Intelligence in Public Literature and Media

Review Essay

James Mitchell’s Angry Apologia

A Review of Enhanced Interrogation: Inside the Minds and Motives of the Islamic Terrorists Who Are Trying to Destroy America
James E. Mitchell, with Bill Harlow (Crown Forum, 2016), 309 pp.

Reviewed by Erik Jens

Note to readers - 1 Dec 2018: On 26 July 2018, the Editorial Board received a submission from Dr. James E. Mitchell objecting to this review of his book. Dr. Mitchell’s elaboration of his concerns about the review written by National Intelligence University Professor Erik Jens included assertions that the review was “based on false assumptions and flawed logic” and “misconceptions.” It also suggested the review had the “imprimatur of the CIA”—which, as an independent journal within the Intelligence Community, Studies does not. See disclaimer below. Dr. Mitchell further requested that a reference be included to his book’s website,

When the Editorial Board chose to publish this review, its members felt, and still feel, that Professor Jens’ submission met the Board’s standards for publication, though not all necessarily agreed with his conclusions. As it has not been common practice for Studies to publish responses to reviews authors may consider unfavorable—and while at the same time understanding the strong feelings surrounding this subject—the Editorial Board elected not to depart from its practice but decided instead to append this note to the digital versions of the review and to the full December 2018 issue to make readers aware of Dr. Mitchell’s critique and permit them to visit his website and draw their own conclusions.


Former CIA contract psychologists James Mitchell and John “Bruce” Jessen are well-known to anyone familiar with the history of CIA’s post-9/11 experiment with enhanced interrogation techniques. The accounts of numerous ex-intelligence officials and journalists have portrayed Mitchell as obsessed with repurposing various survival, evasion, resistance, and escape (SERE) torments to induce “learned helplessness” as a necessary prelude to the interrogations of hardened terrorists. Mitchell and Jessen figure in many such accounts as opportunists who allegedly violated their ethical duties as psychologists, then got rich at taxpayer expense assessing the very interrogation program they had designed.

So run the depictions in popular culture of Mitchell and Jessen’s roles in designing and helping to execute the CIA’s detention and interrogation program. Now, James Mitchell, who until after the December 2014 release of a portion of the Senate Select Intelligence Committee’s report on the program was—much to his frustration—barred under his CIA nondisclosure agreement from publicly commenting on his work as an agency contractor, has produced his own memoir of his participation in the CIA’s post-9/11 interrogation program. The December 2016 publication of Enhanced Interrogation seemed timed to reach the potential jury pool for the then-pending lawsuit by three former CIA detainees against Mitchell and Jessen. That lawsuit, to the surprise of some legal observers, remained alive until an out-of-court settlement was reached on 16 August 2017 despite expectations that the government, as it has with most previous detainee lawsuits, would invoke the state secrets privilege to quash the litigation.

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Posted: Oct 02, 2017 02:42 PM
Last Updated: Jan 07, 2019 01:21 PM