Archive for the ‘Intelligence Business’ Category

Operation midnight climax

Monday, August 4th, 2008

Although it sounds like a bad porn movie (and in a way it was), this was the name of a 1950′s CIA operation using off-duty prostitutes, LSD and two way mirrors, so that agents could study the effects of the combination, on unsuspecting men. It must have been fun to watch, because the operation lasted for nearly ten years, from 1954 to 1963. It was part of a bigger project called MKULTRA;

Much of the research was devoted to LSD and other hallucinogenic drugs, which the CIA wrongly thought could be used to squeeze information from enemy agents and discredit them by disturbing their memories or changing their sex drives, making them either extremely over-or undersexed.

If you may be thinking that interrogation has got a lot less strange since then, there’s a great book by Jon Ronson, “The Men who Stare at Goats”, about how a wacky 1970′s US army experiment called “The Earth First Battalion”, gradually morphed into the techniques used in Iraq. Perhaps my favorite part of that book is when Ronson interviews the song writers for Sesame Street, to try and find out why their songs were played to Iraqi prisoners 24 hours a day. They make light of it. One of them points out that they did market research about their songs, which showed that children who listened to their song about mountains, knew more about mountains before they listened to the song than after. So maybe they had the power to suck information out of people’s heads. He then jokes that if the prisoners had been played the song 24 hours a day, they must be owed a huge amount of royalties by the army.

But anyway, Discover magazine has published a short interview with Eric Haseltine, who went from working at Disney to heading up research and development at the National Security Agency, in 2002. He points out that exotic and high-tech options don’t get as good results as “low tech” options, which means a trained operative. One of the things that they’re trained in, is looking closely at people’s faces. At the moment I’m starting to learn the FACS system developed by Paul Ekman, which is listed on the links to the right. FACS is a research tool, not an interrogation tool, but Haseltine mentions Ekman’s micro expression system. The online learning site, which I just linked to, is probably what NSA agents use to learn it.

Ekman is an interesting guy. He claims to have looked at footage of Clinton as a congressional candidate and seen him repeatedly use a very specific expression. An expression that indicated he had a deep-seated desire to be found out, doing something bad.

Simon Mann

Tuesday, July 8th, 2008

The news is full of stories about Simon Mann’s jail sentence of 34 years, in Equatorial Guinea. It’s a rare window into a world that is mostly off-limits to the press. The BBC story that I just linked to includes the sentence “those who have known Simon Mann describe him as poker-faced, mysterious and secretive”. According to Michael Gove of the Times, Mann’s security firms have been “scrupulous about operating in concert with western policy goals whilst maintaining a discreet distance”. That’s as close as the BBC will come to saying that he’s a spook.

His old buddy, Tony Buckingham, who he set up Executive Outcomes with, is not so much a spook as a horror story. The press articles neglect to remember that the holding company that owned Executive Outcomes also owned mining and oil companies, and that the company was paid mostly in oil and mining concessions. Mann’s other ex-colleague, with whom he set up Sandline, Tim Spicer, picked himself up after the Sandline scandal and New Guinea, and headed up Aegis. Aegis won a contract for $475 million from the Department of Defense to form the US regional Cooperation Offices. Which works with Blackwater, the CIA etc.

It’s much nicer to think of our spooks in the James Bond mould, rather than as fat cats with money in their pockets and people under their command, operating in that grey area between war and business. The Bond franchise must be an asset not only to the producers but to the image of the intelligence business. I wonder how long Mann will stay in prison for…