In 2011, Knuth Müller, a psychologist from Germany, contacted BPSI Archives for his research on the collaboration of psychoanalysts with the US-intelligence community in 1940-1975. Mr. Müller held a brief correspondence with our Director of Archive, Sanford Gifford, MD, and requested biographies of Walter Langer and Samuel Guttmann for his dissertation. His English language report was published as a chapter Psychoanalysis and American Intelligence since 1940: Unexpected Liaisons In Ffytche, M. and Pick, D. (2016). Psychoanalysis in the Age of Totalitarianism, Routledge, pp. 149-162. In 2018, he sent us a more extensive two-volume publication only available in German. Rita Teusch, PhD, BPSI Faculty and Library Committee Member kindly reviewed this work for our English readers. Her remarks below originally appeared in the Spring 2019 issue of the Hanns Sachs Library Newsletter, which can be read here.

Müller, K. (2017). Commissioned by the Company: History and Consequences of an Unexpected Connection and Collaboration Between Psychoanalysis and the Military Secret Service Networks in the United States since 1940. Psychosozial Verlag.

This book offers a window into a little discussed subject area within Psychoanalysis: how Psychoanalytic Associations and Institutes and individual analysts lent their psychoanalytic expertise, wittingly, but also unwittingly, to the US Secret Service. When the collaboration was deliberate, it was often motivated by a wish to fight against Fascism, but Müller suggests that financial gain and professional recognition may have been additional motives. The author presents extensive and detailed archival research in the form of original documents, memoranda and correspondence from governmental and psychoanalytic archives across the country, for example, the APsaA archive at Weill Cornell Medical College, BPSI Archives in the Hanns Sachs Library, the Sigmund Freud Collection in the Library of Congress, and the National Archives and Records Administration, which document the entanglement of psychoanalysts since 1940 with various US Secret Service organizations. Müller’s book, which is accompanied by a separate 400-page long appendix, is based on the author’s dissertation research at the University of Berlin in the early 2000s. The author provides information about many psychoanalytic organizations (New York Psychoanalytic Institute, Chicago Psychoanalytic Institute, Boston Psychoanalytic Institute, Los Angeles Psychoanalytic Institute), just to name a few, some of whose members actively collaborated with the US Secret Service. He shows how analysts, often those in leadership positions in their psychoanalytic societies and institutes, were involved with Secret Service Organizations, documenting the duration of the collaboration, the institutional connections these analysts had with the US Intelligence Community (IC, which consisted of 17 separate secret service organizations) and the consequences of those collaborations that reach into today.

The Prologue discusses the relations between psychoanalysis and the military during WWI. The subsequent chapters cover the time from WWII till the present. In 1941 APsaA founded the Committee on Morale after being approached by the US Secret Service. The committee was active for about a year. Its mission was to help the government with specific psychoanalytic strategies to be used for preventive and curative purposes in the psychotherapy of US soldiers and the civil population. Walter Langer (BPSI), who wrote the COI/OSS (Committee on Information/Office of Strategic Services) inspired study “The Mind of Adolf Hitler”, was appointed chair of the “Psychoanalytic Field Unit” an arm of the COI. Langer wrote many other papers for these government Offices, including “Psychoanalytic Contributions to Psychological Warfare” (1943).

In 1941, under the leadership of Langer, APsaA sent out questionnaires to its 472 members, requesting clinical material and analysis of patients who had Fascist, Communist or other “subversive” inclinations. Of those, 268 returned the questionnaire; 33% were willing to offer clinical material, whereas 23% clearly opposed it. Those completing the 8 page questionnaires (4 pages were given to the patient who were not informed about the purpose of the study) provided their thoughts on whether and how “revolutionary” tendencies in patients (who remained anonymous) could be modified. Among those were Franz Alexander and Therese Benedek. The Committee on Morale, considered controversial within the organization, was dissolved when resolutions were passed by the New York Psychoanalytic Institute and Boston Psychoanalytic Society and Institute.

Müller shows that many analysts belonging to APsaA attended regular meetings of the Committee on Morale, among them Edward Bibring, Ives Hendrick., Lawrence Kubie, Karl Menniger, Ernst Kris, Edward Bibring, and Ralph Kaufman. Henry Murray (BPSI) is reported to have worked directly for the CIA branch OSS (Office of Strategic Services), which financed his research, including his personality study on Hitler, his TAT research, and his research on Selection Procedures for CIA-agents. His research covered the time from WWII until the nineteen sixties.

Henry Murray and Margaret Mead are said to have encouraged Erik Erikson’s involvement with COI in 1940, which resulted in Erikson’s work on the “Psychology of Hitler”, “The Nazi-Mentality” , “Submarine Psychology”, “A memorandum concerning the Interrogation of German Prisoners of War”, “A memorandum to the Joint Committee on Post War Planning”. By 1950, Erikson’s stance changed; he refused to sign the McCarthy-era “loyalty oath,” resulting in the loss of his position as Professor of Psychology at the University of California in Berkeley.

Müller describes how, after WWII, US Intelligence Services actively sought out Nazi doctors and high- level German war criminals with technological expertise, and, claiming national security concerns, pardoned them, rewrote their biographies and used their expertise. During this time there was also a systematic attempt by the CIA to seek out the knowledge of academic researchers and clinicians, including émigré analysts. During WWII many analysts occupied prominent military positions for example, Karl Menniger and Robert Kaufman, which created a network through which other analysts could subsequently become connected with Intelligence Services. The CIA created “cut-out” foundations, i.e., private organizations, for example, the “Ford Foundation”, the Commonwealth Fund, and National Institute of Mental Health that concealed CIA funding. One gets the impression that virtually every research study was funded by some type of CIA “cover grant” and therefore resulted in an unwitting involvement of analysts (and also researchers in other academic fields) with the Intelligence Services. Examples are BPSI’s Grete Bibring’s “Study on Pregnancy”, Sanford Gifford’s “Army study on Acute and Chronic Stress”, Elizabeth Zetzel’s “Suitablilty for Psychoanalysis”- furthermore the researches of Anna Freud, Bruno Bettelheim, Ernst Kris, John Bowlby, Otto Kernberg, Magaret Mahler, Joseph Sandler, Fred Pine, Jack Novick, Robert Wallerstein, to name just a few.

During the postwar period the CIA openly sponsored numerous symposia on topics related to the manipulation of human behavior and consciousness in an effort to refine techniques of psychological warfare. For example, a conference on Sensory Deprivation (SD) at Harvard Medical School in June 1958 presented the research from several psychoanalysts including Robert Holt. Many BPSI analysts participated, knowing that the US Military was financing the Congress, including. Grete Bibring, Ives Hendrick, Elvin Semrad, and George Klein; the latter two were also receiving direct military funding.

Analysts from other Institutes who collaborated intensively with the CIA included Henry P. Laughlin, who, between 1947 and 1965, produced many research papers on psychological and psychiatric techniques on the change of human behavior and consciousness”, involving hypnosis, drugs, lobotomy, electroshock, psychological and interrogation techniques, including sleep-deprivation. Another major collaborator was Charles Savage who worked as a member of the Medical Corps of the US Navy while he was a candidate in psychoanalytic training, and Samuel V. Thompson (human experiments with hallucinogenic drugs). Müller describes the involvement of the New York Psychoanalytic Institute with the Intelligence Service through Phyllis Greenacre and Lewis Bertram, and Chestnut Lodge Hospital in Maryland.

Müller ends his book with a summary of the lasting consequences of the psychoanalytic collaboration with intelligence organizations, which mostly involve the development of psychological personality assessments that became the forerunners of “profiling”, refinements in interrogation techniques and psychological torture, and insights into the elements of psychological warfare.

Reading this book left me feeling disturbed about the readiness of individual analysts and psychoanalytic institutes and organizations to collaborate with Intelligence Services and the Military. Müller’s research confirmed how easy it can be to rationalize behaviors not consistent with one’s manifest ethical convictions, and how mechanisms of idealization, denial, a desire for power and recognition may also have motivated such collaborations. The ubiquity of Intelligence and Military research funding through “cover grants” or “cut out “private foundations appears to be a hard to solve dilemma for academics and clinicians alike and reveals our profession’s inevitable entanglement with politics. Perhaps the time is ripe for an open discussion within our psychoanalytic organizations, societies and institutes of this sensitive history and ongoing present challenge.

About the Author

Rita Teusch, PhD, is a Training and Supervising Analyst and faculty member of the Boston Psychoanalytic Society and Institute. She is a part-time Lecturer in Psychiatry (Psychology) at Harvard Medical School, Cambridge Health Alliance, and provides supervision to psychology interns and postdoctoral fellows at Cambridge Hospital. Dr. Teusch has a private practice in Harvard Square, Cambridge, MA

Rita Teusch can be contacted by email here.


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