From The Intercept:
A British psychologist is receiving sharp criticism from some professional peers for providing expert advice to help the U.K. surveillance agency GCHQ manipulate people online.
The debate brings into focus the question of how or whether psychologists should offer their expertise to spy agencies engaged in deception and propaganda.
Dr. Mandeep K. Dhami, in a 2011 paper, provided the controversial GCHQ spy unit JTRIG with advice, research pointers, training recommendations, and thoughts on psychological issues, with the goal of improving the unit’s performance and effectiveness. JTRIG’s operations have been referred to as “dirty tricks,” and Dhami’s paper notes that the unit’s own staff characterize their work using “terms such as ‘discredit,’ promote ‘distrust,’ ‘dissuade,’ ‘deceive,’ ‘disrupt,’ ‘delay,’ ‘deny,’ ‘denigrate/degrade,’ and ‘deter.’” The unit’s targets go beyond terrorists and foreign militaries and include groups considered “domestic extremist[s],” criminals, online “hacktivists,” and even “entire countries.”
After publishing Dhami’s paper for the first time in June, The Intercept reached out to several of her fellow psychologists, including some whose work was referenced in the paper, about the document’s ethical implications.
“Include groups considered “domestic extremist[s],” criminals, online “hacktivists,” and even “entire countries”
One of the psychologists cited in the report criticized the paper and GCHQ’s ethics. Another psychologist condemned Dhami’s recommendations as “grossly unethical” and another called them an “egregious violation” of psychological ethics. But two other psychologists cited in the report did not express concern when contacted for reaction, and another psychologist, along with Dhami’s current employer, defended her work and her ethical standards.
A British law firm hired to represent Dhami maintained that any allegations of unethical conduct are “grossly defamatory and totally untrue.”
The divergent views on the paper highlight how the profession of psychology has yet to resolve key ethical concerns around consulting for government intelligence agencies. These issues take on added resonance in the context of the uproar currently roiling the American Psychological Association over the key role it played in the CIA torture program during the Bush administration. The APA’s Council of Representatives voted Friday to bar psychologists from taking part in national security interrogations or to advise on confinement conditions. Dhami’s consultation with JTRIG and the APA’s role in support of the CIA torture program are disparate — there is no suggestion that Dhami advised on interrogations involving torture nor that her paper was part of an ongoing relationship with JTRIG — but Dhami’s GCHQ work, like the APA scandal, provokes heated disagreement and criticism.