
Although he was a full-time CIA employee, Gittinger worked under Human Ecology cover through the 1950s. Agency officials considered the PAS to be one of the Society’s greatest triumphs, definitely worth continuing after the Society was phased out. In 1962 Gittinger and his co-workers moved their base of operations from the Human Ecology headquarters in New York to a CIA proprietary company, set up especially for them in Washington and called Psychological Assessment Associates. Gittinger served as president of the company, whose cover was to provide psychological services to American firms overseas. He personally opened a branch office in Tokyo (later moved to Hong Kong) to service CIA stations in the Far East. The Washington staff, which grew to about 15 professionals during the 1960s, handled the rest of the world by sending assessment specialists off for temporary visits.
Hundreds of thousands of dollars in Human Ecology grants and then even more money in Psychological Assessment contracts—all CIA funds—flowed out to verify and expand the PAS. For example, the Society gave about $140,000 to David Saunders of the Educational Testing Service, the company that prepares the College Board exams. Saunders, who knew about the Agency’s involvement, found a correlation between brain (EEG) patterns and results on the digit-span test, and he helped Gittinger apply the system to other countries. In this regard, Gittinger and his colleagues understood that the Wechsler battery of subtests had a cultural bias and that a Japanese E had a very different personality from, say, a Russian E. To compensate, they worked out localized versions of the PAS for various nations around the world.
While at the Human Ecology group, Gittinger supervised much of the Society’s other research in the behavioral sciences, and he always tried to interest Society grantees in his system. He looked for ways to mesh their research with his theories—and vice versa. Some, like Carl Rogers and Charles Osgood, listened politely and did not follow up. Yet Gittinger would always learn something from their work that he could apply to the PAS. A charming man and a skillful raconteur, Gittinger convinced quite a few of the other grantees of the validity of his theories and the importance of his ideas. Careful not to threaten the egos of his fellow professionals, he never projected an air of superiority. Often he would leave people even the skeptical—openmouthed in awe as he painted unnervingly accurate personality portraits of people he had never met. Indeed, people frequently accused him of somehow having cheated by knowing the subject in advance or peeking at his file.
Gittinger patiently and carefully taught his system to his colleagues, who all seem to have views of him that range from great respect to pure idolatry. For all his willingness to share the PAS, Gittinger was never able to show anyone how to use the system as skillfully as he did. Not that he did not try; he simply was a more talented natural assessor than any of the others. Moreover, his system was full of interrelations and variables that he instinctively understood but had not bothered to articulate. As a result, he could look at Wechsler scores and pick out behavior patterns which would be valid and which no one else had seen. Even after Agency officials spent a small fortune trying to computerize the PAS, they found, as one psychologist puts it, the machine “couldn’t tie down all the variables” that Gittinger was carrying around in his head.
Some Human Ecology grantees, like psychiatrist Robert Hyde, were so impressed with Gittinger’s system that they made the PAS a major part of their own research. Hyde routinely gave Wechslers to his subjects before plying them with liquor, as part of the Agency’s efforts to find out how people react to alcohol. In 1957 Hyde moved his research team from Boston Psychopathic Hospital, where he had been America’s first LSD tripper, to Butler Health Center in Providence. There, with Agency funds, Hyde built an experimental party room in the hospital, complete with pinball machine, dartboard, and bamboo bar stools. From behind a two-way mirror, psychologists watched the subjects get tipsy and made careful notes on their reaction to alcohol. Not surprisingly, the observers found that pure Internalizers became more withdrawn after several drinks, and that uncompensated Es were more likely to become garrulous—in essence, sloppy drunks. Thus Gittinger was able to make generalizations about the different ways an I or an E responded to alcohol. Simply by knowing how people scored on the Wechsler digit-span test, he could predict how they would react to liquor. Hyde and Harold Abramson at Mount Sinai Hospital made the same kind of observations for LSD finding, among other things, that an E was more likely than an I to have a bad trip. (Apparently, an I is more accustomed than an E to “being into his own head” and losing touch with external reality.)
At Gittinger’s urging, other Human Ecology grantees gave the Wechsler battery to their experimental subjects and sent him the scores. He was building a unique data base on all phases of human behavior, and he needed samples of as many distinct groups as possible. By getting the scores of actors, he could make generalizations about what sort of people made good role-players. Martin Orne at Harvard sent in scores of hypnosis subjects, so Gittinger could separate the personality patterns of those who easily went into a trance from those who could not be hypnotized. Gittinger collected Wechslers of businessmen, students, high-priced fashion models, doctors, and just about any other discrete group he could find a way to have tested. In huge numbers, the Wechslers came flowing in—29,000 sets in all by the early 1970s—each one accompanied by biographic data. With the 10 subtests he used and at least 10 possible scores on each of those, no two Wechsler results in the whole sample ever looked exactly the same. Gittinger kept a computer printout of all 29,000 on his desk, and he would fiddle with them almost every day—looking constantly for new truths that could be drawn out of them.
John Gittinger was interested in all facets of personality, but because he worked for the CIA, he emphasized deviant forms. He particularly sought out Wechslers of people who had rejected the values of their society or who had some vice—hidden or otherwise—that caused others to reject them. By studying the scores of the defectors who had come over to the West, Gittinger hoped to identify common characteristics of men who had become traitors to their governments. If there were identifiable traits, Agency operators could look for them in prospective spies. Harris Isbell, who ran the MKULTRA drug-testing program at the Lexington, Kentucky detention hospital, sent in the scores of heroin addicts. Gittinger wanted to know what to look for in people susceptible to drugs. The Human Ecology project at Ionia State Hospital in Michigan furnished Wechslers of sexual psychopaths. These scores showed that people with uncontrollable urges have different personality patterns than so-called normals. Gittinger himself journeyed to the West Coast to test homosexuals, lesbians, and the prostitutes he interviewed under George White’s auspices in the San Francisco safehouse. With each group, he separated out the telltale signs that might be a future indicator of their sexual preference in others. Gittinger understood that simply by looking at the Wechsler scores of someone newly tested, he could pick out patterns that corresponded to behavior of people in the data base.
The Gittinger system worked best when the TSS staff had a subject’s Wechsler scores to analyze, but Agency officials could not very well ask a Russian diplomat or any other foreign target to sit down and take the tests. During World War II, OSS chief William Donovan had faced a similar problem in trying to find out about Adolf Hitler’s personality, and Donovan had commissioned psychoanalyst Walter Langer to make a long-distance psychiatric profile of the German leader. Langer had sifted through all the available data on the Führer, and that was exactly what Gittinger’s TSS assessments staff did when they lacked direct contact (and when they had it, too). They pored over all the intelligence gathered by operators, agents, bugs, and taps and looked at samples of a man’s handwriting. The CIA men took the process of “indirect assessment” one step further than Langer had, however. They observed the target’s behavior and looked for revealing patterns that corresponded with traits already recorded among the subjects of the 29,000 Wechsler samples.
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. 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.”
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. 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.
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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- The quotes from James Keehner came from an article in New Times by Maureen Orth, “Memoirs of a CIA Psychologist,” June 25, 1975.
- 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).
- The quote from Martin Orne was taken from Patricia Greenfield’s APA Monitor article cited in the last chapter’s notes.
- Gittinger’s testimony before the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence and the Kennedy subcommittee on August 3, 1977 appeared on pages 50-63.
- 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.
- 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)
- 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)
- 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)
- 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)
- 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)
- 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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