Key to Swaying Mass Opinion Found
by Wynne Parry / 26 July 2011

For an opinion or belief, 10 percent is critical mass. If that proportion of the population emphatically embraces an idea, then it will spread rapidly to the majority of the population, scientists have found. “When the number of committed opinion holders is below 10 percent, there is no visible progress in the spread of ideas,” said researcher Boleslaw Szymanski, director of the Social Cognitive Networks Academic Research Center at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute. “Once that number grows above 10 percent, the idea spreads like flame.” For example, dictators who held power for decades in Tunisia and Egypt were overthrown in a matter of weeks when events pushed public opinion past the 10 percent threshold, Szymanski said. Szymanski and colleagues tested out the spread of opinion using computer models of different social networks — one in which everyone was connected to everyone else, one with a few well-connected people and one in which everyone had the same, limited number of connections. In all cases, a few people within the network held an unwavering, but uncommon, belief; everyone else held a traditional view but was open-minded. They found that, regardless of the type of network, 10 percent remained the threshold required to shift the majority opinion once the true believers began to speak with everyone else. [Cooperation Is Contagious]

This finding has broad implications for understanding how opinion spreads, according to the researchers. “There are clearly situations in which it helps to know how to efficiently spread some opinion or how to suppress a developing opinion,” said Gyorgy Korniss, a study researcher and associate professor of physics at Rensselaer. “Some examples might be the need to quickly convince a town to move before a hurricane or spread new information on the prevention of disease in a rural village.”



The Concept of Odious Debt
Odious debt is an established legal principle. Legally, debt is to be considered odious if the government used the money for personal purposes or to oppress the people. Moreover, in cases where borrowed money was used in ways contrary to the people’s interest, with the knowledge of the creditors, the creditors may be said to have committed a hostile act against the people. Creditors cannot legitimately expect repayment of such debts.

The United States set the first precedent of odious debt when it seized control of Cuba from Spain. Spain insisted that Cuba repay the loans made to them by Spain. The U.S. repudiated (refused to pay) that debt, arguing that the debt was imposed on Cuba by force of arms and served Spain’s interest rather than Cuba’s, and that the debt therefore ought not be repaid. This precedent was upheld by international law in Great Britain v. Costa Rica (1923) when money was put to use for illegitimate purposes with full knowledge of the lending institution; the resulting debt was annulled.


What are odious debts? Excerpt from The Doctrine of Odious Debts, Chapter 17 of the book Odious Debts: Loose Lending, Corruption, and the Third World’s Environmental Legacy by Patricia Adams

The legal doctrine of odious debts was given shape by Alexander Nahum Sack a quarter of a century after the settlement of the Spanish-American War. Sack, a former minister of Tsarist Russia and, after the Russian Revolution, a professor of law in Paris, authored two major works on the obligations of successor systems: The Effects of State Transformations on Their Public Debts and Other Financial Obligations andThe Succession of the Public Debts of the State. With colonial territories becoming independent nation states and colonies changing hands, with monarchies being replaced by republics and military rule by civilian, with constantly changing borders throughout Europe, and with the ascendant new ideologies of socialism, communism and fascism overthrowing old orders, Sack’s debt theories dealt with the practical problems created by such transformations of state. Like many others, Sack believed that liability for public debts should remain intact, for these debts represent obligations of the state — the state being the territory, rather than a specific governmental structure. This he based not on some strict dictate of natural justice, but on the exigencies of international commerce. Without strong rules, he believed, chaos would reign in relations between nations, and international trade and finance would break down.

But Sack believed that debts not created in the interests of the state should not be bound to this general rule. Some debts, he said, were “dettes odieuses.”

If a despotic power incurs a debt not for the needs or in the interest of the State, but to strengthen its despotic regime, to repress the population that fights against it, etc., this debt is odious for the population of all the State. This debt is not an obligation for the nation; it is a regime’s debt, apersonal debt of the power that has incurred it, consequently it falls with the fall of this power. The reason these “odious” debts cannot be considered to encumber the territory of the State, is that such debts do not fulfill one of the conditions that determine the legality of the debts of the State, that is: the debts of the State must be incurred and the funds from it employed for the needs and in the interests of the State.“Odious” debts, incurred and used for ends which, to the knowledge of the creditors, are contrary to the interests of the nation, do not compromise the latter — in the case that the nation succeeds in getting rid of the government which incurs them — except to the extent that real advantages were obtained from these debts. The creditors have committed a hostile act with regard to the people; they can’t therefore expect that a nation freed from a despotic power assume the “odious” debts, which are personal debts of that power.

Even when a despotic power is replaced by another, no less despotic or any more responsive to the will of the people, the “odious” debts of the eliminated power are not any less their personal debts and are not obligations for the new power…. One could also include in this category of debts the loans incurred by members of the government or by persons or groups associated with the government to serve interests manifestly personal — interests that are unrelated to the interests of the State.

For creditors to expect any protection in their loans to foreign states, their loans must be utilized for the needs and interests of the state, otherwise the loans belonged to the power which contracted them, and were therefore, “dettes de régime.” The doctrine of odious debts is open to abuse by self-serving interpretation. To avoid arbitrarily repudiated debts, Sack proposed that a new government be required to prove that the debt ill-served the public interest and that the creditors were aware of this. Following these proofs, the onus would be upon the creditors to show that the funds were utilized for the benefit of the territory. If the creditors could not do so, before an international tribunal, the debt would be unenforceable.

The Freedom from Debt Coalition (FDC) – Philippines


“We, the undersigned, are sponsoring a citizens’ debt audit for Ireland. In the interest of transparency, we wish to know how the Irish debt — especially the bank debt for which the state has assumed responsibility — was incurred and to whom it is owed. We sponsor this audit as organizations that have a proven record on matters of debt and social and economic justice, and as representatives of the social justice and trade union sector in Ireland. The Irish people are paying a heavy price for servicing a debt that was, in large part, not of their making. They have a right to know the details of that debt and, supported in part by the findings of this audit, to determine its legitimacy (or lack thereof). The Irish debt audit will be carried out speedily and its findings made freely and widely available.

Debt audits are being used across the world to help civil society to hold to account those responsible for the damage caused by their countries’ indebtedness. Debt audits can be a powerful tool to support civil society access information on the debts of their countries in order to judge for themselves whether the debts should be paid; and the implications of any payment or non-payment decisions. This is an approach which is gaining international currency at governmental and citizenry levels. For example, a governmental supported debt audit has been implemented in Ecuador, and parliamentary audit initiatives are being planned in Bolivia, Brazil and in the Philippines resulting from citizen pressure. Debt audits are viewed with growing interest across Africa too. International co-ordination in this area is rapidly increasing. For example, two former Ecuadorian ministers have recently signed a call to support a debt audit in Greece. Greek and social justice groups from around the world are also supporting this call for an independent Irish debt audit. As one of the organisers of the Greek debt audit call, economist Costas Lapavitsas, puts it:

Can we be certain that the bulk of Greek public debt is legal, given especially that it has been contracted in direct contravention of EU treaties which state that public debt must not exceed 60% of GDP? The creditors — mostly core European banks — were fully aware of flouting this legal requirement when they lent to the Greek state. Is Irish public debt legitimate, given than much of it is speculative bank lending with a public tag placed on it? Is debt in both countries ethically and morally sustainable if servicing it implies the destruction of normal social life?

An independent Irish debt audit will support people in Ireland to form an opinion on where responsibilities lie with regard to the Irish debt crisis. Its findings will also highlight lessons that will be shared with lenders, borrowers and citizens in other indebted countries around the world.”


South Africa has been an important battleground for the odious debts’ movement since 1997 when the Alternative Information and Development Centre (AIDC) published its groundbreaking report, Challenging Apartheid’s Foreign Debts. The publication represented the beginning of a powerful campaign to write off the “odious debts” incurred by the apartheid regime. In the report, AIDC argues that two central components must be examined when determining whether a country’s debts are “odious” under international law. Those are: a) the legitimacy of the borrower’s purpose in seeking the loan; and b) whether the lender was recklessly indifferent to the status of the contracting state. The report concludes that no loan to the apartheid regime could have had a legitimate purpose because apartheid itself was illegitimate (as recognized by several international bodies including the UN and the International Court of Justice). Furthermore, AIDC provides powerful evidence to establish that creditors knowingly supported the apartheid regime by providing loans that were used to oppress the country’s black population.

During South Africa’s widely hailed Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC) hearings both the African National Congress and the AIDC challenged the TRC to consider the issue of reparations in the context of the doctrine of odious debts. Since that time, many others have continued the campaign to write off the country’s “odious debts,” including Jubilee 2000 and Desmond Tutu’s successor, Archbishop Njongonkulu Ndungane. Finally, debt campaigners have targeted specific lenders in their calls for debt cancellation (see “an open letter to the Swiss President“).

A man plays piano while others loot one of Saddam Hussein’s former palaces in Baghdad (Saturday, May 3, 2003) Source: Alexander Zemlianichenko (AP)

Iraq’s Debt Relief – procedure and potential implications for international debt relief by Martin Weiss / Reviewed by Patricia Adams / December 28/2007

Martin Weiss, an analyst with the Congressional Research Service, the public policy research arm of the U.S. Congress, has published an updated paper about the treatment of Iraq’s debts by creditor nations following the fall of Saddam Hussein. Three precedents have been set, he says, as a result of Iraq’s experience. Weiss argues, convincingly, that the international community is prepared to protect strategically important countries from onerous debt burdens. But his argument that Iraq’s experience demonstrates an unwillingness of successors to dictators to claim odious debts is less convincing. Following the ouster of the Saddam Hussein regime in the spring of 2003, Iraq’s external debt was estimated to be $125 billion. Weiss points out that reducing the debt to a sustainable level was a priority for the U.S. government so that funds could be released to help support Iraq’s budget, pay for Iraq’s security, and reestablish Iraq’s financial standing with international creditors and the financial markets. The techniques used and the timing of Iraq’s debt write-offs were significant, he says.

First, the UN Security Council passed resolution 1483 in May 2003 which prohibited any country from initiating debt claims against the proceeds of Iraq’s petroleum or gas industries until December 31, 2007. This ‘stay’ on the enforcement of creditor rights – sheltering Iraq from a potential rush of debt claims against its petroleum and gas revenues – was, says Weiss, “a radical move in the history of sovereign debt negotiations.” It was especially so for the U.S., which typically lets financial markets resolve their own debt disputes (by allowing creditors to sue foreign governments for debt claims). This official immunization of Iraq’s debts from foreign claims is all the more surprising, he says, because only months earlier the proposed IMF Sovereign Debt Restructuring Mechanism, which included a similar provision that would ‘stay’ creditors rights through a litigation shield, was rejected by some member countries over concerns about the effect of just such a ‘stay.’ This near-overnight reversal of position in the case of Iraq, says Weiss, shows that the U.S. and the international community are willing to shield a debtor from its creditors on an ad-hoc basis, without a formal international bankruptcy regime “for countries that exhibit a perceived threat to U.S. and international security” and through a political institution, such as the UN, rather than a financial institution like the IMF.

The second important precedent, says Weiss, was set when the Paris Club of official creditors wrote off 80 percent of their claims against Iraq, a middle income country, in the largest-ever write-off in the Paris Club’s history. The Paris Club thereby opened the door to political debt relief (Euromoney called Iraq’s Paris Club debt deal “nakedly political”). Traditionally, Paris Club debt restructurings of official debts adhered to relatively strict rules based on a country’s economic situation. Those rules were effectively thrown out in Iraq’s case, cementing a trend for “increasing flexibility in Paris Club debt restructuring treatments.”

The last precedent involving Iraq’s debt experience, says Weiss, is “an unwillingness by successor regimes to claim that their debt is odious and repudiate it.” Here, I think Weiss has misread the signs. Weiss bases his case on Iraq’s Minister of Finance, Adil Abdul Mahdi, who told Euromoney that his country was seeking debt relief not because of the “principles of public international law such as the odious debt doctrine,” but because of the “economic realities facing a post-conflict country that has endured decades of financial corruption and mismanagement under the Saddam regime.”

Weiss takes this statement as a sign of negotiating weakness when the statement could just as easily signify negotiating strength – an iron fist in a velvet glove. At the time of the Minister’s comment, the word on the street in Iraq – and in much of the press coverage around the world – was that the citizens of Iraq had inherited textbook odious debts from the regime of Saddam Hussein. Many Iraqis believed that they had solid legal and moral grounds to repudiate these debts and would fight to do so if the creditors – mostly rich governments – refused to write them off. So vociferous and unified were the Iraqi public and civil society organizations (see Jubilee Iraq’s survey), and so compelling were the legal arguments, that the Economic and Financial Committee of the Iraqi National Assembly recommended the Assembly reject responsibility for debt repayment and argued for resolution of the claims before an international tribunal (see Resolution). The Assembly later adopted this position. Quite clearly, the moral authority of the Iraqis and the legal threat of exposure and challenge in arbitral proceedings – governed, at least in part, by the principles of odious debts – could not have helped but sway the Paris Club creditors toward writing off their claims.

One cannot know what was in the mind of Iraq’s Minister of Finance at the time. But when, in his bid to secure debt relief, he stated that Iraq would not draw on the “principles of public international law such as the odious debt doctrine,” the Paris Club creditors must have felt the presence of that elephant in the negotiating room. The threat of odious debt arbitration surely helps explain why Paris Club creditors stepped up their offer of debt forgiveness from 60 percent to 80 percent when the Iraqi negotiating team walked away from the former proposal during the negotiations.

Iraq’s Minister of Finance would naturally have wanted to dispense with this debt quickly in order to reestablish the flow of international finance to his country and to begin the post-war rebuilding project. Given the option of years of arbitration to arrive at approximately the same deal, he understandably opted for negotiations allowing for an immediate “no fault to the creditors” write-off. He did not repudiate the option of arbitration in the event that satisfactory debt write-off negotiations failed. Weiss views the acceptance of the debt deal as an indication that Iraq and other successor regimes in future would shy away from claiming debts as odious and repudiating such debt. Rather, Iraq’s negotiating approach is likely to convince other countries to play the odious debts card. Iraq in 2004 took an approach recommended by Professor Howse, an international law expert with the University of Michigan, and author of the recent paper, ” The Concept of Odious Debt in Public International Law”: When successors to dictators inherit debts they believe to be odious they can make their case, either in debt negotiations or adjudicated in the context of arbitration or domestic litigation.

Finally, Weiss makes a puzzling argument in claiming that Iraq’s case for odious debts would have been “difficult” to make because “many of Iraq’s debts were taken for economic development or commercial purposes and appear legitimate.” Why should Iraqis, or the citizens of any other country for that matter, accept large claims against them on faith because they “appear” to be legitimate to the claimants? Ostensibly legitimate loans can be misused, particularly in a country known for corruption. The civil society of any country would want that money trail disclosed, not buried. Therein lies the tragedy of Iraq’s debt forgiveness: Iraqis will never know the detail of who financed their country’s dictator and how the money was used. The Paris Club preempted an odious debt arbitral process and that precedent was, unfortunately, not set.

Robert Howse
email : rhowse [at] umich [dot] edu

by Robert Howse with Deborah Coyne / 2007 July

The concept of “odious debt” regroups a particular set of equitable considerations that have often been raised to adjust or sever debt obligations in the context of political transitions, based on the purported odiousness of the previous regime and the notion that the debt it incurred did not benefit, or was used to repress, the people. This paper begins with an exploration of the grounds of the “odious debt” concept in basic international law structures and principles. The international law obligation to repay debt has never been accepted as
absolute, and has been frequently limited or qualified by a range of equitable considerations, some of which may be regrouped under the concept of “odiousness.” This is consistent with the accepted view that equity constitutes part of the content of “the general principles of law of civilized nations”, one of the fundamental sources of international law stipulated in the Statute of the International Court of Justice. At the same time, most debt contracts between States and private creditors are governed by the domestic private law specified in the contract. The legal systems of these jurisdictions may well have concepts such as “clean hands” or the notion that contracts related to illegal purposes are invalid. These concepts overlap with elements of the notion of “odiousness” as a basis for invalidating debt obligations. Investor/ state arbitration tribunals, for example, have been comfortable taking into account such considerations in determining whether repudiation of contractual obligations to an investor by the host State is consistent with international law. This suggests that such concepts may indeed form part of the content of equity as “a general principle of law of civilized nations”, especially if widely shared among different legal systems.

The paper surveys a range of actual transitional situations in order to articulate the various ways in which “odiousness” has been invoked by a successor regime as a ground for limiting its obligations to repay debt incurred by the previous regime. The paper also looks at some
situations where other States’ tribunals have rejected or questioned claims of a transitional regime to adjust or sever debt obligations based on considerations of “odiousness”. Examination of these situations does not lead to skepticism concerning the legal grounds for a notion of “odious debt.” Usually, in the cases examined, there were doubts concerning the facts as to whether the debt in question was “odious” or actually conferred some benefits on the population or the new regime, or whether the transitional regime’s claim was based on an overly broad notion of “odiousness.” In none of these situations was a claim of odious debt rejected on grounds that international law simply does not countenance alteration in state-to-state debt obligations based on any equitable considerations whatsoever. The paper concludes that, due to the complexity and variety of transitional contexts, there is no single obvious legal forum for the adjudication or settlement of claims of odiousness. Depending on context, such claims might appropriately be raised in bilateral or multilateral negotiations on debt relief, or they could be adjudicated in the context of arbitration or domestic litigation. State-to-state debt contracts may specify a forum for the settlement of disputes. However, invocation of the concept of odious debt in multiple forums in respect of diverse debt contracts involving the same debtor State risks inconsistent decisions. Here, the examination of considerations of odiousness by a single special transitional tribunal seized with all the claims related to the political transition in question may be an attractive solution.

The concept of “odious debts” has taken on a growing legal and political significance in the early 21st century. Since the post-colonial era, and continuing in recent years, a large number of political regime changes have occurred, whether due to war, revolution, secession, or the peaceful evolution of societies from one form of Government to another. Such transitions pervasively raise issues of the continuity of legal obligations from the old regime to the new, including the disposition of debt obligations acquired by the previous regime.

The odious debt concept seeks to provide a moral and legal foundation for severing, in whole or in part, the continuity of legal obligations where the debt in question was contracted by a prior “odious” regime and was used in ways that were not beneficial or were harmful to the interests of the population. Usually, it also has been pertinent to the concept to establish whether or not the creditor knew or should have known of these circumstances at the time the debt was contracted.

The relevance of the odious debt concept to political transitions is both distinct from and related to the debate on whether, as a matter of law or policy, international financial institutions or other potential creditors should ex ante be prevented or deterred from lending to existing regimes that are declared “odious”. This is a point associated with the issue of lending conditionality. This discussion paper examines the odious debt doctrine largely in the context of selected, relevant past or ongoing political transitions; the possibility of ex ante declaration of debt as “odious” is however discussed briefly in chapter V in relation to private and governmental creditors.

The modern concept of odious debts was first articulated in the post-World War I context, by the jurist Alexander Nahun Sack, in his 1927 book The Effects of State Transformations on their Public Debts and Other Financial Obligations. For Sack, odious debts were debts contracted and spent against the interests of the population of a State, without its consent, and with full awareness of the creditor. Sack (1929) wrote as follows:

“…if a despotic power incurs a debt not for the needs or in the interest of the State, but to strengthen its despotic regime, to repress its population that fights against it, etc., this debt is odious for the population of the State.

“The debt is not an obligation for the nation; it is a regime’s debt, a personal debt of the power that has incurred it, consequently it falls within this power….The reason these ‘odious’ debts cannot be considered to encumber the territory of the State, is that such debts do not fulfill one of the conditions that determines the legality of the debts of the State, that is: the debts of the State must be incurred and the funds from it employed for the needs and in the interest of the State. ‘Odious’ debts, incurred and used for ends which, to the knowledge of the creditors, are contrary to the interests of the nation, do not compromise the latter – in the case that the nation succeeds in getting rid of the Government which incurs them – except to the extent that real advantages were obtained from these debts.”

Sack divided odious debts into several categories: war debts, subjugated or imposed debts, and regime debts. Other jurists have used slightly different taxonomies. O’Connell (1967) referred to “hostile debts” in addition to war debt; others have referred to “profligate debts”. Still others refer to a new category of “developing world debts not spent in the interests of the population” framing the concept in terms of irresponsible or odious lending (Khalfan et al., 2003).1

The most common classical types of odious debts are hostile debts and war debts. “Hostile debts” can be defined as debts incurred to suppress secessionist movements, to conquer peoples and so forth. “War debts” are debts contracted by the State for the purpose of funding a war which the State eventually loses and whereby the victor is not obliged to repay the debt.

In the context of the negotiation of the Vienna Convention on the Succession of States in Respect of Matters other than Treaties (still not ratified) Mohammed Bedjaoui2, Special Rapporteur of the International Law Commission, concluded that “odious debt” is an umbrella term covering a range of specific debts – war debts and subjugated or imposed debts being but two examples. He clarified the situation as follows:

(a) From the standpoint of the successor State, an odious debt can be taken to mean a state debt contracted by the predecessor State to serve purposes contrary to the major interests of either the successor State or the territory that is transferred to it;
(b) From the standpoint of the international community, an odious debt could be taken to mean any debt contracted for purposes that are not in conformity with contemporary international law and, in particular, the principles of international law embodied in the Charter of the United Nations.3

Sack believed that state practice was such that the doctrine of odious debts could be said to be part of positive international law – a generally accepted rule of law. However, to avoid opportunistic use of the doctrine in inappropriate situations, Sack (1929: 163) proposed a process for the practical application of the doctrine that would be fair to all parties:

“(1) The new Government would have to prove and an international tribunal would have to ascertain the following:
“(a) That the needs which the former Government claimed in order to contract the debt in question, were odious and clearly in contradiction to the interests of the people of the entirety of the former State or a part thereof, and
“(b) That the creditors, at the moment of paying out the loan, were aware of its odious purpose.
“(2) Upon establishment of these two points, the creditors must then prove that the funds for this loan were not utilized for odious purposes – harming the people of the entire State or part of it – but for general or specific purposes of the State which do not have the character of being odious.”

The above formulation does not appear to require that the creditors be aware of how in fact the funds were actually spent. Nevertheless, subsequent jurists, notably O’Connell (1967: 459), treat this aspect as implicit in Sack’s formulation.

Like many concepts in international law, the concept of odious debt has been shaped by multiple normative sources: formal concepts of sovereignty and statehood have been influential and so have notions of political justice and accountability, as well as ideas of fair dealing and equity in contractual relations. In recent and contemporary treatments of odious debt, human rights elements have attained importance – as they have more generally in thinking about problems of transitional justice (Teitel, 2003).

However, to understand properly the normative foundations of the concept of odious debt, it is necessary to bear in mind that it constitutes a limitation on the international legal obligation to repay state-to-state debts. This obligation has generally been articulated as based on the notion of pacta sunt servanda, the requirement that States honour their agreements with one another. However, the concept of pacta sunt servanda concerns treaties, that is to say, state-to-state agreements that evidence the intent of the States in question to be bound in international law. When States enter into loan contracts with other States, do they intend that the obligations in question be international law obligations, private law obligations or both? The limitation of the pacta sunt servanda concept for settling the issue of continuity of debt obligations became clear early on when both theorists and state practitioners grappled with the problem of state succession.

Generally speaking, when state succession occurs, whether through dismemberment (the case of the Soviet Union), succession or some other change that alters the nature of the sovereign itself, international legal obligations are not thought to be automatically transferred to the new State or States. As a formal matter, the identity of the sovereign itself has changed and the new sovereign has not expressed its will to be bound. Applying these formal conceptions of the limits of international legal obligation where sovereignty changes to the case of state-to-state debts was quickly understood to be problematic. Firstly, as a practical matter, it could lead to financial instability and uncertainty in the case of this kind of transition. Secondly, it could entail unjust enrichment, to the extent that the new State would benefit from the loans or their effects (such as public infrastructure) without providing compensation for those benefits. Thus, the notion of “maintenance” of debt obligations in the case of succession arose as a sort of exception to the notion that change of “statehood” itself does not entail an automatic transfer of the legal obligations of the former sovereign to the new State(s).

There have been attempts to eliminate “maintenance” as a general rule in the case of newly independent States; however, these attempts have never gained the support of most developed States. The 1978 Vienna Convention on Succession of States in Respect of Treaties and the 1983 Vienna Convention on Succession of States in Respect of State Property, Archives and Debts include a provision referred to as the “clean slate rule”(Abrahams, 2000). Article 16 of the 1978 Convention provides that “a newly independent State is not bound to maintain in force or to become party to, any treaty by reason only of the fact that at the date of the succession of States the treaty was in force in respect of the territory to which the succession of States relates.” More pertinently, Article 38 of the 1983 Convention provides as follows:

“(1) When the successor State is a newly independent State, no state debt of the predecessor State shall pass to the newly independent State, unless an agreement between them provides otherwise in view of the link between the state debt of the predecessor State connected with its activity in the territory to which the succession of States relates and the property, rights and interests which pass to the newly independent State.
“(2) The agreement referred to in paragraph 1 shall not infringe on the principle of the permanent sovereignty of every people over its wealth and natural resources, nor shall its implementation endanger the fundamental economic equilibria of the newly independent State.”4

One commentator argues that by establishing a presumption that newly independent States do not inherit any debt, the Convention gives little incentive to enter into an agreement to take on any of the debt of their predecessors. Perhaps this helps to explain why so few developed States have adhered to the Property Convention (Khalfan et al., 2003: 34).

Abrahams (2000) argues that there exists an important link between these two “clean slate” articles and “odious debts”. The International Law Commission, in dealing with the question of “odious debts”, adopted the approach that it would first “examine each particular type of succession of States, because the rule to be formulated might well settle the issue and dispose of the need to draft general provisions on the matter” (Bedjaoui: 67). Abrahams believes that it was clearly intended that the question of odious debt be addressed in the context of the rules relating to the succession of newly independent States. “Thus, inherent in the ‘clean slate rule’ is the rationale that debts of a predecessor State might be ‘odious’ and for that reason States should be able to invoke the said rule within the contexts of Articles 16 and 38 of the two Conventions respectively” (Abrahams, 2000).

The notion of “maintenance” has, in any case, underpinned for centuries the practice of negotiated transfer of state debts in the case of succession. At the same time, other political, economic and legal considerations also have shaped such negotiations, leading to settlements that in a range of cases resulted in partial cancellation or (rarely) complete cancellation of some debts. The legal considerations have included considerations of justice or equity. One example is that apportionment of debt between several new States that are the successor of a single now-defunct State has to take into consideration the relative benefit from the lending that flows to each of these successor States, not just considerations of relative gross domestic product, population or territory. Consideration of the “odiousness” of a particular debt is another example.

Equity and justice have been brought into the disposition of debt in the case of succession because, both within the main private law systems of the world and in public international law, they have been long recognized as limits or qualifications to legal obligation – albeit limits that typically are not expressed as “rules”, but rather as modifications or adjustments to rules in individual cases. Thus, Grotius (1625) held that contracts made by the sovereign that are of no advantage and harmful to the State should not be honoured, and in particular where public money has been pledged for purposes that are not for the public good. Similarly, Grotius held that contracts made by a usurper regime that has overthrown a legitimate regime should not be honoured when the usurper has been removed.

Among the sources of international law recognized in Article 38 of the Statute of the International Court of Justice are “the general principles of law of civilized nations”. These are principles common to a wide range of the world’s legal systems. Equitable limits to contractual obligations in such systems have included illegality, fraud, fundamentally changed circumstances, knowledge that an agent is not properly acting on behalf of the contracting principal and duress. Equitable considerations have frequently been explicitly applied by international tribunals in determining the reasonable and fair contours or limits of international legal obligations (Lowe, 1992 and Friedmann, 1964).

As will be shown, the concept of odious debt is really a regrouping of a range of such equitable considerations as applied to particular transitional contexts. Not all of these contexts pertain to state succession: in fact, the challenges of political transition are often the same whether state succession in the formal sense of an alteration of abstract sovereignty is involved or not.

While general principles to be discerned from the limits of contractual obligation in domestic legal systems are one source of equity or justice, it would be odd if the evolving normative content of international law itself were not also to be such a source. In the case of those international agreements that are treaties,5 the Vienna Convention on the Law of Treaties requires that the obligations in any one agreement be read in light of other binding agreements as well “as any relevant rules of international law applicable between the parties.” This certainly includes elements of human rights law that have become custom (or even preemptory norms). Domestic and international practice since the Second World War increasingly evokes accountability for human rights abuses – especially crimes against humanity – as a high priority for the international system. In the current era of international law, such accountability extends beyond the state actors most directly involved in the context of the abuses to private actors and even corporations, including various decrees of complicity or facilitation of such wrongful acts.

In the context of state indebtedness to private creditors, debt contracts are typically based on a chosen domestic system of law, specified in a choice of law clause in the contract. Here, also, the relevance of the notion of odious debt has not been explicitly elaborated on in the literature. Does an odious debt doctrine impose, as a matter of state responsibility in international law, an obligation on States to ensure that odious debts are not enforced in their domestic legal systems? Or does it simply add to the considerations that courts in most domestic legal systems would weigh in determining the limits of freedom of contract (illegality, fraud, changed circumstances, ostensible authority of the agent to contract, public policy, etc.)?

In the case of state contracts with private creditors, Sornarajah (2004: 419–427) has pointed out that, despite frequent incantations to that effect by commentators and creditors, there is no evidence of general international law establishing the sanctity of such contracts. Certainly, in some circumstances, repudiation of a contract with a foreign investor might violate the customary international law of state responsibility for treatment of aliens (the fair and equitable treatment standard, which is also incorporated into many bilateral investment treaties and trade agreements). But such a standard itself depends on notions of justice and equity, and therefore would imply the relevance of considerations such as the odiousness of the debt.

A skeptical view of the doctrine of odious debt may hold that there is inadequate state practice and certainly lack of opinio juris to establish an obligation to make odious debt obligations unenforceable in domestic legal systems. But the concept of odious debt obligations can nevertheless make a distinctive contribution to the application of domestic law doctrines limiting contractual obligation by incorporating sensitivity to the contemporary demands of transitional justice as well as global justice in the broadest sense. More critical views of the odious debt concept show concern that it does not yield ex ante certainty concerning the situations in which debt will be considered odious, depending instead on case-by-case application of quite general legal standards to controversial matters. Yet the common law of contracts has functioned effectively as a default for transactions in financial markets for hundreds of years. This is despite having evolved case by case through judicial application of general norms and concepts in widely varying circumstances. There is a rich case law in the common law world concerning the limits of contractual freedom, whereby contractual obligations have been found unenforceable or partly enforceable. Generally speaking, these limits have not prevented the growth of sophisticated and well-functioning financial markets.


The idea of odious debt is often discussed in the abstract from the political and institutional context. The notion of “repudiation” of debt is in itself inadequate to capture the complex possibilities of how and where a “doctrine” of odious debt might be invoked, especially given the critical importance of the transitional context concerned. First of all, in the case of state-to-state debt, the notion of odious debt might be invoked against a claim that there is an international law obligation to repay the debt. Such a claim might in theory be invoked in state-to-state arbitration or even in the International Court of Justice, but in practice it is much more likely to be voiced in political or diplomatic discussions and negotiations in the context of political transition in the debtor country. Or alternatively, odious debt could be a concept applied by a specialized tribunal seized with addressing legal issues of transition. From this perspective, the concept of odious debt, rather than a self-standing legal doctrine, might be regarded as a lex specialis of transitional justice, a form of justice that is inherently and pervasively political and legal as well as highly contextualized in its specific content. Cheng (2007), for example, rejects the odious debt doctrine based on the notion that outcomes in international relations must either be fully determined by legal rules or decided by political bargaining in the absence of legal rules; he rightly sees the importance of pragmatic considerations of economic and financial stability in transitional situations but sees a legal approach as at odds with the taking account of those considerations.6 However, critiques of the “doctrine” of odious debt concerned with the inherent indeterminacy of concepts such as the odiousness of a regime, or with the need to balance considerations of odiousness with political and economic concerns such as future access to capital markets and the need for economic and financial market stability in a transitional situation, may miss the point.7

The odious debt concept does not create an obligation in all circumstances to repudiate the debt in question. Instead, when the creditor chooses to invoke the doctrine, it can provide one kind of normative and legal foundation for a transitional solution that includes debt reduction. For example, it is not inconsistent with the concept of odious debt that this transitional solution includes partial repayment of such debt. In some transitional situations, the best option for reasons of economic and financial stability could be to continue to pay all debt, even if it is odious.

Cheng suggests that the odious debt concept somehow would require that a debtor assert the non-enforcement of all the debt in question.8 However, in reality, rather than repudiating debt, a debtor State might invoke concerns of odious debt in negotiations with its creditors in order to reach compromise that promotes financial stability and future access to credit. Parties often hold back from the exercise of their full legal rights and obligations for pragmatic reasons, including reputation effects and an interest in maintaining relationships. This does not mean that the rights and obligations are lesser or that their existence does not have an important bearing on the negotiated outcome. It would be mistaken to invoke cases where the debt was arguably odious but the outcome was adjustment not elimination of obligations to show that state practice does not support the existence of an odious debt concept as customary international law. Transitional (or successor) regimes may, in some contexts, give amnesties and pardons to human rights violators in the previous regime where this is desirable for purposes of reconciliation and building a successful democracy (Teitel, 2003). Similarly, transitional regimes may also decide to continue relationships with financial institutions that had odious dealings with the previous regime when the economic and financial stability of the transition suggests such a course of action.

Moreover, in terms of accountability for past injustices and abuses, a transitional State may decide to examine the actions of the international financial community in the context of a truth commission, such as the South African Truth and Reconciliation Commission. A transitional State may decide that repudiation of debt is not the only way of addressing its connection to a legacy of oppression. Willingness to admit complicity in “odiousness” and to make amends through new lending or even apologies may in some cases satisfy a transitional regime’s concern for accountability about the past.

At the same time, it is not fatal to the concept of odious debt that, in state practice, one rarely sees all the considerations or aspects of transitional justice in debt obligation that have been regrouped under the notion of odious debt operating in the same situation. Cheng, rather like Gelpern, seeks to explain away state practice supporting the relevance of odiousness to the obligation to repay by suggesting that practice with respect to war debts and decolonization is irrelevant to odiousness.

The normative considerations, according to Cheng, are entirely different (Cheng, 2007). However, one of the central considerations with respect to war debts is that the debt cannot be considered as beneficial to the postwar successor State and its population, which is clearly one consideration that is involved in the determination of odiousness. Similarly, it is certainly the case that the oppressive nature of the prewar or colonial regime has been a factor in justifying a refusal to pay war debts or debts incurred in colonial situations, and this of course also highlights another aspect of odiousness. Therefore, a review of a large number of such instances might well conclude that in different transitional situations, certain normative considerations may be more important than others.

State actors are not typically seeking to articulate a doctrine in the abstract, but rather are seeking to solve a particular problem or dispute using a conception of the equitable limits of sanctity of contract in transitional situations and to articulate the contours of those limits for that particular situation. Therefore, they may well only refer to the facet of odiousness that is most salient to the situation in question. Some scholars supporting the odious debt concept (such as Sack) may have attempted to articulate the doctrine as a set of strict conditions that must be present in every instance in order to justify the non-enforcement of debt. However, state practice is more supportive of the notion that one or more of the normative considerations usually described as odiousness have been present in decisions concerning enforceability of debt in a wide variety of historical eras and across a wide range of transitional situations.

The fact that a wide range of legal and political considerations is relevant in determining the continuity of debt obligations in contexts of transition may explain in part the failure of States to agree on the expression of the notion of “odious debt” as a general rule that would determine the fate of state debt obligations regardless of the transitional context. One effort to establish such a general rule is represented by a proposal in respect of the 1983 Vienna Convention on Succession of States in Respect of State Property, Archives and Debts, the only international convention that relates to the subject of debt repayment. The International Law Commission Draft defined odious debts as: “(a) all debts contracted by the predecessor State with a view to attaining objectives contrary to the major interests of the successor State or of the transferred territory; (b) all debts contracted by the predecessor State with an aim and for a purpose not in conformity with international law embodied in Charter of the United Nations” (Wood, 1980). This definition was ultimately not included in the final text of the Convention, which has not yet come into force, not having achieved the requisite number of ratifications.

According to King, the decision to exclude a reference in the convention to odious debts “has dual significance. On the one hand, it indicates some juristic acceptance of the importance of the doctrine, while on the other hand, it illustrates the reluctance of both States and perhaps the Commission itself to include the doctrine explicitly” (Khalfan et al., 2003: 33). Meanwhile, the 1969 Vienna Convention on the Law of Treaties reassessed the strict international law principle of pacta sunt servanda (Frankenberg and Knieper, 1984). Article 62 provides that a termination or suspension of provisions in a treaty could arise from a substantive change in circumstances – an appeal on the basis of clausula rebus sic stantibus. The change in circumstances must present a substantial basis for the consent of the parties and the change in circumstances must radically alter the extent of contractual obligations yet to be fulfilled. In addition, Articles 49 and 50 reflect an emerging body of international law in respect of fraud and corruption of a representative of a State. This is not tailored to the situation of debtors but it does challenge the sanctity of treaties (Khalfan et al., 2003: note 1). According to King, had the Conventions been codified today, a greater opinio juris may have emerged with respect to the issue of odious debt (Khalfan et al., 2003: note 1: 33). Global affairs have evolved in the intervening years, placing much more emphasis on the advancement of human rights and the importance of humanitarian considerations in international financial practice.


Annexation of the Republic of Texas

In 1844, the United States annexed the Republic of Texas. Despite provisions to the contrary in the treaty of union which the Senate failed to ratify, the United States initially refused to pay all pre-annexation debts, but paid the majority of the debt on a pro rata basis in 1855. Hoeflich (1982) suggests that the federal Government’s approach was confused, in the end placing more emphasis on equitable arguments to do what was “right” and “just” in the circumstances.

The Fourteenth Amendment of the United States Constitution

The Fourteenth Amendment of the Constitution of the United States of America was ratified on 9 July 1868. The Fourth Section of the Fourteenth Amendment reads as follows:

“The validity of the public debt of the United States, authorized by law, including debts incurred for payment of pensions and bounties for services in suppressing insurrection or rebelling, shall not be questioned. But neither the United States nor any State shall assume or pay any debt or obligation incurred in aid of insurrection or rebellion against the United States, or any claim for the loss or emancipation of any slave; but all such debts, obligations and claims shall be held illegal and void.”

The main purpose of the Fourteenth Amendment was of course was to ensure the repudiation of secession and to abolish slavery, and the other sections of the Amendment are much more historically significant.

The Fourth Section considers that debts of the Confederacy not collected before the end of the Civil War were null and void. This was to punish those who had helped the Confederacy. The federal Government did, however, pay all the insurance debts – those debts attributable to the destruction of homes and crops by Union soldiers – even though those debts were the responsibility of the State to the people of that State. This meant that the insurrectionist States were indebted to the United States Government, making it easier to rebuild their States from the devastation caused by the war. In order to be readmitted to the Union, Southern States were required to ratify the amendment.

United States refusal to assume Cuban debt – 1898 Paris Conference

In 1898, after the Spanish–American War, Spain ceded the United States sovereignty over Cuba, the Philippines, Puerto Rico and certain territories. The Americans refused to assume certain debt owed by Spain, secured by revenues of Cuba. The American Commissioners argued as follows (Moore, 1906):

(a) The loan was not contracted for the benefit of Cubans, indeed some of the funds had been used to suppress popular uprisings in Cuba and to reincorporate Santo Domingo into the Spanish Dominions. The loans were hostile to the people required to pay them.
(b) Cuba had not consented to the debts.
(c) The creditors knew that the pledge of Cuban revenues to secure the loans had been given in the context of efforts to suppress a struggle for freedom from the Spanish rule.

Therefore the creditors “took their obvious chances of their investment on so precarious a security.” Spain made the classic arguments based on a narrow legal interpretation of the international law governing succession that the United States was bound notwithstanding the circumstances surrounding the use of the loan. According to the Spanish Commissioners: “It is perfectly self-evident that if, during the period intervening between the assumption by a sovereign of an obligation and the fulfillment of the same, he shall cease to be bound thereby through relinquishment or any other lawful conveyance, the outstanding obligation passes as an integral part of the sovereignty itself to him who succeeds him” (Moore, 1906). In the end, neither Cuba nor the United States assumed these debts in the Treaty of Paris, although Spain never abandoned its position in the matter.

Insofar as the United States Commissioners explicitly referred to the Cuban debt as “odious”, this is arguably the first direct application of the doctrine of odious debt. It is of course mentioned by Sack, whereas O’Connell classifies the Cuban debt controversy as a hostile debt situation. However, Bedjaoui refers to “subjugation debts” or “debts contracted by a State with a view to attempting to repress an insurrectionary movement or war of liberation in a territory that it dominates or seeks to dominate, or to strengthen its economic colonization of that territory” (Bedjaoui: 72).

Soviet repudiation of Tsarist debts

After the Revolution of 1917, the Provisional Soviet Government initially agreed to repay the outstanding debt of the Tsarist Government. However, by 1918, the Soviet Government had repudiated the debt. Sack, who himself was a former minister in the Tsarist regime, notes a particular Soviet doctrine that regards acts of previous Governments as incurring personal obligations only, and not ones that bind the State (Sack, 1929: 68). Nevertheless even for Sack, it could be argued that the repudiated debts were “odious” and therefore were unenforceable against the successor regime, given the evidence that Tsarist Russia did not rule in the interests of its population (Sack, 1929: 157).

Treaty of Versailles of 1919 and Polish debts

Article 254 of the Treaty of Versailles exempted Poland from the apportionments of those debts which “in the opinion of the Reparation Commission are attributable to the measures taken by the German and Prussian Governments for the German colonization of Poland” (O’Connell, 1967: 189). Article 254 then set out the manner in which German public debts contracted prior to 1 August 1 1914 were assumed by successor States. O’Connell and others agreed that the Treaty of Versailles effectively applied the odious debt test used by the American Commissioners in the Cuban debt controversy.

Tinoco arbitration – 1923 (Great Britain and Costa Rica 1923)

In 1922, Costa Rica refused to honour loans made by the Royal Bank of Canada to the former dictator Federico Tinoco. This is an example of state practice with respect to a change of Government and not state succession. It is also an example of an instance where the issue of odiousness of the debt became salient in a claim espoused on behalf of a private creditor. In 1917, Federico Tinoco overthrew the Government of Costa Rica and later held an election to ratify the “revolution”. During the summer of 1919, the Banco Internacional de Costa Rica issued several “bills” of credit to the Royal Bank of Canada, in respect of which the Royal Bank paid several cheques drawn by the Tinoco Government. The money was used personally by Tinoco and his brother and for no public purpose. By August 1919, Tinoco and his brother had left the country and the Government fell in September. The restored Government of Costa Rica enacted a law which invalidated all transactions between the State and the holders of the “bills” issued by the Banco Internacional.

Chief Justice William Howard Taft was the sole arbitrator for the dispute. Taft agreed that the Tinoco Government was a de facto Government capable of binding the State to international obligations. Despite this, Taft emphasized the fact that the debt in question did not create a valid public debt, nor was it in the public interest. The evidence established that the funds were used for the personal enrichment of the Tinoco brothers and that the bank was aware of this, since the transactions “were made at a time when the popularity of the Tinoco Government had disappeared, and when the political and military movement aiming at the overthrow of that Government was gaining strength” (Great Britain and Costa Rica 1923: 176). Taft required the Royal Bank to discharge the burden of proving that the Costa Rican Governments had used the money for legitimate purposes, something which it could not do. Accordingly, Taft found that the legislation invalidating the transactions in question did not constitute an international wrong.

Meron (1957) has a different take on the arbitration. He argues that Taft dismissed the claim of Great Britain on behalf of the Royal Bank of Canada because the contract was ultra vires the Constitution in force at the time. The contract contained provisions regarding taxes, and therefore to be valid required the approval of both Houses of Congress, not the Chamber of Deputies alone.

It can be argued that the Tinoco arbitration establishes some authority for the existence of opinio juris with respect to the doctrine of odious debt. Taft’s judgment adopts a consistent approach confirming the rule on the non-transferability of “odious debts”.

Buchheit et al. (2006) disagree, arguing that Tinoco should be narrowly interpreted as depending on the particular facts that the Tinocos appropriated the whole of the debt. The result might have been different had the debt only been partially odious (Buchheit et al., 2006). But this does not reduce the value of the Tinoco arbitration as a source of law on odious debt. The concept of odiousness of debt is sufficiently flexible to address situations where debt is only partly odious – for example, where part of the funds may have been used for legitimate purposes to benefit the population. In such a circumstance, and depending on the exact factual matrix, it might be appropriate to maintain that there is a continuing obligation, at least with respect to that part of the total amount that is non-odious.

German repudiation of Austrian debts – 1938

The Government Austria was heavily indebted to foreign creditors at the time of the German annexation of Austria in 1938, when loans from creditors had been expressly designed to prevent union with Germany. Germany repudiated the debt, citing prior American and British practice and arguing that it was contracted against the interests of the Austrian people (Hoeflich, 1982: 63–64). To no avail, the Americans tried to argue that much of the debt had been used for the purchase of food.

1947 Treaty of Peace with Italy

The 1947 Treaty of Peace with Italy incorporated the principle underlying Article 254 of the 1919 Treaty of Versailles, whereby the Reparations Commission exempted Poland from those debts attributable to the measures taken by the Governments of Germany and Prussia from the German occupation of Poland. Under this treaty, the Franco–Italian Conciliation Commission ruled that “debts contracted by the ceding State for war purposes, or for the purpose of expanding a territory which was first annexed and subsequently liberated, cannot bind the successor or restored State. The ruling drew a parallel with the Italian occupation of Ethiopia, considering it inconceivable that Ethiopia should have to assume the burden of expenses incurred by Italy in order to ensure its domination over Ethiopian territory” (Bedjaoui: 71).

Apartheid debt

Advocates of repudiation of debt incurred by the apartheid South African regime argue that apartheid was the equivalent of a racial dictatorship, condemned as such by the international community for many years. South Africa was forced to leave the Commonwealth in 1961. In 1973, the United Nations called apartheid a crime against humanity. The struggle of the South African people was recognized as a struggle for national liberation. In 1977, the United Nations imposed a mandatory arms embargo and in 1985 the United Nations Security Council imposed trade sanctions on the apartheid regime. Despite this, the regime continued to borrow from private banks throughout the 1980s. In July 1985, the Government declared a state of emergency and on 1 September South Africa defaulted and stopped paying its creditors. In order to accelerate the end of the regime, Archbishop Desmond Tutu, among others, called on the banks not to reschedule South Africa’s debts and advocated the confiscation of South African assets abroad instead. Nevertheless, a settlement was reached in 1987 with 14 major banks from Germany, Switzerland, the United Kingdom, the United States and France.

After being elected president of South Africa, Nelson Mandela and the African National Congress came under heavy pressure not to renounce apartheid debt (Hanlon, 2002). The new Government distanced itself from calls to nullify its apartheid-era debts. It was considered important not to default on debts in order to attract critical foreign investment. However, Hanlon (2002: 28) is typical of observers who argue that the promise of foreign investment has not been kept.

“Foreign direct investment has been tiny – only two thirds of the profits repatriated by companies on investments they made in the apartheid State. And new lending has not kept up with repayments – over six years South Africa paid out $3.7 billion more than it received. Thus, promises have not been kept and policy advice was wrong. If South Africa had frozen profits on apartheid-era investments and simply repudiated the odious apartheid debt – or even if it had demanded a ten year moratorium – it would have been $10 billion better off. Foreign aid during this period was only $1.1 billion, so even if aid had been cut off, South Africa would have profited by $8.9 billion.”

Meanwhile, on 12 November 2002, a suit was filed in the New York Eastern District Court for apartheid reparations against eight banks and 12 oil, transport, communications technology and armaments companies from Germany, Switzerland, Britain, the United States, the Netherlands and France. The suit was filed on behalf of the Khulumani Support Group, representing 32,000 individual “victims of state-sanctioned torture, murder, rape, arbitrary detention and inhumane treatment”, by the Apartheid Debt and Reparations Campaign of Jubilee South Africa.9 The suit was brought pursuant to the Alien Torts Claims Act (ATCA) which allows any non-United States citizen to bring a claim for damages against any other person who has violated customary international law.

The Government of South Africa continues to distance itself from the popular movement to cancel the apartheid debt. For example, its top ministers denounced the lawsuit seeking reparations from banks that loaned to the apartheid regime because “we are talking to those very companies named on the lawsuits about investing in post-apartheid South Africa.”10

Others argue that the United Nations Security Council should have gone farther in 1985 and declared that “it would not consider debt incurred by the apartheid Government as a legitimate obligation of any successor Government” (Jayachandran and Kremer, 2005). The private banks would not have been willing to make the loans that effectively kept South Africa afloat for a few more years. Similar action could have been taken after major shareholders forced the International Monetary Fund to cut all lending to the former President of Croatia, Franjo Tudjman, in 1997, after he was accused of resorting to political violence and appropriating public funds. However, in the absence of international action at the level of the United Nations Security Council, private commercial banks continued to lend Croatia a further $2 billion until Tudjman’s death in 1999.

Arbitrations concerning Iranian debts owed to the United States

These claims dated back to 1982, whereby the United States claimed to be owed a substantial amount of money pursuant to a contract dated 1948 relating to the purchase by Iran of certain World War II surplus military property. Among other things, the Islamic Republic of Iran denied any liability, claiming that the debts were odious debts. According to the Islamic Republic of Iran, the contracts were imposed by the United States and were “subjugation debts” of the prior regime. As such, they are “not transferable to the Islamic Republic of Iran”.11 In concluding that the Government of the Islamic Republic of Iran could not invoke the “rule of odious debts”, the Iran–United States Claims Tribunal held that the original contract was not imposed on Iran. The Tribunal stated as follows:

“50. In particular, it is not possible to establish any connection between the Contract and the crisis in Iran that led to the Islamic Republic of Iran in 1979. The Contract did not and in fact could not, in any respect detract from or undermine the new Constitution, the social order and the form of government of Iran as created in and after 1979. Also, the time gap is too considerable to allow for any such hypothesis.
“51. The Tribunal is of the opinion that the debt under the 1948 Contract cannot be classified under the notion of ‘odious debts’ as understood in international law. They were not contracted with a view to attaining objectives contrary to the legitimate interests of Iran nor were they contracted with an aim and for a purpose not in conformity with international law”12.

The Tribunal was careful, however, to state that it was not taking any position on the status of the doctrinal debate over the concept of “odious debts” in international law:

“In any event, the Tribunal will limit itself to stating that the said concept belongs to the realm of law of state succession. That law does not find application to the events in Iran. The revolutionary changes in Iran fall under the heading of state continuity, not state succession. This statement does not exclude a realist approach that recognizes that in practice the border between the concepts of continuity and succession is not always rigid.13 In spite of the change in head of State and the system of government in 1979, Iran remained the same subject of international law as before the Islamic Revolution. For when a Government is removed through a revolution, the State, as an international person, remains unchanged and the new Government generally assumes all the previous international rights and obligations of the State”.14

Iraqi debt

Prior to the overthrow of the Government of Saddam Hussein, Iraq accumulated over $125 billion of unpaid debts. Several commentators have argued that since the debts were generated as a result of financing a dictatorship and military aggression (Adams 2004), they should be classified as odious and held to be unenforceable. Furthermore, a United States congressional initiative was introduced, following the overthrow of the Iraqi regime in 2003 to eliminate Iraqi odious debt. The bill was based on the notion that such debt not only impedes a successful rebuilding of post-authoritarian States, but that the debts were never legitimate inheritances of the new Government due to the doctrine of odious debts (Jayachandran and Kremer, 2005). Senior officials of the United States Government have, on some occasions, evoked considerations of “odiousness” in arguing for the cancellation of Iraqi debt. Then Treasury Secretary John Snow referred to the notion that “the people of Iraq should not be saddled with those debts incurred through the regime of a dictator who has now gone.”15 Undersecretary of Defense Paul Wolfowitz emphasized in testimony before the Senate Armed Services Committee that much of the money borrowed by the Iraqi regime had been used “to buy weapons and to build palaces and to build instruments of oppression.”16 Eventually, Iraqi debt relief was granted not with references to its legitimacy but instead for reasons of “debt sustainability”.

Buchheit et al. (2006) criticize what they term an overly enthusiastic and indiscriminate application of the odious debt doctrine post-Iraq, and argue that commentators have gone far beyond Sack’s original loan-by-loan analysis, and are now simplistically content to label a regime “odious” and thereafter qualify all debt regardless of its provenance or use as “odious debt” (Buchheit et al., 2006: 22). These experts argue that successor global regimes should rely only on municipal courts of law to invalidate infamous debts of their predecessors on a case-by-case basis. Indeed, the Iraqi case could be seen as an example of a transitional situation (which continues to transition four years after the change of regime), in which invoking considerations of odiousness might make the task of obtaining relief more difficult or slower than the use of more evident and easily applicable criteria of economic sustainability.

Norway’s ship export debt

After an evaluation, the Government of Norway in 2006 determined that obligations arising out of lending to certain developing countries as part of the Ship Export Campaign of 1976–1980, and guaranteed through the Norwegian Institute for Export Credits, should be cancelled on grounds that Norway ought to share responsibility with the debtor countries for the failure of the programme as a development policy, given what were determined to be inadequate needs analyses and risk assessments. This is not an example of “odious debt” and indeed the Government stressed that the debt was not “illegitimate”. But the notion of co-responsibility exemplified by the unilateral and unconditional cancellation of these debts on 2 March 2007 does reflect the idea that repayment may be subject to broader considerations of the equities of the debtor–creditor relationship.


State succession versus government succession

The original context in which the issue of odiousness of debt became salient was that of state succession, i.e. where the international legal personality of the State that contracted the debt has been eliminated or transformed.17 It is fairly obvious that in cases of state succession, the issue of the future of debt obligations must be addressed, since the debtor as a legal person has ceased to exist. The fact that this has been the predominant traditional context in which the odiousness of debt has arisen as an issue has been interpreted in some instances as suggesting that the doctrine of odious debt applies only in cases of state succession and not other kinds of political transition, such as regime change. This was the assumption of the Iran Claims Tribunal, as noted above. However, strictly speaking, the Iran Claims Tribunal’s remark may be viewed as dicta since the Tribunal explicitly stated that it was not going to pronounce on the odious debt doctrine as a matter of law. Both O’Connell and Brownlie challenge the assumption that the odious debt doctrine is limited to state succession (Khalfan et al., 2003: 47). King points to the Tinoco arbitration as clearly establishing that the distinction between state succession and government succession should not be fatal to the odious debt doctrine, while Frankenberg et al. also note that the distinction is incongruous (Frankenberg and Knieper: 432).

Although state succession and regime change raise different issues from the perspective of international legal personality, these differences nevertheless do not lessen the extent to which there are common normative challenges of transitional justice (Teitel Transitional Justice, supra). As discussed above, part of the confusion concerning the application of the odious debt doctrine to government succession arises from the way that some Governments have disclaimed debt they considered odious on the purported legal ground that government succession eliminates the obligation to repay. This is contrary to the default rule of continuity of legal obligations in government succession. But it does not follow that the rejection of such claims by the international community is a rejection of odiousness of debt as a basis for non-enforcement. It is instead a rejection of government succession per se or in itself as a basis for discharge of the obligation to repay. For example, the notion that a political revolution necessarily discharges the obligation to repay debt incurred by the previous regime has sometimes been advanced after regime change. Such a notion is certainly far too broad and in tension with the current default rule in international law that government succession does not alter or eliminate a State’s international obligations, i.e. government change does not change international legal personality.

However, as a default rule, this doctrine is entirely consistent with the notion that considerations of odiousness of debt may affect the obligation to repay after a political transition that does not entail state succession. According to one expert, “When Chief Justice William Taft sat as arbitrator in Great Britain v. Costa Rica …he could not rely on the doctrine of odious debt because Costa Rica did not undergo state succession. Instead, Taft confirmed the international rule in existence at that time that government succession does not terminate preexisting state debts because the identity of the State is unchanged” (Cheng, 2007: 20–21).18 On the other hand, Taft’s opinion could be interpreted differently: it was precisely because the default rule was that government succession does not terminate preexisting state debts that Taft went on to consider whether, despite that default rule, odiousness might nevertheless be a basis for non-enforcement; and Taft’s answer was yes.

Creditor knowledge of odiousness

In recent articulations of the concept of odious debt, one of the conditions for the characterization of debt as odious and eligible for repudiation is that the creditor at the time at which the loan contract was made knew, or should have known, that the debt was odious, i.e. that the funds were intended for a purpose contrary to the interests of the population. Proving subjective knowledge of this kind is in many instances a difficult proposition, although in some cases the likelihood of such knowledge is virtually obvious (Tinoco). Short of actual subjective knowledge, the notion that the lender ought to have known the intent of the debtor raises the issue of the nature and extent of the burden imposed on creditors to take positive steps to inform themselves of the purposes of the loan, and to assess the credibility of assertions of borrower state officials in that respect.

There are no obvious international legal rules that establish an appropriate standard for creditor behaviour in this respect: however, as noted in chapter III of this study, the general principles of law of “civilized nations” are a valid source of international law, and are drawn from the common repository of the world’s main legal systems. Along these lines, notions of responsibility in contractual negotiations from domestic legal contexts may acquire the status of general principles and fill the gap in international legal material.

For example, in some domestic legal systems and in some circumstances, agency law places a duty of diligence on a third party or creditor in ascertaining whether an agent (the debtor State) is exceeding its authority. This agent only has authority to act for the benefit of his principal (the population) to which it owes a fiduciary duty.19 The very power of making binding commitments on behalf of another is considered to carry with it special responsibility for acting in the interests of that person.

Based on the agency concept, a regime’s reputation for exploiting and oppressing its own people may place on the lender a higher burden to satisfy itself that the proceeds of the borrowing are benefiting the principal (the country) and not just the agent. The legal analysis allowing for the piercing of the corporate veil on situations of abuse by a controlling shareholder, can also be adapted to the legal analysis of sovereign States. A court may be able to fashion a remedy to allow a creditor to recover from an abusing shareholder in the corporate context, or a State to avoid debts contracted by a collusive lender and corrupt government officials in the sovereign context.

Even if a loan is assigned to a third party who had no knowledge of, for example, corruption or bribery contrary to the United States Foreign Corrupt Practices Act 1977, the law relating to the assignment of contractual rights provides that the borrower can raise the same defences against the assignee. The assignee never gets a better right than the assignor had.

In general, the domestic law of contract may provide ample room for a judge or adjudicator to balance the equities in a case involving illegal behavior of one or more of the parties to the transaction. Examples include applying the principle of unjust enrichment (one cannot receive a benefit at another’s expense without conferring a reciprocal benefit), abuse of rights20 (one cannot exercise one’s rights in an excessive or abusive manner, such that it harms the rights of others), restitution, etc.

Note that the domestic law principle of in pari delicto will also be applied to a plaintiff complaining of illegal conduct who does not have clean hands. In Adler v. Federal Republic of Nigeria,21 the plaintiff was barred from recovering any of the money lost in a financial scam, even though the court acknowledged the fraud and that the criminals would receive a windfall. The Ninth Circuit stated that: “[P]ublic policy favors discouraging frauds such as the one perpetrated on Adler, but it also favors discouraging individuals such as Adler from voluntarily participating in such schemes and paying bribes to bring them to fruition”.22 Domestic private law systems may also be a source of principles where there is subjective awareness of creditors (Khalfan et al., 2003). The standard can be actual guiding knowledge, willfully ignoring the obvious, and willfully and recklessly failing to make such inquiries as an honest and reasonable person would make.

The fungibility of debt

The concept of odious debt, where applied on a case-by-case or loan-by-loan basis, depends on the notion that a particular loan was used for a purpose contrary to the interests of the people of the sovereign in question. However, it is clearly arguable that loans that are used for a non-odious purpose may indirectly contribute to odious purposes, in that the sovereign is enabled to free other funds that would otherwise be needed for non-odious purposes and put them to odious purposes. There is thus a conceptual argument for declaring “odious” a proportion of all loans to an oppressive regime that was spending money on odious purposes, whether or not a connection can be established between any particular loan and an odious purpose. Such an approach almost necessarily implies a political action, either unilateral or negotiated, rather than a case-by-case litigation of individual loan contracts. Moreover, whether, in the absence of the loan(s) in question, an oppressive regime would have chosen to spend other available funds on non-odious rather than odious purposes is, of course, a counterfactual that is very difficult to prove as a fact in a litigation context. Oppressive regimes often will avoid what would appear to be even the most essential spending on legitimate public purposes in order to deploy funds to oppressive goals or purposes contrary to international law.

State-to-state debt vs. state debt to private creditors

The odious debt concept has emerged primarily as a limitation on the international law obligation of maintenance of debt obligations in the case of State, arguably also, government succession. As noted in chapter III above, there is no comparable general international law obligation to maintain debt obligations to private creditors in the case of such political transitions, simply because performance of contracts with aliens who are private parties is not an international law obligation as such (Reinisch, 1995). Nevertheless, there are some situations where the repudiation of contractual obligations to private creditors may constitute a violation of international law. These could include situations where the repudiation of obligations under a loan contract is analogous to expropriation of property, or where the repudiation is discriminatory or arbitrary (ibid.: 93). It has also been argued that, where the repudiating State gains a genuine benefit from the funds in question, an internationally wrongful unjust enrichment may be present. This is based on the notion that restitution for unjust enrichment has become a general principle of law (Meron, 1957: 277).

As the Tinoco arbitration illustrates, the equitable considerations underlying the concept of odious debt can constitute a powerful defense against claims that failure to honour the contractual rights of an alien violates the minimum standard of treatment in the customary international law of state responsibility for protection of aliens (which includes the notion that treatment of aliens not be a “denial of justice”). Also, the equitable considerations underpinning the concept of odious debt are an obvious answer to a claim of unjust enrichment, i.e. one of the essential elements of the odious debt concept is that the successor regime is not enriched unjustly by the funds in question, since they have been dissipated on purposes actually harmful to the interests of the people, or the successor regime itself. As the Iran Claims Tribunal noted in Flexi-Van Leasing Inc. v. Iran,23 “It is inherent in the principle of unjust enrichment that there must have been an enrichment of one party to the detriment of the other. Where there is no ‘beneficial gain’ to the party allegedly enriched, the remedy of unjust enrichment is not available.”

While considerations of odiousness may affect claims that non-repayment of debt to private creditors constitute a violation of international law, it is a separate question whether considerations of odiousness might affect the obligations of debtor States to private creditors under domestic private law. This is usually specified as the law of the contract in the case of state contracts with private creditors. In this respect, it is worth noting the widespread concept of contract law that invalidates a contract for an illegal purpose, even where such invalidity would leave the party proposing the illegal purpose personally enriched.

Of significance here is the United States case of Adler v. Federal Republic of Nigeria, discussed above in connection with the issue of determining creditor knowledge of odiousness. In Adler, the United States Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit dismissed the action of a United States citizen seeking to recover monies spent (purportedly) to advance an undertaking with the purpose of fraudulently extracting public funds in Nigeria through the collusion of corrupt officials. The appeals court held that the contractual claim must be dismissed on the grounds of “unclean hands” on the part of the plaintiffs. It found that it was not necessary for the plaintiffs to have actively devised or proposed the illegal purpose, but only that they voluntarily participated in it. Moreover, it was irrelevant that the defendants were more at fault than the plaintiffs. In this particular case, the court pointed to the illegality of the contract in the United States where the plaintiff was seeking relief, citing United States anti-corruption laws. However, the contract was also illegal in its purpose under the laws of Nigeria. There is obviously considerable overlap between some of the elements of “odiousness” and the closely related notions of “clean hands” and the defense of illegality in contract law. Many odious purposes might even be illegal under the law prevailing at the time in the oppressive regime in question. For example, South African human rights abuses were conducted through deviation from the formal law existing in the regime. Moreover, they may be illegal and contrary to public in the forum State where the creditor is seeking to enforce the contract.

Ex ante designation of debt as odious

As noted, one of the major policy concerns that has deterred some transitional regimes from repudiating “odious” debt from the previous regime is that of reputation in the capital markets; a transitional regime may be concerned that creditors will not in the future provide access to funds, because they are unable to distinguish the exceptional political decision to repudiate debt due to its odiousness from the general creditworthiness of the regime. Whether this is empirically true or not, it does appear to influence decision-making of transitional regimes (e.g. South Africa). Kremer and Jayachandran have argued that one way of addressing this problem would be to have some international institution declare ex ante that a regime is odious; in order to lend to such a regime, a creditor would then have to exercise due diligence to ensure that the funds were applied to legitimate, non-odious purposes, in order to avoid the possibility of a successor regime repudiating the debt as odious (Kremer and Jayachandran, 2002; Jayachandran et al., 2005). This approach would have the advantage of deterring lending to odious regimes in the first place as well as giving a transitional regime a kind of “cover” for repudiating the debt, since the creditor would have known ex ante that it could not be expected to be repaid by that new regime. Kremer and Jayachandran consider different possible types of institution, including a council of independent jurists, the United Nations Security Council and even a major non-governmental organization such as Transparency International.

As a matter of political feasibility, it is to be doubted whether consensus in the international community could easily be achieved to transfer to any new body the power to make such sensitive judgments concerning the nature of a particular existing regime and its capacity to participate in international economic relations. But within certain limits, the Security Council could now under the Charter of the United Nations arguably make such judgments, provided that the odiousness of the regime had effects on international peace and security, which is the key area of competence of the Security Council.24 Within the Security Council, it is difficult to believe, based on past and indeed current experience, that the members’ strategic and economic interests in the relation to the regime in question would not affect their willingness to declare it “odious.”

One criterion that Kremer and Jayachandran suggest for “odiousness” is whether a regime is democratic. The most clear-cut case would be a military coup that replaces a democracy with an authoritarian regime: debt incurred by the new regime that is not used to benefit the people would be declared odious. In many other situations, however, the democracy criterion could lead to uncertainty and opportunistic behavior when applied ex ante: for instance, in situations where an incumbent elected Government planned to rig elections or suspend democracy, it would simply have incentives to hide such an intent, borrowing as much as possible before the “odiousness” of the regime became apparent and was declared. Moreover, as a general matter, a regime in power has many means available to it to conceal information about its repressive activities and the way in which particular sources of funding are allocated to those activities: this may make the “due diligence” standard rather ineffective or difficult to apply. The possibility of an ex ante declaration of odiousness would further increase the regime’s incentives to hide its repressiveness. There are relatively few States today where there is no attempt at all at the appearance of democracy, i.e. no elections whatsoever. On the other hand, in the context of the new global environment, largely determined by overriding security concerns, it is not clear whether due diligence criteria would remain objective and not dictated by donor–creditor interests. Thus, ex ante judgments about odiousness, if based on a democracy criterion, would either have to be limited to only a small subset of all situations that are blatantly oppressive or more subtle judgments about the fairness of elections and related practices would need to be made. This is not to argue that such judgments could not be principled and objective, but only that building consensus in international institutions may be very difficult.


It is well established in international law that a political transition, even from an oppressive regime to a popularly legitimized one, does not in itself break the continuity of state-to-state debt obligations, even where the transition involves state succession. At the same time, state practice, the rulings of international tribunals and the writings of most academic authorities reflect acceptance of some equitable limits to the sanctity of state-to-state debt agreements. The international law obligation to repay debt has never been accepted as absolute, and has frequently been limited or qualified by a range of equitable considerations, some of which may be regrouped under the concept of “odiousness”. This is consistent with the accepted view that equity constitutes part of the content of “the general principles of law of civilized nations,” one of the fundamental sources of international law stipulated in the Statute of the International Court of Justice.

The concept of “odious debt” regroups a particular set of equitable considerations that have often been raised to adjust or sever debt obligations in the context of political transitions. A survey of such transitional situations in the past or present indicates that the way in which the “odiousness” is argued as a ground for limiting obligations, which varies from one transitional context to another, and may differ depending on whether the transition involved, is for instance a secession, whether it arises from war or decolonization or simply a political revolution.

In a number of the situations in question, tribunals or other States have rejected or questioned claims to adjust or sever debt obligations based on considerations of “odiousness.” However, this has usually been because of doubts on the facts as to whether the debt in question was “odious” or actually conferred some benefits on the population or the new regime. In none of these situations was a claim of odious debt rejected on grounds that international law simply does not countenance alteration in state-to-state debt obligations based on any equitable considerations whatever. In some situations, the debtor State made overly broad claims to repudiation of debt obligations (the case of attempted Soviet repudiation of Tsarist debts and more recently the Islamic Republic of Iran’s attempted repudiation of pre-revolutionary debts before the Iran Claims Tribunal).

Political transitions pose complex, multi-faceted challenges for the transitional regime, from accountability for wrongs of the past, to establishing a framework of legal stability and economic reconstruction. Dealing with odious debt from the prior regime usually involves political as well as legal considerations. Even where a strong legal argument exists for repudiation of some or all debt based on considerations of odiousness, a transitional regime may well prefer to negotiate a voluntary adjustment in obligations with its creditors or even to continue to repay the debt. South Africa is a case in point. Such decisions do not detract from the availability of considerations of odiousness as a legal basis for alteration of debt obligations, but rather simply testify that transitional justice is political, and not just legal.

The complexity and variety of transitional contexts further suggests that there is no single obvious legal forum for the adjudication or settlement of claims of odiousness. Depending on context, such claims might appropriately be raised in bilateral or multilateral negotiations on debt relief, or they could be adjudicated in the context of arbitration or domestic litigation. State-to-state debt contracts may specify a forum for the settlement of disputes. However, invocation of the concept of odious debt in multiple forums in respect of diverse debt contracts involving the same debtor State risks inconsistent decisions. Here, the examination of considerations of odiousness by a single special transitional tribunal seized with all the claims related to the political transition in question may be an attractive solution. The interests of consistency and predictability would argue in favor of the debtor State and its creditor States agreeing on the jurisdiction of such a single tribunal and perhaps also the range of equitable considerations, including “odiousness”, that it is to apply.

With respect to obligations of debtor States to private, i.e. non-state, creditors, there is no established rule of international law that requires that these be continued in the case of political transition. Only where changes in contractual rights amount to a denial of justice or otherwise fall short of the minimum standard of treatment of aliens in customary international law, or where these changes can be characterized as an expropriation of property rights or unjust enrichment, can any claim be established against the debtor State in international law. Where odiousness can be established, it would be very difficult for a private creditor or a State espousing its claim to argue successfully that the alteration of contractual rights is a denial of justice. Nor could the alteration of contractual rights be considered fundamentally unfair or discriminatory and thereby a violation the customary international law standard of treatment for aliens.25 At the same time, most debt contracts between States and private creditors are governed by the domestic private law specified in the contract. The legal systems of these jurisdictions may well have concepts such as “clean hands” or the notion that contracts related to illegal purposes are invalid. These concepts overlap with elements of the notion of “odiousness” as a basis for invalidating debt obligations. Investor/state arbitration tribunals, for example, have been comfortable taking into account such considerations in determining whether repudiation of contractual obligations to an investor by the host State is consistent with international law. This suggests that such concepts may indeed form part of the content of equity as “a general principle of law of civilized nations”, especially if widely shared among different legal systems.

1 See also the discussion of illegitimate debt in New Economics Foundation, Odious Lending: Debt Relief As If Morals Mattered, (2005): illegal debt, onerous debt, odious debt, unsustainable debt, moral debt, environmental debt, historical debt.
2 Currently a member of the International Court of Justice.
3 Ninth Report on the Succession of States in Respect of Matters other than Treaties, 1977 Yearbook of the International Law Commission, Vol. 2 (Part 1): 68 and 70.
4 Note that Article 38 has been critiqued for not dealing with situations in which the creditors of the successor State may be private creditors of another State. See M. Bedjaoui, 13th Report on Succession of States in Respect of Matters Other than Treaties, para. 127.
5 Treaties are binding as a matter of international law and the doctrine of “maintenance” in effect turns State-to-State debt agreements into treaties.
6 See the work of Teitel, who identified this phenomenon, coining the expression and developing the concept of “transitional justice” (Teitel, 2000).
7 This bifurcation of law and politics seems to ignore one of the central insights of modern legal scholarship, derived from the work of economist Ronald Coase: at least in a world where transaction costs are greater than zero, bargains are always struck in the shadow of the law, and conversely, actual outcomes are not simply determined by the rules but by the bargains that parties negotiate in the shadow of the law (Cheng, 2007).
8 Cheng sometimes assumes that the odiousness of the regime was the decisive and sufficient consideration for non-enforcement of debt under the odious debt doctrine; but, as we have seen, the doctrine involves not only considering the odiousness of the regime but that of the debt itself, including whether the debt has conferred in whole or in part some benefit on the population who must now bear it. The balancing of these various considerations may well entail a legal answer under the odious debt doctrine that involves the enforceability of some debts but not others.
9 See also About Africa Action, Africa Policy E-Journal, November 12, 2002 and other issues.
10 “South Africa Shuns Apartheid Lawsuits”, Guardian, November 27, 2002.
11 The United States of America v. The Islamic Republic of Iran (Case No. B36), Award No. 574-B36-2, 3 December 1996), 32 Iran-United States C.T.R. 162 (1996):175–176.
12 Ibid. The tribunal cited the definition of “odious debts” by Mohammed Bedjaoui, Ninth Report on Succession of States in respect of matters other than treaties, United Nations Doc. A/CN.4/301 and Add. 1, paras. pp. 117–140, (1977) I.L.C. Yearbook, Vol. II, Part One, 45, pp. 67–70.
13 Ibid., citing Ian Brownlie, Principles of Public International Law, pp. 82–85, (4th ed., 1990).
14 Ibid., p. 176, para. 54.
15 Quoted in Joshua Craze, “Jubilee Iraq,” the LIP Magazine, available online at
16 Quoted in Nile Gardiner and Mark Miles, “Forgive the Iraqi Debt,” Executive Memorandum #871, Heritage Foundation, April 30 2003, available at
17 An example of State succession would be the dissolution of the former Yugoslavia or Soviet Union and the establishment of several new States on the same territory.
18 This case (the Tinoco arbitration) is discussed above in some detail.
19 Buchheit et al. (2006) citing ReStatement (Second) of Agency para 312, and (Third) Draft No.4 (2003) 215.
20 There is some authority for the notion that abuse of rights is a general principle of law.
21 219 F.3d 869 (9th Cir. 2000).
22 Ibid., p.877.
23 12 Iran-U.S. C.T.R., 335, 352.
24 Thus, the action of the Security Council in relation to apartheid was linked to the threat to regional security that was created by the pursuit of this policy within South Africa.
25 Nor could it be claimed that an unjust enrichment occurred, since a key aspect of odiousness is the notion that the population of the debtor State did not benefit from the loan.

Spread of Opinion in Social Networks
Using models of three different types of social networks, researchers discovered that an opinion held strongly by 10 percent of the members would rapid spread to become the majority opinion. Credit: SCNARC/Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute


brain image
This study found reduced connectivity between an area of prefrontal cortex (PFC, red) and the amygdala (blue). The white matter pathway connecting the two structures (the uncinate fasciculus) is shown in green.

Psychopaths’ Brains Show Differences in Structure and Function

Images of prisoners’ brains show important differences between those who are diagnosed as psychopaths and those who aren’t, according to a new study led by University of Wisconsin-Madison researchers. The results could help explain the callous and impulsive antisocial behavior exhibited by some psychopaths.The study showed that psychopaths have reduced connections between the ventromedial prefrontal cortex (vmPFC), the part of the brain responsible for sentiments such as empathy and guilt, and the amygdala, which mediates fear and anxiety.

Two types of brain images were collected. Diffusion tensor images (DTI) showed reduced structural integrity in the white matter fibers connecting the two areas, while a second type of image that maps brain activity, a functional magnetic resonance image (fMRI), showed less coordinated activity between the vmPFC and the amygdala. “This is the first study to show both structural and functional differences in the brains of people diagnosed with psychopathy,” says Michael Koenigs, assistant professor of psychiatry in the University of Wisconsin School of Medicine and Public Health. “Those two structures in the brain, which are believed to regulate emotion and social behavior, seem to not be communicating as they should.” The study, which took place in a medium-security prison in Wisconsin, is a unique collaborative between three laboratories, UW-Madison psychology Professor Joseph Newman has had a long term interest in studying and diagnosing those with psychopathy and has worked extensively in the Wisconsin corrections system. Dr. Kent Kiehl, of the University of New Mexico and the MIND Research Network, has a mobile MRI scanner that he brought to the prison and used to scan the prisoners’ brains. Koenigs and his graduate student, Julian Motzkin, led the analysis of the brain scans.

The video shows interactions between microglia (yellow) and dendritic spines (green) in the brain of a living mouse. Each frame is taken 5 minutes apart. The cell body of the microglia in the upper right corner is stable throughout the imaging session, but the microglial processes (looking like tentacles) are extremely dynamic, perpetually changing their morphology and dynamic interactions with small and transient dendritic spines over a span of minutes.

The study compared the brains of 20 prisoners with a diagnosis of psychopathy with the brains of 20 other prisoners who committed similar crimes but were not diagnosed with psychopathy. “The combination of structural and functional abnormalities provides compelling evidence that the dysfunction observed in this crucial social-emotional circuitry is a stable characteristic of our psychopathic offenders,” Newman says. “I am optimistic that our ongoing collaborative work will shed more light on the source of this dysfunction and strategies for treating the problem.” Newman notes that none of this work would be possible without the extraordinary support provided by the Wisconsin Department of Corrections, which he called “the silent partner in this research.” He says the DOC has demonstrated an unprecedented commitment to supporting research designed to facilitate the differential diagnosis and treatment of prisoners. The study, published in the most recent Journal of Neuroscience, builds on earlier work by Newman and Koenigs that showed that psychopaths’ decision-making mirrors that of patients with known damage to their ventromedial prefrontal cortex (vmPFC). This bolsters evidence that problems in that part of the brain are connected to the disorder. “The decision-making study showed indirectly what this study shows directly – that there is a specific brain abnormality associated with criminal psychopathy,” Koenigs adds.

UW-Madison Psychiatry imaging study finds brains of psychopaths are different
by Matt Hrodey  /  11/22/2011

The Koenigs Lab, an appendage of the University of Wisconsin Department of Psychiatry, says something about the multidisciplinary nature of neuroscience. Named for Michael Koenigs, an assistant professor of psychiatry, the lab includes a postdoctoral researcher with degrees in psychology and comparative religion, graduate students with backgrounds in biology, philosophy and English, and a scientist trained in applied math. Centered on the mind and nervous system, neuroscience is exploding, and there’s practically no topic it won’t take on, be it Shakespeare, meditation or consciousness itself. Or psychopathy.

In a paper to be published in the Nov. 30 Journal of Neuroscience, Koenigs, along with veteran UW psychopathy researcher Joseph Newman, will unveil new evidence of a physical basis for the disorder. In the study, Koenigs and Newman use brain scans of 40 inmates (20 psychopaths and 20 others) from Fox Lake Correctional Institution in Fox Lake, Wisconsin. In the scans of psychopathic brains, the researchers discovered poor connections between an important brain segment — the “ventromedial prefrontal cortex” (VMPFC) — and another crucial to emotional processing, the almond-shaped amygdala. The study will be the largest yet published that examines this link, according to Koenigs. Researchers used two types of brain scans: one testing the integrity of “white matter” structures connecting the VMPFC and the amygdala, and another tesing how well they communicate. Both types of scans found a weakened link in the brains of psychopaths.

Better understanding such abnormalities could, one day, reorder how the justice system responds to criminals who have them. “Can we hold them as accountable as someone who doesn’t have these abnormalities?” Koenigs asks. Scientists have studied the connection between the VMPFC and amygdala before. In one experiment using rodents, scientists found that stimulating the VMPFC suppressed the amygdala. Koenigs primarily studies brain injuries, particularly those in the VMPFC, where the brain is believed to regulate emotion, process threats, guide decision-making and direct social behavior. Damage to this segment, located just behind the forehead in the frontal lobes, tends to make patients more aggressive, irritable and less sensitive to others. “They’re not the same person they used to be,” Koenigs says. “They develop very striking personality changes reminiscent of psychopathy.”

Is a VMPFC deficiency to blame for psychopathy? It’s not clear. And scientists don’t know if the VMPFC is failing to regulate the amygdala or if the amydala is failing to send crucial emotional feedback to the VMPFC. “Normally, considering a decision [to rob someone] and the harm you would inflict would be marked with a negative emotional state,” says Koenigs. But in psychopaths, this affect is flat. To do their study at Fox Lake, Koenigs and Newman enlisted a mobile MRI lab run by Kent Kiehl, an associate professor of psychology at the University of New Mexico. The lab, pulled by a tractor trailer, brings the scanner to the inmates. Across the field of neuroscience, researchers are rapidly exploiting the powers of MRI scanning, particularly “functional” scanning, which tracks blood flow in the brain. This flow, because it is directed to busy neurons, is a precise indicator of brain activity. The new study is Newman’s first foray into brain imaging. “There’s a very strong bias toward using brain measurements,” he says, “and there’s been a lot of wonderful progress. People want to see how far we can go.”

Psychopathy is not as rare as some might believe. According to researchers, psychopaths make up an estimated 1% of the U.S. population and between 10% to 20% of the country’s prisoners. In his 30 years of studying psychopathy, Newman has theorized the existence of an “attention bottleneck” in the psychopathic mind that prevents it from fully receiving emotional and other inhibitory signals that say, “Stop! Reconsider! Reevaluate!” The conventional theory on psychopaths is that they lack emotion, be it fear, empathy or guilt, that would otherwise inform decision-making. Newman doesn’t deny that but insists on the importance of attention. “It feels like I’m trying to identify a learning disability,” he says. Our minds unconsciously monitor us. It happens in secret. Our conscious minds don’t know of it until the unconscious sounds an alarm — such as when a nagging suspicion of “having forgotten something” turns out to be true (the oven is still on; the keys were left on the car seat). The psychopathic brain may be very bad at automatically diverting attention to these types of cues if the psychopath is locked into “goal-driven” behavior, a kind of tunnel vision. Such an impairment, if it exists, doesn’t necessarily lead to crime. “Environmental factors are critical,” says Newman. They could be parental abuse, substance abuse or socioeconomic disadvantage. But once classified as a psychopath, an offender is two to five times more likely to reoffend than one who isn’t.

Newman tested his “attention bottleneck” theory in a study published earlier this year. In that study, 87 maximum-security inmates, some classified as psychopaths, sat down in front of computers. Two things appeared on the screen: a square, either red or green, and a letter, either uppercase or lowercase. In some of the trials, researchers startled inmates with a low-intensity shock after showing a red square. (Prisoners were told of the mild “buzzes” before they volunteered.) Each was shocked a total of 24 times, always after a red square. Then, to conclude the trials, the computer asked the prisoners to identify either the case of the letter or the color of the box. The human body, when conditioned to fear something, will startle at its appearance. This is called “fear-potentiated startle.” In the experiment, the red box primed the inmates to startle upon receiving the shock, and they did — with one major exception. In trials where psychopaths first saw the letter, followed by a red square, their startle was greatly diminished. Newman and the other researchers, Arielle Baskin-Sommers, a graduate student at UW-Madison, and John Curtin, a psychology professor, concluded that by presenting the letter first — thereby making the red square “secondary information that is not goal relevant” — the psychopaths fell victim to the “attention bottleneck” as theorized by Newman. They saw the square, but its meaning was not fully absorbed because the letter (and its case) had already won their attention.

There’s growing speculation today that neuroscience could revolutionize the U.S. criminal justice system, overthrowing the old precept of culpability. One indication of the promise of this growing field is a new dual degree program at UW-Madison that will train students in both neuroscience and the law. The “Neuroscience and the Law” track, part of the broader Neuroscience & Public Policyprogram, will allow students to earn a J.D. degree in law and a Ph.D. degree in neuroscience. Applications to join the new track’s first class come due this December. Professor Ron Kalil, a neuroscientist who studies brain injuries and the brain’s innate ability to repair itself, says the new program grew out of a 2010 meeting he had, over coffee, with Pilar Ossorio, an associate professor of law and bioethics. The two left with a “let’s do this” attitude, according to Kalil, but getting university approval for the new track didn’t happen overnight. To make the program official, they needed the approval of four university committees. They succeeded, adding “Neuroscience and the Law” to the existing tracks combining neuroscience and public policy and neuroscience and international public policy. Of neuroscience’s broad range, Kalil says, “At one end you have the study of molecules and proteins that make up parts of neurons, and at the other, the field tries to wrestle with issues that have been on the table since people started to think of themselves as human.” One of these is how to respond to crime, and what punishment is appropriate. “There are a lot of people who are not insane, but they’re not normal,” he says. “Where do we draw the line?”

Why (Some) Psychopaths Make Great CEOs
by Jeff Bercovici / Jun 14 2011

British journalist Jon Ronson immersed himself in the world of mental health diagnosis and criminal profiling to understand what makes some people psychopaths — dangerous predators who lack the behavioral controls and tender feelings the rest of us take for granted. Among the things he learned while researching his new book, “The Psychopath Test: A Journey Through the Madness Industry”: the incidence of psychopathy among CEOs is about 4 percent, four times what it is in the population at large. I spoke with him recently about what that means and its implications for the business world and wider society.

Q. Are we really to understand that there’s some connection between what makes people psychopaths and what makes them CEO material?
A. At first I was really skeptical because it seemed like an easy thing to say, almost like a conspiracy theorist’s type of thing to say. I remember years and years ago a conspiracy theorist telling me the world was ruled by blood-drinking, baby-sacrificing lizards. These psychologists were essentially saying the same thing. Basically, when you get them talking, these people [ie. psychopaths] are different than human beings. They lack the things that make you human: empathy, remorse, loving kindness. So at first I thought this might just be psychologists feeling full of themselves with their big ideological notions. But then I met Al Dunlap. [That would be “Chainsaw” Al Dunlap, former CEO of Sunbeam and notorious downsizer.] He effortlessly turns the psychopath checklist into “Who Moved My Cheese?” Many items on the checklist he redefines into a manual of how to do well in capitalism. There was his reputation that he was a man who seemed to enjoy firing people, not to mention the stories from his first marriage — telling his first wife he wanted to know what human flesh tastes like, not going to his parents’ funerals. Then your realize that because of this dysfunctional capitalistic society we live in those things were positives. He was hailed and given high-powered jobs, and the more ruthlessly his administration behaved, the more his share price shot up.

Q. So you can just go down the list of Fortune 500 CEOs and say, “psychopath, psychopath, psychopath…”
A. Well, no. Dunlap was an exceptional figure, wasn’t he? An extreme figure. I think my book offers really good evidence that the way that capitalism is structured really is a physical manifestation of the brain anomaly known as psychopathy. However, I woudn’t say every Fortune 500 chief is a psychopath. That would turn me into an ideologue and I abhor ideologues.

Q. Is it an either/or thing? It seems to me, thinking about it, that a lot of the traits on the checklist would be be useful in a corporate ladder-climbing situation. So maybe there are a lot of CEOs who simply have some psychopathic tendencies.
A. It is a spectrum, but there’s a cutoff point. If you’re going by the Hare checklist [the standard inventory used in law enforcement, devised by leading researcher Robert Hare], where the top score is 40, the average anxiety-ridden business failure like me — although the fact that my book just made the Times best sellers list makes it difficult to call myself that — would score a 4 or 5. Somebody you have to be wary of would be in early 20s and a really hard core damaged person, a really dangerous psychopath, would score around a 30. In law the cutoff is 29. There are absolutes in psychopathy and the main absolute is a literal absence of empathy. It’s just not there. In higher-scoring psychopaths, what grows in the vacant field where that empathy should be is a joy in manipulating people, a lack of remorse, a lack of guilt. If you’ve got a little bit of empathy, you’re kind of not a psychopath.

Q. So maybe there’s a sweet spot? A point on the spectrum somewhere short of full-blown psychopathy that’s most conducive to success in business.
A. That’s possible. Obviously there are items on the checklist you don’t want to have if you’re a boss. You don’t want poor behavioral controls. It’d be better if you don’t have promiscuous behavior. It’d be better if you don’t have serious behavioral problems in childhood, because that will eventually come out. But you do want lack of empathy, lack of remorse, glibness, superficial charm, manipulativeness. I think the other positive traits for psychopaths in business is need for stimulation, proneness to boredom. You want somebody who can’t sit still, who’s constantly thinking about how to better things. A really interesting question is whether psychopathy can be a positive thing. Some psychologists would say yes, that there are certain attributes like coolness under pressure, which is sort of a fundamental positive. But Robert Hare would always say no, that in the absence of empathy, which is the definition in psychology of a psychopath, you will always get malevolence. Basically, high-scoring psychopaths can be brilliant bosses but only ever for short term. Just like Al Dunlap, they always want to make a killing and move on. And then you’ve got this question of what came first? Is society getting more and more psychopathic in its kind of desire for short-term killings? Is that because we kind of admire psychopaths in all their glib, superficial charm and ruthlessness?

Q. There’s a certain sour grapes aspect to accusing CEOs of being psychopaths. It’s very tempting to look at anyone more successful than you are and say, “It must be because he’s a monster.”
A. There’s a terribly seductive power in becoming a psychopath stalker. It can really dehumanize you. I can look at, say, Dominique Strauss Kahn, who, if one assumes that what one is hearing about him is true, certainly he hits a huge amount of items on the checklist — the $30,000 suits, the poor behavioral controls, the impulsivity, the promiscuous sexual behavior. But of course when you say this you’re in terrible danger of being seduced by the checklist, which I really like to add as a caveat. It kind of turns you into a bit of a psychopath yourself in that that you start to shove people into that box. It robs you of empathy and your connection to human beings. Which is why people like Robert Hare are kind of useful. I’m against the way that people like me can be seduced into misusing the checklist, but I’m not against the checklist.

by Michael Steinberger / December 12, 2004

Ever wonder what leads a lavishly compensated C.E.O. to cheat, steal and lie? Perhaps he’s a psychopath, and now there is a test, the B-Scan 360, that can help make that determination. The B-Scan was conceived by Paul Babiak, an industrial psychologist, and Robert Hare, the creator of the standard tool for diagnosing psychopathic features in prison inmates. The B-Scan is the first formalized attempt to uncover similar tendencies in captains of industry, and it speaks to a growing suspicion that psychopaths may be especially adept at scaling the corporate ladder.

Indeed, Babiak and Hare could not have chosen a more propitious moment to roll out the B-Scan, which is now in the trial stage. The recent rash of damaging corporate scandals — combined with legislation making boards far more liable for executive malfeasance — has given companies good reason to screen current employees more rigorously. According to Babiak and Hare, white-collar psychopaths are not apt to become serial rapists or murderers. Rather, they are prone to being ”subcriminal” psychopaths: smooth-talking, energetic individuals who easily charm their way into jobs and promotions but who are also exceedingly manipulative, narcissistic and ruthless. The purpose of the B-Scan is to smoke out these “snakes in suits”. The individual being evaluated does not actually take the test. Instead, it is given to his or her superiors, subordinates and peers. They rate the subject in four broad categories — organizational maturity, personal style, emotional style and social style — and 16 subcategories, like reliability, honesty and sincerity.

Babiak and Hare say that decisions to promote or dismiss ought not to be made on the basis of the B-Scan alone and that it is possible, with good coaching and training, to turn a talented executive with mild psychopathic tendencies into an effective manager. They acknowledge too that strong corporate leadership may require a certain degree of guile, egoism and callousness. But they point out that the frenzied nature of modern business — the constant downsizing, the relentless merging and acquiring — provides a very fertile environment for havoc-wreaking psychopaths, who thrive on chaos and risk-taking. As Hare put it in one interview, ”If I couldn’t study psychopaths in prison, I would go down to the Stock Exchange.”

Paul Babiak
email : Inquiry [at] PaulBabiak [dot] com

Robert Hare
email : contact [at] hare [dot] org

Psychopathy Scales


“Dr. Hare has spent over 35 years researching psychopathy and is the developer of theHare Psychopathy Checklist-Revised (PCL-R), and a co-author of its derivatives, thePsychopathy Checklist: Screening Version (PCL:SV), the P-Scan, the Psychopathy Checklist: Youth Version (PCL:YV), and the Antisocial Process Screening Device(APSD). He is also a co-author of the Guidelines for a Psychopathy Treatment Program. The Hare Psychopathy Checklist-Revised, with demonstrated reliability and validity, is rapidly being adopted worldwide as the standard instrument for researchers and clinicians. The PCL-R and PCL:SV are strong predictors of recidivism, violence and response to therapeutic intervention. They play an important role in most recent risk-for-violence instruments. The PCL-R was reviewed in Buros Mental Measurements Yearbook (1995), as being the “state of the art” both clinically and in research use. In 2005, the Buros Mental Measurements Yearbook review listed the PCL-R as “a reliable and effective instrument for the measurement of psychopathy and is considered the ‘gold standard’ for measurement of psychopathy.”

Bison skull pile, 1870s

Catching the corporate psychopath
by Stuart Fagg / 15 June 2005

Rodney Adler, Ray Williams, Bernie Ebbers. These men have much in common. For a start they were once all hailed as successful businessmen and players of acumen, and secondly they are all now behind bars for their roles in the collapse of their companies. Of course they are not the only ones paying for their misdemeanours – there are plenty of share and policy holders who will attest to that. They also have one final thing in common – they all exhibit the behaviours of corporate psychopaths. According to Dr Robert Hogan, a US expert in personality profiling, however, it would seem that the likes of Adler are aberrations in the business world. But corporate psychopaths are far from unusual in the corporate world. By Hogan’s reckoning, the result of decades of research, incompetent and potentially damaging management accounts for some 60-70 per cent of the total pool in the US. When he brought these views to bear initially in the early 1990s, they were not popular and were dismissed by many that refused to believe that there were that many potential corporate psychopaths in US business. However, these days, and particularly having seen the damage wreaked by individuals after the scandals at Enron, WorldCom, OneTel and HIH, boards of directors and the share market are demanding more ethical executives. With the potential for increased liability under the Corporations Act, this trend may continue going forward. All well and good, but what is the impact of these corporate psychopaths? After all, some of the qualities that define such people also define some of the most successful people in business. “Researchers looked at Fortune 1000 companies that had 15 years of performance right at the average of their industry, and then a change and 15 subsequent years of sustained performance significantly above the average for the industry. Out of 1,000 companies they found 11,” Hogan said. “They investigated the 11 companies and found that the constant was the CEO. All 11 CEOs were understated and humble and that’s a stake in the heart for the theory of the celebrity CEO or charismatic leader.”

While background checks and screening are gaining popularity in Australian business, and in some cases being applied at higher executive levels, personality profiling remains a relatively unexplored concept in Australia. However, that may change. The Australian Prudential Regulation Authority, for example, is set to publish proposals for standards governing the fitness and propriety of responsible persons in financial institutions. The proposed standards are designed to weed out executives who have been declared bankrupt, failed to manage personal debts or held responsibility in a failed institution. Additionally anyone with a civil or criminal conviction related to dishonesty in dealings with financial institutions will also be barred. “The proposals are designed to reflect community expectations about persons who fill positions of responsibility in these industries and will set minimum benchmarks for people in, or wishing to enter, these industries at director, senior management or advisory level,” said Dr John Laker, APRA chairman. Traditionally, APRA has always focussed on the institution it is regulating, rather than the individuals running the institution. But, recent events in Australia and internationally have highlighted the importance of enuring that people in positions of power at companies are subject to the same scrutiny as the company itself. With regulated entities being required to develop their own policies, personality assessment may become more commonplace in sectors such as the insurance industry. But there is something of a grey area in the assessments. For example, financial markets traders must display some of the more undesirable qualities –ruthlessness, overt smartness and a tendency to gamble – for senior management to succeed in their positions. “We have a lot of data on traders and as a group they are real smart and really crazy,” said Hogan. “But don’t let them into management positions. People like that – Bill Clinton is a great example – tend to self nominate into leadership roles. They think they’re so hot they want to be in charge.”

Background checks and screening may not, however, detect these characteristics and head off the appointment of a potentially damaging executive. “The really bad guys will sail through a background check and will do really well in interviews. They do really well in assessment centres. The really dangerous ones are really smart, really charming and really fast on their feet and people love them.” This is where personality assessment earns its stripes, according to Hogan. Through developing his assessment system, Hogan has amassed an impressive data repository from the 3 million tests that have been carried out using his methodology. This data accurately tracks personality trends in business, and once companies see the data, said Hogan, it’s a relatively easy sell. But what happens if the CEO of the company is the corporate psychopath? “That’s our worst nightmare,” he told Human Resources. “When you assess the management team and see all these problems come from them, how can you fix that? But if you can find a company that’s willing to pay attention to data it’s an easy deal for us.”


“Picked by the board of Scott Paper Co. as the man to turn the struggling company around, Dunlap earned his nickname by slicing 11,000 employees. When Scott merged with Kimberly-Clark, Dunlap’s payoff was estimated at more than $100 million. Such scenarios are familiar. So are the debates over where to draw the line between painful-but-necessary restructuring and cold-hearted recklessness. Yet Dunlap stood out for the obvious joy he took in slamming his detractors as purveyors of “nonsense,” “rubbish,” and “socialism.” Chainsaw Al was the middle finger of the free market’s invisible hand.

Dunlap’s memoir-cum-manifesto, Mean Business, roughly coincided with his next CEO star turn, which was also to be his last. Sunbeam’s stock surged on the news that the Chainsaw was coming; massive workforce reductions and factory closures followed within months. His book clearly explained what set him apart from “addle-brained” and “weak” executives: “I’m a superstar in my field,” he wrote. Could there be a clearer sell signal? Unable to flip Sunbeam to a new buyer, as he’d done with Scott, Dunlap was stuck actually running the company. He failed spectacularly. Within two miserable years, the board fired him. The tactics he’d used to stave off losses—the company overstated its net income by $60 million, which was real money back then—earned him a civil suit from the SEC and a class-action suit by shareholders. Dunlap eventually settled both and was barred from serving as an officer or director of any public company. You could call Chainsaw Al’s story a fall from grace, but in his case, that’s probably not the proper word.”

Is Your Boss a Psychopath?
by Alan Deutschman / December 19, 2007

One of the most provocative ideas about business in this decade so far surfaced in a most unlikely place. The forum wasn’t the Harvard Business School or one of those $4,000-a-head conferences where Silicon Valley’s venture capitalists search for the next big thing. It was a convention of Canadian cops in the far-flung province of Newfoundland. The speaker, a 71-year-old professor emeritus from the University of British Columbia, remains virtually unknown in the business realm. But he’s renowned in his own field: criminal psychology. Robert Hare is the creator of the Psychopathy Checklist. The 20-item personality evaluation has exerted enormous influence in its quarter-century history. It’s the standard tool for making clinical diagnoses of psychopaths — the 1% of the general population that isn’t burdened by conscience. Psychopaths have a profound lack of empathy. They use other people callously and remorselessly for their own ends. They seduce victims with a hypnotic charm that masks their true nature as pathological liars, master con artists, and heartless manipulators. Easily bored, they crave constant stimulation, so they seek thrills from real-life “games” they can win — and take pleasure from their power over other people.

On that August day in 2002, Hare gave a talk on psychopathy to about 150 police and law-enforcement officials. He was a legendary figure to that crowd. The FBI and the British justice system have long relied on his advice. He created the P-Scan, a test widely used by police departments to screen new recruits for psychopathy, and his ideas have inspired the testing of firefighters, teachers, and operators of nuclear power plants. According to the Canadian Press and Toronto Sun reporters who rescued the moment from obscurity, Hare began by talking about Mafia hit men and sex offenders, whose photos were projected on a large screen behind him. But then those images were replaced by pictures of top executives from WorldCom, which had just declared bankruptcy, and Enron, which imploded only months earlier. The securities frauds would eventually lead to long prison sentences for WorldCom CEO Bernard Ebbers and Enron CFO Andrew Fastow. “These are callous, cold-blooded individuals,” Hare said. “They don’t care that you have thoughts and feelings. They have no sense of guilt or remorse.” He talked about the pain and suffering the corporate rogues had inflicted on thousands of people who had lost their jobs, or their life’s savings. Some of those victims would succumb to heart attacks or commit suicide, he said.

Then Hare came out with a startling proposal. He said that the recent corporate scandals could have been prevented if CEOs were screened for psychopathic behavior. “Why wouldn’t we want to screen them?” he asked. “We screen police officers, teachers. Why not people who are going to handle billions of dollars?” It’s Hare’s latest contribution to the public awareness of “corporate psychopathy.” He appeared in the 2003 documentary The Corporation, giving authority to the film’s premise that corporations are “sociopathic” (a synonym for “psychopathic”) because they ruthlessly seek their own selfish interests — “shareholder value” — without regard for the harms they cause to others, such as environmental damage. Is Hare right? Are corporations fundamentally psychopathic organizations that attract similarly disposed people? It’s a compelling idea, especially given the recent evidence. Such scandals as Enron and WorldCom aren’t just aberrations; they represent what can happen when some basic currents in our business culture turn malignant. We’re worshipful of top executives who seem charismatic, visionary, and tough. So long as they’re lifting profits and stock prices, we’re willing to overlook that they can also be callous, conning, manipulative, deceitful, verbally and psychologically abusive, remorseless, exploitative, self-delusional, irresponsible, and megalomaniacal. So we collude in the elevation of leaders who are sadly insensitive to hurting others and society at large.

But wait, you say: Don’t bona fide psychopaths become serial killers or other kinds of violent criminals, rather than the guys in the next cubicle or the corner office? That was the conventional wisdom. Indeed, Hare began his work by studying men in prison. Granted, that’s still an unusually good place to look for the conscience-impaired. The average Psychopathy Checklist score for incarcerated male offenders in North America is 23.3, out of a possible 40. A score of around 20 qualifies as “moderately psychopathic.” Only 1% of the general population would score 30 or above, which is “highly psychopathic,” the range for the most violent offenders. Hare has said that the typical citizen would score a 3 or 4, while anything below that is “sliding into sainthood.” On the broad continuum between the ethical everyman and the predatory killer, there’s plenty of room for people who are ruthless but not violent. This is where you’re likely to find such people as Ebbers, Fastow, ImClone CEO Sam Waksal, and hotelier Leona Helmsley. We put several big-name CEOs through the checklist, and they scored as “moderately psychopathic”; our quiz on page 48 lets you try a similar exercise with your favorite boss. And this summer, together with New York industrial psychologist Paul Babiak, Hare begins marketing the B-Scan, a personality test that companies can use to spot job candidates who may have an MBA but lack a conscience. “I always said that if I wasn’t studying psychopaths in prison, I’d do it at the stock exchange,” Hare told Fast Company. “There are certainly more people in the business world who would score high in the psychopathic dimension than in the general population. You’ll find them in any organization where, by the nature of one’s position, you have power and control over other people and the opportunity to get something.”

There’s evidence that the business climate has become even more hospitable to psychopaths in recent years. In pioneering long-term studies of psychopaths in the workplace, Babiak focused on a half-dozen unnamed companies: One was a fast-growing high-tech firm, and the others were large multinationals undergoing dramatic organizational changes — severe downsizing, restructuring, mergers and acquisitions, and joint ventures. That’s just the sort of corporate tumult that has increasingly characterized the U.S. business landscape in the last couple of decades. And just as wars can produce exciting opportunities for murderous psychopaths to shine (think of Serbia’s Slobodan Milosevic and Radovan Karadzic), Babiak found that these organizational shake-ups created a welcoming environment for the corporate killer. “The psychopath has no difficulty dealing with the consequences of rapid change; in fact, he or she thrives on it,” Babiak claims. “Organizational chaos provides both the necessary stimulation for psychopathic thrill seeking and sufficient cover for psychopathic manipulation and abusive behavior.”

And you can make a compelling case that the New Economy, with its rule-breaking and roller-coaster results, is just dandy for folks with psychopathic traits too. A slow-moving old-economy corporation would be too boring for a psychopath, who needs constant stimulation. Its rigid structures and processes and predictable ways might stymie his unethical scheming. But a charge-ahead New Economy maverick — an Enron, for instance — would seem the ideal place for this kind of operator. But how can we recognize psychopathic types? Hare has revised his Psychopathy Checklist (known as the PCL-R, or simply “the Hare”) to make it easier to identify so-called subcriminal or corporate psychopaths. He has broken down the 20 personality characteristics into two subsets, or “factors.” Corporate psychopaths score high on Factor 1, the “selfish, callous, and remorseless use of others” category. It includes eight traits: glibness and superficial charm; grandiose sense of self-worth; pathological lying; conning and manipulativeness; lack of remorse or guilt; shallow affect (i.e., a coldness covered up by dramatic emotional displays that are actually playacting); callousness and lack of empathy; and the failure to accept responsibility for one’s own actions. Sound like anyone you know? (Corporate psychopaths score only low to moderate on Factor 2, which pinpoints “chronically unstable, antisocial, and socially deviant lifestyle,” the hallmarks of people who wind up in jail for rougher crimes than creative accounting.)

This view is supported by research by psychologists Belinda Board and Katarina Fritzon at the University of Surrey, who interviewed and gave personality tests to 39 high-level British executives and compared their profiles with those of criminals and psychiatric patients. The executives were even more likely to be superficially charming, egocentric, insincere, and manipulative, and just as likely to be grandiose, exploitative, and lacking in empathy. Board and Fritzon concluded that the businesspeople they studied might be called “successful psychopaths.” In contrast, the criminals — the “unsuccessful psychopaths” — were more impulsive and physically aggressive.

The Factor 1 psychopathic traits seem like the playbook of many corporate power brokers through the decades. Manipulative? Louis B. Mayer was said to be a better actor than any of the stars he employed at MGM, able to turn on the tears at will to evoke sympathy during salary negotiations with his actors. Callous? Henry Ford hired thugs to crush union organizers, deployed machine guns at his plants, and stockpiled tear gas. He cheated on his wife with his teenage personal assistant and then had the younger woman marry his chauffeur as a cover. Lacking empathy? Hotel magnate Leona Helmsley shouted profanities at and summarily fired hundreds of employees allegedly for trivialities, like a maid missing a piece of lint. Remorseless? Soon after Martin Davis ascended to the top position at Gulf & Western, a visitor asked why half the offices were empty on the top floor of the company’s Manhattan skyscraper. “Those were my enemies,” Davis said. “I got rid of them.” Deceitful? Oil baron Armand Hammer laundered money to pay for Soviet espionage. Grandiosity? Thy name is Trump.

In the most recent wave of scandals, Enron’s Fastow displayed many of the corporate psychopath’s traits. He pressured his bosses for a promotion to CFO even though he had a shaky grasp of the position’s basic responsibilities, such as accounting and treasury operations. Suffering delusions of grandeur after just a little time on the job, Fastow ordered Enron’s PR people to lobby CFO magazine to make him its CFO of the Year. But Fastow’s master manipulation was a scheme to loot Enron. He set up separate partnerships, secretly run by himself, to engage in deals with Enron. The deals quickly made tens of millions of dollars for Fastow — and prettified Enron’s financials in the short run by taking unwanted assets off its books. But they left Enron with time bombs that would ultimately cause the company’s total implosion — and lose shareholders billions. When Enron’s scandals were exposed, Fastow pleaded guilty to securities fraud and agreed to pay back nearly $24 million and serve 10 years in prison.

“Chainsaw” Al Dunlap might score impressively on the corporate Psychopathy Checklist too. What do you say about a guy who didn’t attend his own parents’ funerals? He allegedly threatened his first wife with guns and knives. She charged that he left her with no food and no access to their money while he was away for days. His divorce was granted on grounds of “extreme cruelty.” That’s the characteristic that endeared him to Wall Street, which applauded when he fired 11,000 workers at Scott Paper, then another 6,000 (half the labor force) at Sunbeam. Chainsaw hurled a chair at his human-resources chief, the very man who approved the handgun and bulletproof vest on his expense report. Dunlap needed the protection because so many people despised him. His plant closings kept up his reputation for ruthlessness but made no sense economically, and Sunbeam’s financial gains were really the result of Dunlap’s alleged book cooking. When he was finally exposed and booted, Dunlap had the nerve to demand severance pay and insist that the board reprice his stock options. Talk about failure to accept responsibility for one’s own actions. While knaves such as Fastow and Dunlap make the headlines, most horror stories of workplace psychopathy remain the stuff of frightened whispers. Insiders in the New York media business say the publisher of one of the nation’s most famous magazines broke the nose of one of his female sales reps in the 1990s. But he was considered so valuable to the organization that the incident didn’t impede his career.

Most criminals — whether psychopathic or not — are shaped by poverty and often childhood abuse as well. In contrast, corporate psychopaths typically grew up in stable, loving families that were middle class or affluent. But because they’re pathological liars, they tell romanticized tales of rising from tough, impoverished backgrounds. Dunlap pretended that he grew up as the son of a laid-off dockworker; in truth, his father worked steadily and raised his family in suburban comfort. The corporate psychopaths whom Babiak studied all went to college, and a couple even had PhDs. Their ruthless pursuit of self-interest was more easily accomplished in the white-collar realm, which their backgrounds had groomed them for, rather than the criminal one, which comes with much lousier odds. Psychopaths succeed in conventional society in large measure because few of us grasp that they are fundamentally different from ourselves. We assume that they, too, care about other people’s feelings. This makes it easier for them to “play” us. Although they lack empathy, they develop an actor’s expertise in evoking ours. While they don’t care about us, “they have an element of emotional intelligence, of being able to see our emotions very clearly and manipulate them,” says Michael Maccoby, a psychotherapist who has consulted for major corporations.

Psychopaths are typically very likable. They make us believe that they reciprocate our loyalty and friendship. When we realize that they were conning us all along, we feel betrayed and foolish. “People see sociopathy in their personal lives, and they don’t have a clue that it has a label or that others have encountered it,” says Martha Stout, a psychologist at the Harvard Medical School and the author of the recent best-seller The Sociopath Next Door: The Ruthless Versus the Rest of Us (Broadway Books, 2005). “It makes them feel crazy or alone. It goes against our intuition that a small percentage of people can be so different from the rest of us — and so evil. Good people don’t want to believe it.” Of course, cynics might say that it can be an advantage to lack a conscience. That’s probably why major investors installed Dunlap as the CEO of Sunbeam: He had no qualms about decimating the workforce to impress Wall Street. One reason outside executives get brought into troubled companies is that they lack the emotional stake in either the enterprise or its people. It’s easier for them to act callously and remorselessly, which is exactly what their backers want. The obvious danger of the new B-Scan test for psychopathic tendencies is that companies will hire or promote people with high scores rather than screen them out. Even Babiak, the test’s codeveloper, says that while “a high score is a red flag, sometimes middle scores are okay. Perhaps you don’t want the most honest and upfront salesman.”

Indeed, not every aberrant boss is necessarily a corporate psychopath. There’s another personality that’s often found in the executive suite: the narcissist. While many psychologists would call narcissism a disorder, this trait can be quite beneficial for top bosses, and it’s certainly less pathological than psychopathy. Maccoby’s book The Productive Narcissist: The Promise and Perils of Visionary Leadership (Broadway Books, 2003) portrays the narcissistic CEO as a grandiose egotist who is on a mission to help humanity in the abstract even though he’s often insensitive to the real people around him. Maccoby counts Apple’s Steve Jobs, General Electric’s Jack Welch, Intel’s Andy Grove, Microsoft’s Bill Gates, and Southwest Airlines’ Herb Kelleher as “productive narcissists,” or PNs. Narcissists are visionaries who attract hordes of followers, which can make them excel as innovators, but they’re poor listeners and they can be awfully touchy about criticism. “These people don’t have much empathy,” Maccoby says. “When Bill Gates tells someone, ‘That’s the stupidest thing I’ve ever heard,’ or Steve Jobs calls someone a bozo, they’re not concerned about people’s feelings. They see other people as a means toward their ends. But they do have a sense of changing the world — in their eyes, improving the world. They build their own view of what the world should be and get others recruited to their vision. Psychopaths, in contrast, are only interested in self.”

Maccoby concedes that productive narcissists can become “drunk with power” and turn destructive. The trick, he thinks, is to pair a productive narcissist with a “productive obsessive,” or conscientious, control-minded manager. Think of Grove when he was matched with chief operating officer Craig Barrett, Gates with president Steve Ballmer, Kelleher with COO Colleen Barrett, and Oracle’s Larry Ellison with COO Ray Lane and CFO Jeff Henley. In his remarkably successful second tour of duty at Apple, Jobs has been balanced by steady, competent behind-the-scenes players such as Timothy Cook, his executive vice president for sales and operations. But our culture’s embrace of narcissism as the hallmark of admired business leaders is dangerous, Babiak maintains, since “individuals who are really psychopaths are often mistaken for narcissists and chosen by the organization for leadership positions.” How does he distinguish the difference between the two types? “In the case of a narcissist, everything is me, me, me,” Babiak explains. “With a psychopath, it’s ‘Is it thrilling, is it a game I can win, and does it hurt others?’ My belief is a psychopath enjoys hurting others.”

Intriguingly, Babiak believes that it’s extremely unlikely for an entrepreneurial founder-CEO to be a corporate psychopath because the company is an extension of his own ego — something he promotes rather than plunders. “The psychopath has no allegiance to the company at all, just to self,” Babiak says. “A psychopath is playing a short-term parasitic game.” That was the profile of Fastow and Dunlap — guys out to profit for themselves without any concern for the companies and lives they were wrecking. In contrast, Jobs and Ellison want their own companies to thrive forever — indeed, to dominate their industries and take over other fields as well. “An entrepreneurial founder-CEO might have a narcissistic tendency that looks like psychopathy,” Babiak says. “But they have a vested interest: Their identity is wrapped up with the company’s existence. They’re loyal to the company.” So these types are ruthless not only for themselves but also for their companies, their extensions of self.

The issue is whether we will continue to elevate, celebrate, and reward so many executives who, however charismatic, remain indifferent to hurting other people. Babiak says that while the first line of defense against psychopaths in the workplace is screening job candidates, the second line is a “culture of openness and trust, especially when the company is undergoing intense, chaotic change.” Europe is far ahead of the United States in trying to deal with psychological abuse and manipulation at work. The “antibullying” movement in Europe has produced new laws in France and Sweden. Harvard’s Stout suggests that the relentlessly individualistic culture of the United States contributes a lot to our problems. She points out that psychopathy has a dramatically lower incidence in certain Asian cultures, where the heritage has emphasized community bonds rather than glorified self-interest. “If we continue to go this way in our Western culture,” she says, “evolutionarily speaking, it doesn’t end well.” The good news is that we can do something about corporate psychopaths. Scientific consensus says that only about 50% of personality is influenced by genetics, so psychopaths are molded by our culture just as much as they are born among us. But unless American business makes a dramatic shift, we’ll get more Enrons — and deserve them.

aired 05.27.2011

Recently we heard about this test that could determine if someone was a psychopath. So, naturally, our staff decided to take it. This week we hear the results. Ira explains that when the radio staff decided to take a test that reveals who is a psychopath, very quickly everyone came to believe that the highest score would go to either Robyn, Jane, or him. (6 minutes)

Underachievement Test
NPR Science Correspondent Alix Spiegel tells the story of Robert Dixon, who’s in a maximum security prison in Vacaville California and is unlikely to ever get parole because of his score on the psychopath test. The test also is called “the checklist” or, more formally, the PCL-R, which stands for “Psychopathy Check List—Revised.” Alix tells the story of its creation and reports that the man who created the test, Bob Hare, is concerned at how it’s being used today in the criminal justice system. A version of this story aired on NPR’s All Things Considered. (28 minutes)

King of the Forest
Jon Ronson investigates whether corporate leaders can, in fact, be psychopaths by visiting a former Sunbeam CEO named Al Dunlap. This is an excerpt from Ronson’s book, The Psychopath Test. (15 minutes)Song: “If I Were King of the Forest”, Wizard of Oz Soundtrack

Ira and the radio show staff get their results on the psychopath test from Dr. David Bernstein, ofForensic Consultants, LLC., who administered the test to them. (6 minutes)

by Fast Company Staff / July 1, 2005

The standard clinical test for psychopathy, Robert Hare’s PCL-R, evaluates 20 personality traits overall, but a subset of eight traits defines what he calls the “corporate psychopath” — the nonviolent person prone to the “selfish, callous, and remorseless use of others.” Does your boss fit the profile? Here’s our do-it-yourself quiz drawing on the test manual and Hare’s book Without Conscience. (Disclaimer: If you’re not a psychologist or psychiatrist, this will be a strictly amateur exercise.) We’ve used the pronoun “he,” but research suggests psychologists have underestimated the psychopathic propensity of women.

For each question, score two points for “yes,” one point for “somewhat” or “maybe,” and zero points for “no.”

[1] Is he glib and superficially charming?
Is he a likable personality and a terrific talker — entertaining, persuasive, but maybe a bit too smooth and slick? Can he pass himself off as a supposed expert in a business meeting even though he really doesn’t know much about the topic? Is he a flatterer? Seductive, but insincere? Does he tell amusing but unlikely anecdotes celebrating his own past? Can he persuade his colleagues to support a certain position this week — and then argue with equal conviction and persuasiveness for the opposite position next week? If he’s a CEO, can he appear on TV and somehow get away without answering the interviewer’s direct questions or saying anything truly substantive?

[2] Does he have a grandiose sense of self-worth?
Does he brag? Is he arrogant? Superior? Domineering? Does he feel he’s above the rules that apply to “little people”? Does he act as though everything revolves around him? Does he downplay his legal, financial, or personal problems, say they’re just temporary, or blame them on others?

[3] Is he a pathological liar?
Has he reinvented his own past in a more positive light — for example, claiming that he rose from a tough, poor background even though he really grew up middle class? Does he lie habitually even though he can easily be found out? When he’s exposed, does he still act unconcerned because he thinks he can weasel out of it? Does he enjoy lying? Is he proud of his knack for deceit? Is it hard to tell whether he knows he’s a liar or whether he deceives himself and believes his own bull?

[4] Is he a con artist or master manipulator?
Does he use his skill at lying to cheat or manipulate other people in his quest for money, power, status, and sex? Does he “use” people brilliantly? Does he engage in dishonest schemes such as cooking the books?

[5] When he harms other people, does he feel a lack of remorse or guilt?
Is he concerned about himself rather than the wreckage he inflicts on others or society at large? Does he say he feels bad but act as though he really doesn’t? Even if he has been convicted of a white-collar crime, such as securities fraud, does he not accept blame for what he did, even after getting out of prison? Does he blame others for the trouble he causes?

[6] Does he have a shallow affect?
Is he cold and detached, even when someone near him dies, suffers, or falls seriously ill — for example, does he visit the hospital or attend the funeral? Does he make brief, dramatic displays of emotion that are nothing more than putting on a theatrical mask and playacting for effect? Does he claim to be your friend but rarely or never ask about the details of your life or your emotional state? Is he one of those tough-guy executives who brag about how emotions are for whiners and losers?

[7] Is he callous and lacking in empathy?
Does he not give a damn about the feelings or well-being of other people? Is he profoundly selfish? Does he cruelly mock others? Is he emotionally or verbally abusive toward employees, “friends,” and family members? Can he fire employees without concern for how they’ll get by without the job? Can he profit from embezzlement or stock fraud without concern for the harm he’s doing to shareholders or pensioners who need their savings to pay for their retirements?

[8] Does he fail to accept responsibility for his own actions?
Does he always cook up some excuse? Does he blame others for what he’s done? If he’s under investigation or on trial for a corporate crime, like deceitful accounting or stock fraud, does he refuse to acknowledge wrongdoing even when the hard evidence is stacked against him?

If your boss scores:
1-4 | Be frustrated
5-7 | Be cautious
8-12 | Be afraid
13-16 | Be very afraid

by Robert Hare / January 01, 1994

A major part of my own quarter-century search for answers to this enigma has been a concerted effort to develop an accurate means of detecting the psychopaths among us. Measurement and categorization are, of course, fundamental to any scientific endeavor, but the implications of being able to identify psychopaths are as much practical as academic. To put it simply, if we can’t spot them, we are doomed to be their victims, both as individuals and as a society. My role in the search for psychopaths began in the 1960s at the psychology department of the University of British Columbia. There, my growing interest in psychopathy merged with my experience working with psychopaths in prison to form what was to become my life’s work. I assembled a team of clinicians who would identify psychopaths in the prison population by means of long, detailed interviews and close study of file information. From this eventually developed a highly reliable diagnostic tool that any clinician or researcher could use and that yielded a richly detailed profile of the personality disorder called psychopathy. We named this instrument the Psychopathy Checklist (Multi-Health Systems; 1991). The checklist is now used worldwide and provides clinicians and researchers with a way of distinguishing, with reasonable certainty, true psychopaths from those who merely break the rules.

What follows is a general summary of the key traits and behaviors of a psychopath. Do not use these symptoms to diagnose yourself or others. A diagnosis requires explicit training and access to the formal scoring manual. If you suspect that someone you know conforms to the profile described here, and if it is important for you to have an expert opinion, you should obtain the services of a qualified (registered) forensic psychologist or psychiatrist. Also, be aware that people who are not psychopaths may have some of the symptoms described here. Many people are impulsive, or glib, or cold and unfeeling, but this does not mean that they are psychopaths. Psychopathy is a syndrome—a cluster of related symptoms.

Key Symptoms of Psychopathy

  • Glib and superficial
  • Egocentric and grandiose
  • Lack of remorse or guilt
  • Lack of empathy
  • Deceitful and manipulative
  • Shallow emotions

Social Deviance:

  • Impulsive
  • Poor behavior controls
  • Need for excitement
  • Lack of responsibility
  • Early behavior problems
  • Adult antisocial behavior

Glib and Superficial
Psychopaths are often voluble and verbally facile. They can be amusing and entertaining conversationalists, ready with a clever comeback, and are able to tell unlikely but convincing stories that cast themselves in a good light. They can be very effective in presenting themselves well and are often very likable and charming. One of my raters described an interview she did with a prisoner: “I sat down and took out my clipboard,” she said, “and the first thing this guy told me was what beautiful eyes I had. He managed to work quite a few compliments on my appearance into the interview, so by the time I wrapped things up, I was feeling unusually… well, pretty. I’m a wary person, especially on the job, and can usually spot a phony. When I got back outside, I couldn’t believe I’d fallen for a line like that.”

Egocentric and Grandiose
Psychopaths have a narcissistic and grossly inflated view of their own self-worth and importance, a truly astounding egocentricity and sense of entitlement, and see themselves as the center of the universe, justified in living according to their own rules. “It’s not that I don’t follow the law,” said one subject. “I follow my own laws. I never violate my own rules.” She then proceeded to describe these rules in terms of “looking out for number one.” Psychopaths often claim to have specific goals but show little appreciation regarding the qualifications required—they have no idea of how to achieve them and little or no chance of attaining these goals, given their track record and lack of sustained interest in formal education. The psychopathic inmate might outline vague plans to become a lawyer for the poor or a property tycoon. One inmate, not particularly literate, managed to copyright the title of a book he was planning to write about himself, already counting the fortune his best-selling book would bring.

Lack of Remorse or Guilt
Psychopaths show a stunning lack of concern for the effects their actions have on others, no matter how devastating these might be. They may appear completely forthright about the matter, calmly stating that they have no sense of guilt, are not sorry for the ensuing pain, and that there is no reason now to be concerned. When asked if he had any regrets about stabbing a robbery victim who subsequently spent time in the hospital as a result of his wounds, one of our subjects replied, “Get real! He spends a few months in hospital and I rot here. If I wanted to kill him I would have slit his throat. That’s the kind of guy I am; I gave him a break.” Their lack of remorse or guilt is associated with a remarkable ability to rationalize their behavior, to shrug off personal responsibility for actions that cause family, friends, and others to reel with shock and disappointment. They usually have handy excuses for their behavior, and in some cases deny that it happened at all.

Lack of Empathy
Many of the characteristics displayed by psychopaths are closely associated with a profound lack of empathy and inability to construct a mental and emotional “facsimile” of another person. They seem completely unable to “get into the skin” of others, except in a purely intellectual sense. They are completely indifferent to the rights and suffering of family and strangers alike. If they do maintain ties, it is only because they see family members as possessions. One of our subjects allowed her boyfriend to sexually molest her five-year-old daughter because “he wore me out. I wasn’t ready for more sex that night.” The woman found it hard to understand why the authorities took her child into care.

Deceitful and Manipulative
With their powers of imagination in gear and beamed on themselves, psychopaths appear amazingly unfazed by the possibility—or even by the certainty—of being found out. When caught in a lie or challenged with the truth, they seldom appear perplexed or embarrassed—they simply change their stories or attempt to rework the facts so they appear to be consistent with the lie. The result is a series of contradictory statements and a thoroughly confused listener. And psychopaths seem proud of their ability to lie. When asked if she lied easily, one woman laughed and replied, “I’m the best. I think it’s because I sometimes admit to something bad about myself. They think, well, if she’s admitting to that she must be telling the truth about the rest.”

Shallow Emotions
Psychopaths seem to suffer a kind of emotional poverty that limits the range and depth of their feelings. At times they appear to be cold and unemotional while nevertheless being prone to dramatic, shallow, and short-lived displays of feeling. Careful observers are left with the impression they are playacting and little is going on below the surface. A psychopath in our research said that he didn’t really understand what others meant by fear. “When I rob a bank,” he said, “I notice that the teller shakes. One barfed all over the money. She must have been pretty messed up inside, but I don’t know why. If someone pointed a gun at me I guess I’d be afraid, but I wouldn’t throw up.” When asked if he ever felt his heart pound or his stomach churn, he replied, “Of course! I’m not a robot. I really get pumped up when I have sex or when I get into a fight.”

Psychopaths are unlikely to spend much time weighing the pros and cons of a course of action or considering the possible consequences. “I did it because I felt like it,” is a common response. These impulsive acts often result from an aim that plays a central role in most of the psychopath’s behavior: to achieve immediate satisfaction, pleasure, or relief. So family members, relatives, employers, and coworkers typically find themselves standing around asking themselves what happened—jobs are quit, relationships broken off, plans changed, houses ransacked, people hurt, often for what appears as little more than a whim. As the husband of a psychopath I studied put it: “She got up and left the table, and that was the last I saw of her for two months.”

Poor Behavior Controls
Besides being impulsive, psychopaths are highly reactive to perceived insults or slights. Most of us have powerful inhibitory controls over our behavior; even if we would like to respond aggressively we are usually able to “keep the lid on.” In psychopaths, these inhibitory controls are weak, and the slightest provocation is sufficient to overcome them. As a result, psychopaths are short-tempered or hotheaded and tend to respond to frustration, failure, discipline, and criticism with sudden violence, threats or verbal abuse. But their outbursts, extreme as they may be, are often short-lived, and they quickly act as if nothing out of the ordinary has happened. For example, an inmate in line for dinner was accidentally bumped by another inmate, whom he proceeded to beat senseless. The attacker then stepped back into line as if nothing had happened. Despite the fact that he faced solitary confinement as punishment for the infraction, his only comment when asked to explain himself was, “I was pissed off. He stepped into my space. I did what I had to do. Although psychopaths have a “hair trigger,” their aggressive displays are “cold”; they lack the intense arousal experienced when other individuals lose their temper.

A Need for Excitement
Psychopaths have an ongoing and excessive need for excitement—they long to live in the fast lane or “on the edge,” where the action is. In many cases the action involves the breaking of rules. Many psychopaths describe “doing crime” for excitement or thrills. When asked if she ever did dangerous things just for fun, one of our female psychopaths replied, “Yeah, lots of things. But what I find most exciting is walking through airports with drugs. Christ! What a high!” The flip side of this yen for excitement is an inability to tolerate routine or monotony. Psychopaths are easily bored and are not likely to engage in activities that are dull, repetitive, or require intense concentration over long periods.

Lack of Responsibility
Obligations and commitments mean nothing to psychopaths. Their good intentions—”I’ll never cheat on you again”—are promises written on the wind. Horrendous credit histories, for example, reveal the lightly taken debt, the loan shrugged off, the empty pledge to contribute to a child’s support. Their performance on the job is erratic, with frequent absences, misuse of company resources, violations of company policy, and general untrustworthiness. They do not honor formal or implied commitments to people, organizations, or principles. Psychopaths are not deterred by the possibility that their actions mean hardship or risk for others. A 25-year-old inmate in our studies has received more than 20 convictions for dangerous driving, driving while impaired, leaving the scene of an accident, driving without a license, and criminal negligence causing death. When asked if he would continue to drive after his release from prison, he replied, “Why not? Sure, I drive fast, but I’m good at it. It takes two to have an accident.”

Early Behavior Problems
Most psychopaths begin to exhibit serious behavioral problems at an early age. These might include persistent lying, cheating, theft, arson, truancy, substance abuse, vandalism, and/or precocious sexuality. Because many children exhibit some of these behaviors at one time or another—especially children raised in violent neighborhoods or in disrupted or abusive families—it is important to emphasize that the psychopath’s history of such behaviors is more extensive and serious than most, even when compared with that of siblings and friends raised in similar settings. One subject, serving time for fraud, told us that as a child he would put a noose around the neck of a cat, tie the other end of the string to the top of a pole, and bat the cat around the pole with a tennis racket. Although not all adult psychopaths exhibited this degree of cruelty when in their youth, virtually all routinely got themselves into a wide range of difficulties.

Adult Antisocial Behavior
Psychopaths see the rules and expectations of society as inconvenient and unreasonable impediments to their own behavioral expression. They make their own rules, both as children and as adults. Many of the antisocial acts of psychopaths lead to criminal charges and convictions. Even within the criminal population, psychopaths stand out, largely because the antisocial and illegal activities of psychopaths are more varied and frequent than are those of other criminals. Psychopaths tend to have no particular affinity, or “specialty,” for one particular type of crime but tend to try everything. But not all psychopaths end up in jail. Many of the things they do escape detection or prosecution, or are on “the shady side of the law.” For them, antisocial behavior may consist of phony stock promotions, questionable business practices, spouse or child abuse, and so forth. Many others do things that, though not necessarily illegal, are nevertheless unethical, immoral, or harmful to others: philandering or cheating on a spouse to name a few.

Thinking about psychopathy leads us very quickly to a single fundamental question: Why are some people like this? Unfortunately, the forces that produce a psychopath are still obscure, an admission those looking for clear answers will find unsatisfying. Nevertheless, there are several rudimentary theories about the cause of psychopathy worth considering. At one end of the spectrum are theories that view psychopathy as largely the product of genetic or biological factors (nature), whereas theories at the other end posit that psychopathy results entirely from a faulty early social environment (nurture). The position that I favor is that psychopathy emerges from a complex—and poorly understood—interplay between biological factors and social forces. It is based on evidence that genetic factors contribute to the biological bases of brain function and to basic personality structure, which in turn influence the way an individual responds to, and interacts with, life experiences and the social environment. In effect, the core elements needed for the development of psychopathy—including a profound inability to experience empathy and the complete range of emotions, including fear—are in part provided by nature and possibly by some unknown biological influences on the developing fetus and neonate. As a result, the capacity for developing internal controls and conscience and for making emotional “connections” with others is greatly reduced.

Can Anything Be Done?
In their desperate search for solutions people trapped in a destructive and seemingly hopeless relationship with a psychopath frequently are told: Quit indulging him and send him for therapy. A basic assumption of psychotherapy is that the patient needs and wants help for distressing or painful psychological and emotional problems. Successful therapy also requires that the patient actively participate, along with the therapist, in the search for relief of his or her symptoms. In short, the patient must recognize there is a problem and must want to do something about it. But here is the crux: Psychopaths don’t feel they have psychological or emotional problems, and they see no reason to change their behavior to conform with societal standards they do not agree with. Thus, in spite of more than a century of clinical study and decades of research, the mystery of the psychopath still remains. Recent developments have provided us with new insights into the nature of this disturbing disorder, and its borders are becoming more defined. But compared with other major clinical disorders, little research has been devoted to psychopathy, even though it is responsible for more social distress and disruption than all other psychiatric disorders combined. So, rather than trying to pick up the pieces after the damage has been done, it would make far greater sense to increase our efforts to understand this perplexing disorder and to search for effective early interventions. The alternatives are to continue devoting massive resources to the prosecution, incarceration, and supervision of psychopaths after they have committed offenses against society and to continue to ignore the welfare and plight of their victims. We have to learn how to socialize them, not resocialize them. And this will require serious efforts at research and early intervention. It is imperative that we continue the search for clues.

{Excerpted from Without Conscience: The Disturbing World of the Psychopaths Among Us (Simon & Schuster) by Robert Hare, Ph.D. Copyright 1993.}

A Survival Guide
Although no one is completely immune to the devious machinations of the psychopath, there are some things you can do to reduce your vulnerability.

  • Know what you are dealing with. This sounds easy but in fact can be very difficult. All the reading in the world cannot immunize you from the devastating effects of psychopaths. Everyone, including the experts, can be taken in, conned, and left bewildered by them. A good psychopath can play a concerto on anyone’s heart strings.
  • Try not to be influenced by “props.” It is not easy to get beyond the winning smile, the captivating body language, the fast talk of the typical psychopath, all of which blind us to his or her real intentions. Many people find it difficult to deal with the intense, “predatory state” of the psychopath. The fixated stare, is more a prelude to self-gratification and the exercise of power rather than simple interest or empathic caring.
  • Don’t wear blinders. Enter new relationships with your eyes wide open. Like the rest of us, most psychopathic con artists and “love-thieves” initially hide their dark side by putting their “best foot forward.” Cracks may soon begin to appear in the mask they wear, but once trapped in their web, it will be difficult to escape financially and emotionally unscathed.
  • Keep your guard up in high-risk situations. Some situations are tailor-made for psychopaths: singles bars, ship cruises, foreign airports, etc. In each case, the potential victim is lonely, looking for a good time, excitement, or companionship, and there will usually be someone willing to oblige, for a hidden price.
  • Know yourself. Psychopaths are skilled at detecting and ruthlessly exploiting your weak spots. Your best defense is to understand what these spots are, and to be extremely wary of anyone who zeroes in on them.

Unfortunately, even the most careful precautions are no guarantee that you will be safe from a determined psychopath. In such cases, all you can do is try to exert some sort of damage control. This is not easy but some suggestions may be of help:

  • Obtain professional advice. Make sure the clinician you consult is familiar with the literature on psychopathy and has had experience in dealing with psychopaths.
  • Don’t blame yourself. Whatever the reasons for being involved with a psychopath, it is important that you not accept blame for his or her attitudes and behavior. Psychopaths play by the same rules—their rules—with everyone.
  • Be aware of who the victim is. Psychopaths often give the impression that it is they who are suffering and that the victims are to blame for their misery. Don’t waste your sympathy on them.
  • Recognize that you are not alone. Most psychopaths have lots of victims. It is certain that a psychopath who is causing you grief is also causing grief to others.
  • Be careful about power struggles. Keep in mind that psychopaths have a strong need for psychological and physical control over others. This doesn’t mean that you shouldn’t stand up for your rights, but it will probably be difficult to do so without risking serious emotional or physical trauma.
  • Set firm ground rules. Although power struggles with a psychopath are risky you may be able to set up some clear rules—both for yourself and for the psychopath—to make your life easier and begin the difficult transition from victim to a person looking out for yourself.
  • Don’t expect dramatic changes. To a large extent, the personality of psychopaths is “carved in stone.” There is little likelihood that anything you do will produce fundamental, sustained changes in how they see themselves or others.
  • Cut your losses. Most victims of psychopaths end up feeling confused and hopeless, and convinced that they are largely to blame for the problem. The more you give in the more you will be taken advantage of by the psychopath’s insatiable appetite for power and control.
  • Use support groups. By the time your suspicions have led you to seek a diagnosis, you already know that you’re in for a very long and bumpy ride. Make sure you have all the emotional support you can muster.

Sharing Information Corrupts Wisdom of Crowds
by Brandon Keim / May 16, 2011

When people can learn what others think, the wisdom of crowds may veer towards ignorance.

In a new study of crowd wisdom — the statistical phenomenon by which individual biases cancel each other out, distilling hundreds or thousands of individual guesses into uncannily accurate average answers — researchers told test participants about their peers’ guesses. As a result, their group insight went awry. “Although groups are initially ‘wise,’ knowledge about estimates of others narrows the diversity of opinions to such an extent that it undermines” collective wisdom, wrote researchers led by mathematician Jan Lorenz and sociologist Heiko Rahut of Switzerland’s ETH Zurich, in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences on May 16. “Even mild social influence can undermine the wisdom of crowd effect.”

The effect — perhaps better described as the accuracy of crowds, since it best applies to questions involving quantifiable estimates — has been described for decades, beginning with Francis Galton’s 1907 account of fairgoers guessing an ox’s weight. It reached mainstream prominence with economist James Surowiecki’s 2004 bestseller, The Wisdom of Crowds. As Surowiecki explained, certain conditions must be met for crowd wisdom to emerge. Members of the crowd ought to have a variety of opinions, and to arrive at those opinions independently. Take those away, and crowd intelligence fails, as evidenced in some market bubbles. Computer modeling of crowd behavior also hints at dynamics underlying crowd breakdowns, with he balance between information flow and diverse opinions becoming skewed.

Lorenz and Rahut’s experiment fits between large-scale, real-world messiness and theoretical investigation. They recruited 144 students from ETH Zurich, sitting them in isolated cubicles and asking them to guess Switzerland’s population density, the length of its border with Italy, the number of new immigrants to Zurich and how many crimes were committed in 2006. After answering, test subjects were given a small monetary reward based on their answer’s accuracy, then asked again. This proceeded for four more rounds; and while some students didn’t learn what their peers guessed, others were told. As testing progressed, the average answers of independent test subjects became more accurate, in keeping with the wisdom-of-crowds phenomenon. Socially influenced test subjects, however, actually became less accurate.

The researchers attributed this to three effects. The first they called “social influence”: Opinions became less diverse. The second effect was “range reduction”: In mathematical terms, correct answers became clustered at the group’s edges. Exacerbating it all was the “confidence effect,” in which students became more certain about their guesses. “The truth becomes less central if social influence is allowed,” wrote Lorenz and Rahut, who think this problem could be intensified in markets and politics — systems that rely on collective assessment. “Opinion polls and the mass media largely promote information feedback and therefore trigger convergence of how we judge the facts,” they wrote. The wisdom of crowds is valuable, but used improperly it “creates overconfidence in possibly false beliefs.”

Study participants were asked how many murders occurred in Switzerland in 2006. At the end of each round of questioning, they were given small payments for coming close to the actual answer (signified by the gray bar). At left is the range of responses among participants who received no information about others.

Social groups can be remarkably smart and knowledgeable when their averaged judgements are compared with the judgements of individuals. Already Galton [Galton F (1907) Nature 75:7] found evidence that the median estimate of a group can be more accurate than estimates of experts. This wisdom of crowd effect was recently supported by examples from stock markets, political elections, and quiz shows [Surowiecki J (2004) The Wisdom of Crowds]. In contrast, we demonstrate by experimental evidence (N = 144) that even mild social influence can undermine the wisdom of crowd effect in simple estimation tasks. In the experiment, subjects could reconsider their response to factual questions after having received average or full information of the responses of other subjects. We compare subjects’ convergence of estimates and improvements in accuracy over five consecutive estimation periods with a control condition, in which no information about others’ responses was provided. Although groups are initially “wise,” knowledge about estimates of others narrows the diversity of opinions to such an extent that it undermines the wisdom of crowd effect in three different ways. The “social influence effect” diminishes the diversity of the crowd without improvements of its collective error. The “range reduction effect” moves the position of the truth to peripheral regions of the range of estimates so that the crowd becomes less reliable in providing expertise for external observers. The “confidence effect” boosts individuals’ confidence after convergence of their estimates despite lack of improved accuracy. Examples of the revealed mechanism range from misled elites to the recent global financial crisis.

Jan Lorenz
email : jan.lorenz [at] uni-oldenburg [dot] de / math [at] janlo [dot] de

Heiko Rauhut
email : rauhut [at] gess.ethz [dot] ch


Crawling the Web to Foretell Ecosystem Collapse
by Alexis Madrigal  /  March 19, 2009

The Interwebs could become an early warning system for when the web of life is about to fray. By trawling scientific list-serves, Chinese fish market websites, and local news sources, ecologists think they can use human beings as sensors by mining their communications. “If we look at coral reefs, for example, the Internet may contain information that describes not only changes in the ecosystem, but also drivers of change, such as global seafood markets,” said Tim Daw, an ecologist at the UK’s University of East Anglia in a press release about his team’s new paper in Frontiers in Ecology and the Environment.

The six billion people on Earth are changing the biosphere so quickly that traditional ecological methods can’t keep up. Humans, though, are acute observers of their environments and bodies, so scientists are combing through the text and numbers on the Internet in hopes of extracting otherwise unavailable or expensive information. It’s more crowd mining than crowd sourcing. Much of the pioneering work in this type of Internet surveillance has come in the public health field, tracking disease. Google Flu Trends, which uses a cloud of keywords to determine how sick a population is, tracks epidemiological data from the Centers for Disease Control. Less serious projects — like this map of a United Kingdom snowstorm based on Tweets about snow — have also had some success tracking the real world.

These research efforts seem to indicate that people are good sensors, but pulling the information from what they post in human-readable formats and transforming it into quantitative models of the world is tough. The Global Public Health Intelligence Network has developed an epidemic warning system that pulls in data from news wires, web sites, and public health mailing lists. The GPHIN, which is probably the most advanced and uses highly variegated information, only picks up on about 40 percent of the 200 to 250 outbreaks that the World Health Organization investigates each year.

Nonetheless, Daw and and his co-authors from the  Stockholm Univeristy Resilience Centre, say traditional ecological monitoring has its problems, too. Humans can make huge changes to ecosystems faster than the standard methods of data collection can keep up. “The challenge is that existing monitoring systems are not at all in tune with the speed of social, economical and ecological changes,” the researchers write on their blog. By looking at human data, not just fisheries and ecological readings, they think they’ll be able to detect ecosystem tipping points before they happen. “Web crawlers can collect information on the drivers of ecosystem change, rather than the resultant ecological responses,” they write. “For example, if rapidly emerging markets for high value species are known to be socio-economic drivers which lead to overexploitation and collapse of a fishery, web crawlers can be designed to collect information on rapid changes in prices, landings or investments.”

But right now, their plans remain theoretical, and while scraping data seems easy enough, turning it into knowledge is another story. John Brownstein, a Harvard bioinformaticist and co-founder of HealthMap, which does for disease what Daw wants to do for ecology, said that applying the framework to ecology could work. “There’s no reason it can’t be done,” Brownstein said. “The only difference is that this is more difficult. The media and other sources are sensitive and fine-tuned to things like human disease. The threshold for the reporting of a mysterious disease is different from the threshold for an ecological phenomenon.” In other words, while reporters (or Tweeters) will include individual-level death data in human stories, massive die-offs or flora changes could very well go unnoticed and probably unquantified.

And even with disease data, there are serious signal-to-noise challenges. In a paper that Brownstein co-authored last week, he showed that monitoring search terms for disease indicators could have tipped officials off to a deadly outbreak of listeriosis in Canada. But spotting emergent diseases instead of ones that have already caused major damage is a more challenging proposition. “It’s so tough to figure out why people search for specific information,” he said.

Google is filtering and personalizing search results

Eli is pointing out a thing some people might have already noticed. If two different people search for the same thing on Google it is very probable that the search results will be very different. Google is doing this without telling the user that it is acutally filtering the results based on what the algorithm thinks the user might like. According to Eli Pariser Google is using 57 signals to determine the interest of us. Of course this kind of personalization has its good sides. When I am about to buy a new notebook computer y I definitely want to see different Websites if I live in Germany or in the US. This could be due to tax and shipping fees. Which means that I am most probably interested in local stores and not in oversea shops. Still this personalization and filtering is a huge potential for serious problems. We might think we get all the information we need. But in reality we are becoming blinded by the filters Google is using. We have no chance to determine what other information is filtert and potentially available for a certain topic. On the other hand due to the amount of information we need filters and computers to help us. But the systems should be more transparent.

Facebook is also filtering the newsstream from your friends:
I have always been thinking Facebook’s huge success is strongly correlated to the fact that there is hardly Spam on Facebook and the information economy is very smart and user friendly. The attention of users to status updates is very high making facebook a great place for every company to do online and viral marketing. This of course contributes to Facebook’s reach. In fact the information architecture on Facebook is even so smart that your 20’000 followers on Facebook might not receive your status updates since Facebook’s EdgeRank algorithm decides it is not relevant to your fans or friends. Edgerank might not have 57 signals but it still takes into consideration:

who your fans are friend with
what other news they like
how heavy they have interacted with you in the past
the time passed since your last status update

Great news isn’t it? Just compare this with my statement in a recent blog post about creating newsletters as a musician in order to communicate with your fans and not solely rely on other services like Facebook or MySpace. You don’t believe the Facebook thing? There is a video about the EdgeRank algorithm used by Facebook to determine which status updates should reach us and which shouldn’t. Feel free to have a look and thanks to the guys from Klurig Analytics for producing such a great video resource:

What are the 57 signals google uses to filter search results?

Since my blog post on Eli Pariser’s Ted talk about the filter bubble became quite popular and a lot of people seem to be interested in which 57 signals Google would use to filter search results I decided to extend the list from my article and list the signals I would use if I was google. It might not be 57 signals but I guess it is enough to get an idea:

  1. Our Search History.
  2. Our location
  3. the browser we use.
  4. the browsers version
  5. The computer we use
  6. The language we use
  7. the time we need to type in a query
  8. the time we spend on the search result page
  9. the time between selecting different results for the same query
  10. our operating system
  11. our operating systems version
  12. the resolution of our computer screen
  13. average amount of search requests per day
  14. average amount of search requests per topic (to finish search)
  15. distribution of search services we use (web / images / videos / real time / news / mobile)
  16. average position of search results we click on
  17. time of the day
  18. current date
  19. topics of ads we click on
  20. frequency we click advertising
  21. topics of adsense advertising we click while surfing other websites
  22. frequency we click on adsense advertising on other websites
  23. frequency of searches of domains on Google
  24. use of or google toolbar
  25. our age
  26. our sex
  27. use of “i feel lucky button”
  28. do we use the enter key or mouse to send a search request
  29. do we use keyboard shortcuts to navigate through search results
  30. do we use advanced search commands  (how often)
  31. do we use igoogle (which widgets / topics)
  32. where on the screen do we click besides the search results (how often)
  33. where do we move the mouse and mark text in the search results
  34. amount of typos while searching
  35. how often do we use related search queries
  36. how often do we use autosuggestion
  37. how often do we use sepell correction
  38. distribution of short / general  queries vs. specific / long tail queries
  39. which other google services do we use (gmail / youtube/ maps / picasa /….)
  40. how often do we search for ourself

Uff I have to say after 57 minutes of brainstorming I am running out of ideas for the moment. This list of signals is a pure guess based on my knowledge and education on data mining. Not one signal I name might correspond to the 57 signals google is using. In future I might discuss why each of these signals could be interesting. But remember: as long as you have a high diversity in the distribution you are fine with any list of signals.

Eli Pariser
email : epariser [at] elipariser [dot] com


The wisdom of crowds you say? As Surowiecki explains, yes, but only under the right conditions. In order for a crowd to be smart, he says it needs to satisfy four conditions:

1. Diversity. A group with many different points of view will make better decisions than one where everyone knows the same information. Think multi-disciplinary teams building Web sites…programmers, designers, biz dev, QA folks, end users, and copywriters all contributing to the process, each has a unique view of what the final product should be. Contrast that with, say, the President of the US and his Cabinet.

2. Independence. “People’s opinions are not determined by those around them.” AKA, avoiding the circular mill problem.

3. Decentralization. “Power does not fully reside in one central location, and many of the important decisions are made by individuals based on their own local and specific knowledge rather than by an omniscient or farseeing planner.” The open source software development process is an example of effect decentralization in action.

4. Aggregation. You need some way of determining the group’s answer from the individual responses of its members. The evils of design by committee are due in part to the lack of correct aggregation of information. A better way to harness a group for the purpose of designing something would be for the group’s opinion to be aggregated by an individual who is skilled at incorporating differing viewpoints into a single shared vision and for everyone in the group to be aware of that process (good managers do this). Aggregation seems to be the most tricky of the four conditions to satisfy because there are so many different ways to aggregate opinion, not all of which are right for a given situation.

Satisfy those four conditions and you’ve hopefully cancelled out some of the error involved in all decision making: “If you ask a large enough group of diverse, independent people to make a prediciton or estimate a probability, and then everage those estimates, the errors of each of them makes in coming up with an answer will cancel themselves out. Each person’s guess, you might say, has two components: information and error. Subtract the error, and you’re left with the information.”

James Surowiecki
email : jamessuro [at] aol [dot] com

Q & A with James Surowiecki

Q: How did you discover the wisdom of crowds?
A: The idea really came out of my writing on how markets work. Markets are made up of diverse people with different levels of information and intelligence, and yet when you put all those people together and they start buying and selling, they come up with generally intelligent decisions. Sometimes, though, they come up with remarkably stupid decisions—as they did during the stock-market bubble in the late 1990s. I was interested in what explained the successes and the failures of markets, and as I got further into it I realized that it wasn’t just markets that were smart. In fact, crowds of all sorts were often remarkably wise.

Q: Could you define “the crowd?”
A: A “crowd,” in the sense that I use the word in the book, is really any group of people who can act collectively to make decisions and solve problems. So, on the one hand, big organizations—like a company or a government agency—count as crowds. And so do small groups, like a team of scientists working on a problem. But just as interested—maybe even more interested—in groups that aren’t really aware themselves as groups, like bettors on a horse race or investors in the stock market. They make up crowds, too, because they’re collectively producing a solution to a complicated problem: the bets of people betting on a horse race determine what the odds on the race will be, and the choices of investors determine stock prices.

Q: Under what circumstances is the crowd smarter?
A: There are four key qualities that make a crowd smart. It needs to be diverse, so that people are bringing different pieces of information to the table. It needs to be decentralized, so that no one at the top is dictating the crowd’s answer. It needs a way of summarizing people’s opinions into one collective verdict. And the people in the crowd need to be independent, so that they pay attention mostly to their own information, and not worrying about what everyone around them thinks.

Q: And what circumstances can lead the crowd to make less-than-stellar decisions?
A: Essentially, any time most of the people in a group are biased in the same direction, it’s probably not going to make good decisions. So when diverse opinions are either frozen out or squelched when they’re voiced, groups tend to be dumb. And when people start paying too much attention to what others in the group think, that usually spells disaster, too. For instance, that’s how we get stock-market bubbles, which are a classic example of group stupidity: instead of worrying about how much a company is really worth, investors start worrying about how much other people will think the company is worth. The paradox of the wisdom of crowds is that the best group decisions come from lots of independent individual decisions.

Q: What kind of problems are crowds good at solving and what kind are they not good at solving?
A: Crowds are best when there’s a right answer to a problem or a question. (I call these “cognition” problems.) If you have, for instance, a factual question, the best way to get a consistently good answer is to ask a group. They’re also surprisingly good, though, at
solving other kinds of problems. For instance, in smart crowds, people cooperate and work together even when it’s more rational for them to let others do the work. And in smart crowds, people are also able to coordinate their behavior—for instance, buyers and sellers are able to find each other and trade at a reasonable price—without anyone being in charge. Groups aren’t good at what you might call problems of skill— for instance, don’t ask a group to perform surgery or fly a plane.

Q: Why are we not better off finding an expert to make all the hard decisions?
A: Experts, no matter how smart, only have limited amounts of information. They also, like all of us, have biases. It’s very rare that one person can know more than a large group of people, and almost never does that same person know more about a whole series of questions. The other problem in finding an expert is that it’s actually hard to identify true experts. In fact, if a group is smart enough to find a real expert, it’s more than smart enough not to need one.

Q: Can you explain how a betting pool can help predict the future?
A: Well, predicting the future is what bettors try to do every day, when they try to figure out what horse will win a race or what football team will win on Sunday. What horse-racing odds or a point spread represent, then, is the group’s collective judgment about the future. And what we know from many studies is that that collective judgment is often remarkably accurate. Now, we have to be careful here. In the case of a horse race, for instance, what the group is good at predicting is the likelihood of each horse winning. The potential benefits of this are pretty obvious. If you’re a company, say, that’s trying to decide which product you should put out, what you want to know is the likelihood of success of your different options. A betting pool—or a market, or some other way of tapping into the wisdom of crowds—is the best way for you to get that information.

Q: Can you give an example of a current company that is tapping into the “wisdom of crowds?”
A: There’s a division of Eli Lilly called e.Lilly, which has been experimenting with using internal stock markets and hypothetical drug candidates to predict whether new drugs will gain FDA approval. That’s an essential thing for drug companies to know, because their whole business depends on them not only picking winners—that is, good, safe drugs—but also killing losers before they’ve invested too much money in them.

Q: You’ve explained how tapping into the crowd’s collective wisdom can help a corporation, but how can it help other entities, like a government, or perhaps more importantly, an individual?
A: Well, the same principles that make collective wisdom useful to a company make it just as useful to the government. For instance, in the book I talk about the Columbia disaster, showing how NASA’s failure to deal with the shuttle’s problems stemmed, in part, from a failure to tap into knowledge and information that the people in the organization actually had. And in a broader sense, I think the book suggests that the more diverse and free the flow of information in a society is, the better the decisions that society will reach. As far as individuals go, I think there are two consequences. First, we can look to collective decisions—as long as the groups are diverse, etc.—to give us good predictions. But the collective decisions will only be smart if each of us tries to be as independent as possible. So instead of just taking the advice of your smart friend, you should try to make your own choice. In doing so, you’ll make the group smarter.

Q: When you talk about using the crowd to make a decision, are you talking about consensus?
A: No, and this is one of the most important points in the book. The wisdom of crowds isn’t about consensus. It really emerges from disagreement and even conflict. It’s what you might call the average opinion of the group, but it’s not an opinion that every one in the group can agree on. So that means you can’t find collective wisdom via compromise.

Q: What would Charles MacKay—the author of Extraordinary Popular Delusions and the Madness of Crowds—think of your book?
A: He would probably think I’m deluded. Mackay thought crowds were doomed to excess and foolishness, and that only individuals could produce intelligent decisions. On the other hand, a good chunk of my book is about how crowds can, as it were, go mad, and what allows them to succumb to delusions. Mackay would like those chapters.

Q: What do you most hope people will learn from reading your book?
A: I think the most important lesson is not to rely on the wisdom of one or two experts or leaders when making difficult decisions. That doesn’t mean that expertise is irrelevant, or that we don’t need smart people. It just means that together all of us know more than any one of us does.

by James Surowiecki

As it happens, the possibilities of group intelligence, at least when it came to judging questions of fact, were demonstrated by a host of experiments conducted by American sociologists and psychologists between 1920 and the mid-1950s, the heyday of research into group dynamics. Although in general, as we’ll see, the bigger the crowd the better, the groups in most of these early experiments—which for some reason remained relatively unknown outside of academia—were relatively small. Yet they nonetheless performed very well. The Columbia sociologist Hazel Knight kicked things off with a series of studies in the early 1920s, the first of which had the virtue of simplicity. In that study Knight asked the students in her class to estimate the room’s temperature, and then took a simple average of the estimates. The group guessed 72.4 degrees, while the actual temperature was 72 degrees. This was not, to be sure, the most auspicious beginning, since classroom temperatures are so stable that it’s hard to imagine a class’s estimate being too far off base. But in the years that followed, far more convincing evidence emerged, as students and soldiers across America were subjected to a barrage of puzzles, intelligence tests, and word games. The sociologist Kate H. Gordon asked two hundred students to rank items by weight, and found that the group’s “estimate” was 94 percent accurate, which was better than all but five of the individual guesses. In another experiment students were asked to look at ten piles of buckshot—each a slightly different size than the rest—that had been glued to a piece of white cardboard, and rank them by size. This time, the group’s guess was 94.5 percent accurate. A classic demonstration of group intelligence is the jelly-beans-in-the-jar experiment, in which invariably the group’s estimate is superior to the vast majority of the individual guesses. When finance professor Jack Treynor ran the experiment in his class with a jar that held 850 beans, the group estimate was 871. Only one of the fifty-six people in the class made a better guess.

There are two lessons to draw from these experiments. First, in most of them the members of the group were not talking to each other or working on a problem together. They were making individual guesses, which were aggregated and then averaged. This is exactly what Francis Galton did, and it is likely to produce excellent results. (In a later chapter, we’ll see how having members interact changes things, sometimes for the better, sometimes for the worse.) Second, the group’s guess will not be better than that of every single person in the group each time. In many (perhaps most) cases, there will be a few people who do better than the group. This is, in some sense, a good thing, since especially in situations where there is an incentive for doing well (like, say, the stock market) it gives people reason to keep participating. But there is no evidence in these studies that certain people consistently outperform the group. In other words, if you run ten different jelly-bean-counting experiments, it’s likely that each time one or two students will outperform the group. But they will not be the same students each time. Over the ten experiments, the group’s performance will almost certainly be the best possible. The simplest way to get reliably good answers is just to ask the group each time.

A similarly blunt approach also seems to work when wrestling with other kinds of problems. The theoretical physicist Norman L. Johnson has demonstrated this using computer simulations of individual “agents” making their way through a maze. Johnson, who does his work at the Los Alamos National Laboratory, was interested in understanding how groups might be able to solve problems that individuals on their own found difficult. So he built a maze—one that could be navigated via many different paths, some shorter, and some longer—and sent a group of agents into the maze one by one. The first time through, they just wandered around, the way you would if you were looking for a particular café in a city where you’d never been before. Whenever they came to a turning point—what Johnson called a “node”—they would randomly choose to go right or left. Therefore some people found their way, by chance, to the exit quickly, others more slowly. Then Johnson sent the agents back into the maze, but this time he allowed them to use the information they’d learned on their first trip, as if they’d dropped bread crumbs behind them the first time around. Johnson wanted to know how well his agents would use their new information. Predictably enough, they used it well, and were much smarter the second time through. The average agent took 34.3 steps to find the exit the first time, and just 12.8 steps to find it the second.

The key to the experiment, though, was this: Johnson took the results of all the trips through the maze and used them to calculate what he called the group’s “collective solution.” He figured out what a majority of the group did at each node of the maze, and then plotted a path through the maze based on the majority’s decisions. (If more people turned left than right at a given node, that was the direction he assumed the group took. Tie votes were broken randomly.) The group’s path was just nine steps long, which was not only shorter than the path of the average individual (12.8 steps), but as short as the path that even the smartest individual had been able to come up with. It was also as good an answer as you could find. There was no way to get through the maze in fewer than nine steps, so the group had discovered the optimal solution. The obvious question that follows, though, is: The judgment of crowds may be good in laboratory settings and classrooms, but what happens in the real world?


Trader Drove Up Price of McCain ‘Stock’ in Online Market
BY Josh Rogin / Oct. 21, 2008

An internal investigation by the popular online market Intrade has revealed that an investor’s purchases prompted “unusual” price swings that boosted the prediction that Sen. John McCain will become president. Over the past several weeks, the investor has pushed hundreds of thousands of dollars into one of Intrade’s predictive markets for the presidential election, the company said. “The trading that caused the unusual price movements and discrepancies was principally due to a single ‘institutional’ member on Intrade,” said the company’s chief executive, John Delaney, in a statement released Thursday. “We have been in contact with the firm on a number of occasions. I have spoken to those involved personally.” After the internal investigation into the trading patterns, Intrade found no wrongdoing or violation of its exchange rules, according to the company. Citing privacy policies, Delaney would not disclose the investor’s identity or whether the investor was affiliated with any political campaign. According to Delaney the investor was using “increased depth” in the Intrade market “to manage certain risks.” The action boosted the McCain prediction over its previous market value and above the levels of competing predictive-market Web sites. Pundits and politicians have used Intrade to track the fortunes of the two presidential candidates. Through the site, begun in 1999 and incorporated in Ireland, traders buy and sell “contracts” that function as stocks, allowing investors to gamble on the outcome of political, cultural, or even geological events such as the weather.

The company asserts and experts have found that the Intrade market is generally more accurate in predicting the outcome of major events than other leading indicators, including public opinion polls. But the relatively small scale of the market and its lack of outside regulation could leave the system vulnerable to unscrupulous investors, scholars of predictive markets say. Justin Wolfers, an associate professor at the University of Pennsylvania’s Wharton School of Business, said the trades in question do not follow any logical investment strategy. “Who knows who’s doing it, it’s obviously someone who wants good news for McCain,” said Wolfers, who has been following the situation closely. McCain campaign spokesman Michael Goldfarb said: “It’s always a good time to buy McCain.”

Ripple Effects
Intrade users first noticed something amiss when a series of large purchases running counter to market predictions sparked volatility in the prices of John McCain and Barack Obama contracts. The investor under scrutiny purchased large blocks of McCain futures at once, boosting their price and increasing the prediction that McCain had a greater chance of winning the presidential election. At other times, according to Intrade’s online records, blocks of Obama futures were sold — lowering the market’s prediction about Obama’s standing in the race. According to Intrade bulletin boards and market histories, smaller investors swept in to take advantage of what they saw as price discrepancies caused by the market shifts — quickly returning the Obama and McCain futures prices to their previous value. This resulted in losses for the investor and profits for the small investors who followed the patterns to take maximum advantage. The activities of the trader, dubbed the “rogue trader” on Intrade’s message boards, raised several questions. For example, the trader purchased large contracts named specifically after McCain and Obama. There were no similar-sized investments, however, in separate instruments that predict a generic Republican or Democratic presidential win — even though both sets of contracts apply to the same event, prices show. Some political news sites, such as, prominently display Intrade’s McCain contract value but do not display the corresponding value for a Republican presidential win. Similar trading patterns were not found in competing predictive market Web sites betting on John McCain , such as the Iowa Electronic Markets or Betfair. This means the trader was paying thousands of dollars more than necessary to purchase McCain contracts on Intrade, where the price of betting on McCain was much higher. On Sept. 24, for example, Obama contracts were trading on Intrade at a price that predicts a 52 percent chance of an Obama victory. At the same time, Betfair and IEM contracts equated to about a 62 percent chance of an Obama victory, according to the political site Intrade records show the trader often purchased tens or hundreds of thousands of dollars of contracts in the middle of the night, when activity was at its lowest, and in large bursts. In a three-day period from Sept. 30 through Oct. 2, four separate flurries of buying drove the price of the McCain contracts up by 3 to 5 points each. Those numbers eventually settled when the market compensated. “These movements over McCain largely occurred at time when there was no way that any useful information came out that was pro-McCain,” Wolfers said. “A profit-motivated guy wants to buy his stock in a way that would minimize his impact on the price, a manipulator wants to maximize it.”

Rogue Tactics
According to Intrade, the company contacted the investor and used public and private data held by the company as part of its investigation. That included an analysis of the trades made by the investor, tracking of Internet addresses, checking physical addresses and other information. Intrade released details about its investigation in a statement on its Web site. Some Intrade users commented on the company’s message board that the trader may believe in McCain’s chances for victory, despite trends in recent public opinion polls. Indeed, bucking conventional wisdom can be a profit-making strategy. For example, David Rothschild, a researcher and Ph.D. candidate at the Wharton School, said that during the first two presidential debates, the trader bet thousands of dollars on a McCain electoral victory at the same moment that instant polls were suggesting that Obama would win. “That’s equivalent to buying a company’s stock just as negative earning reports come out,” Rothschild said. “It is a bad investment, but may make some observers think that Mr. McCain won the debate, which, again would be the goal of market manipulation.” Also, the trader paid a premium of 10 percent to 20 percent on every dollar traded by not placing similar bets on other Web sites, according to Rothschild’s calculations. Overall, if the trader’s motive was to influence the Intrade market, he was remarkably successful, Rothschild said. The trader’s actions help keep the probability of Obama winning the election on Intrade about 10 percent lower than Betfair and IEM for more than a month. “If the investor did this as investment, not to manipulate Intrade, he is one of the most foolish investors in the world,” Rothschild said.


“This is big news but not for the reasons that most people think. Although some manipulation is clearly possible in the short run, the manipulation was already suspected due to differences between Intrade and other prediction markets. As a result: “According to Intrade bulletin boards and market histories, smaller investors swept in to take advantage of what they saw as price discrepancies caused by the market shifts — quickly returning the Obama and McCain futures prices to their previous value. This resulted in losses for the investor and profits for the small investors who followed the patterns to take
maximum advantage.”

This supports Robin Hanson’s and Ryan Oprea’s finding that manipulation can improve (!) prediction markets – the reason is that manipulation offers informed investors a free lunch. In a stock market, for example, when you buy (thinking the price will rise) someone else is selling (presumably thinking the price will fall) so if you do not have inside information you should not expect an above normal profit from your trade. But a manipulator sells and buys based on reasons other than expectations and so offers other investors a greater than normal return. The more manipulation, therefore, the greater the expected profit from betting according to rational expectations.

An even more important lesson is that prediction markets have truly arrived when people think they are worth manipulating. Notice that the manipulator probably doesn’t care about changing the market prediction per se. Instead, a manipulator willing to bet hundreds of thousands to change the prediction of a McCain win must think that the prediction will actually affect the outcome. And if people think prediction markets are this important then can decision markets be far behind?”




Why Do Markets Create Bubbles?
BY Tim Harford / 10.21.08

Bubbles are like pornography: Everyone has his or her own opinion as to what qualifies, but it is impossible to pen a precise definition. If you wish to push the metaphor further, both are also fun for a while, if you like that sort of thing, but apt to end up making you feel deflated and embarrassed. Bubbles are also embarrassing for the economics profession. It’s not that we have no idea what causes bubbles to form, it’s that we have too many ideas for comfort. Some explanations are psychological. Some point out that many bubbles have been stoked not by markets but by governments. There is even a school of thought that some famous bubbles weren’t bubbles at all.

The psychological explanation is the easiest to explain: People get carried away. They hear stories of their neighbors getting rich and they want a piece of the action. They figure, somehow, that the price of stocks (1929) or dot-com start-ups (1999) or real estate (2006) can only go up. A symptom of this crowd psychology is that the typical investor displays exquisitely bad timing. The economist Ilia Dichev of the University of Michigan has recently calculated “dollar-weighted” returns for major stock indexes; this is a way of adjusting for investors rushing into the market at certain times. It turns out that “dollar-weighted” returns are substantially lower than “buy and hold” returns. In other words, investors flood in when the market is near its peak, tending to buy high and sell low. The herd instinct seems to cost us money. That is awkward for economists, because mainstream economic models do not really encompass “herd instinct” as a variable. Still, some economists are teaming up with psychologists and even neurophysiologists in the search for an answer.

Cambridge economist John Coates is one of them. He used to manage a Wall Street trading desk and was struck by the way the (male) traders changed as the dot-com bubble inflated. They would pump their arms, yell, leave pornography around the office and in general behave as though they were high on something. It turns out that they were: It was testosterone. Many male animals–bulls, hares, rutting stags and the like–fight with sexual rivals. The winner experiences a surge of testosterone, which makes him more aggressive and more likely to take risks. In the short run that tends to mean that winners keep winning; in the long run, they take too many risks. Dr. Coates wondered if profitable traders were also running on testosterone, and a few saliva samples later it appears that he is right. Profitable trading days boost testosterone levels and tend to encourage more risk-taking, more wins and more testosterone. When the risks didn’t pay off, the testosterone ebbed away to be replaced by a stress hormone, cortisol. The whole process seems likely to exaggerate peaks and troughs. These psychological explanations are likely to help us understand what goes on as bubbles form and how they might be prevented. Yet they make me nervous: It is too easy to blame a bubble on the mob psychology of the market when a closer look at most bubbles reveals that there is much more to the story than that.

For example, one famous early “mania” was the Mississippi bubble, in which countless investors poured their money into the Compagnie des Indes in France in 1720, and lost it. Yet there was more going on than a free-market frenzy: The government could hardly have been more closely involved. The Compagnie des Indes had effectively taken over the French Treasury and legal monopolies on French trade with much of the rest of the world (including Louisiana–hence “Mississippi bubble”). Investors were hardly insane to think that such a political machine might be profitable, especially since the king of France personally held many of the shares. But the king sold out near the top in 1720; within two years, the Compagnie was bankrupt and its political power dismantled.

The government played its own part in the current credit crunch, too. For all the scapegoating of deregulation, thoughtful commentators also point to the Federal Reserve’s policy of cheap money, and Fannie and Freddie’s enormous appetite for junk mortgages–urged all the way by politicians trying to make credit available to poor and risky borrowers. Market psychology was part of the story, but not the whole story. The idea that ordinary people have a tendency to be caught up in investment manias is a powerful one, thanks in part to Charles Mackay, author in 1841 of the evergreen book Extraordinary Popular Delusions and the Madness of Crowds. Mackay’s most memorable example was the notorious Dutch tulip bubble of 1637, in which –absurdity!–tulip bulbs changed hands for the price of a house.

It is the quintessential case study of financial hysteria, but it’s not clear that there was ever an important tulip bubble. Rare tulip flowers–we now know that their intricate patterning is caused by a virus–were worth huge sums to wealthy Parisian gentlemen trying to impress the ladies. Bulbs were the assets that produced these floral gems, like geese that laid golden eggs. Their value was no fantasy. Peter Garber, a historian of economic bubbles, points out that a single bulb could, over time, be used to produce many more bulbs. The price of the bulbs would, of course, fall as more were cultivated. A modern analogy would the first copy of a Hollywood film: the final copies may circulate for a few dollars, but the original is worth tens of millions. Garber points out that rare flower breeds still change hands for hundreds of thousands of dollars. Perhaps we shouldn’t be quite so sure that the tulipmania really was a mania. Economists are going to have to get better at understanding why bubbles form from a heady mix of fraud, greed, perverse incentives, mob psychology and government incompetence. What we should never forget is that underneath the apparent hysteria, there is often a cold rationality to it all.

What’s the connection between a 1906 poultry exhibition and the 2008 US election?
by Leighton Vaughan Williams / 18 September 2008

Sir Francis Galton was an English explorer, anthropologist, scientist, who was born in 1822 and died in 1911. To students of prediction markets he is best known, however, for his visit, at the age of 85, to the West of England Fat Stock and Poultry Exhibition, and what happened when he came across a competition in which visitors could, for sixpence, guess the weight of an ox. Those who guessed closest would receive prizes. About 800 people entered. Ever the scientist, he decided to examine the ledger of entries to see how clever these ordinary folk actually were in estimating the correct weight. In letters to ‘Nature’ magazine, published in March of 1907, he explained just how ordinary those entering the competition were. “Many non-experts competed”, he wrote, “like those clerks and others who have no knowledge of horses, but who bet on races, guided by newspapers, friends, and their own fancies … The average was probably as well fitted for making a just estimate of the dressed weight of the ox as an average voter is of judging the merits of most political issues”.

The results surprised him. For what he found was that the crowd had guessed (taking the mean, i.e. adding up the guesses and dividing by the number of entrants) that the ox would weigh 1,197 pounds. In fact, it weighed 1,198 pounds! The median estimate (listing the guesses from the highest to the lowest and taking the mid-point) was also close (1,207 pounds, and therefore still within 1% of the correct weight) but not as close. Some have argued that Galton himself favoured the use of the median rather than the mean, and so was double-surprised when the mean beat the median. Others have argued that the point is incidental and what this tale demonstrates about the wisdom of the crowd is more important than such a fine statistical detail. I think that both these points of view contain some merit. The power of the market to aggregate information is indeed a critically important idea. But it is also important to be able to distinguish in different contexts which measure of the ‘average’ (the mean, the median, or perhaps some other measure) is more suited to the purpose at hand.

Take the stream of opinion polls which contribute to the collective knowledge that drives the Betfair market about the identity of the next President of the United States. If five are released, say, on a given day, what is the most appropriate way of gauging the information contained in them? Should we simply add up the polling numbers for each candidate and divide by the number of polls, or should we list them from highest polling score to lowest and take the mid-point. The convention adopted by sites such as is to take the mean. But is there a better measure than the mean of discerning the collective wisdom contained in the polls, and if so, what is it? The jury is still deliberating.

Leighton Vaughan Williams
email : leighton.vaughan-williams [at] [dot] uk

“Question: How do you find a missing submarine? Answer: Ask the audience”
BY Leighton Vaughan Williams / 8 April 2008

During a car journey between Nottingham and Warwick the other week I was told a story about the value of crowd wisdom in turning up buried treasure. The story was that by asking a host of people, each with a little knowledge of ships, sailing and the sea, where a vessel is likely to have sunk in years gone by, it is possible with astonishing accuracy to pinpoint the wreck and the bounty within. Individually, each of those contributing a guess as to the location is limited to their special knowledge, whether of winds or tides or surf or sailors, but the idea is that together their combined wisdom (arrived at by averaging their guesses) could pinpoint the treasure more accurately than a range of other predictive tools. At least that’s the way it was told to me by an economist who was in turn told the story by a physicist friend.

To any advocate of the power of prediction markets, this certainly sounds plausible, so I decided to investigate further. Soon I was getting acquainted with the fascinating tale of the submarine USS Scorpion, as related by Mark Rubinstein, Professor of Applied Investment Analysis at the University of California at Berkeley. In a fascinating paper titled, ‘Rational Markets? Yes or No? The Affirmative Case’, he tells of a story related in a book called ‘Blind Man’s Bluff: The Untold Story of American Submarine Espionage’ by Sherry Sontag and Christopher Drew. The book tells how on the afternoon of May 27, 1968, the submarine USS Scorpion was declared missing with all 99 men aboard. It was known that she must be lost at some point below the surface of the Atlantic Ocean within a circle 20 miles wide. This information was of some help, of course, but not enough to determine even five months later where she could actually be found.

The Navy had all but given up hope of finding the submarine when John Craven, who was their top deep-water scientist, came up with a plan which pre-dated the explosion of interest in prediction markets by decades. He simply turned to a group of submarine and salvage experts and asked them to bet on the probabilities of what could have happened. Taking an average of their responses, he was able to identify the location of the missing vessel to within a furlong (220 yards) of its actual location. The sub was found. Sontag and Drew also relate the story of how the Navy located a live hydrogen bomb lost by the Air Force, albeit without reference in that case to the wisdom of crowds. Perhaps, though, that tale is too secret yet to be told! What then, I wonder, would those scientific giants, Karl Pearson and Lord Rayleigh, have made of it all? It was their correspondence, you may recall, in the pages of the scientific journal, ‘Nature’, which answered the classic query of where to find the drunk you left in a field. “Where you left him,” was the answer. Which is all very well, of course, if you were sober enough yourself to know exactly where that might have been!





The Magic of the Crystal Skulls – NYC 10:10:10

October 9th – 10th 10am-6pm New York, New York
Historic Event at FIT Conference Center, 28th street & 7th Ave. 

Planetary Transformation with Mayan Elder and ancient Crystal Skulls
Don Alejandro -Grand Elder of the Living Maya. Hunbatz Men -Mayan Solar Priest and Daykeeper. Don Pedro Pablo Chuc Pech, Mayan Historian Flordemayo –shaman, one of the 13 Grandmothers AND 13 Crystal Skulls and their guardians along with the Atlantean Orb. Alan Steinfeld & New Realities along with The Edgar Cayce Center of NYC and Oracle Stone Productions present this 2 day Crystal Skull Event devoted to planetary transformation and the modern messages of the ancient crystal skulls.

First time ever this many ancient artifacts are coming together with Mayan Priests to create a group activation of transformation. This is the planetary event we have been waiting for. These stone skulls found in the ruins of past civilizations have now surfaced and are coming together for the first time in history. These human shaped heads carved out of pure silicon oxide crystal show no modern day machine marking and some are believed to over 5,000 years old. The legend of the 13 is what Steven Spielberg hinted at in his movie Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull. It seems that certain energetic frequencies are formed when these skulls come together. Synergistically they create a vortex that activates human consciousness revealing greater perceptions of reality. Some people say they are alien to this world; others believe they contain hidden knowledge records device that need to be activated by the right individual! Many others believe these crystal skulls have miraculous healing properties.

Highlights: Mayan Elders prophesy on 2012, two newly revealed ancient skulls, Light and Sound Harmonics, group activation and energy healing.
Keynote speakers: Mayan Elders & shamans: Grandfather Cirilo, Hunbatz Men, Don Pedro Pablo Chuc Pech, Flordemayo
Crystal Skull experts: Stephen Mehler, DaEl Walker, Jaap van Etten, Kirby Seid. Musical genius: Steven Halpern, ceremonial drummer Imani. Shelley Yates on Fire The Grid of the Earth.
Skull Experts & Guardians: Stephen Mahler, Kirby Seid, Japp Van Eten, DaEl Walker, Jodi Serota.
For the public: $150 for this 2 -day event in New York City. 
Mayan elders, over 13 ancient crystal skulls with guardians and experts from around the world. Join us for this once in a lifetime event. Bring your crystals and your skulls for a two days of ceremonies, lectures, exhibits & energy healing. Participate by adding your frequency to one of the greatest shifts in human history.

COINCIDENTALLY, as PREDICTED | 10.13.2010 | UFOs over CHELSEA–Why-The-Sudden-Spurt-in-UFO-Sightings-1287095202/
UFO Over New York City: Why The Sudden Spurt in UFO Sightings? / 14 October, 2010

UFO New York City: Why The Sudden Spurt in UFO Sightings? Another unidentified flying object (UFO) has been sighted recently over Manhattan. The mysterious shining object appeared hovering over Manhattan’s West Side, leaving speculations for another UFO sighting over the city. But no one so far knows the truth behind the UFO over New York City. Reportedly, the silvery object was seen by the locals of Chelsea after which they contacted Police and the FAA at about 1.30 p.m. The sources from Law enforcement thought that the object was some sort of balloon. But it has been not yet confirmed what the object exactly was. A reporter sighted the tiny sliver dot hovering at approximately object 5,000 feet above 23rd St. and Eighth Ave. A dozen people gathered to catch its glimpse in the late afternoon. “It’s been hovering there for a while. I’m just kind of baffled,” told Joseph Torres of Dyker Heights, Brooklyn, who sighted the object after leaving a movie. “How can it be ordinary? There is something going on.” ”

You really have to look up to see it,” said another witness, Rico. “It’s a little crazy. I guess that’s why they call it an unidentified flying object because they don’t know what it is.” The social networking site, Twitter, was flooded with the messages that linked to a month-old press release of a book by a retired NORAD officer. It predicted that UFOs will be seen in earth’s major cities on 13th October this year. The Federal Aviation Administration also received calls from people at its operations center. But after reviewing radar data, the agency did not find anything out of the normal condition. “We re-ran radar to see if there was anything there that we can’t account for but there is nothing in the area,” stated Jim Peters, spokesman. “There was some helicopter traffic over the river at that time and we checked with LaGuardia Tower. And they said they had nothing going low at that time. Nothing that we can account for would prompt this kind of response,” he said. Peters told that if it were a weather balloon or any kind of organized balloon they would have got the prior notice for its release. But they did not get any notification. So the ‘UFO over NYC’ frenzy continues.

“SPANISH” BALLOONS,0,5816915.story

Several New Yorkers witnessed an unusual sight Wednesday afternoon when several shiny, circular objects were seen flying high above the streets of Manhattan. The NYPD and Federal Aviation Administration say around 1:30 p.m., they received calls from many people who saw the objects hovering over Chelsea. Many people took to Twitter to talk about the unidentified flying object sighting, and posted videos and photos of the bizarre event. Although officials could not confirm what the celestial objects were, skeptics believed the balloons were part of a tourism promotion event held on Broadway in Times Square for the centennial of the Madrid’s Gran Via on Wednesday, which included the release of several bunches of yellow balloons into the sky. Spanish newspaper El Mundo, explained, “Unfortunately for the advocates of ‘I want to believe’ what they saw on the 11.00 (New York time) were not UFOs, but dozens of yellow balloons that the City of Madrid had dropped in Times Square in a campaign to promote tourism on the Gran Via, which this year celebrates one hundred years.” A Westchester elementary school class also came forward Thursday claiming the balloons were from an engagement party the children held for their language arts teacher Andrea Craparo. A parent was walking to the Milestone School in Mount Vernon when the wind took away a bunch of white balloons intended for Craparo.

But believers cite a September 13 press release for the book Challenges of Change by retired NORAD officer Stanley A. Fulham, which predicted a fleet of UFOs would descend upon Earth’s major cities on Wednesday, October 13. Fulham stated the extraterrestrials would neither land nor make any communication with Earth on Wednesday. But their presence would be “the first in a series intended to avert a planetary catastrophe resulting from increasing levels of carbon-dioxide in the earth’s atmosphere dangerously approaching a ‘critical mass.’ […] They are aware from eons of experience with other planets in similar conditions their sudden intervention would cause fear and panic.” He asserts their contact with Earth is part of their process of leading mankind into accepting the “alien reality and technologies for the removal of poisonous gases from the earth’s atmosphere in 2015, if not sooner.” The book also states that with the help of a channeler, Fulham has been in contact with a group known as the Transcendors for more than a decade. He described them as a group of 43,000 eons-old souls, who use their experience and knowledge to provide information to “humans in search of basic realities of mankind’s existence.” The press release also stated: The Transcendors reveal through the author crucial information about urgent global challenges facing mankind such as earth changes, international terrorism, worldwide financial collapse and the environmental crisis. One revelation is al Qaeda has a dirty nuclear bomb and WMD, but faces a moral quandary over “containment of collateral damages.” Utilizing the theme of the Four Horsemen as symbolic metaphor, Fulham warns mankind will survive all of these future challenges, except the CO2 pollution of our atmosphere. According to information provided to the author by the Transcendors, the build-up of CO2 pollution is rising 1% annually to a “critical mass” of 22% in which mankind could not survive “without outside intervention.”

The FAA also stated Wednesday that after reviewing radar information, they only found typical helicopter traffic above the West Side but could not detect anything unusual that would prompt the avalanche of reports they received. “We re-ran radar to see if there was anything there that we can’t account for but there is nothing in the area,” said FAA spokesman Jim Peters. “There was some helicopter traffic over the river at that time and we checked with LaGuardia Tower. And they said they had nothing going low at that time.” NYPD and FAA officials say if the objects were part of an planned, organized weather balloon release, it is protocol that they are notified in advance. Neither agency received alerts. The National Weather Service also stated they were not missing any weather balloons Wednesday. On Thursday, the FAA stated the objects remained unidentified. “We’ll let people draw their own conclusions as to what they saw in the air over New York City,” said Peters.

Former NORAD officer reports alien disclosure date: October 13, 2010 / 10.9.2010

October 13, 2010, is the disclosure date where mankind will have no doubt that aliens are among us, according to a book by a former NORAD officer. Retired Air Force Officer Stanley A. Fulham released the third edition of his 352-page book, Challenges of Change, which suggests that on October 13 there will be “a massive UFO display over the world’s principal cities.” The author predicts that the “aliens will neither land nor communicate on that date; they are aware from eons of experience with other planets in similar conditions their sudden intervention would cause fear and panic.” The book “reports this event will be the initial interaction in a process leading to mankind’s acceptance of the alien reality and technologies for the removal of poisonous gases from the earth’s atmosphere in 2015, if not sooner.” From a press release on the book: “The author draws upon his military experience with the UFO phenomenon dating back to WW2, and later, with NORAD and his subsequent life-long association with a senior NORAD intelligence officer who provided him a wealth of historical data relating to NORAD’s experience with the UFO/alien reality which has never been revealed to the public. In the military’s view, as conveyed to and understood by Fulham, the public is not yet ready to accept an alien reality.”

Will our world be changed forever on October 13, 2010?

(New) Special Announcement: Since the event which took place the afternoon of Wednesday, October 13th, 2010, in the skies above Manhattan, of the sudden appearance of up to approximately 200 unknown aerial objects, some of which, according to eye-witness accounts in media reports, hovered stationary for up to 45-minutes or more, and some of which disappeared and reappeared as if quite literally going into and out of dimensions, we have been completely innundated/deluged with media requests for interviews; requests for more information; commentaries; book orders, etc. We will begin a thorough review of all phone and e-mail messages on the afternoon of Friday, October 15th, 2010, to categorize, and then prioritize, all messages, and will respond accordingly. Thank you for your patience. In the interim, if you would like to order the book, Challenges of Change, the quickest means possible is though our PayPal link.

Fake Mars Mission Befallen By Real Drama

The Mars Society is a group that prepares for man’s eventual exploration of Mars with simulations in the Utahan desert. But their mission logs, posted regularly on the group’s website, reveal a tension that is very real—and very funny. The two-week simulations, including various experiments and equipment tests, take place at the Mars Desert Research Station, located outside Hanksville, Utah. The volunteers who participate are expected to take the matter very seriously—after all, our future Mars colony depends on it. But of course, some pretend Mars astronauts are more dedicated than other pretend Mars astronauts and this is where the trouble starts. The current team occupying the Research Station, Crew 90, is led by Nancy Vermeulen. According to their “Mission Info” page, they are the first team comprised entirely of Belgians. In the wake of the trouble they’ve been having, it now seems ominous that the last line of their statement reads, “the media is following our project very closely.” Indeed, Geekosystem picked up on the mission and faithfully documented its simmering turmoil. After days of snits and snubs, the tension came to a head on February 15. In that day’s report, Commander Vermeulen explains:

“…The growing frustration that after 9 days PE, Nora and Margaux are still not able to manage the Hab systems/ standard engineering reporting system (and even don’t consider this as a problem!), exploded during the lunch. The lack of dedication to the mission of some people overloads the others and it had to be spoken out. The problem was already there from the first day, when it came out that some people didn’t prepare anything for the mission, didn’t look at the manuals, which were send to them months ago and didn’t even prepare the tasks for their own role. The accusation into my direction that I didn’t brief enough about the systems was too much. Nicky almost exploded. Arjan reacted double: At one hand he couldn’t stop criticising the incompetence of some others during last week, but during the discussion he acted as if he was from Barcelona (don’t know anything). He has his own mission and own world…”

The Commander’s Reports for the last days of the mission, which ended yesterday, obscure the interpersonal conflicts that paralyzed the crew. Only a few bloody noses are referenced, perhaps as physical manifestations of the crew’s frustrations.

What’s the point of a fake 500-day Mars mission?
BY Phil McKenna / 22 October 2009

The European Space Agency is seeking six volunteers to spend 520 days inside a sealed isolation facility to study the psychological effects of a journey to Mars. The 2010 Mars-500 “mission” at the Russian Institute of Biomedical Problems in Moscow will simulate a round trip to the Red Planet – albeit shorter than the real thing – and follows a similar 105-day study that ended in July. But does spending a year and a half locked inside a tin can on Earth tell us anything about how humans might behave on a high-risk interplanetary odyssey?

How much can Mars-500 be like the real thing?
Once inside the windowless isolation chamber, the team will mimic each stage of a Mars mission – including the journey, landing and return to Earth. A few aspects cannot be simulated, however. There will be no radiation exposure or zero gravity, and if there is a real emergency during the simulation, volunteers will have the right to get out at any time. A study by Peter Suedfeld of the University of British Columbia in Vancouver, Canada, argues that such experiments lack some key attributes of real long-haul space flight, such as dangerous voyages through unknown territory and the impossibility of rescue. Suedfeld concludes that mission planners would better identify the psychological stresses likely to be experienced by Mars explorers by reading the diaries of explorers on long expeditions over sea and land in previous centuries. Still, there are many things the Mars-500 experiment will reveal that historical records cannot. Volunteers will undergo an array of tests that will monitor stress and hormone levels, immune response and sleep patterns, as well as group dynamics.

What can we learn during 500 days that we can’t from 100?
The 105-day isolation study went off without a hitch, but crew members struggled with boredom and the stresses of a cramped environment. An experiment that lasts five times as long would better demonstrate how a crew would hold up for a 900-day Martian mission.

What other places could inform Mars mission planners?
Some behavioural scientists feel Antarctic research stations or nuclear submarines offer better analogies to prolonged space flight. But although Antarctic outposts have the necessary elements of danger, confinement and isolation, they lack the high level of automation found in space flight. Nuclear submarine control rooms are more like spacecraft, but military secrecy puts them off limits for academic research. A better model may be the experience of astronauts aboard space stations orbiting Earth. Their stays have lasted up to 438 days.

Can humans cope with prolonged space station missions?
By and large, space station missions have gone without incident. However, NASA astronauts on a three-month mission to Skylab in 1973 went on strike for a day saying they felt overworked and unsupported by their ground crew. In 1982, two Soviet cosmonauts spent most of a 211-day flight in silence because they got on each other’s nerves. Three years later, a six-month Soviet mission was cut short when a cosmonaut had a nervous breakdown. Sexual harassment could also endanger a mission. In an eight-month space station simulation in 2000, a man twice tried to kiss a woman against her will. As a result, locks were installed between different crew compartments. Astronauts in orbit often express feelings of neglect by ground crews, in part because of lags in communication and perhaps also because of a need by astronauts to take out their frustrations on others. As a result, ground crews as well as astronauts now receive psychological training.

Earthbound experiment to recreate stress of Mars mission
BY Kelly Young / April 2007

Scientists are being asked to submit research proposals for a 500-day-long study simulating a human mission to Mars. The programme, a joint project between Russia and the European Space Agency, would be the longest simulation of its kind. The 1.5-year Mars-500 simulation is designed to recreate some of the isolation and stresses that crew members might feel on an actual roundtrip to Mars, which would take about twice as long. In late 2008 or early 2009, six people will enter a mock spacecraft in Russia consisting of a series of connected metal tanks. The 200-square-metre ‘spacecraft’ will include a medical area, a research area, a crew compartment and a kitchen. The first leg of the experiment will last about 250 days and will simulate the journey to Mars. Then, part of the crew will enter a special Mars descent vehicle tank for 30 days to simulate a Mars landing. The entire crew will then make the return trip back to Earth. The Russian Academy of Sciences’ Institute of Biomedical Problems (IMBP) has already received more than 70 applications for the mission.

Frozen food
ESA will get to choose two crew members for the project, although it has not yet finalised its criteria. ESA scientists plan to start the selection process in June 2007 and pick the participants and the science experiments in October. During the 500-day study, the crew will try to live as a real crew headed to Mars might. At the beginning of the study, they will be given all the food they will ever get on the mission. That means they will largely subsist on frozen meals, though Russia might allow the crew to have a greenhouse to grow fresh produce. Their day-to-day lives will be similar to crew members on the International Space Station, except for the presence of gravity. They will have cleaning, cooking, maintenance and scientific duties. They may even have press conferences with real reporters. “The design will be such you start to forget it is a real simulation,” says Marc Heppener, ESA’s head of science and applications in the directorate of human spaceflight, microgravity and exploration. “People can be completely absorbed by games on the computer. You can go pretty far in a simulation.”

Communications delays
To make it even more realistic, there will be a 20-minute communications delay between people in the spacecraft and “mission control” to simulate the time lag faced by spacecraft far from Earth. The reactions of the “ground controllers” will also be studied. “Just imagine what would happen if you were on the phone and you hear on the other side, ‘Help!’ but you know this ‘Help!’ was uttered 20 minutes ago,” Heppener told New Scientist. “And if you say, ‘What can I do?’ it will be another 20 minutes before they hear you. That’s part of the psychology of this kind of study, and that’s absolutely not trivial.” Scientists might be able to learn how the crew reacts to minor emergencies, such as a water line breaking. As on a real extended space mission, it is likely that at least one crew member will have medical training. But if there is a real emergency during the simulation, “any person has the right to get out”, Heppener says. “However, we want to make sure this only happens in real emergencies.”

Bloody brawls
The extreme isolation and confinement of the simulation will lend important insights into how to design long-duration crewed space missions. “If I imagine myself where I really cannot see home, the planet where I live and where every other human being is, I can imagine that is quite significant,” Heppener says. Russia has conducted shorter simulations in the past and has seen firsthand the issues that arise, including sexual harassment. In an eight-month IMBP simulation in 2000, a Russian man twice tried to kiss a Canadian female researcher after two other Russians had gotten into a bloody brawl. As a result, locks were installed between the Russian and international crews’ quarters (see Out-of-this-world sex could jeopardise missions). The 500-day study will be preceded by one or two 100-day simulations to work out the early kinks. The first 100-day study could begin in early 2008. In conjunction with the Russian study, ESA is also seeking proposals for the French and Italian Concordia research station in Antarctica in the hopes of running two parallel studies in two different isolated settings.

Monotony was ‘most difficult part’ of simulated Mars trip
BY Rachel Courtland / July 2009

A group of volunteers that spent 105 days locked up in a mock spaceship simulating a trip to Mars is finishing up their final tests this week. The programme, which was used to test the psychological and physiological effects of isolation, will pave the way for a longer 520-day mission that will take place in the first half of 2010. Isolation has long been a part of human exploration, both on Earth and in space. But manned trips to Mars could be a challenge for even the most balanced and carefully selected crews, since the missions would involve small crews, tight quarters, years of separation from friends and family, and communications delays that could last up to 40 minutes. To investigate issues that would arise in such situations, the European Space Agency has partnered with the Russian Institute for Biomedical Problems in Moscow to arrange a 105-day simulated mission to Mars. The experiment took place in a multi-floored facility in Moscow that includes a mock spacecraft, a descent vehicle, and a simulation of the Martian surface. On 14 July, a crew of six emerged from the module. Although researchers are still analysing the results of the tests conducted during the simulation and performing follow-up tests on the participants this week, the mission seems to have finished largely without incident. “The most difficult part of the mission was not a single event but more the monotony,” says Oliver Knickel, a mechanical engineer in the German army and a volunteer for the 105-day mission.

Less focused
The bulk of the crew’s working day was occupied by psychological and physiological tests, Knickel told New Scientist. The crew ate astronaut-style pre-packaged meals that were intermittently enhanced by fresh vegetables like radishes and cabbage that the crew grew in a small greenhouse. In his off-time, Knickel passed the time by writing letters, learning Russian, and playing poker and dice with his crewmates. But the isolation and confinement in a cramped space did take its toll. “I had a hard time focusing on the things I was doing,” Knickel told New Scientist, adding that he did not retain newly learned Russian vocabulary words was well as he did back home.

Right chemistry
Crew compatibility is important for the success of future Mars missions. “You have a crew that has to live together and function as a team for a long period of time, and they really can’t leave that environment,” says Jay Buckey, a doctor and former astronaut at Dartmouth University in Hanover, New Hampshire. Participant Cyrille Fournier, an airline pilot from France, says there was a good sense of camaraderie over the 3.5 months the six volunteers spent together. “We had an outstanding team spirit throughout the entire 105 days,” he said in a statement. “Living for that long in a confined environment can only work if the crew is really getting along with each other. The crew is the crucial key to mission success, which became very evident to me during the 105 days.”

Self-directed mission
During the mission, the crew had to respond to simulated emergencies and deal with a communication delay of up to 20 minutes each way when talking to ‘ground controllers’ – mimicking the time it takes for radio signals to travel between a Mars-bound spacecraft and Earth. Such communication lags mean that crews would not be able to respond in real-time to commands from the ground and would probably need to function fairly autonomously. Nick Kanas, a psychiatrist at the University of California in San Francisco, and colleagues used a month in the 105-day experiment to examine what happens when crews are given more freedom to devise their own schedules in order to meet a mission’s overarching goals. This increased autonomy has also been tested in the Haughton-Mars Project in the Canadian Arctic (see What is it like to live in isolation for months on end?) and at an underwater facility called Aquarius off the coast of Florida. In the future, Kanas hopes to perform a similar experiment aboard the International Space Station.

Safe environment
Isolation studies on Earth allow researchers to set up carefully controlled experiments, but they do have a downside. “Ground missions don’t really capture the danger in the space environment. If someone does want to quit, they can just knock on the door and be let out,” Kanas told New Scientist. Not so on a future trip to Mars, says Kanas: “There’s no possibility of support in case of a medical or psychological emergency. You’re really on your own.” To deal with such issues, other researchers, including Buckey, are developing software that would allow astronauts on long missions to act as their own counsellors and conflict negotiators.

In space no one else can hear you scream at each other
BY Hazel Muir / 14 March 2006

It’s the moment every wannabe astronaut dreams of: landing on Mars. Just imagine making that momentous speech as you plant your flag in the red soil, the sun rising behind you over Olympus Mons. Perhaps you’ll find fame as the discoverer of the first subtle signs of alien life. How breathtaking to see the Earth rise in the night sky, just a white dot among millions of others. But there is a flip side. By the time you make that speech, you will have been cooped up inside a metal box for six months. You’ll not talk to your friends or family for another two years. You and your fellow inmates are bound to have survived some hair-raising, potentially fatal crises, and everyone’s nerves will be in tatters. The pilot won’t talk to the engineer. And if that geologist looks at you and rolls his eyes one more time, you’ll punch his lights out. Despite the exciting goals, a crewed mission to Mars would mean enormous psychological stress. Seeing Earth as an anonymous dot could leave you with a profound sense of isolation, according to former astronaut Carl Walz, who spent more than six consecutive months on the International Space Station (ISS). “The impact of not being able to see the Earth while you’re in space is a big deal,” he says. Until we leave Earth far behind, we won’t really know the effects of that.

NASA’s plans for a crewed mission to Mars sometime after 2020 are hugely ambitious. The spacecraft would take four to six months to reach the planet. After 18 months on the surface, the astronauts would take another four to six months to return to Earth, making it by far the longest space mission ever undertaken. NASA will have a tough job on its hands building a spacecraft capable of getting to the Red Planet and back, as well as finding ways to keep the astronauts in good physical shape during such a mammoth trip. The psychological challenges are no less daunting, though psychologists are now beginning to understand what keeps astronauts happy and mentally healthy. “We’ve started to learn a lot about how people really behave in space,” says Nick Kanas, a psychiatrist at the University of California and the Department of Veterans Affairs Medical Center in San Francisco. “I think we now have some knowledge that we could use to prepare astronauts for a Mars mission.”

NASA has already seen how conflict between astronauts and ground crew can escalate. Feeling overworked and unsupported, astronauts on a three-month mission to the Skylab station in 1973 went on strike for a day. They eventually cleared the air after a heated argument. But such mutinies could be potentially disastrous, especially if they were to happen during some kind of crisis, if the spacecraft went out of control, for example. To head off the possibility of further rebellions, Kanas and his team have spent the past 10 years studying the behaviour of astronauts who spent up to seven months on the now defunct Russian space station Mir, or on the ISS. Eight Russian cosmonauts and five American astronauts took part on Mir, along with four three-person crews and three two-person crews on the ISS, which celebrated its fifth anniversary of continuous habitation in November. Nearly 130 American and Russian mission controllers were involved as well.

During the missions, astronauts and ground controllers completed a weekly questionnaire composed of questions from three standard psychological tests to assess mood, crew interactions and working environment. Given a list of adjectives like “gloomy”, “energetic” and “resentful”, for instance, they would give a score for how strongly they felt that particular emotion. Other questions measured factors such as their views of the group’s cohesiveness and levels of job satisfaction. Kanas’s team was surprised by the crews’ answers. They had expected to see astronauts’ morale decline during the second half of each mission. Psychologists have seen this effect in small isolated groups in Antarctica, when morale would often plummet after the mid-point of the stay, regardless of whether it was five or eight months. “People realise they’ve finally made it to the half-way point, but then it dawns on them that they have a whole other half to go,” says Kanas. “After that, they tend to report increased tension, homesickness and depression, and a drop in the cohesion of the group.” In extreme cases, people become fiercely territorial, so that minor intrusions like borrowing someone’s pen or sitting in “their” chair can ignite a brawl.

But this did not happen on Mir or the ISS. Kanas’s study suggests that astronauts’ morale stays pretty steady unless unusually stressful events occur. “Our subjects did react to events such as a fire or a problem with the oxygen generator,” says Kanas, who reported the results in October at the 56th International Astronautical Congress in Fukuoka, Japan. “In that week, they had slightly more negative emotions than usual. But their morale returned to baseline a week later.” Kanas says the likely reason for the astronauts’ level mood is that ground crew intervene to help astronauts deal with stress and boredom. On Mir, if psychologists sensed that a crew member was feeling low, they would schedule family chats, for instance. Supply missions from Earth also brought the Mir and ISS crews surprises and treats – their favourite foods, or letters and knick-knacks from family and friends – which always perked them up.

But one persistent problem did crop up for both Mir and the ISS. Crew members who reported tension and stress also tended to feel, as the Skylab astronauts did in 1973, that ground control were not supporting them enough – even when there was no clear evidence for this. It is commonly known as “displacement”. “It’s just like when you have a tough day at work,” says Kanas. “Maybe your boss yells at you and you can’t yell back, so you go home and yell at your husband or kick the cat. You displace the anger you’re feeling onto somebody not related.” Frequent, frank communication can help prevent these problems festering. But that’s not going to be easy on a voyage to the Red Planet. Mars lies anything from 3 to 22 light minutes away from the Earth, depending on the orientation of the planets. So to say “hello” and get a reply will take up to three-quarters of an hour. There’s no way around that. Communication will be by email only.

And there won’t be any morale-boosting treats. NASA is considering sending a pod of supplies to arrive on the Martian surface ahead of the crew, but that will be about it. One possibility, though, is that the mother ship could have little compartments with surprises locked inside, and the ground crew could email codes to the astronauts to unlock them. “That is a very good idea because it’s an extension of the kinds of supportive activities we think have worked,” says Kanas. Nonetheless, he says, there will be a high risk of so-called adjustment reactions occurring as the mission drags on. Full-blown psychoses such as schizophrenia, paranoia and hallucinations have not been reported on space missions – not overtly, anyway – probably because potential astronauts with a family history of such problems are unlikely to make it past the selection process. But astronauts can become anxious and depressed, or suffer anxiety-induced psychosomatic ailments. Legend has it that one Russian mission was terminated early because a crew member had anxiety-induced heart palpitations.

These problems can only get worse on a trip to Mars. Isolation might seem overpowering to them as the Earth shrinks to a tiny dot among millions of others in the inky black sky. And there will be no quick escape route. “If someone gets depressed or suicidal, you can’t send them back very easily,” says Kanas. For this reason, he says it will be essential for the crew to have access to psychoactive drugs and to multitask. For example, the first mission will probably consist of six crew, including a pilot, an engineer, a biologist and a geologist. The other two might be a physicist and a doctor – should the doctor get sick, for instance, the biologist may be able to act in his or her place. It is the make-up and functioning of the group as a whole that interests Rachael Eggins, a psychologist at the Australian National University in Canberra. Since 2002, she and her colleagues have been monitoring volunteers at Mars simulation stations funded by the US Mars Society and the Mars Society of Australia.

The centrepiece of each station in the Utah desert and in the outback in Southern Australia, is an 8-metre-wide cylindrical habitat, or hab. Crews of four to six volunteers – mainly scientists and engineers, including many astronaut-wannabes – live there typically for two or three weeks. They live and work as if they were on Mars, testing reconnaissance robots and collecting rocks in mock spacesuits. They also send reports to a simulated “mission control” in a nearby city or support organisation. During Eggins’s studies, the volunteers completed questionnaires to assess their interactions with others. This revealed that people tend to cluster into cliques that often put their own goals ahead of the whole mission’s objectives. This led to a mishap in a Utah simulation in 2003, when the group split into three teams. One stayed in the hab, and two went out on separate rover trips, returning at about the same time. One person in the second rover damaged his helmet and was theoretically leaking oxygen. “It was obvious to everybody that in theory, if this was really Mars, then this guy would die,” says Eggins. However, the first team insisted on getting into the hab first and told the others to wait their turn, she says: “The first team were not thinking at all in terms of the overall goal of the mission, just of their own rights and the distinct subgroup.”

In another Utah simulation last summer, Eggins’s colleague Sheryl Bishop of the University of Texas in Galveston studied the differences between an all-male crew, who lived in the hab for two weeks, and an all-female crew who moved in for the following fortnight. Both teams performed well and were very productive, but they did differ. Personality surveys showed that several of the men scored low on “agreeableness” and “conscientiousness”, and the group’s behaviour echoed this. Every night, the women filed daily reports to mission control by the agreed time. But the men were persistently late. They said they preferred to use the time to explore outside on the buggies.

Cabin fever
And while the leader of the men’s team emailed the women’s team to say that they would give up the sleeping quarters for the handover night when the women arrived, some men were reluctant to do so. They had made a pact to hold out. “The men’s team had far more individualistic personalities, with a greater degree of concern for personal priorities,” says Bishop, who announced the preliminary findings at October’s International Astronautical Congress in Fukuoka. Bishop stresses that you cannot generalise from these results because the groups were too small and their membership was uncontrolled. It would also be absurd to compare risk-free fortnightly forays into the Utah desert to the trials of a three-year mission to Mars, when mistakes and communication breakdowns could be fatal.

The psychologists do say that such simulations can nonetheless highlight problems that might crop up. Many issues grow into confrontation within weeks, and psychologists can test their own abilities to detect conflicts in the making. They can also measure the success of interventions like psychological training, or changing the group compositions, leadership structures or environment. “If we see things that are problematical in small groups of short duration, you can bet those issues will be even more problematical for longer duration missions,” says Bishop. “Our teams to Mars had better be getting along very well indeed before we put them into a rocket for launch.”

Kanas says the most useful test of potential Martian astronauts will be to watch them in training – ideally on the ISS and possibly the moon, where NASA intends to send astronauts from 2015. “You could put the astronauts selected for Mars on the space station for a while and see how they get along in microgravity, which would model the trip out to Mars and back,” he says. “Then you could put them on the moon and totally isolate them in a foreign environment with no oxygen outside and partial gravity. That would be a good model for being on the Martian surface.” He also thinks it is vital to give the Martian astronauts and their ground controllers rigorous psychological training. Kanas has explained issues like the displacement problem on Mir to astronauts bound for the ISS. When they got back from the stay, some astronauts said this knowledge helped them to spot the problem developing and to nip it in the bud.

Kanas will test-drive more formal psychological training during future missions to the ISS. He and his colleagues will sit down with astronauts and their ground controllers prior to the launch to discuss the social and psychological pitfalls. Shortly after their arrival on the station, and half-way through the mission, a 30-minute computer session will give the astronauts a “booster shot”, reminding them what they learned. Questionnaires and post-flight interviews should reveal which aspects of the training are helpful. “This is my chance to apply directly what we’ve learned,” says Kanas. He thinks that with enough forethought given to their wellbeing, the Martian crew could be as happy as Larry. After all, happiness is relative. His studies show that on average, astronauts have lower scores for negative emotions like anxiety and depression than their colleagues back in mission control. The ground controllers in turn are more positive than the rest of us, in our offices, shops and factories. Perhaps space cadets could teach us all a thing or two.

Volunteers line up for simulated mission to Mars
BY Kelly Young / August 2006

More than 70 people have volunteered to be confined in a mock mission to Mars – for 520 days. It would be the longest simulation of its kind. The Institute of Medical and Biological Problems (IMBP) in Russia is undertaking the isolation study to learn more about the personal dynamics of long-duration space travel, according to Russian media reports. An actual round-trip mission to Mars could last about 30 months – about twice as long as this simulation. Five people will be eventually be selected for the study. They will spend 250 days on a simulated space trip to Mars. Then, three of the five will leave the mock spaceship for a simulated “landing on Mars” that will last 30 days. The five participants will then embark on a 240-day journey “back to Earth”. They will communicate with mission control by email. Russia and the European Space Agency have done space isolation studies before. In these studies, researchers accurately reproduce the interior environment of a spaceship and the length of time crews would spend in space.

Sex and violence
And the outcomes have not always been pleasant. In an eight-month simulation carried out by the IMBP in 2000, a Russian man twice tried to kiss a Canadian female researcher after two other Russians had gotten into a bloody brawl. As a result, locks were subsequently installed between the Russian and international crews’ compartments. Despite such conflicts, simulations of this type can lack a sense of danger, which is critical to understanding how people respond emotionally, says David Musson, a behavioural scientist at McMaster University in Hamilton, Canada. He says working in Antarctica and in submarines may provide better models of the long-term isolation experienced in space. “An Antarctic shack doesn’t look as much like a space station,” Musson told New Scientist. “But the isolation is more real, and the danger is more real.”

Subject selection
The simulations may also lack some of the appeal that draws people to spaceflight, so researchers may end up studying a different group of people than those who would actually fly on a space mission, he says. The IMBP has tried to minimise this issue by using cosmonauts and astronaut candidates in the past. And they are giving preference in this simulation to applicants who are doctors, biologists and engineers between the ages of 25 and 50. But Musson says a long-duration space mission may take a different type of astronaut than those who go on shorter trips to space. He points out that on the International Space Station and on Russia’s former Mir space station, some of the go-getter astronauts with multiple academic degrees found themselves bored by some of the mundane tasks onboard. Musson says someone with a more laidback personality might be better suited for a long-duration mission to Mars. These would be “mystery book [readers] who are quite happy not being pushed to their mental limit every day but are extremely bright and competent”.

Cultural differences
When planning a study like this, Musson says psychologists tend to want to see people with conflicting personalities while the politicians and organisers of the project just want things to go smoothly. So far, the IMBP reports it has received applications from 16 nations. An international crew should make the simulation more realistic, as it sets up an environment for potential conflict and misunderstandings due to cultural and linguistic differences. Jack Stuster, vice president and principal scientist of Anacapa Sciences in Santa Barbara, California, US, says realistic simulations are useful for understanding the interpersonal dynamics of long-duration spaceflight. “I believe that simulations of the duration mentioned will eventually be necessary preparation for planetary exploration,” he told New Scientist.



How Do You Get Plants To Grow On Mars? Relieve Their Anxiety / Aug. 8, 2005

Anxiety can be a good thing. It alerts you that something may be wrong, that danger may be close. It helps initiate signals that get you ready to act. But, while an occasional bit of anxiety can save your life, constant anxiety causes great harm. The hormones that yank your body to high alert also damage your brain, your immune system and more if they flood through your body all the time. Plants don’t get anxious in the same way that humans do. But they do suffer from stress, and they deal with it in much the same way. They produce a chemical signal — superoxide (O2-) — that puts the rest of the plant on high alert. Superoxide, however, is toxic; too much of it will end up harming the plant.

This could be a problem for plants on Mars. According to the Vision for Space Exploration, humans will visit and explore Mars in the decades ahead. Inevitably, they’ll want to take plants with them. Plants provide food, oxygen, companionship and a patch of green far from home. On Mars, plants would have to tolerate conditions that usually cause them a great deal of stress — severe cold, drought, low air pressure, soils that they didn’t evolve for. But plant physiologist Wendy Boss and microbiologist Amy Grunden of North Carolina State University believe they can develop plants that can live in these conditions. Their work is supported by the NASA Institute for Advanced Concepts.

Stress management is key: Oddly, there are already Earth creatures that thrive in Mars-like conditions. They’re not plants, though. They’re some of Earth’s earliest life forms–ancient microbes that live at the bottom of the ocean, or deep within Arctic ice. Boss and Grunden hope to produce Mars-friendly plants by borrowing genes from these extreme-loving microbes. And the first genes they’re taking are those that will strengthen the plants’ ability to deal with stress. Ordinary plants already possess a way to detoxify superoxide, but the researchers believe that a microbe known as Pyrococcus furiosus uses one that may work better. P. furiosus lives in a superheated vent at the bottom of the ocean, but periodically it gets spewed out into cold sea water. So, unlike the detoxification pathways in plants, the ones in P. furiosus function over an astonishing 100+ degree Celsius range in temperature. That’s a swing that could match what plants experience in a greenhouse on Mars.

The researchers have already introduced a P. furiosus gene into a small, fast-growing plant known as arabidopsis. “We have our first little seedlings,” says Boss. “We’ll grow them up and collect seeds to produce a second and then a third generation.” In about one and a half to two years, they hope to have plants that each have two copies of the new genes. At that point they’ll be able to study how the genes perform: whether they produce functional enzymes, whether they do indeed help the plant survive, or whether they hurt it in some way, instead. Eventually, they hope to pluck genes from other extremophile microbes — genes that will enable the plants to withstand drought, cold, low air pressure, and so on.

The goal, of course, is not to develop plants that can merely survive Martian conditions. To be truly useful, the plants will need to thrive: to produce crops, to recycle wastes, and so on. “What you want in a greenhouse on Mars,” says Boss, “is something that will grow and be robust in a marginal environment.” In stressful conditions, notes Grunden, plants often partially shut down. They stop growing and reproducing, and instead focus their efforts on staying alive–and nothing more. By inserting microbial genes into the plants, Boss and Grunden hope to change that. “By using genes from other sources,” explains Grunden, “you’re tricking the plant, because it can’t regulate those genes the way it would regulate its own. We’re hoping to [short-circuit] the plant’s ability to shut down its own metabolism in response to stress.”

If Boss and Grunden are successful, their work could make a huge difference to humans living in marginal environments here on Earth. In many third-world countries, says Boss, “extending the crop a week or two when the drought comes could give you the final harvest you need to last through winter. If we could increase drought resistance, or cold tolerance, and extend the growing season, that could make a big difference in the lives of a lot of people.” Their project is a long-term one, emphasize the scientists. “It’ll be a year and a half before we actually have [the first gene] in a plant that we can test,” points out Grunden. It’ll be even longer before there’s a cold- and drought-loving tomato plant on Mars–or even in North Dakota. But Grunden and Boss remain convinced they will succeed. “There’s a treasure trove of extremophiles out there,” says Grunden. “So if one doesn’t work, you can just go on to the next organism that produces a slightly different variant of what you want.” Boss agrees: “Amy’s right. It is a treasure trove. And it’s just so exciting.”

Wendy Boss
email : wendy_boss [at] ncsu [dot] edu

Amy M. Grunden
email : amy_grunden [at] ncsu [dot] edu


Plants and animals are fragile life forms. Dry them out, freeze them, expose them to high doses of radiation – they don’t do so well. But not all organisms are so picky. Many archaeans, for example, are distinguished by their ability to adapt to a variety of extreme environments. It’s in their genes. Archaeans are single-celled organisms. Under a microscope they look like bacteria. But genetically they’re as different from bacteria as you are. May of them are also extremophiles. They thrive under conditions that, until the 1970s, biologists thought were completely inhospitable to life. How do they do it? With a kind of genetic band-aid. Their DNA produces chemicals (enzymes) that repair the cell damage caused by environmental stresses.

There are plenty of harsh environments for life here on Earth. But when it comes to environmental stress, Mars has a corner on the market. The average temperature on the martian surface is about -63 C (-81 F); the atmosphere is a mere wisp of a thing, some 100 times thinner than Earth’s; the planet is dry as a bone; and the surface is bathed in damaging ultraviolet radiation. Some day humans will travel to Mars. Not only will they have to protect themselves from Mars’ harsh conditions, they’ll need to protect the food they grow, as well. The obvious solution would be to build greenhouses that provide Earth-like growing conditions. But that would require a tremendous expenditure of precious energy resources. Another solution would to modify the plants so that they grow under martian conditions.

That’s the challenge that Amy Grunden, an assistant professor of microbiology, and Wendy Boss, a botany professor, both at North Carolina State University, have set for themselves. They want to find out whether, by inserting genes from extremophile archaeans into plants, they can teach the plants to resist stress the way the archaeans do. Plant cells respond to stressors like cold or dehydration by creating a burst of superoxide, a toxic form of oxygen. Making poison may seem like an odd way to handle stress, but, explains Boss, “It’s a signaling mechanism. You get a small burst of reactive oxygen that tells the cell, Look, mount a defense, fight.'” But that can’t last forever. “Plants can lose a few cells and it doesn’t bother them,” says Boss. But if the stress – and the toxic oxygen – continues, “eventually the whole plant will die.”

Extremophile archaeans have found a way to deal with oxidative stress. They produce antioxidants. Through a series of chemical reactions, they turn superoxide into a more benign substance: water. These chemical reactions are initiated by enzymes, and the instructions for creating these enzymes are encoded in the organisms’ DNA. One organism capable of performing this feat is Pyrococcus furiosus, which makes its home in the boiling waters of deep-sea hydrothermal vents. Given its super-hot environment you might think that Pyrococcus furiosus is constantly producing antioxidants. But actually, when the organism is basking in the heat of the vent, there’s no oxygen present. It’s when cells get spewed out into cold sea water, where oxygen is present, that the antioxidant action takes place. “It’s been adapted to deal with oxygen at low temperature because that’s when it sees it, when it gets in the cold sea water,” says Grunden.

Several different enzymes are required to convert superoxide to water. What Grunden and Boss have been working on is injecting the genes that produce these enzymes into plants – actually, into a clump of tobacco cells in a Petri dish. So far, they have succeeded in transferring the gene that performs the first step in the detoxifying process; it produces the enzyme that converts superoxide to the less-toxic hydrogen peroxide. The tobacco cells not only survived the “invasion,” they produced the desired enzyme. Boss and Grunden are now in the process of adding a second gene, which produces an enzyme that converts hydrogen peroxide to water.

The entire archaeal stress-reduction process involves a total of four genes. The researchers plan to work their way up to this four-gene cocktail, one gene at a time. Then they’re going to try adding a gene from a bacterium, Colwellia psychrerythraea, which thrives at temperatures below freezing. Their goal is to produce a plant that can withstand the stress of freezing temperatures. “What we’re doing with having introduced the Pyrococcus gene is laying the foundation for being able to get over the initial shock of the extreme conditions. Now what we need to do is start adapting the plant to deal with the cold temperature conditions that you see on Mars,” says Grunden. Eventually, they hope to add genes for surviving under low-pressure and low-water conditions as well. “The Mars environment represents a multiple-stress condition.”

No-one has ever tried to do this before. And it may not work. “We may find that when we put the whole pathway in, the cell just drops dead like that, because it doesn’t like all these foreign genes,” Boss says. And then there’s always the danger that these modified plants, if they got released into the wild, could have a negative impact on forest land or crops. Boss counters that their experiments are being kept strictly under lab-safe conditions. “We are not intending to put them out in the public,” she says. “Nothing is escaping.” But Boss also sees potential benefit of the work that she and Grunden are doing. Eventually, she says, their experiments may result in crops that can “grow on poor soil with low water.” Such crops might, for example. help people survive a drought. “I really hope that this in four years will have a positive impact on agriculture, maybe even human health. Who knows? Maybe we can grow something from archaea in plants that will cure some disease.… There’s just so much biology that’s untapped out there. And these archaea make some interesting compounds. Maybe we need more of them.”

“a robotic greenhouse concept that is specially designed to help the future exploration and expanding population in the Mars. This intelligent robot can carry and take well care of a plant inside its glass container, which is functionally mounted on its four-legged pod. The robot is designed to learn the optimal process of searching for nutrients in order to keep the plant in a good condition. Moreover, it can send reports of its movements and developments to its fellow greenhouse robots through wireless communication, making it possible to learn from each other.”

Could Robotic Ants Build Homes On Mars Before We Arrive? / Oct. 27, 2008

Recent discoveries of water and Earth-like soil on Mars have set imaginations running wild that human beings may one day colonise the Red Planet. However, the first inhabitants might not be human in form at all, but rather swarms of tiny robots. “Small robots that are able to work together could explore the planet. We now know there is water and dust so all they would need is some sort of glue to start building structures, such as homes for human scientists,” says Marc Szymanski, a robotics researcher at the University of Karlsruhe in Germany. Szymanski is part of a team of European researchers developing tiny autonomous robots that can co-operate to perform different tasks, much like termites, ants or bees forage collaboratively for food, build nests and work together for the greater good of the colony. Working in the EU-funded I-SWARM project, the team created a 100-strong posse of centimetre-scale robots and made considerable progress toward building swarms of ant-sized micro-bots. Several of the researchers have since gone on to work on creating swarms of robots that are able to reconfigure themselves and assemble autonomously into larger robots in order to perform different tasks. Their work is being continued in the Symbrion and Replicator projects that are funded under the EU’s Seventh Framework Programme.

Planet exploration and colonisation are just some of a seemingly endless range of potential applications for robots that can work together, adjusting their duties depending on the obstacles they face, changes in their environment and the swarm’s needs. “Robot swarms are particularly useful in situations where you need high redundancy. If one robot malfunctions or is damaged it does not cause the mission to fail because another robot simply steps in to fill its place,” Szymanski explains. That is not only useful in space or in deep-water environments, but also while carrying out repairs inside machinery, cleaning up pollution or even carrying out tests and applying treatments inside the human body – just some of the potential applications envisioned for miniature robotics technology.

Creating collective perception
Putting swarming robots to use in a real-world environment is still, like the vision of colonising Mars, some way off. Nonetheless, the I-SWARM team did forge ahead in building robots that come close to resembling a programmable ant. Just as ants may observe what other ants nearby are doing, follow a specific individual, or leave behind a chemical trail in order to transmit information to the colony, the I-SWARM team’s robots are able to communicate with each other and sense their environment. The result is a kind of collective perception. The robots use infrared to communicate, with each signalling another close by until the entire swarm is informed. When one encounters an obstacle, for example, it would signal others to encircle it and help move it out of the way.

A group of robots that the project team called Jasmine, which are a little bigger than a two-euro coin, use wheels to move around, while the smallest I-SWARM robots, measuring just three millimetres in length, move by vibration. The I-SWARM robots draw power from a tiny solar cell, and the Jasmine machines have a battery. “Power is a big issue. The more complex the task, the more energy is required. A robot that needs to lift something [uses] powerful motors and these need lots of energy,” Szymanski notes, pointing to one of several challenges the team have encountered. Processing power is another issue. The project had to develop special algorithms to control the millimetre-scale robots, taking into account the limited capabilities of the tiny machine’s onboard processor: just eight kilobytes of program memory and two kilobytes of RAM, around a million times less than most PCs.

Tests proved that the diminutive robots were able to interact, though the project partners were unable to meet their goal of producing a thousand of them in what would have constituted the largest swarm of the smallest autonomous robots ever created anywhere in the world. Nonetheless, Szymanski is confident that the team is close to being able to mass produce the tiny robots, which can be made much like computer chips out of flexible printed circuit boards and then folded into shape. “They’re kind of like miniature origami,” he says. Simple, mass production would ensure that the robots are relatively cheap to manufacture. Researchers would therefore not have to worry if one gets lost in the Martian soil. The I-SWARM project received funding under the EU’s Sixth Framework Programme for research.

Marc Szymanski
email : szymanski [at] ira.uka [dot] de


The US space agency needs your help to explore Mars. A Nasa website called “Be A Martian” allows users to play games while at the same time sorting through hundreds of thousands of images of the Red Planet. The number of pictures returned by spacecraft since the 1960s is now so big that scientists cannot hope to study them all by themselves. The agency believes that by engaging the public in the analysis as well, many more discoveries will be made. The new citizen-science website went live on Tuesday at The site is just the latest to use crowdsourcing as a tool to do science. Players at Be A Martian can earn points in one game by helping Nasa examine and organize the images into a more complete map of the planet. Another game gets users to count impact craters to help scientists understand better the relative age of rocks on Mars’ surface.

Nasa hopes the mix of real data and fun will also inspire the planetary scientists of tomorrow. “We really need the next generation of explorers,” says Michelle Viotti, from the agency’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory, which oversees Mars missions. “And we’re also accomplishing something important for Nasa. There’s so much data coming back from Mars. Having a wider crowd look at the data, classify it and help understand its meaning is very important.” Software giant Microsoft has been a major contributor to the technology powering Be A Martian. The website was built on the Microsoft Windows Azure Platform, using the company’s Silverlight interface and its “Dallas” service to house all the information. “The beauty of this type of experience is that it not only teaches people about Mars and the work Nasa is doing there, but it also engages a large group of people to help solve real challenges that computers cannot solve by themselves,” said Marc Mercuri from Microsoft.


Most of Antarctica has about 2 1/2 miles of ice covering it, and that cold, white wasteland is what most people picture when they think of the South Pole. But a series of dry valleys in Antarctica, about 4,000 kilometers square, have no ice on them at all. The moisture is sucked from the dry valleys by a rain shadow effect — winds rushing over them at speeds up to 200/mph — leaving a bizarre and fascinating landscape, which looks more like Mars than the rest of our planet. Lacking the resources (or cojones) to go there myself, these photos are by scientists and researchers who’ve been there, and are included as part of galleries on the McMurdo Dry Valleys Management Area website. The Valleys have been carved out by glaciers that have retreated, exposing valley floors and walls that typically have a top layer of boulders, gravel and pebbles, which are weathered and wind-sorted. Lower layers are largely cemented together by ice. Unusual surface deposits include marine sediments, ash, and sand dunes.

Antarctic Research Helps Shed Light On Climate Change On Mars / Sep 01, 2008

Researchers examining images of gullies on the flanks of craters on Mars say they formed as recently as a few hundred thousand years ago and in sites once occupied by glaciers. The features are eerily reminiscent of gullies formed in Antarctica’s mars-like McMurdo Dry Valleys. The parallels between the Martian gullies and those in Antarctica’s McMurdo Dry Valleys were made using the latest high-resolution images and technology from satellites orbiting Mars to observe key details of their geological setting.

On Mars, the gullies appear to originate from cirque-like features high on pole-facing crater-interior walls, especially those within the Newton crater, 40 degrees south, examined for the study. In addition to the cirque-like features, the evidence cited for former glaciation includes bowl-shaped depressions fringed by lobate, viscous-flow deposits that extend well out onto the crater floor. “These bowl-shaped depressions reflect the former location of relatively pure glacier ice,” noted David R. Marchant, an Associate Professor of Earth Sciences at Boston University, and co-author of the study published in the August 25th issue of the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences with James W. Head of Brown University, lead author, and Mikhail A. Kreslavsky of the University of California, Santa Cruz.

As conditions on Mars shifted toward reduced snowfall at this site, clean ice on the crater wall sublimated, leaving a hole, whereas ice containing appreciable rock-fall debris out on the crater floor became covered with thin rubble, preventing complete volatile loss. But even as the last glaciers vanished, minor snow likely continued to fall. “This late-stage snow could accumulate in depressions on the crater wall and, in favorable microclimate settings, melt to produce the observed gullies and fans,” said Marchant. “The results”, he said, “are exciting because they establish a spatial link between recent gullies and accumulation of glacier ice, strengthening the case for surface melt water flow in the formation of gullies on Mars”.

Other candidate processes include dry debris flows and melting of shallow ground ice, but the sequence of events demonstrating recent snowfall in Newton Crater make surface melting of snow banks an appealing choice. In fact, both Marchant and Head have observed similar processes at work in the development of modern gullies within some of the coldest and driest regions of Antarctica. The authors conclude that changes in the rate and accumulation of snow in Newton Crater are likely related to changes in the inclination of Mars’ spin access, or obliquity.

At obliquities even greater than those postulated for glaciation of Newton Crater, the same authors and colleagues postulated even larger-scale mountain glaciation near the equator, on and extending out from the Tharsis volcanoes. The evidence suggests a link between obliquity, mid-latitude glaciation, and gully formation on Mars. Rather than being a dead planet, the new data are consistent with dynamic climate change on Mars, and with episodes of alpine glaciation and melt water formation in the recent past that rival modern alpine glaciation and gully formation in the coldest and driest mountains of Antarctica.


Dubai World Seeks Debt Standstill
BY Chip Cummins / 11.26.2009

This debt-laden city-state said Wednesday it would restructure its largest corporate entity, Dubai World, a conglomerate spanning real estate and ports, and announced a six-month standstill on the group’s debt. The surprise move quickly sapped investor confidence in Dubai ‘s ability to pay down its large debt load, sharply increasing the price of insuring against a default. It also represents the most significant fallout so far in the city-state’s yearlong economic crisis, triggered by a collapse in its once-booming real-estate sector late last year.

In response to the news, both Moody’s Investors Service and Standard & Poor’s heavily downgraded the debt of various Dubai government-related entities with interests in property, utilities, commercial operations and commodities trading. In Moody’s case, the downgrade meant that the affected agencies lost their investment grade status. The government of Dubai said it appointed Deloitte LLP to spearhead the restructuring effort, naming an executive at the consultancy as the group’s “chief restructuring officer.” The move appeared to sideline, at least for the time being, the company’s current management team, which had launched an internal corporate restructuring earlier this year.

Government officials, company executives and company representatives weren’t available for comment Wednesday. Sultan Ahmed bin Sulayem, Dubai World’s longtime chairman and a top lieutenant to Dubai’s hereditary ruler, Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum, didn’t respond to an email request for comment.

A spokeswoman for the Dubai government’s Department of Finance, which issued the statement, said Sulayem and the rest of the current management team would remain in place and would be working with Deloitte. Dubai World executives have “actually been trying to restructure themselves for awhile, and the Dubai government decided it needed to take a more proactive role,” the spokeswoman said late Wednesday.

The government said its Financial Support Fund, a fund set up to manage Dubai’s debt earlier this year, would start to assess and evaluate the extent of the restructuring required. As part of that assessment, it said officials intend to ask lenders for a debt “standstill” and request they extend debt maturities until at least May 30. Dubai said the corporation’s portfolio includes “strategically important businesses” and said “the restructuring will be designed to address financial obligations and improve business efficiency for the future.”

Most immediately, the standstill will affect a $3.5 billion bond that Dubai World’s real-estate subsidiary, Nakheel, was scheduled to repay next month. The bond was seen as a crucial test of Dubai ‘s ability to pay its debts, amid a real-estate market crash that has ricocheted across the emirate’s once-booming economy. Dubai World this spring signaled a restructuring of the bond was an option, but hasn’t provided details since. The spokeswoman for the Dubai Department of Finance said company officials were currently discussing options with lenders, but didn’t give details.

The cost of insuring Dubai debt, which had fallen sharply amid signs of a global economic recovery, shot higher after the announcement, rising by more than a third by late Wednesday, to $429,700 to insure a $10 million loan for five years, according to CMA, a credit-information specialist. The announcement came just hours after Dubai said separately that it raised $5 billion from two local banks, the second installment of what officials had said would be a $20 billion borrowing program. The bond program was unveiled in February, with the federal government of the United Arab Emirates snapping up the entire first tranche.

The bonds were effectively a federal bailout by the U.A.E., led by oil-rich Abu Dhabi, the country’s capital. Abu Dhabi and Dubai are the biggest of seven semiautonomous emirates that make up the U.A.E. Since then, Dubai officials have suggested they would seek international investors to fund the remaining $10 billion. Dubai says it is using the funds to pay down international debt and unpaid bills to contractors.

Wednesday’s $5 billion funding announcement initially cheered analysts and investors. While the issue’s two lenders were both Abu Dhabi-controlled banks, the deal suggested to many that Dubai was able to go to sources besides the federal government for cash. An earlier, unrelated debt issue by Dubai in October was also oversubscribed. The Dubai World announcement raised fresh questions over the federal government’s willingness to help Dubai out. It also appeared to contradict signals from Dubai’s government that it was willing to fully support its corporate entities. In its statement about Dubai World, Dubai officials said the $5 billion bond issue wasn’t linked to the Dubai World restructuring. “It opens more questions than it gives answers,” said Philipp Lotter, an analyst with Moody’s Investors Service in Dubai. “Is this (standstill) voluntary or involuntary? If it’s voluntary, fine, it makes perfect sense. If it’s not, it’s a default.”

In an October report, Standard & Poor’s estimated Dubai World could be responsible for as much as 50% of Dubai’s total government- and corporate-debt load of some $80 billion to $90 billion. Dubai World was long the crown jewel of Dubai’s economy, operating a globe-spanning ports and transportation group and spearheading ambitious real-estate and infrastructure projects at home and abroad. Nakheel built Dubai’s iconic palm-tree-shaped island, packed with luxury villas and hotels, many still under construction.

It was caught in a political maelstrom in Washington in 2006 after its core ports division, now called DP World, proposed to buy a competitor, which at the time owned a handful of U.S. ports. Political opposition on Capitol Hill blocked the acquisition, forcing Dubai World to shed the U.S. assets before completing the deal.

In recent years, Dubai World launched a debt-fueled international buying binge, diversifying far beyond its core ports business. In 2007, it joined up with in the $8.5 billion CityCenter project in Las Vegas. An MGM Mirage (MGM) spokesman said Wednesday that Dubai World had already fulfilled all of its commitments to funding the project, totaling some $4.65 billion. The same year, Dubai World’s investment outfit Istithmar bought high-end retailer Barneys New York for just under $1 billion.

David Jackson, chief executive of Istithmar, didn’t immediately return an email message sent Wednesday. A Barneys New York spokeswoman declined to comment. As previously reported, Istithmar is exploring a possible Barneys restructuring, with the retailer tapping investment bank Perella Weinberg Partners to advise it.

Some of Dubai World’s U.S. investments, made at the height of the market, have dropped substantially in value. Dubai World agreed to purchase half of MGM Mirage’s CityCenter mixed-use casino project in August 2007 when the real estate market in Las Vegas had reached its peak. At that point CityCenter was only partially complete and the project’s assets were valued at $5.4 billion. A little more than two years later, MGM Mirage said it was writing down around $2.34 billion in value for the project, which devalued Dubai World’s stake in CityCenter by around $1.17 billion to $2.44 billion.

Cost of Insuring Dubai’s Debt Continues to Soar
BY Ainsley Thomson / 11.30.2009

The cost of insuring Dubai’s sovereign debt against default surged for the third day in a row as the fallout from Dubai World’s restructuring announcement continues to fuel a flight from risk. It now costs $664,000 to insure $10 million of Dubai sovereign debt against default for five years, up from $541,000 at Thursday’s New York close, according to data provider CMA. The cost of insuring the emirate’s sovereign debt has now more than doubled since Dubai World’s announcement Wednesday that it was seeking a six-month “standstill” on its debts with all lenders.

Dubai is one of the seven emirates that make up the United Arab Emirates. The state-controlled conglomerate is the largest corporate entity in Dubai, with interests in real-estate and ports. The news also continues to affect other countries in the Middle East, in particular neighboring Abu Dhabi, which has also seen the cost of insuring its sovereign debt shoot up. It now costs $183,000 to insure $10 million of Abu Dhabi’s sovereign debt against default for five years, up from $160,000 at Thursday’s New York close.

“The credibility of the region and the way business is conducted there [has] been shattered, and the view that “the Ruler will always pay up”–that state-owned enterprises are effectively guaranteed by their sovereign paymasters–will no longer be taken as a given,” said Suki Mann, deputy head of credit research at Societe Generale SA. It is important that the situation is clarified rapidly, and it is likely to get worse before it gets better, Mr. Mann said.

Dubai World real-estate unit Nakheel’s $3.5 billion sukuk, or Islamic bond, continued to plunge in value and was Friday trading at 50%-55% of its face value, a trader said. The price of the bond, which is due to be repaid Dec. 14, has more than halved since Wednesday’s announcement. The bondholders are considering a lawsuit against Nakheel, which developed the emirate’s iconic palm tree-shaped islands, and are looking at seizing some assets from Dubai World.

The five-year credit default swaps for Dubai-based port operator DP World also continued to rise. The level hit 810 basis points Friday, more than 200 basis points wider than Thursday’s close of 608 basis points, CMA said. Dubai World owns 77% of DP World, which is the fourth largest ports operator in the world. The port operator will be excluded from its parent’s debt standstill talks and restructuring. Fitch Ratings Friday downgraded the ratings of three U.A.E. banks as a result of the Dubai World restructuring news.

Dubai Bank was downgraded two notches to BBB- from BBB+, with a negative outlook; Tamweel PJSC, the U.A.E.’s largest provider of real-estate finance, was downgraded three notches to BB from BBB; and Bahrain-based TAIB Bank was downgraded two notches to BB from BBB-, with a negative outlook. All three institutions’ core shareholder is Dubai Holding, which is ultimately owned by the ruler of Dubai, Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum.

Fitch said U.A.E. banks with close links to the Dubai government will look to it for support. “The request for a standstill agreement in respect of Dubai World and its property development subsidiary, Nakheel PJSC, and possibly other subsidiaries, implies a further weakening of the government of Dubai’s ability to provide such support,” the ratings agency said.

Fitch’s move comes after Standard & Poor’s Corp. Thursday placed four large Dubai banks on credit watch–the A-long-term rating of Emirates Bank International PJSC, National Bank of Dubai and Mashreqbank PSC and the Dubai Islamic Bank PJSC. At the same time, S&P affirmed its A-2 short-term ratings on Emirates Bank International, National Bank of Dubai and Mashreqbank. “The rating actions reflect the large exposure these banks have to Dubai World and Nakheel and more generally to Dubai-based government-related entities and the risks that the standstill agreement would pose to these banks,” S&P credit analyst Mohamed Damak said.

CDS are tradable, over-the-counter derivatives that function like a default insurance contract. If a borrower defaults, the protection buyer is paid compensation by the protection seller. Wider spreads show the cost of default insurance is going up, suggesting investors are less confident in a borrower’s ability to repay debts.

A bad omen in Dubai
BY Sebastian Mallaby / December 4, 2009

No other country built a ski resort in a desert. No other country constructed an archipelago of 300 artificial islands, complete with a man-made reef colonized by parrot fish. But even if Dubai is a gaudy outlier — a sort of Donald Trump of a nation — the bankruptcy of its flagship investment company, Dubai World, holds a warning for others. The nonchalance with which global financial markets have reacted is not reassuring in the least. The lack of alarm is alarming.

Start with the size of the Dubai bankruptcy. Most analysts reckon the emirate will end up defaulting on more than $30 billion. That’s up from the $26 billion advertised at Dubai World but perhaps less than half of the city-state’s accumulated $80 billion debt. Dubai’s bust will be larger than South Korea’s 1998 debt restructuring, which involved $22 billion worth of loans, and not much smaller than Russia’s default that year (which affected loans worth $40 billion). The South Korean and Russian traumas spread panic around the world. Nowadays, investors yawn at losses that don’t run into the hundreds of billions. This is a touch complacent.

Dubai’s bust also signals that other leveraged commercial real estate players may be in deep trouble. Dubai World borrowed to buy ventures such as the former Knickerbocker Hotel in Times Square, the Fontainebleau Hotel in Miami and (more shades of Trump) a stake in a Las Vegas casino. Its debts have finally caught up with it. Meanwhile, J.P. Morgan estimates that U.S. commercial real estate prices will keep falling until late next year, raising the risk of more defaults and undermining the collateral that secures a large slice of banks’ loan books. The banks will continue to bleed money, curtailing their ability to extend fresh loans to other businesses.

Then there is the broader message in Dubai’s bankruptcy: Governments are tired of playing fireman. The past year may have accustomed us to governments rescuing banks, insurers, money-market funds and carmakers, but history is full of crises in which governments were the source of the trouble — it was they that defaulted. In February, the rulers of next-door Abu Dhabi rescued Dubai with a loan of $10 billion. This time Abu Dhabi refused, so Dubai’s government has told lenders not to count on their next payment.

Because of the global financial crisis, plenty of other governments have overextended themselves so much that they threaten financial trouble. Greece, for example, has debt equivalent to 99 percent of its gross domestic product and is borrowing a further 8 percent of GDP this year to finance its budget deficit. The normal response to this predicament is to devalue the currency and inflate the debt away. But Greece is shackled to the euro, so the risk of default is rising.

Meanwhile, governments that are not hopelessly indebted may also quit providing safety nets. Russia, for example, is sitting atop $450 billion in foreign currency reserves. Yet it has refused to honor debts of Finance Leasing Co., a state-owned company — never mind that investors who bought the company’s bonds thought they were buying a quasi-sovereign credit. The Russian attitude seems to be that if you can walk away from your creditors — hey, why not? But even governments with more respect for their lenders may stop playing rescuer. In the worst months of the credit crisis, authorities in the rich democracies felt that they had no choice but to backstop private firms; the failure to do so in the case of Lehman Brothers proved disastrous. But now that things have calmed down, governments may be approaching the point at which they allow investors to take losses.

The threat of sovereign defaults, disowned state-company debts and continuing commercial real estate troubles comes amid a recovery that is extraordinarily precarious. It is based on fiscal stimulus from governments, but government debt ensures that this game has to stop at some point. It is based on the printing of money by central banks, but a combination of political backlash and inflation fears will eventually close down this game also. To rescue the global economy, governments have exacerbated the flaws responsible for making the system weak. China has too much export capacity; it is building more. China has an undervalued currency; it is weakening further. Meanwhile, the United States has a low national savings rate and is home to financial behemoths that are “too big to fail.” But the U.S. government has been forced to add to the public debt and broker consolidation in the banking business.

Given these troubles, Dubai should have been a wake-up call. Instead, global stock markets have risen since last weekend. We are witnessing the sort of rally that chart-watching traders know well: the kind where investors shrug off most bad news, so you might as well jump on the bandwagon. When this mentality sets in, prices inevitably rise too far. At the end of the trend there is usually a bubble.




With no oil to back it up, desert economy is built on shifting sand
BY Carl Mortished / February 5, 2009

Dubai’s boom was always a mirage made up of fast money, mass immigration, low taxation and gentle regulation. Unlike its neighbour, Abu Dhabi, Dubai has almost no oil but cleverly decided to boost its economy as a financial and leisure centre for neighbouring cash-rich but service-poor Gulf economies. It became a magnet for Saudis and Iranians seeking a liberal environment in which to play global financial markets and work off personal stress. A vast community of expatriates arrived to service their whims and their business needs – bankers and lawyers from the West, builders, cleaners and general factotums from the East. Their numbers represent 80 per cent of Dubai but their commitment is only as solid as their pay cheque. As one banker said: “If I default on my mortgage and go back to Pakistan, what is HSBC going to do about it?”

The pricking of Dubai’s bubble became official in November, a day after the Las Vegas-style opening of the enormous Atlantis hotel. Abu Dhabi agreed to stand behind the financial obligations of its flighty kid sister in an attempt to restore confidence. No one knows the extent of the guarantee but it is assumed to relate to the corporate ventures of the Emir and his family. Two struggling mortgage banks were then bailed out and shuffled into a new state-owned entity. Yesterday the Government of Abu Dhabi was forced to inject a further $4 billion (£3 billion) into three of its banks. Confidence is not restored. Landmark Advisory, a local real estate company, expects house prices at least to halve this year and rents to fall by a fifth. For Abu Dhabi, there is always the oil and gas but for its wayward sibling the future is no more solid than the shifting sands of the surrounding desert.

Driven down by debt, Dubai expats give new meaning to long-stay car park
BY Sonia Verma / February 5, 2009

For many expatriate workers in Dubai it was the ultimate symbol of their tax-free wealth: a luxurious car that few could have afforded on the money they earned at home. Now, faced with crippling debts as a result of their high living and Dubai’s fading fortunes, many expatriates are abandoning their cars at the airport and fleeing home rather than risk jail for defaulting on loans. Police have found more than 3,000 cars outside Dubai’s international airport in recent months. Most of the cars – four-wheel drives, saloons and “a few” Mercedes – had keys left in the ignition.

Some had used-to-the-limit credit cards in the glove box. Others had notes of apology attached to the windscreen. “Every day we find more and more cars,” said one senior airport security official, who did not want to be named. “Christmas was the worst – we found more than two dozen on a single day.” When the market collapsed and the emirate’s once-booming economy started to slow down, many expatriates were left owning several homes and unable to pay the mortgages without credit. “There were a lot of people living the high life, investing in real estate and a lifestyle they couldn’t afford,” one senior banker said.

Under Sharia, which prevails in Dubai, the punishment for defaulting on a debt is severe. Bouncing a check, for example, is punishable with jail. Those who flee the emirate are known as skips. The abandoned cars underscore a worrying trend. Five years ago the Emir, Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum, embarked on an ambitious plan to transform Dubai into a hub for business and tourism. A building boom fuelled double-digit growth, with thousands of Westerners arriving every day, eager to cash in on the emirate’s promise of easy living and wealth.

Many Westerners invested in Dubai’s skyrocketing real estate market, buying and reselling homes before building was even complete. But, as the recession took effect, property and financial companies made thousands of workers redundant and banks tightened lending. Construction companies have delayed or cancelled projects and tourism is slowing. There are increasing signs that the foreigners who once flocked to Dubai are leaving. “There is no way of tracking actual numbers, but the anecdotal evidence is overwhelming. Dubai is emptying out,” said a Western diplomat.

International schools are having to be flexible on fees as expatriate parents run out of cash. Louise, a single mother from Britain, said that her son’s school had allowed her to pay a partial fee until she found a new job after her redundancy in December. “According to the headmaster, a lot of people had come into the school saying they had lost their jobs so the school was trying to be a bit more flexible,” she said. Most of the emirate’s banks are not affiliated with British financial institutions, so those who flee do not have to worry about creditors. Their abandoned cars are eventually sold off by the banks at weekly auctions. Those recently advertised include BMWs, Porsches and Mercedes.

Simon Goldsmith, a spokesman for the British Embassy in Dubai, said that that there were approximately 100,000 Britons living in Dubai last year. However, the embassy has no way of tracking how many have fled back to the UK. “We’ve heard stories, but when somebody makes that kind of decision, they generally keep it to themselves,” he said. Police have issued warrants against owners of the deserted cars. Those who return risk arrest at the airport.

Heading home
3.62 million expatriates in Dubai
864,000 nationals
8% population decline predicted this year, as expatriates leave
1,500 visas cancelled every day in Dubai
62% of homes occupied by expatriates 60% fall in property values predicted
50% slump in the price of luxury apartments on Palm Jumeirah
25% reduction in luxury spending among UAE expatriates


“Short of opening a Radio Shack in an Amish town, Dubai is the world’s worst business idea, and there isn’t even any oil. Imagine proposing to build Vegas in a place where sex and drugs and rock and roll are an anathema. This is effectively the proposition that created Dubai – it was a stupid idea before the crash, and now it is dangerous. Dubai threatens to become an instant ruin, an emblematic hybrid of the worst of both the West and the Middle-East and a dangerous totem for those who would mistakenly interpret this as the de facto product of a secular driven culture. The opening shot of this clip shows 200 skyscrapers that were built in the last 5 years. It looks like Manhattan except that it isn’t the place that made Mingus or Van Allen or Kerouac or Wolfe or Warhol or Reed or Bernstein or any one of the 1001 other cultural icons from Bob Dylan to Dylan Thomas that form the core spirit of what is needed, in the absence of extreme toleration of vice, to infuse such edifices with purpose and create a self-sustaining culture that will prevent them crumbling into the empty desert that surrounds them.

Dubai is a place for the shallow and fickle. Tabloid celebrities and worn out sports stars are sponsored by swollen faced, botox injected, perma-tanned European property developers to encourage the type of people who are impressed by fame itself, rather than what originated it, to inhabit pastiche Mediterranean villas on fake islands. Its a grotesquely leveraged version of time-share where people are sold a life in the same way as being peddled a set of steak knives. Funny shaped towers smatter empty neighborhoods, based on designs with unsubtle, eye-catching envelopes but bland floor plans and churned out by the dozen by anonymous minions in brand name architects offices and signed by the boss, unseen, as they fly through the door. This architecture, a three dimensional solidified version of a synthesized musical jingle, consists of ever more preposterous gimmickry – an underwater, revolving, white leather fuck pad or a marina skyscraper with a product placement name that would normally only appeal to teenage boys, such as the preposterous Michael Schumacher World Champion Tower.

But if there is one problem with the shallow and the fickle, its that they are shallow and fickle, they won’t put down deep roots and they won’t remain loyal to Dubai. The people who appear in People magazine need to be told what is cool by Wallpaper magazine who in turn will discover something after the hipsters have moved on. The problem is that Dubai was never hipster-cool and is no longer Wallpaper-cool. This realization will have the same impact as suburbanite bachelorette party in a Wallpaper-cool nightclub. It will spread like the sighting of a floating turd in a public pool, flushing people to the exits with silent panic, unacknowledged for fear of embarrassment. As people scramble for the exits in Dubai, there is no ‘key mail’, like in America, where people can often mail back their house keys and walk away from a mortgage without the immediate threat of jail. People are literally fleeing this place, to date leaving 3000 cars stranded at the airport with keys still in the ignition. And the reason for this is that if you default on your Dubai mortgage, you can end up in a debtors prison. Perhaps Dubai will at least create a new Dickens?”

Source: N. Raghu Raman – DNA / Jan 14 2009

It’s the great escape by Indians who’ve hit the dead-end in Dubai. Local police have found at least 3,000 automobiles — sedans, SUVs, regulars — abandoned outside Dubai International Airport in the last four months. Police say most of the vehicles had keys in the ignition, a clear sign they were left behind by owners in a hurry to take flight. The global economic crisis has brought Dubai’s economic progress, mirrored by its soaring towers and luxurious resorts, to a stuttering halt. Several people have been laid off in the past months after the realty boom started unraveling.

On the night of December 31, 2008 alone more than 80 vehicles were found at the airport. “Sixty cars were seized on the first day of this year,” director general of Airport Security, Mohammed Bin Thani, told DNA over the phone. On the same day, deputy director of traffic, colonel Saif Mohair Al Mazroui, said they seized 22 cars abandoned at a prohibited area in the airport. Faced with a cash crunch and a bleak future ahead, there were no goodbyes for the migrants — overwhelmingly South Asians, mostly Indians – just a quiet abandoning of the family car at the airport and other places.

While 2,500 vehicles have been found dumped in the past four months outside Terminal III, which caters to all global airlines, Terminal II, which is only used by Emirates Airlines, had 160 cars during the same period. “The construction and real estate industry has been hit following the global slowdown and the direct fallout is that professionals working in the realty industry are rapidly losing their jobs,” said a senior media professional, in-charge of a realty supplement in Dubai. “In fact, my weekly real estate supplement usually had 60% advertisement and ran into 300-odd pages. In the last seven weeks, it’s down to 80 pages and with fewer advertisments,” he added.

Mumbai resident D Nair (name changed) had been living in a plush highrise in Sharjah for the past four years. However, the script went horribly wrong when his contract was terminated. Nair used all his credit cards to their maximum limit, shopping for people back home. He then discarded his Honda Accord before returning to India for good. Nair, who stays in a rented apartment in Navi Mumbai today, has a Rs15 lakh loan with a Dubai bank.

Another such victim of the meltdown said he bid goodbye to his car in a small bylane near the airport and hailed a cab. “I was scared because a number of us were doing the same and did not want to be questioned by the police. There was no way I could afford to pay the EMI of 1100 Dhirams for my Ford Focus,” he told DNA on condition of anonymity.

When contacted, the dealer for Asgar Ali cars in Sharjah said, “We are helpless and do not know how to tackle this issue. A large number of such owners are from Indian, Sri Lanka, Bangladesh and other South Asian countries.”

Laid-off foreigners flee as Dubai declines
BY Robert F. Worth / February 12, 2009

Sofia, a 34-year-old Frenchwoman, moved here a year ago to take a job in advertising, so confident about Dubai’s fast-growing economy that she bought an apartment for almost $300,000 with a 15-year mortgage. Now, like many of the foreign workers who make up 90 percent of the population here, she has been laid off and faces the prospect of being forced to leave this Gulf city — or worse. “I’m really scared of what could happen, because I bought property here,” said Sofia, who asked that her last name be withheld because she is still hunting for a new job. “If I can’t pay it off, I was told I could end up in debtors’ prison.”

With Dubai’s economy in free fall, newspapers have reported that more than 3,000 cars sit abandoned in the parking lot at the Dubai Airport, left by fleeing, debt-ridden foreigners (who could in fact be imprisoned if they failed to pay their bills). Some are said to have maxed-out credit cards inside and notes of apology taped to the windshield. The government says the real number is much lower. But the stories contain at least a grain of truth: jobless people here lose their work visas and then must leave the country within a month. That in turn reduces spending, creates housing vacancies and lowers real estate prices, in a downward spiral that has left parts of Dubai —once hailed as the economic superpower of the Middle East — looking like a ghost town.

No one knows how bad things have become, though it is clear that tens of thousands have left, real estate prices have crashed and scores of Dubai’s major construction projects have been suspended or canceled. But with the government unwilling to provide data, rumors are bound to flourish, damaging confidence and further undermining the economy. Instead of moving toward greater transparency, the emirates seem to be moving in the other direction. A new draft media law would make it a crime to damage the country’s reputation or economy, punishable by fines of up to 1 million dirhams (about $272,000). Some say it is already having a chilling effect on reporting about the crisis.

Last month, local newspapers reported that Dubai was canceling 1,500 work visas every day, citing unnamed government officials. Asked about the number, Humaid bin Dimas, a spokesman for Dubai’s Labor Ministry, said he would not confirm or deny it and refused to comment further. Some say the true figure is much higher. “At the moment there is a readiness to believe the worst,” said Simon Williams, HSBC bank’s chief economist in Dubai. “And the limits on data make it difficult to counter the rumors.” Some things are clear: real estate prices, which rose dramatically during Dubai’s six-year boom, have dropped 30 percent or more over the past two or three months in some parts of the city. Last week, Moody’s Investor’s Service announced that it might downgrade its ratings on six of Dubai’s most prominent state-owned companies, citing a deterioration in the economic outlook. So many used luxury cars are for sale , they are sometimes sold for 40 percent less than the asking price two months ago, car dealers say. Dubai’s roads, usually thick with traffic at this time of year, are now mostly clear.

Some analysts say the crisis is likely to have long-lasting effects on the seven-member emirates federation, where Dubai has long played rebellious younger brother to oil-rich and more conservative Abu Dhabi. Dubai officials, swallowing their pride, have made clear that they would be open to a bailout, but so far Abu Dhabi has offered assistance only to its own banks. “Why is Abu Dhabi allowing its neighbor to have its international reputation trashed, when it could bail out Dubai’s banks and restore confidence?” said Christopher Davidson, who predicted the current crisis in “Dubai: The Vulnerability of Success,” a book published last year. “Perhaps the plan is to centralize the U.A.E.” under Abu Dhabi’s control, he mused, in a move that would sharply curtail Dubai’s independence and perhaps change its signature freewheeling style.

For many foreigners, Dubai had seemed at first to be a refuge, relatively insulated from the panic that began hitting the rest of the world last autumn. The Gulf is cushioned by vast oil and gas wealth, and some who lost jobs in New York and London began applying here. But Dubai, unlike Abu Dhabi or nearby Qatar and Saudi Arabia, does not have its own oil, and had built its reputation on real estate, finance and tourism. Now, many expatriates here talk about Dubai as though it were a con game all along. Lurid rumors spread quickly: the Palm Jumeira, an artificial island that is one of this city’s trademark developments, is said to be sinking, and when you turn the faucets in the hotels built atop it, only cockroaches come out. “Is it going to get better? They tell you that, but I don’t know what to believe anymore,” said Sofia, who still hopes to find a job before her time runs out. “People are really panicking quickly.”

Hamza Thiab, a 27-year-old Iraqi who moved here from Baghdad in 2005, lost his job with an engineering firm six weeks ago. He has until the end of February to find a job, or he must leave. “I’ve been looking for a new job for three months, and I’ve only had two interviews,” he said. “Before, you used to open up the papers here and see dozens of jobs. The minimum for a civil engineer with four years’ experience used to be 15,000 dirhams a month. Now, the maximum you’ll get is 8,000,” or about $2,000. Thiab was sitting in a Costa Coffee Shop in the Ibn Battuta mall, where most of the customers seemed to be single men sitting alone, dolefully drinking coffee at midday. If he fails to find a job, he will have to go to Jordan, where he has family members — Iraq is still too dangerous, he says — though the situation is no better there. Before that, he will have to borrow money from his father to pay off the more than $12,000 he still owes on a bank loan for his Honda Civic. Iraqi friends bought fancier cars and are now, with no job, struggling to sell them. “Before, so many of us were living a good life here,” Thiab said. “Now we cannot pay our loans. We are all just sleeping, smoking, drinking coffee and having headaches because of the situation.”

“Only 11 cars abandoned at airport in past year”
BY Siham Al Najami / February 06, 2009

Lieutenant-General Dhahi Khalfan Tamim, Chief of Dubai Police, has strongly denied a rumour that many people are abandoning their cars at Dubai International Airport amid the global economic crisis. The report was published in the Arabic electronic newspaper During an urgent press conference in Dubai, Lieutant-General Dhahi denied the report published on Thursday, which based its information on The Times of London which claimed there were 3,000 abandoned cars at Dubai International Airport. “I swear by the Lord that Benyamin [writer of the article] lied even as he based his report on The Times article,” Lieutant-General Dhahi said at the beginning of the press conference.

The reporter contributed to spreading a rumour that many people are greedy, envious and resentful about the economic growth of Dubai, he said. “A reporter should always verify the facts of a report. Did the reporter come back to us or request a comment and we said ‘No’ to him?! Credibility, objectivity and accountability are essential in journalism and this report lacked credibility. “Be assured that if we had at least 50 or 25 or 15 cars abandoned at the airport, I would have told you about it. There have only been 11 cars left at the airport since January 1, 2008, which is before the global economic crisis,” he said. “False statements on the market collapsing, as stated in the article, are nothing but incorrect rumours. If there is any disruption we will inform the media about it,” said Lieutant-General Dhahi. “It is not even worth a story to write about the abandoning of 11 cars in a 6,000 car parking lot,” he stated.

“We are not denying the presence of the global financial crisis, but what’s been attributed to Dubai is completely false whether it is locally or internationally published. There is a fierce campaign against the reputation of the blooming city of Dubai. I have clear and direct instructions from His Highness Shaikh Mohammad Bin Rashid Al Maktoum, Vice-President and Prime Minister of the UAE and Ruler of Dubai, to be completely honest with the media. The country is still witnessing a smooth flow in its economy. The title of the article creates an atmosphere of fear, mistrust, and contributes to spreading a rumour of a rumour. We have to put a limit to this, we are aware of the reports published on this but now it has gotten out of proportion,” he said.

Sun, sea and sewage in the playground of the rich in Dubai
BY Sonia Verma / January 29, 2009

A noxious tide of toilet paper, raw sewage and chemical waste has transformed Dubai’s most prestigious stretch of shoreline into a foul-smelling health hazard. A stretch of the exclusive Jumeirah Beach — a magnet for Western tourists and home to a string of hotels — has been closed. “It’s a cesspool. Our tests show too many E. coli to count. It’s like swimming in a toilet,” said Keith Mutch, the manager of the Offshore Sailing Club, which has posted warnings and been forced to cancel regattas.

The pollution is a blow to Dubai’s reputation as an international holiday destination offering almost guaranteed sunshine and clear seas. The debate over who is to blame is also turning toxic, pitting the city’s wealthy expatriates against local authorities, who have been criticised for failing to stop lorry drivers dumping human and industrial waste into the ocean. The row also illustrates how Dubai’s rapid development threatens to outpace the Emirates’ ability to enforce environmental standards, angering the foreigners that the boom town seeks to attract. Mr Mutch first detected trouble during a walk on the beach last summer. “The stench was unbearable and the water was a muddy brown. There was toilet paper in the sand,” he recalled.

He traced the sludge to a storm drain, buried behind a pile of rocks near the dock. It was spewing effluent into the sea. He followed the drain several kilometres inland to the Al Quoz industrial area, which houses the cement, paint and furniture factories that have helped to fuel the city’s rapid growth. There he discovered that dozens of sewage lorries carrying human waste from Dubai’s 1.3 million inhabitants emptied their tanks into storm drains such as the one leading to the sailing club. The drains, all connected, were built to carry excess water that falls during Dubai’s short rainy season.

According to some truckers — mostly poor workers from southern Asia – illegal dumping of waste is a purely financial decision. In interviews, several said that they were paid by the truckload to collect waste from the city’s septic tanks and transport it to the only sewage treatment plant in the area. This involved a long drive into the desert with lengthy queues at the end — so they opted to dump their loads in the storm drains.“We are paid so poorly, we have no other choice,” said one driver, who insisted on remaining anonymous.

Mr Mutch spent several nights documenting the illegal dumping. He sent letters and photographs to the municipality and departments of tourism, health and environment.“ At first I was ignored,” he said — but when the local press took up the story the city took action, imposing fines of up to $25,000 and threatening to confiscate tankers and deport drivers. City authorities have since promised to build another sewage pit as a “medium-term solution”, while insisting that the latest test results show water samples to be within safe standards.

Mr Mutch, however, disagrees, citing independent tests commissioned by the sailing club showing that the water is still badly contaminated with bacteria, human faeces and chemicals. “The water is still not safe. It’s a bleak situation and we don’t know what else we can do,” he said. “Because rain storms are so infrequent, the drains will remain contaminated for many months to come,” said expat Thomas Aldredge. “Considering the hot weather, there are many diseases that could begin to flourish, including cholera. It is shocking that Dubai does not seem to have the will to address this most fundamental of problems.”

Dubai contractors face bankruptcy as cash dries up
BY Jason Benham / Feb 3, 2009

Several Dubai-based contractors say they are owed millions of dirhams by state-linked developers and some may face bankruptcy as credit dries up and major projects are cancelled or scaled back in the former Gulf Arab boom town. “There has been a marked increase in the number of contractors asking for help to obtain payment, including payments certified months ago on some of Dubai’s largest projects,” Michael Grose, a partner at legal firm Clyde & Co LLP, in the Middle East Projects and Construction Group, told Reuters. “Whilst there is definitely an upswing in restructuring advice, no construction businesses are coming through the door wanting to put themselves into liquidation. Yet.”

As the global financial crisis began to hit the seaside emirate late in 2008, major government-linked developers behind some of Dubai’s high profile projects have put work on hold and cut jobs. Around $75 billion worth of projects in the United Arab Emirates have been suspended or cancelled altogether according to an HSBC report issued in January. “We have had to let go half of our staff and cut wages and it is not because we have no work, it is because we are not being paid for the work that we have completed,” a Dubai-based contractor told Reuters under the condition of anonymity. “Contracts are not worth the paper they are written on. They don’t understand that the work gets done and you have to pay for it. There is a sense among the big developers that because they are linked to the government, they can do what they want.”

In response to a Reuters query, government-linked developer Emaar Properties EMAR.DU, the largest listed Arab developer, said payments were based on a credit cycle and other conditions and that those that qualified would be paid. “All payments that meet the criteria have been honoured and will continue to be honoured and will continue to be cleared, in line with contractual agreements,” a spokesman said. Government-owned Meraas said in statement sent to Reuters that payments and payment schedules in the company are an internal matter and therefore details are confidential between the company and its contractors.

Overdue Bills
One deputy chief executive with a consulting firm, who had a contract terminated by a major developer, said his firm was owed several million dirhams, now overdue, and did not know when he would be paid. “Will the government bail the industry out? Well, has the government got the money?” he said. Dubai — home to palm-shaped islands, an indoor ski slope and the world’s tallest building — has lured investors in droves over the past few years, but is now being hit hard by the global financial crisis. Cranes that operated day and night before the crisis now stand motionless and many of the building sites are deserted as thousands of construction workers have been ordered to down their tools. “Established developers or developers who have projects near completion will be in a better position than others (to make payments),” said Abeer Gouda, senior financial analyst at Global Investment House in Kuwait. “It will depend on the developer’s track record and the project itself, if it is near completion and on the location.”

State-owned Nakheel, developer of Dubai’s palm-tree shaped islands, said last month it would halt work on a 1-kilometre tall building for one year. That decision followed the suspension of work on Trump Tower, a $789.5 million project on one the palm-shaped islands, in December. The developer cut 500 jobs in November. Meraas in December said it would review its $95 billion Jumeirah Gardens project launched at a Dubai property exhibition. “Payments have always been a problem here, but now the problem is a bit bigger. I reckon the Dubai government would honour their payments but you might have to wait longer than usual,” said the regional director of a construction group. “Dubai cannot afford not to honour its debt to contractors.”

OR BUST,8599,1851370,00.html
How Wall Street’s Bust Threatens Dubai’s Boom
By Scott MacLeod / Oct. 19, 2008

Saif Ahmed began living the Dubai dream five years ago. The University of Toronto business school grad moved to the Gulf city-state and quickly co-founded property developer Universal Canlink Inc. By 2006, the firm was turning over $15 million a year as its brochures lured foreign investors with tales of “meteoric” growth in the Dubai real estate market. Now, as the global credit crisis spirals from Wall Street to the Middle East, Ahmed is coming back down to earth. There’s still interest, he explains, but the buying frenzy in Dubai is gone. “Before, people were buying blindly without asking much about the details,” says Ahmed, a Canadian. “Now such risk takers have disappeared from the market.”

Among the harbingers of the changing mood: Nakheel, the developer of Dubai’s proposed kilometer-high skyscraper near Jebel Ali airport, recently announced that it is reassessing its overall staffing needs in line with “predictions of a downturn in the global economy.” Boardrooms and coffee shops alike are buzzing with talk about the coming fall. The Cairo-based investment bank EFG-Hermes recently predicted that Dubai property values could tumble as much as 20% in the next three years. Share prices of Emaar, a public Dubai company that has become one of the biggest real estate developers in the world, have fallen by two-thirds since January.

To be sure, nobody’s calling it a bust — not yet anyway. Midsized builders like Ahmed are still open for business. And a record 70,000 visitors attended Dubai’s annual Cityscape property show this month, where mega-projects worth a total of some $180 billion were unveiled. Yet Dubai and its real estate market are vulnerable to an international economic downturn, especially compared with many of its Gulf neighbors. As the region’s premier business, transportation and tourism hub, it is by definition more entwined with the global economy. And in tight times, Dubai lacks the windfall oil profits that have enabled sister emirate Abu Dhabi, for example, to amass a financial cushion in sovereign wealth funds totaling hundreds of billions of dollars.

But Dubai’s biggest risk is its daring reliance on debt to drive its breathtaking building boom. Last week, Moody’s estimated that in 2006, the most recent year for figures, Dubai’s government and public-sector company debt was at least $47 billion, a staggering 103% of GDP. The investment-rating agency said it expected Dubai’s debt to continue outpacing GDP for another five years, exposing Dubai to pronounced financing and geopolitical risks.

Dubai officials insist that they can meet their debt obligations for the next two years. Analysts point out, however, that the credit squeeze compounds a growing challenge to Dubai’s revenue streams. The most obvious is the halving of the price of oil from $147 per bbl. to $70 per bbl. since July, sending Middle East stocks tumbling and rendering regional investors increasingly cautious. Likewise, a global recession is likely to tighten the belts of the international investors and holiday makers that Dubai relies on for its real estate and tourism developments. Even before the global crunch, banks in the United Arab Emirates (UAE) were being hit this year by an outrunning stampede of billions of UAE dirhams — so-called hot money that one report valued at $55 billion — led by speculators giving up on hopes that the country would de-peg its currency from the U.S. dollar.

All is not doom and gloom, however. The UAE government has funneled $33 billion into the country’s banking system to calm the nerves of depositors and investors, promising coverage to foreign as well as local institutions. If the credit crunch shakes out speculators, known as “flippers,” from Dubai’s real estate market, that could help stabilize wildly inflationary conditions. “I am not necessarily thinking we are in a crash scenario,” EFG-Hermes managing director Hashem Montasser tells TIME. “There is still genuine demand. Economies here are still growing. Overall, the economic situation is still very sound. We will see a deceleration of prices, and it’s probably a good thing, as long as it’s done in an orderly way and doesn’t turn into a panic. The market has gone to where it is too quickly.”

An underlying reason for the relative lack of panic so far is that Dubai real estate remains a financial haven for wealthy individuals from riskier nearby countries like Iran and Pakistan. What’s more, Dubai’s real estate sector is dominated by a handful of major companies — collectively dubbed “Dubai Inc.” — that are directly or indirectly owned and controlled by the government. This means, analysts say, that Dubai authorities could effectively stave off a bubble burst by keeping finished projects off-line until market conditions improved. In the event of a systemic threat, Dubai can probably rely on super-rich Abu Dhabi for a bailout. “We consider it highly likely that the authorities will step in at some level to support entities that are strategically important for the economy,” Moody’s analyst Tristan Cooper tells TIME.

That kind of reassurance is what keeps Dubai property builders like Saif Ahmed plugging away. Believing that foreign interest in Dubai is alive, he’s planning a major sales exhibition in Los Angeles in December. He acknowledges, however, that the days of the easy sell may be over. “People are more educated and calculated about their investments,” Ahmed explains. “Now they are asking for a more detailed sales pitch. They want to know about the developer’s track record.” As it faces the most serious financial challenge in its history, Dubai Inc.’s reputation is now on the line too.

United Arab Emirates: The Financial Crisis and Abu Dhabi-Dubai Relations  /  February 19, 2009

Due its exposure to the international credit system, the emirate of Dubai is the Middle Eastern economy hit hardest by the global financial crisis. The effects are such that Dubai will need help from the more powerful, oil-rich emirate of Abu Dhabi. While it will struggle to limit the extent to which it has to accept financial assistance from Abu Dhabi, it is unlikely that Dubai can altogether avoid the dependency. As a result, there will be a further tilt in the balance of power toward Abu Dhabi, which will assume a more dominant position in the seven-emirate federation of the United Arab Emirates.

Sultan Ahmed bin Sulayem, chairman of state-owned firm Dubai World, said Feb. 17 that the United Arab Emirates is preparing a plan to help domestic banks resume lending. In an interview with Bloomberg, Sulayem — who also sits on the committee examining the effects of the international credit crisis on Dubai’s economic health — explained that the UAE central bank and federal government were working on a plan to lend money to ailing state-owned enterprises and financial institutions. These comments follow Feb. 8 reports quoting Sheikh Mohammed bin Zayed al-Nahyan, chairman of the Abu Dhabi Council for Economic Development, as saying that Abu Dhabi should lead federal efforts to ease the economic slowdown across the seven-emirate federation. Four days before that, the government announced that Abu Dhabi’s top banks would receive a total of $4.4 billion from the government to buffer losses from the global credit contagion.

Abu Dhabi, with its massive oil wealth and the world’s largest sovereign wealth fund, is the major power in the United Arab Emirates. Dubai is in second place because of its status as the Persian Gulf’s financial hub; the five lesser emirates — Ajman, Umm al Qaywayn, Ras al Khaymah, Al Fujayrah and Sharjah — follow. Dubai’s financial clout (from its tourism, trade, real estate and financial services industries) historically has given it enough power that its ruling al-Maktoum family has held the UAE federal government positions of vice president, prime minister and defense minister. The al-Nahyans of Abu Dhabi have held the federation’s presidency since its inception in 1971 and retained control of it when the country’s first (and until then, only) president, Sheikh Zayed bin Sultan al-Nahyan, died in 2004.

The power-sharing arrangement between the al-Nahyans and the al-Maktoums has been the political foundation upon which the United Arab Emirates has not only maintained domestic stability, but also emerged as a major international economic and financial player, acquiring assets around the world. This was the case up until the global financial crisis began spreading throughout the world. Abu Dhabi has not been immune, as is evident from the need to inject cash into the emirate’s banking system. But Dubai has been hit the hardest because of its exposure to the international markets, and particularly because its real estate bubble crashed when global credit that had been used to fund enormous, fanciful construction projects became scarce. Due to the relative lack of transparency, the extent of the financial carnage in Dubai was not readily apparent.

But on Feb. 2, the international credit rating agency Moody’s announced that it would be downgrading the ratings of six of Dubai’s largest state-owned firms, including global port operator Dubai Ports World and Emaar Properties, the developer responsible for the partly-constructed world’s tallest building, located in the city’s center. Utility operator Dubai Electricity and Water Authority, conglomerate Dubai Holding Commercial Operations Group, industrial park and trade zone operator Jebel Ali Free Zone and Dubai International Financial Center Investments, a branch of Dubai’s 4-year-old international financial center, also are in line for downgrades.

Dubai reportedly has $90 billion in assets, but because of the opaque nature of its balance sheets it is unclear whether these assets are easily convertible to hard cash, which would allow the firms to raise short-term capital to meet their obligations. Its actual financial weakness notwithstanding, Dubai has been reluctant to seek assistance from the cash-flush Abu Dhabi, given the larger political challenges associated with doing so. Even though it is not raking in the billions it was collecting when oil prices were high in mid-2008, Abu Dhabi has been very financially prudent (in sharp contrast to Dubai). It still has enough of a cushion to bail out itself as well as Dubai, as its sovereign wealth fund was estimated at $328 billion at the end of 2008, according to a study by economists at the Council on Foreign Relations.

Dubai is unlikely to be able to avoid the need for financial assistance from Abu Dhabi, but it wants to be sure that accepting that assistance will not further empower Abu Dhabi. This is why the issue is being framed in the context of a national economic stimulus package. From Dubai’s point of view, the bailout should not be a matter between the two emirates, but a decision made by the national government, in which Dubai has considerable say.

There are two problems with this. First, Dubai is the one that needs most of the assistance, and Abu Dhabi is the only emirate in a position to extend help. Second, the structure of the United Arab Emirates is that of a loose federation, which means the ruler of each emirate has a great degree of autonomy. Together, these two structural factors make it very difficult for Dubai to prevent Abu Dhabi from gaining disproportionate influence, both in their bilateral relations and over the federation. And yet, no matter what Dubai tries to call it, it is very apparent that the emirate needs help and needs it fast.

Depending on the nature of the financial arrangement, Abu Dhabi could end up having a major stake in Dubai. But Abu Dhabi, in the interest of maintaining balance in the federation, does not want Dubai to feel threatened. Therefore, in the short term, this emerging imbalance of power is unlikely to create any serious ruptures. But depending upon the extent of the bailout and Dubai’s future financial position, there could be friction between the two emirates, which could have a negative impact on the United Arab Emirates’ stability.


Has Dubai’s Overblown Bubble Finally Burst?
BY Ahmed Shihab-Eldin / February 18, 2009

“People were buying anything” my cousin told me over dinner at an empty, but delectable, Lebanese restaurant at The Emirates Mall of Dubai. “It didn’t matter what it was or even if it was worth it. Everyone was buying whatever they could, even if they couldn’t afford it,” she said. This was about the fourth time I was having a variation of this very conversation since arriving a week earlier. Dubai, the desert emirate known for its rapid, maybe rabid, economic growth, which sent both prices and prospective purchasers’ blood pressures through the roof in recent years may be witnessing what many argued would be the inevitable burst of its ballsy building bubble. “A few months ago we camped outside the sales office of one of the newest properties,” one of the dinner guests reluctantly confessed.

Despite having never seen the property, or even the floor plan, they stood in line, among hundreds of others (many with briefcases packed with cash) hoping to be early enough to score a piece of property. “We knew if we wanted to have a chance to buy, we had to show up the night before,” she sheepishly said. “The line was ridiculous, people slept in their cars, but when the office opened, they told us all the properties had already been sold – it is all corrupt,” she said, referring to the shady and often staged real estate transactions made in Dubai.

As I digested the delicious dinner and jaw-dropping details of their story (which I learned ended with the police being summoned after fist fights broke out among potential buyers), I couldn’t help but notice the exceptionally cold draft coming from above me. “So do you think that the air from there (I pointed through the floor-to-ceiling glass windows separating us from Ski Dubai, the indoor ski slopes attached to the mall, equipped with chair lifts, artificial snow and yes, a snowmobile) somehow air conditions the entire mall too,” I asked. Everyone at the table reassured me it was highly unlikely, though we all agreed it would make for great PR. Regardless, there is no way around it, being in Dubai, even during the recession, or perhaps especially during it, is a surreal experience.

A couple months before the economic crisis hit, I decided to accept a job offer with Al Jazeera English in Doha, Qatar. When I told my friends and family, the response was mixed. But after Lehman Brothers filed for bankruptcy and the current financial crisis introduced itself to the world, those skeptical of my upcoming move warmed up to the idea on the general assumption that the oil-rich Middle East might survive “the brunt of the crisis.” Since then a few of them have even asked me to “keep my eyes out” for any possible jobs out here for them.

Before me, tens of thousands of Americans and other foreigners have come to the Persian Gulf to accept jobs with packages that guaranteed a tax-free income and unrivaled benefits (including housing, health care, paid school fees and a car) to revel in a region that boasts some of the world’s fastest growing economies. But since then, many of those who came, particularly those with jobs in finance or real estate, are out of a job and many swamped in debt. Foreigners, who make up 90 percent of Dubai’s population and were responsible for helping build the emirate from the ground up, are now unemployed and returning to their respective countries.

Despite the credit crisis and widespread deflation, some analysts had held on to the hope that the full effects of the global economic downturn would miss the wealthy Persian Gulf countries. Ironically, in Qatar’s case, the massive reserves of Liquid Nitrogen Gas may be enough to save them as they sign deals with neighbors like Kuwait to sell LNG at lucrative prices and are projected to lead GCC countries in terms of economic growth. But here in Dubai, an emirate that was once reported to have one third of the world’s cranes busy at work erecting a modern metropolis in the desert, the skyscrapers have stopped, deals have been scrapped and many of the hundreds of thousand expatriates are simply running away.

Stories in local papers, which have since been republished by The New York Times and other Western publications, have suggested that foreigners are fleeing from the financial crisis and their debts. The government has vehemently contested reports that up to 3,000 cars have been abandoned at the airport (with the keys in the ignition and apology letters taped to the dashboards). Instead they suggest the number is closer to a dozen. But the string of half-built towers, deeply discounted car auctions, and relatively empty shopping malls and hotels tell a different story.

The mood around dinner tables, at local school events, and at surprisingly vacant lavish beachfront sports clubs, such as the famous Jumeirah Beach Club, suggests that the crisis has in fact hit Dubai. Not only are some foreigners fleeing in hopes that by hopping on the first outbound flight they will dodge Dubai’s strict laws on defaulting on debt, punishable by serious jail time, but also the number of tourists frequenting the once booming emirate have tapered off too.

I won’t exaggerate. It isn’t a ghost town by any means. But it is nearly impossible to miss the nervous mood that has consumed the emirate recently. As one cab driver, who came to Dubai 30 years ago to work as a fisherman, told me, “Business is not good like before. Too many people are leaving,” he said. “Even when I drive home to Ajman (a neighboring emirate) there is little traffic. Little traffic and little business.” A short stroll from the beach into the main shopping strip near JBR confirmed the difficult realities facing Dubai. In the middle of the day, I walked around the new Saks Fifth Avenue store in the complex for 15 minutes without anyone else in there – it was like I was P.Diddy for a minute – on my own private shopping spree (with prices slashed up to 70%).

The 32-day Dubai Shopping Festival ended last week, and while the numbers have yet to be reported, the budget for this year’s festival was slashed by just over 10%. Whether or not the raffling off of luxury cars and deep discounts at many hotels will be enough to change the negative outlook for the emirate has yet to be seen. But it seems inevitable that as fewer people flock to Dubai, especially those who come to escape the cold European winters, the economy, like many others in the world, will continue to struggle.




What Is The First Earth Battalion And How Did It Originate?
BY Jim Channon  /  06 October 2009

Post Vietnam 1978 was a time when military morale and enrollment were at an all time low. During this period the U.S. Army needed to drastically shift approaches and prepare to defeat a vastly larger Soviet force in Europe. Army leaders called upon officers to develop needed creative approaches to dealing with this challenge. They were encouraged to fully explore the Army’s Be All That You Can Be philosophy. In response, U.S. Army Lieutenant Colonel Jim Channon created the First Earth Battalion, that collected new technologies to support a conceptual prototype of the soldier of the future. Channon was inspired by the human potential and advanced human performance movements and drew many of his ideas from these fields and from the time he spent at Esalen Institute. Many senior generals in the Army backed Channon because he was a bold example of what a young officer could do creatively. The word spread and other elements within the Army became more boldly involved in testing ideas that were on the edge. They came to call him the “lightening rod”. Like any endeavor that involves studying new ideas, some of the ideas panned out and others did not. The larger story is that the U.S. Army is one of the most creative organizations in the world and that it must continue to be so in order to deal with the radically different missions it must prepare for. Few people understand that reality because of the rigid prototype the media has created around military culture.

What Is Evolutionary Tactics?
Jim Channon delivered his ideas about the First Earth Battalion through his illustrated field manual, Evolutionary Tactics which offered a 21st Century vision of the soldier of the future. Evolutionary Tactics was published by the Army in 1978. The manual was modeled after the popular Whole Earth Catalog with illustrations of advanced human performance skills. It is credited with kick-starting a very creative surge of activity in the U.S. Army. Army commanders adopted the elements that served them. There was no one cookie-cutter solution. Original copies have become something of collector’s item. Since that time, tens of thousands of copies have been downloaded from the Internet by fans across the globe. The archetype used in the manual is the warrior monk … who is invincible in war but very persuasive in peace. We see this model in action in the middle east today.

Who Are “The Men Who Stare At Goats”?
The movie evolved from a book of the same title written by British satirical writer Jon Ronson. It stars four of the most creative minds in Hollywood today: George Clooney, Kevin Spacey, Jeff Bridges and Ewan McGregor. The title of the book and film is based on an experimental lab that once existed at Fort Bragg, NC where the military reportedly attempted to kill goats simply by staring at them. There were no corresponding approaches in Jim’s field manual. The highly anticipated film is due out in December 2009. The movie is a comedy, much of which is inspired by Jim Channon’s First Earth Battalion because it kick-started a very creative surge in the army. Channon is portrayed in the film by Jeff Bridge’s who plays the character Bill Django. The First Earth Battalion is known in the film as The New Earth Army a name Jim offered the producers who wanted the creative liberty of making comedy without any direct association with the actual Battalion scenarios. Though they both claim to be based on a true story, author Jon Ronson and screenwriter Peter Straughan took wide artistic license blurring the lines between fact and fiction in order to create a somewhat dark Hollywood comedy. Here are some important facts:
• Jim Channon was never discharged from the U.S. Army. He served in the U S Army as an infantry officer and creative spark-plug from 1962 to 1982 and was in Vietnam twice 65-66 and 70-71. During his time in Vietnam, he lost just one infantry soldier and never killed an innocent civilian. He was known for his ability to imagine and illustrate the future battlefield and its advanced applications.

Returning home from Vietnam, his goal was to find non-lethal and peaceful solutions to potentially change the shape of war as we know it and save lives in the process. His work in the military was highly respected as he was asked to present to large high ranking conferences with his most creative talents and launched a simulation and games program that is now funded at 50 million dollars a year.
• Channon retired from the military in 1982 and did not serve in Iraq. (Ronson speculated that the sound healing therapies detailed in Evolutionary Tactics evolved into torture techniques in Abu Graib or Guantanamo. This is total speculation since sounds have been used since the beginning of armed struggle to influence moral or frighten the enemy.

Was The First Earth Battalion A Secret Paranormal Force In The U.S. Military?
No. The Earth Battalion has acted like a think-tank collecting and reviewing advanced human performance skills from all disciplines and it still does. It was never secret although some of the spin-off ideas may have became secret once tested (such as remote viewing.) The think-tank is still active and provides advanced human performance solutions for soldiers planet-wide. It is supported by Jim’s retirement pay and has dozens of other volunteer military thinkers as part of the brain trust. Paranormal sensibilities possessed by soldiers can increase survival rates on the modern and very complex battlefield. The goal is to create more situationally-aware combatants with a more advanced understanding of threats, allowing for peaceful incursions into dangerous areas and sparing the lives of civilians.

Optimal Futurist
Most futurists today tend to be people who communicate about what might happen in the next few years. Visionaries tend to cast images about possibilities that seem far ranging. What he does is interview leaders and scan the planet for things that are working now. Then he upgrades their potential and bundles them into socially attractive settings. So, then they become strategies that are describable and organized graphically so people may actually get at the business of creating and even constructing them. Walt Disney created the word imagineer to make the connection between visionaries and engineers. To some extent his graphics talents allow him to illustrate things that can be constructed because they are drawn in 3D. He uses a personally created advanced visual language to get this done. If you view his over 70 videos on you will see the graphics and storywork live.

His real gift is that he has scanned the social architecture of the earth and has created bundled solutions for many parts of the coming world. His focus is on qualities of life assembled in beautiful settings. He has interviewed over 2000 leaders on their ideas of a future with a higher purpose. Those ideas have been assembled in PROJECT EARTHRISE that he created with the fellows at the World Business Academy. They are ideas projected 100 years out. We believe he may be more fluent in long range futures than anyone alive at the moment. He has an extra-ordinary set of skills.

Where Are Members Today?
Not surprisingly many original members remain actively involved in planetary affairs. Jim Channon lives in Hawaii on an eco-homestead and has pioneered a wide range of evolutionary ideas for living. Jim is still actively engaged in envisioning the global militaries of the world coming together as a New Earth Army to deal with environmental and social problems of the future. He calls this endeavor Operation Noble Steward and has written about on his website and discussed it in his many You Tube videos. John Alexander, the father of non-lethal weapons has just completed a major analysis of Africa and has written two books on the future of warfare. His character in the film is played more or less by the George Clooney role although there are few direct correspondences since the comedy writer needed all the creative license he could get. John’s book, The Warrior’s Edge, provided an accurate description of many of his projects that explored phenomenology. Still exploring, he currently serves as a council member of the Society for Scientific Exploration [] and the board of directors of the International Remote Viewers’s Association []. Major General Bert Stubblebine is developing a sustainable community in Panama and raising global awareness about questionable medical practices created by large pharmaceutical companies involved in Codex. Most of the 130 some odd members of the Army’s original think-tank called Task Force Delta (where these ideas were spawned) have gone on to positions of meaningful social responsibility and other future-based technologies.

Psychic Spies, Acid Guinea Pigs, New Age Soldiers: the True Men Who Stare at Goats
BY David Hambling  /  November 6, 2009

“More of this is true than you would believe,” we’re told, just a few minutes into the movie version of The Men Who Stare At Goats, which opens today. But how many of the film’s outlandish military research projects really happened? Turns out there’s plenty of material in the movie which sticks quite close to the truth — though reality is a bit more complicated. (Warning: minor spoilers ahead.)

Psychic spies? True. The non-fiction book which serves as the movie’s basis features Colonel John B. Alexander. He served as a Special Forces commander in Vietnam and spent decades promoting the use of psychics and “remote viewers” for national security. (That is, when he wasn’t pursuing his interests in -linguistic programming, UFOs, or non-lethal weapons.) In 2007, our own Sharon Weinberger interviewed Col. Alexander in some depth on the military use of witches. “They were doing palmistry, crystal ball kinds of stuff,” he said. Danger Room also noted Col. Alexander’s long-running feud with Armen Victorian (alias Henry Azadehdel, alias Habib Azadehdel, alias Cassava N’tumba and others), orchid smuggler, conspiracy theorist and all-round spooky character in the intelligence world.

Moving into the further reaches of the fringe we find earlier work, such as Boeing’s 60’s psychic experiments which concluded that certain subjects could force a random number generator to produce a specific number by sheer willpower. By 1985 an Army report declared that “psychokinesis could, with continued research, have a potential military value for future military operations ” and as recently as 1996 the phenomenon of eyeless vision was being investigated. Military psychics may still be in business: a 2007 report suggested that the 9/11 attacks had been predicted some years beforehand by Remote Viewers. In the post-9/11 world where every option seemed worth exploring, it’s not implausible that some psychic spies were reactivated.

Drug experimentation? True. Troops were doused with everything from concentrated cannabis oil to LSD — at times, without their knowledge. Researchers would watch as servicemen would then “carry on conversations with various invisible people for as long as 2-3 days.” The CIA was so enamored of acid, the agency had to issue a memo instructing that the punch bowls at office Christmas parties were not to be spiked.

Hippie Army? True. Lt. Col. Jim Channon dove deep into the New Age movement, and came back to the military with a most alternative view of warfare — one in which troops would carry flowers and symbolic animals into battle. In the movie, Channon is played by Jeff Bridges. His First Earth Battalion is renamed the “New Earth Army.” But the ideas are the same. Much of the artwork from the New Earth manual is lifted straight from the Channon original.

Channon has been taking advantage of the publicity for his cause; this week he has a column in the Guardian newspaper, suggesting (among other things) that armies should be used for reforestation and navies to control over-fishing. The military’s interest in Eastern and alternative practices is once again on the rise. “Warrior mind training“, apparently based on ancient Samurai techniques, is being taught at Camp Lejeune as a possible treatment for PTSD. Elsewhere the Army has a $4 million initiative exploring other approaches including Reiki, transcendental meditation and “bioenergy.” The Air Force is looking into acupuncture for battlefield pain relief.

Sound weapons? True. Unpleasant sounds and repetitive music — including the Barney theme — have been used as real-life psychological warfare and interrogation techniques. (Some of the bands involved have been less than happy about it.) Repetitive music takes a long time to be effective, but loud, discordant noise is becoming more common as a method of dispersing crowds. Danger Room’s David Axe was a test subject for the LRAD sonic blaster and reported “It was like having a hundred nagging girlfriends in my brain screaming at me”, while Sharon Weinberger tried the Inferno blaster and experienced “the most unbearable, gut-wrenching noise I’ve ever heard in my life.”

Killing animals with telepathy? False. The most outrageous claims in the movie (and book) is that military psychics could kill goats by looking at them. Even John Alexander says this isn’t true.  “As I told Jon Ronson when the book first came out, Alexander writes, ‘He [one of the soldiers] hit the goat.’” Goats are the one of the preferred substitutes for human targets in military testing, and there are rumors of lethal goat-zapping experiments with the Active Denial System. Special operations Command use them for training battlefield medicine – first shoot your (anesthetised) goat —  a practice which is still controversial.

In her review of the movie, Col Alexander’s wife mentions that in real life her husband can disperse clouds by looking at them — “It certainly helped during our cruise to Antarctica!” – but asserts that he has never used his powers to kill a goat. (Look at time lapse photography of clouds and cloud-busting becomes less impressive). Psychics are notoriously prone to believing in their own powers and are often convinced that experiments have proven their abilities when the results have been equivocal. In the Guardian, Dr. Phillip Sponenberg suggests that mytonic or fainting goats plus little self-deception may be behind the supposed success of the goat-staring experiment.

However, as the First Earth Battalion’s manual makes clear, winning the psychological battle is a big part of the struggle. If your opponent believes that you can kill them with a look, then they are already half-way to being defeated. And many martial arts masters know that by overawing their students with displays that might be described as trickery, they can convince them of the value of their discipline. So it might be best not to take everything quite at face value, as Jon Ronson does in the book and Ewan Mcgregor does in the movie. Or maybe they really can kill goats with a look.

Crazy Rulers Of The World (BBC 2004)

A viewers guide to the Goats movie TRUE OR FALSE
BY John B. Alexander  /  U.S. Army (retired)  /  11.06.2009

The movie, The Men Who Stare at Goats, is based on a book of the same title. While listed as nonfiction, the facts were extrapolated almost beyond recognition. The people in the book were listed by their real names. I was named many times. While some Special Forces units experimented with various techniques, the vast majority of the incidents came from one of two other sources. Formal psi research programs were conducted in the U.S. Army Intelligence and Security Command (INSCOM). There was also a unique think tank called Task Force Delta at Headquarters Department of the Army and later at the Army War College. Delta was arguably the most innovative organization in the world. With support of senior leadership, we were consciously pushing the envelope. It should be noted that all of the explorations undertaken were done based on solid rationale.

Facts and Fiction
– The First Earth Battalion (1EB) was created by Lt. Col. Jim Channon, a brilliant imaginer and artist. He literally owns the First Earth Battalion concept.
– The 1EB was never an authorized military unit of the U.S. Army
– The 1EB was a notional concept that encouraged/allowed people to think innovatively, yet within a military construct
– The New Earth Battalion is a movie version of 1EB
– Most of the movie characters are based on real people – though some are composites
– The Kevin Spacey character seems to be made up for movie purposes
– Senior officer with ponytail (Jeff Bridges) NOT REAL
– Remote Viewing – REAL- and was a 20 year official program
– Use of Remote Viewing in Gen Dozier kidnapping by Red Brigade – REAL
– Concern about Soviet psychic research – REAL
– JEDI projects – REAL – but ad hoc (I had one of them with multi-agencies)
– Spoon bending – REAL – was taught to hundreds
– Cloud busting –REAL – though never as fast as done by Clooney
– Computer crashing – REAL – incident did happen
– Fire walking -REAL
– New Age exploration – REAL
– Running into walls – NOT REAL (is the opening scene of the movie)
– Use of LSD – not only NO, BUT HELL NO
– Hamster staring –ATTEMPTED – by Guy Savelli (a civilian martial artist)
– Goat Lab – REAL – used to train medics
– Goats – Hit by martial artists – It did die hours later
– Goats – Staring – no credible evidence to support this allegation
– Dim mak – PROBABLY REAL – supported by physical evidence
– References to a hollow army –REAL – post Vietnam was a traumatic period

Pushing The Envelope
’“If everything you’re attempting is successful, you are nowhere close to the edge!”

The U.S. Military and Creativity
BY John B. Alexander, Ph.D.  /  10.26.2008

“Colonel John Alexander was an original member of the Earth Battalion and served in many interesting paranormal scouting efforts. Eventually he headed up the non-lethal weapons world for the Army. He continues to be a trusted thinker and solid communicator to the Defense world about many of the gifts created by the members of this circle of pioneers. Thanks for this outstanding coverage of much of the Battalions near legendary works.” -Jim Channon


The U.S. Special Operations Command (USSOCOM) lists four core values: Integrity, Courage, Competency, and Creativity. In 2006, as a senior fellow at the Joint Special Operations University (JSOU), I drafted a monograph addressing creativity as it applied to Special Operations Forces (SOF).* Indeed, SOF elements pride themselves their ability to quickly adapt to rapidly changing, and often extremely dangerous situations, and rightfully so. Of concern to me was not the myriad of operations successfully conducted by small units. Rather, it was that problems emerge when large organizations, such as USSOCOM, attempt to institutionalize creativity. To quote on young U.S. Army Special Forces officer I encountered in Timbuktu, “Creativity is directly proportional to the distance from the flag pole.”

Having been involved in many creative projects during my 32 years in the United States military, and observing the Army’s responses to them, my objective was to point out that creativity is much easier to say, than it is to execute in large organizations. Almost invariably, as creative projects gain increased visibility, the more traditional values of the large system come in conflict. When that happens, steps are taken to eliminate the creative project.

In the monograph I addressed seven such innovative Army projects as well as several from the other services. (No service, organization, or individual has a corner on creativity.) The Army projects addressed were all successful, yet all were terminated as opposition from conventional sources rose. One of those projects, the Army’s Organizational Effectiveness program, was probably the largest institutional transformation project ever undertaken by any organization.

The monograph covered several projects, including remote viewing, that run counter to conventional scientific wisdom. Despite theoretical arguments about the fundamental causation, an operational capability was developed. However, because of the perceived controversial nature of some of the material, including remote viewing, an executive decision was made that the monograph would not be published by a U.S. Government organization. Based on my agreement with JSOU, I am free to publish that material in other sources. The monograph will be done in its entirety in book form at a later date.

Given the recent development of the inept and highly fictionalized book, Men Who Stare at Goats, as a movie, it was determined it would be useful to present a more accurate picture of the history surrounding some of those projects. While the book tends to present the material in a ridiculing and somewhat humorous manner, these projects were both successful and developed with a lot of serious thought behind them. Both Jim Channon and I are covered extensively in the book, for which even the title is misleading. (While there was a goat involved, it was physically hit by a martial arts instructor.) This article will present material that provides background on two of the seven projects. One lesser-known project, called Task Force Delta, was closely related to Jim Channon’s legendary and boundary-breaking work on The First Earth Battalion.** In a large part, it was we, the members of Task Force Delta, who initially helped spread the about Jim Channon’s creative endeavor.

Appendix B
Task Force Delta
‘Creativity is the power to connect the seemingly unconnected.’ -William Plomer

The early 1980s military think tank called Task Force Delta was an extremely creative organization dedicated to exploring concepts of high performance. It is unlikely that any military unit has ever been as cost-effective. General Don Starry actuated the concept when he was the U.S. Army Training and Doctrine Command (TRADOC) commander (1977-1981). He was familiar with James Grier Miller’s Living Systems theory, which was just emerging at that time. This theory posited that all living systems, no matter what size or complexity, had three main functions. Those were input, throughput, and output and they applied from unicellular life, such as ameba, through large social organizations including the U.S. Army.

General Starry believed that systems theory offered lessons that would be beneficial to the Army’s development and the future challenges that it would face. Initially Colonel Mike Malone, a respected leadership and systems theory expert, directed the evolution of the organization. With Malone’s retirement, the Task Force Delta think tank soon moved to the Army War College at Carlisle Barracks, Pennsylvania. Then Lieutenant Colonel Bill Witt provided leadership while waiting for the permanent director to be transferred from the Army Chief of Staff office. Lieutenant Colonel Frank Burns, an OE officer for General Meyer, became the director and remained there until the unit was abolished. All of those directors possessed inquisitive minds and a healthy understanding of emerging systems theory.

The basis of the Task Force Delta think tank was an extremely small core group, supported by interested people, all of whom worked in other organizations. The entire staff consisted of one lieutenant colonel, one civilian equivalent, and three administrative personnel. Participation by other people was on a totally voluntary basis. Frank Burns cast a wide net both inside the Army and in the civilian sector looking for people with innovative ideas and concepts they could contribute. Meetings were held quarterly, and most participants had to secure their own funding. Even many civilians with no other affiliation with the Army attended at their own expense. The meetings were so mentally stimulating that members rarely missed a session.

Some sessions could best be described as data gathering and mental cross-pollination. Presentations on a wide range of topics would be arranged. For many of the civilians it was a unique opportunity to provide ideas directly to an Army audience that was open to new ideas. Some noted their frustration at previous attempts to beat on the Army’s front door only to find that most offices were just too busy to listen. In those times, fighting fires was the theme of the day.

More important than the formal sessions was the ability to network with bright, innovative people. It was not uncommon for informal gatherings to go on late into the night, sometimes at the expense of nodding off the next day. That really did not matter. Also significant were the interpersonal contacts that routinely assisted participants in their regular assignments back at home station. Many deep bonds were formed. In fact, a substantial number of these relationships continue today, nearly 25 years later and long after the official demise of the Task Force Delta think tank.

On occasion, tasks would be assigned to the members attending the Task Force Delta think tank meetings. An example is when Lieutenant General Max Thurman, then Deputy Chief of Staff for Personnel, asked the group to explore all aspects of future Army personnel issues. The topics ranged from recruiting and retention to professional education, health and welfare, leadership principles, organizational structures and assignments, and emerging human capabilities. In response, meetings were conducted from Monday through Thursday noon. Initially plenary sessions occurred and later small, self-defined groups that discussed specific aspects of the personnel system. As with other meetings, these sessions tended to run through meals and late into the evening.

At noon on Thursday the discussions stopped, and the real work began. Each person decided what topic area they wanted to contribute to. A chapter outline was provided, and the teams went to work. Being very self-motivated, most people worked continuously throughout the night. When General Thurman arrived at 10:00 a.m. on Friday, he received a bound book containing the deliberations on all aspects of the personnel system and many suggestions about how to deal with future complex issues.

Two items are important to remember for this 1982 time: a) word processing, as it is commonly known today, did not exist and b) the think tank conference attendees were all volunteers. Nobody had a laptop computer, shared networks, or memory sticks. The physical requirements of producing a written document of that magnitude took tremendous effort. Nobody was graded on their input, nor would their efforts ever be reflected in personal efficiency reports. Some of the participants were civilians, whose only motivation was the excitement of being able to collaborate in a truly high performing organization and the possibility that somebody might read their concepts and recognize that it could be applied in the Army.

Obviously the book had not been edited, and chapter formats did not all match; that would come later. The success was definitively demonstrating the primary effort necessary to create such a complex document in a short period of time. The Task Force Delta think tank proved what systems theorists predicted about the possibilities that emerge when high performing organizations are tasked and then given permission to respond as they deem necessary.

The networking efforts went far beyond periodic meetings. The Task Force Delta think tank led the way in obtaining and initiating computer networks that were populated by regular people, not just techno-wizards. In the late 1970s and early 1980s, only a few researchers and innovative managers understood the potential power of computer networks. Malone envisioned a small organization that could be used to research the possibilities that emerging technology and networking provided by the think tank. At this time, personal computers were scarcely known. Yet many of the think tank members were given one to take home and use. Most of the communication was done during off-duty hours and transmitted at the rate of 600 baud, thus simple messages could take several minutes to download. In an age where 24 mega bits per second (Mbps) is attainable, communicating at such slow speeds is almost inconceivable.

While the Internet concept in 1980 was embryonic, the ability to network was considered extremely innovative. For the first time, the Task Force Delta think tank members demonstrated how to staff papers around the world in less than 24 hours. This ability was a dramatic improvement over the telecommunications of the day, or sending printouts via mail and taking weeks for coordination.

Following Malone’s initial guidance, the composition of the Task Force Delta think tank remained closely balanced. He insisted that organizational composition include what he termed both “bumblebees and butterflies.” In other words, as a counterweight to some pretty far out ideas, he wanted people with their feet planted firmly on the ground and an excellent sense for the realistic needs of the Army. As we were just coming out of the Vietnam War, virtually all of the Army officers involved had combat experience, which served well as a sobering reminder of the real world.

What the Task Force Delta think tank demonstrated was that high performing networks could provide significant advantages over traditional organizational communications. The financial costs were very small compared to the return of efforts provided from the vast volunteer network that addressed a myriad of tasks because they found it interesting. People worked extensively, not because they had to, but because they wanted to. Guidance was minimal and generally not necessary. Participants with difficult problems could have near instant access to a wide range of technical experts. As each scouted the burgeoning intellectual terrain, they reported back, often self-initiating new areas of inquiry. However, some traditional leaders viewed such intellectual freedom as a threat. Shortly thereafter, the Task Force Delta think tank was closed.

Appendix C
Origins of the First Earth Battalion
‘There are more things in heaven and earth, Horatio, than are dreamt of in your philosophy.’ -William Shakespeare, Hamlet

During the late 1970s and early 1980s one of the Army’s brightest and most futuristic thinkers was Lieutenant Colonel Jim Channon. A military intelligence officer by training, Channon served 10 years in the Infantry, including an assignment as a platoon leader in Vietnam. He also had spent some time in Public Affairs. As such, he was even assigned the Army interface with Hollywood. During this period Channon initiated a scouting mission to explore the various emerging human potential movements that were burgeoning in California at the time. This effort was purely volitional and conducted mostly on his free time. In no way could his activities be construed as part of the domestic surveillance activities that later led to extreme difficulties for the military.6

Among his personal skills Channon was (and still is) a phenomenally gifted artist. He had an extraordinary ability to listen to people describe abstract concepts, then quickly transform those ideas into easily understandable graphics. In fact, some of the basic symbols and graphic designs used in the Army today originated with Channon over 25 years ago. His artistic ability and mental acuity were widely known by senior officers who often coveted his capabilities. Before Thurman briefed the U.S. Army senior leadership, he would always ask, “Where’s Jimmy?” Although assigned outside of the Pentagon, even on the West Coast, Channon would be summoned to quickly create the visual briefing materials. His renderings included a vast number of the normal overhead transparencies as well as his large-scale summaries called “monster-grams,” continuous charts that would cover many feet and could be taped to the walls of the briefing room. The state of the art in projection technology had not advanced to a degree anywhere close to what is available today.

Channon was also a key member of the Task Force Delta think tank and worked closely with Frank Burns and others in that circle. Therefore, he was one of the group who were seriously engaged in studying cultural transformation in the post-Vietnam era. As repeated attempts to convey transitional concepts in traditional briefing format failed, Channon realized that an innovative framework was required to help people fully understand the significance of these events. As with all organizations, especially old institutions, change is mightily resisted. The concept, he believed, had to be one that fostered free thinking, or what later became known as “out of the box” thinking.

The name First Earth Battalion literally appeared in his head during one of his many transcontinental flights. He terms this innovation as a “mystical hit.” The concept was to create a large catalogue of possibilities and display them graphically. At that time a book titled The Whole Earth Catalogue was selling widely in New Age circles. It contained pages and pages of new technologies, techniques, and materials from which the reader could choose. Similarly, Channon created the First Earth Battalion catalogue as a field manual, which was designed to provide readers a permissive-thinking platform. Channon now describes the Earth Battalion as protomythological—looking at the future while rooted in a historic framework (the battalion). The motto of the First Earth Battalion was dare to think the unthinkable. These words were taken in a positive sense, not the foreboding notion that meant massive death.

Channon’s drawings were done in black and white. Often they were sketchy and suggestive with limited text, and the concepts intentionally never were written out in detail. He wanted people to fill in the missing material for themselves. The concept was to get people to think, not to view the catalogue as a finished document, or worse, a total blueprint for an actual Army organization.

Many of the concepts were way beyond the understanding of traditional Army officers. For instance, exchanging soldiers and their families to populate critical targets in opposing countries was never seriously considered as a viable operational concept. Rather, by describing a conscience corps, Channon was focusing on the consequences in human terms should a nuclear exchange occur. In truth, many in the military had become rather cavalier when discussing nuclear strike capabilities. However impractical in reality the notion was, it did cause readers to think about the implications of nuclear strikes in a new and more personal light. He eventually bundled these ideas under what he called “combat for collective conscience.” As he predicted, global opinion today is shaped by the ethical judgments of the world that watches combat unfold.

Well before the current outpouring of concerns about global warming, Channon’s work had strong ecological preservation components. He envisioned energy conservation, recycling technologies, and reforestation as voluntary integrants of the military, not issues to be forced on posts through draconian legislation. In many areas Channon’s concepts were way ahead of their times; and he readily acknowledges the need for an incubation period, often years and maybe decades, before new ideas can be brought to fruition. As a further example, in a 1979 version of the First Earth Battalion, he already envisioned strategic micro forces—smaller units that could act decisively without requiring the massing of larger forces. In a way, he was describing what SOF has become but at a time when these elements were not as highly regarded as they are today.

Balance was an essential element in much of Channon’s work. In some areas the Army could easily accept his ideas. Physical fitness, albeit with lower impact on joints, was reasonable. He was a strong advocate of establishing and maintaining a healthy diet. New theories were emerging about how the brain functions and exercises to enhance cognitive capabilities. The use of previsualization before engaging in complex tasks was encouraged. Also advocated were ancient, and proven effective, meditation techniques.

Establishing a balance between mind and body seemed to resonate well in the Army. However, Channon’s notions of integrating spiritual concepts, especially ones that transcended national boundaries, were of more concern to some casual observers. In fact, the First Earth Battalion did suggest that individuals would operate in a global, not national, context and focused on planetary peace making. The acknowledgement of a tripartite balance of body, mind, and spirit is less well accepted within military circles. The concept of the warrior-monk has survived for millennia. However, in the U.S. Army, spiritual matters were generally left to the chaplains and seen as matters of personal choice. Channon, however, invoked the need for balance in all three domains, and did so unapologetically.

At the time Channon wrote the First Earth Battalion, General “Shy” Meyer was the U.S. Army Chief of Staff. As the Deputy Chief of Staff for Operations, he had inherited an Army that was in need of repair. Meyer’s efforts to rebuild the Army continued as he was selected over many more senior generals as one of the youngest Army Chiefs of Staff. Throughout his tenure Meyer strived to create an environment that permitted exploration. Channon viewed the publication of the First Earth Battalion, and its acceptance by many senior officers, as a mechanism for more junior officers to see that they had permission to think more freely.7

A limited number of original copies were made of the First Earth Battalion. Initially these 300 copies were circulated to selected members of Task Force Delta think tank. The draft annotation on the title page expressed the notion that this document was a living instrument. Demand for copies quickly grew as information about the script spread via word of mouth. Those officers holding originals began photocopying additional copies and handing them to friends. Channon notes that this was an intentional means of distribution as it created a mystique about the nature of the manuscript and gave it enhanced value. Many people who had only a vague notion of the Task Force Delta think tank wanted copies of the coveted First Earth Battalion. People who never would have normally read the paper did so because of the preternatural aura associated with owning a copy. The underground distribution technique probably ensured wider readership than it would have obtained had it been formally printed and officially sent out. The effectiveness of this scheme has been noted. Over the decades, photocopied versions of the original manuscript could be found with officers who were interested in future concepts. With the military today, a sub rosa element that circulates this document still exists.

Soon this somewhat mysterious concept was to escape beyond the bonds of the Army. Within a short time civilian media were asking Channon for information about the First Earth Battalion. In February 1982, a popular publication of the day, Omni Magazine, carried an article by that title. That was quickly followed by a Dateline segment on NBC that featured Lieutenant Colonel Channon discussing the inner workings of the notional organization. Despite prior approval of the Public Affairs Office at Fort Lewis, Washington, many senior officers in the “Big Army” were not happy seeing a lieutenant colonel pushing the conceptual envelope on national television.

Under-appreciated by a number of traditional-minded generals, Channon retired from the Army in September 1982. He retained the copyright for First Earth Battalion, and in recent years he has slightly updated the original publication by adding a colored cover. It is currently available on the Internet. In 2005 more than 10,000 copies were downloaded for free; printed copies are sold to those interested in that format. As testament to the efficacy of the notional concepts Channon brought to the Army, he successfully transitioned those same skills to the civilian sector. There, he has assisted a dozen of the world’s largest 100 companies (and many others) to envision their futures. He provides multidimensional graphics and storytelling magic that allow their employees to more fully comprehend, and be charged, by the company’s objectives.

In a recent interview, Channon noted many of the key aspects that led to the development of First Earth Battalion. At that time the Army depended heavily on formal written documents to convey structural information. Various field manuals and other official publications provided rather sterile, highly organized transfer mechanisms for technical information. Eschewed by the military, Channon opined, was transmission of the cultural information that engendered the soul of the organization. Like today, the late 1970s was a period of cultural transformation as the Army struggled to recover from the distasteful experience of Vietnam. To be successful, the change must be deeper than doctrine documents. Channon’s objective was to revitalize the Army he loved at a most visceral level.

Channon studied various religious rites of passage. Throughout history these rituals have evoked primal emotions, a very scary notion, even counterintuitive, for many staid military officers. He noted also the importance of symbology and ceremonies. True loyalty was not something obtained by a written or sworn oath. Rather deep and abiding loyalty comes from shared common experience, especially when endured in hardship. To communicate culture means establishing programs that produced many such shared experiences and often incorporated historical events of great importance to the organization. He noted that cultural transference through ceremonies has tended to be squeezed out by the exigencies of day-to-day business. The importance of this medium is still not fully understood.

Beyond the printed document, Channon embodied the essence of cultural transformation. He advocated and demonstrated the ability to simultaneously communicate complex, value-laden information on multiple channels simultaneously. Employing visual and auditory effects as well as orchestrated emotional stimuli, Channon’s techniques had the ability to initiate concordance in multisensory modes so that soldiers would integrate the Army’s values at a deep-seated, core level.

End Notes:
* Among the SOF elements are U.S. Army Rangers, U.S. Army Special Forces, U.S. Navy SEALS and Special Boat units, U.S. Air Force Air Commandos, and other specialized units.
** Note that Task Force Delta was an Innovate think tank that had no relationship with any other military organization using Delta In Its title.

{John Alexander currently lives In Las Vegas and, though retired, Is still active with several governmental and nongovernmental agencies.}

John Alexander
email : nonlethal2 [at] aol [dot] com


“Dr. John Alexander has been a leading advocate for the development of non-lethal weapons since he created renewed interest in the field starting in 1989. An original thinker, he has developed other unique concepts for conflict that must remain undisclosed at this time. He entered the US Army as a private in 1956 and rose through the ranks to sergeant first class, attended OCS, and was a colonel of Infantry in 1988 when he retired. During his varied career, he held many key positions in special operations, intelligence, and research and development. From 1966 through early 1969 he commanded Special Forces A-Teams in Vietnam and Thailand. His last military assignment was as Director, Advanced Systems Concepts Office, US Army Laboratory Command. After retiring from the Army, Dr. Alexander joined Los Alamos National Laboratory where he was instrumental in developing the concept of Non-Lethal Defense. As a program manager, he conducted non-lethal warfare briefings at the highest levels of government including the White House Staff, National Security Council, Members of Congress, Director of Central Intelligence, and senior Defense officials. He also met with heads of industry, and presented at academic institutions, including Columbia, Harvard and MIT.

Dr. Alexander organized and chaired the first five major conferences on non-lethal warfare and served as a US delegate to four NATO studies on the topic. As a member of the Council on Foreign Relations non-lethal warfare study, he was instrumental in influencing the report that is credited with causing the Department of Defense to create a formal Non-Lethal Weapons Policy in July 1996. For several years, he has been a distinguished guest lecturer at the US Air Force Air University and participated in key war games when non-lethal weapons were first being considered. Dr. Alexander wrote the seminal articles on current non-lethal warfare.”

Staring at Goats: The Rest of the Story
BY John B. Alexander  /  10.02.2009

There has been substantial derision associated with the book, The Men Who Stare at Goats, and the movie of the same name. However, information has recently come to light that suggests that the basic concept that led to the ignoble title was derived from a painful lesson in the U.S. Army Special Forces history. Specifically, it stems from the capture, and lengthy captivity, of then-Lieutenant James “Nick” Rowe in South Vietnam. For those who may not be familiar with him, Rowe is still considered a hero in Special Forces. Unfortunately, despite his legendary actions as a prisoner of war (POW) in Vietnam, he was assassinated by communist insurgents in Quezon City, in the Philippines on 21 April 1989. Almost presciently, now-Colonel Rowe had reported that he was second or third on the terrorist’s target list.

The basics of his capture and imprisonment are known. On 29 October 1963, LT Rowe, along with Captain Rocky Versace and team medic, Sergeant First Class Dan Pitzer, was taken as a POW near the village of Le Coeur in An Xuyen Province while advising a Civilian Irregular Defense Group (CIDG) unit. The team members were separated and later, in 1965, Rocky Versace was executed by the Viet Cong. He was last heard singing God Bless America at the top of his voice. It was based on reports of his continued resistance, that Versace was awarded the Congressional Medal of Honor in 2002.

Then, in December 1968, 62 months after falling into the hands of the Viet Cong, Rowe was rescued during an American air cavalry raid in the U-Minh Forest also known as the “forest of darkness.” The years in captivity were extremely harsh for Rowe. He repeatedly attempted to escape and was frequently subjected to torture and physical deprivation. Like Versace, he was also threatened with execution on several occasions. As the VC had grown tired of his continued resistance, Rowe was finally scheduled for execution at the end of December, just a few days after his fortuitous rescue. Even that event proved to be a close call as Rowe was nearly shot by the helicopter crews. Though clad in black pajamas, he was recognized as an American by his beard and scooped up.

Throughout his years in detention Rowe maintained a constant vigil and mental awareness of his surroundings. Though physically weakened, he tried many methods to gain an upper hand. For a long time he convinced the Viet Cong that he was an engineer who happened to be the war zone. Rowe was concealing the fact that he was a Special Forces intelligence officer and had access to information about camps across the Mekong Delta. It was only after some American peace-advocates went to North Vietnam and provided a complete list of names and units that his captors learned his true identity and that they had been fooled. Rowe paid a high price for that revelation, but he had successfully evaded being forced to provide useful information to the enemy. By the time the Viet Cong understood his importance, the information he had was too dated to be actionable.

After his recovery from serious diseases and extensive injuries, Rowe left the Army. Then, in 1981 he was recalled to active duty and went to Ft. Bragg where he became the director the Survival Evasion Resistance and Escape (SERE) course.* The intent of that course was to prepare members of special operations forces, and other personnel conducting high risk missions, to be better prepared for the eventuality of being cut off from friendly forces or worse yet, captured. Obviously, it was Colonel Rowe’s personal experience in captivity that caused the senior leadership of the U.S. Army Special Forces to place him in that position of high responsibility.

Enter the goats. As mentioned, during his captivity Rowe tried a wide variety of techniques to assist in escape. Being the director of SERE, he had considerable latitude in exploration of unique measures that might be helpful for the students. Drawing on his background Rowe was determined to explore all options of techniques that might prove useful. To that end, he directed a senior NCO assigned to the school to track down information about dim mak, a relatively obscure martial arts skill known in English as the death touch. Dim mak defies conventional physiology. It is not a hard blow to a vital organ. Rather, it involves a relatively light strike that is designed to interrupt the flow of chi (or ki in the Japanese tradition) in such a manner that death follows several hours later. According to Chinese medicine philosophy, this life force, or chi, flows along meridians throughout the body and moderates all human functioning. This concept of chi is the basis for the Eastern medical practice of acupuncture, and while easily observable it is not commonly accepted by Western medicine practitioners.

Rowe was painfully aware of the physical degradation that follows captivity. He reasoned that almost all traditional martial arts techniques require too much physical exertion for most prisoners to execute effectively. His interests therefore, were in locating and pursuing techniques that could be employed by POWs while requiring minimum output of physical energy. (Are we still laughing?)

The NCO went to the U.S. Military Academy at West Point and worked with members of the combative skills course. There he was told about a civilian instructor by the name of Guy Savelli who professed some of these very advanced skills.

Savelli was contacted, his capabilities verified, and then he was brought to Ft. Bragg where he taught several students. As I told Jon Ronson when the book first came out, “He hit the goat.” At that time I thought it was Savelli who had executed the blow to the goat in question. In fact, it was this same senior NCO who had been trained by Savelli who hit the goat leading directly to its death several hours after that. It was the moderate physical energy expended combined with the delay in time of death that was the sought after outcome. It worked.

As I recorded in my first book, The Warrior’s Edge, I have seen the photos taken of the necropsy that show most remarkable physical damage to the goat. Specifically, there was a path of energy, not unlike what a bullet would produce while transiting a body, which ran across the chest cavity. The difference was that there was no wound of entrance or wound of exit. The NCO has recently confirmed those observations as well. That experiment may be the first tangible, albeit elusive, evidence that dim mak can produce physical results (death). Like this NCO, I trained with Savelli, but for a shorter period of time. That experience left little doubt that Savelli had mastered some very advanced martial arts skills and could teach them to others.

Rowe was not prepared to limit his inquiry to the physical impact of dim mak. Based on his extensive experience with his Viet Cong captors, he believed that they could be mentally influenced. The first objectives were relatively simple. Could a guard be made to look in a certain direction? Could the prisoner cause the guard to walk in a specified direction, or pause for a longer period of time? What were the limits of influence that could be applied by a prisoner?

While the answers to these questions remain obscured, there is some literature, mostly anecdotal, that supports the notion that remote influence is a distinct possibility. During my training in the Washington area, Savelli described to us a technique he called the mind stops. In it, he claimed that he could confront an adversary, and then he would maneuver himself behind that person without them being aware of his movement. This capability is not unique and has been reported by other researchers. One fairly well documented case is that of Wolf Messing, a German Jew who fled to the USSR at the beginning stages of World War II. His unusual mental skills attracted the attention of Stalin who arranged for a series of tests. During one dramatic demonstration he was able to pass by attentive guards and enter Stalin’s well-protected house. When questioned, the guards claimed that they had witnessed Lavrenti Beria, dreaded head of the NKVD, enter the premises, not Messing.

Another, more extreme, form of remote mental influence was reported by KGB defector, Major Nikolai Kokolov. Among other topics Kokolov reported on the extent of psychic research being conducted during the Cold War. In debriefings, he described the Soviet use of mental influencing to actually fracture the spinal columns of test subjects. Current readers may not be aware that lethal experimentation on humans was conducted in several subject areas. By the time he took over leadership of SERE, COL Rowe had access to that intelligence information as well as his personal experience with similar techniques to draw upon.

It is worth noting that beyond the anecdotes, there is scientific research has been conducted in the area of remote influencing. In its most basic form, prayer is a method of invoking remote intervention in one’s life, and there are many studies demonstrating the success of those techniques. Those are beyond the scope of this piece, but worth exploring to interested readers.

In addition to esoteric mental influence techniques, the SERE instructors explored more mundane and pragmatic approaches as well. Of particular interest were martial arts techniques in which the initial movements appeared normal and non-threatening. As an example, simply brushing one’s hair aside in a seemingly harmless manner may allow the prisoner to move their hand within a few inches of a guard’s eyes. Under other conditions, allowing a prisoner’s hand close to vital organs would be perceived as a potential attack, and would likely cause a severe response by the guard.

Camouflaging intent of aggression is not new. In fact, there is an entire martial arts form that was founded on the concept of masquerading offensive movements, thus allowing practice to occur uninhibited. Capoeira is a Brazilian fighting art form that was developed by the African slaves as they prepared for conflict with their owners. The graceful and intricate movements were portrayed as a harmless folk dance. In reality, the moves were designed to enhance the fighting skills of the practitioners. The history dates back at least two centuries, and Capoeira can be observed in many Brazilian cities today.

As renowned commentator Paul Harvey used to proclaim, “And know you know the rest of the story.” Therefore, taken in context, staring at goats, or hitting them, makes more sense than what one might initially believe. Instead of being overly concerned about a foreigner’s attempt at humor via gross distortion of truth, maybe we should embrace this opportunity to explain the perfectly logical origins that form the basis of those experiments. That includes acknowledging visionary contributions of one of our heroes and fallen comrade, Colonel Nick Rowe!

• The site, located at Camp Mackall, NC, is now officially the Colonel James “Nick” Rowe SERE Training Center
• Note: SFC Pitzer was released by the Viet Cong in 1967. This action was in response to American protestor visits. Pitzer was a medic, and the other two POWs released were black soldiers as the VC played the race card.
• Like many SOF personnel, the NCO involved with the SERE training described wishes to remain anonymous. While retired from the U.S. Army, he continues to work in a sensitive position serving the interests of his country.

My First Earth Battalion comes to life in The Men Who Stare at Goats
BY Jim Channon  /  2 November 2009

Five years ago, Jon Ronson showed up on my doorstep to interview me for a TV series, Crazy Rulers of the World. I watched with interest as he digested all the edgy ideas about an army trying to reinvent itself for the 21st century into his programme. Jon’s job was to show the paradox between how visionaries think and how politicians get it wrong. He then expanded the show into a book, The Men Who Stare at Goats, partly based on my First Earth Battalion manual.

The Battalion “mythology” I developed was a creative thinking tool designed to encourage the young leaders in the army to think of new ways, with the aim of changing the nature of war and improving the chances of survival for all involved. It was intended to stretch the imagination. The film is a comedy, because the screenwriter Peter Straughan saw great potential in the humorous contrast between the soldier archetype and some of the more “hippy” ideas mentioned.

So, why did four of the brightest actors in Hollywood team up to make a movie about a small, activist band of army officers? Was it their fascination with the audacity and spirit of these men, who wanted to make a difference in the world? Could it have been George Clooney, known for his politically provocative films, who felt he just had to tell the world the unbelievable tale about a very creative period in the US army’s history?

People ask if I’m upset about myself or other members of the First Earth Battalion being portrayed as fools. I guess it’s the ultimate “roast”. What I’m mostly pleased about is that the First Earth Battalion’s shelf life has been extended far into the future, and that the real story now has a chance of getting out.
Strategic shamanism and the new world order
BY Jim Channon  /  3 November 2009

I find it very interesting to remind people that 30 years have passed since I wrote the Earth Battalion field manual. I’ve always wanted the story to be told by Hollywood – it’s one of great hope and promise, a mythology meant to start a social movement and to inspire individuals, both military and civilian. The goal is to evolve beyond conflict to a new level of peace-making where we can collectively address the social and environmental challenges that create global conflicts in the first place. So I have been doing lots of other strategic shamanic work since 1978.

My work shifted to corporations: I have taken the same approach to redirecting Fortune 500 companies and other large institutions toward their higher purposes; I leave them with visionary illustrations to guide the followup. I came to London and reminded Shell that they were really a liquid transportation company and they could carry fresh water about with virtually the same technology they use for oil. Paradigm shift!

But old-world thinking persists on the battlefield. What really gets my goat is that the “shock and awe” that happened in Baghdad is now part of the reason it’s taking so long for trust to be restored in Iraq and Afghanistan. That’s hard on the frontline soldiers.
The paranormal soldier demystified
BY Jim Channon  /  4 November 2009

The term “psychic spy” features in The Men Who Stare at Goats. That’s because the paranormal is critical to New Earth Army missions. Firstly, an extended range of perception using all senses is the key to not stepping into a killing zone. Modern warfare may seem less violent than traditional scenes of men charging up hills in the face of oncoming fire. But paradoxically, it can be worse – worse because civilians are also often present in the battle area. One miscue and an avalanche of bullets or shrapnel can be triggered in which everyone in range becomes the victim of the chaos. Not entering such situations is the key to victory.

Remember, the real victims of war are the young soldiers who must live a lifetime of regret and trauma because they have inadvertently killed a woman or child in the heat of a firefight. We must accept that the trauma victims of modern warfare are casualties for the rest of their lives. Not moving into danger zones is simply the most skillful thing any unit can do in many situations.

Another important idea about the paranormal is that it is currently one of the most overlooked skillsets in modern life. We must awaken to the possibility that the most important single advance the human race can make to enter this century where we engage the galaxy and all of its mysteries will require we become adept at moving through dimensions of many kinds. We must tend to our interdimensional world.
The armies of the world should unite to save Earth
BY Jim Channon  /  5 November 2009

It is often overlooked, but the Marshall Plan executed after the second world war may have been the largest humanitarian exercise in the history of the planet. The allied armies decided to put Europe back together. Military forces had, and have, the tools and proper organisation to help reconstruct the very things they have destroyed. Imagine if all services were asked to recover the living biosphere of our planet which we know is compromised. The Earth is the only stage for life that we have.

After years of thinking I have conceived of important missions matched to a corresponding capability for each branch of service. The army would properly reforest and clean the fresh water sources. The navy would control over-fishing and recycle the ocean waste. The marines would tend the shorelines and restore the coral reefs and wetland areas. Then the air forces would sense the environment from above and detect polluters while also having the instant mass transport of rescue villages for all the displaced refugees likely to surface during climate change.

The many national guard units would reconstruct the countryside with the assistance of the youth to bring nature back to her fullness for a more decentralised and sustainable world. The corporations would all shift 30 degrees to the green. Global villages and the internet will become our worldwide exchange system, and former power centres will just be support services. The world is already one culture. Countries are obsolete and have been for 30 years.


Precepts For More Effective Training: “To have paranormal results, one must live a paranormal life.”



Jedi Warrior Training for the U.S. Army Special Forces Green Berets
BY Dr. Joel & Michelle Levey, Program Co-designers and Directors of Advanced Biocybernaut Training

Our Trojan Warrior Program – aka – Jedi Warrior, or the Ultimate Warrior Training Program for the U.S. Army Special Forces – is to date the most intensive mental training and transformation program to be offered in the military in modern times. The program review team at West Point Military Academy described Jedi Warrior as, “The most exquisite orchestration of human technology that we have ever seen.” Two of our advisors, George Leonard and Michael Murphy, founders of Esalen and the Human Potential Movement, described the program as “the most intensive leadership and human development program to be offered in modern times.”

The full story on this program has yet to be fully told and we are the only members of the original design team who were also involved with the program’s full delivery.  The senior officer whose inspired leadership brought this program into being, has asked us to consider writing the definitive full story of this historic program. Some day we hope to fulfill his request.  We are frequently invited to offer briefings on this program for leaders around the globe who are interested in the profound implications of applying lessons learned to equipping cadres of leaders in other disciplines with the wisdom, resiliency and capacity to accomplish their complex missions. This work clearly has increasing relevance in preparing leaders and communities to resiliently meet the challenges, and embrace the opportunities, of these times.

Special Forces of the Mind
In 1982 we were approached by the US. Army to design and direct the “Ultimate Warrior Training Program”, AKA “Jedi Warrior,” and “The Ultimate Warrior,” for two A Teams of Special Forces, Green Berets.  This six month-long, full-time program came about through the efforts of a number of concerned and high-ranking officers who were inspired by the vision of the First Earth Battalion, compelled by the psi/ESPinage research taking place in China and behind the Iron Curtain, and by increasing interest in advanced mental development possibilities. These leaders also lived with the grief of knowing how much unnecessary suffering took place during and following the war in South East Asia, and wanted to find ways to reduce the likelihood of that happening in the future. (Note: It was estimated at that time that more than twice as many men and women committed suicide after returning from SE Asia than died in combat… envision three Vietnam Memorials…)

These visionary and compassionate leaders understood that because their people were unprepared to stop the war inside themselves, under pressure the seeds of violence within them manifested as the outer violence that destroyed many innocent people, including their families and themselves. We were told that more than twice as many people committed suicide after returning home than died in combat, and that they lived with the grief of that knowledge on a daily basis. These courageous military leaders approached us with a hope and confidence that we would be able to help design a state of the art, advanced leadership and human development program for their elite Special Forces soldiers.

The stakes were very high. We* were asked to work with two highly strategic elite teams, whose mission had the potential to either trigger or avert World War III, under the old Cold War scenario. Our mission was to design and deliver a full-time intensive and holistic program to equip these two A Teams of Special Forces Troops with the personal, team, and mission capabilities necessary to recognize and reduce the conflict/war within themselves so they could perform at peak levels in the midst of extreme danger and distress – such as working behind enemy lines for prolonged periods of time.

Prior to submitting our proposal, we went through considerable soul searching. We consulted many of our mentors and advisors, and contemplated the potential implications, both positive and negative of participating in designing and implementing such a program. During this same period, Trident submarine was coming into Puget Sound for the first time. As we pondered this RFP from the Army we realized that if we had six months to train the crew of a nuclear submarine that we would feel that the world was a safer place. It became clear that the benefits to the men and to the globe were potentially extreme. We assembled our team, created and submitted our proposal for a six-month full time training program. We received an almost immediate reply from leaders at West Point Military Academy who evaluated our proposal and stated that our proposal represented “the most exquisite orchestration of human technology we had ever seen!”  Their response was heartening.

In preparation for the program we engaged dozens of our mentors to ask for their council and advice.  Our primary question for them was: “If you had the opportunity to work intensively for six months with men who were in a position to start or stop the next world war, what would you do and what would be most essential to teach them?” Our advisors and collaborators ranged from Vietnam veterans and respected military leaders, to leading martial artists, noted researchers like Elmer Green from the Menninger Foundation, Benedictine monk Brother David Steindl-Rast, and Nobel Peace Laureate, His Holiness the Dalai Lama. By the time the program began, we had woven the best of our own experience with the insights of many others to deliver what Michael Murphy, founder of the Esalen Institute, and Esquire editor George Leonard, once called, “the most intensive leadership and human development program to be offered in modern times.”

For this pioneering project we designed an extensive lab of state-of-the art technology to teach the men mastery of their minds and bodies.  It was vital that our soldiers learned skills for recognizing and transforming their inner demons into inner allies.  Our advanced Biocybernaut training combined technologies of biofeedback, neurofeedback, cyberphysiology, and contemplative inner methods of mastery drawn from the vast array of contemplative science traditions. In our lab the soldiers developed the skill and confidence necessary to sense and control many previously unconscious physiological functions: they learned to recognize and control muscle tension, to control blood circulation in order to keep their hands warm in cold environments, manage the intensity and physiology of their responses to stress. For many visiting dignitaries to the base, the Jedi Biocybernaut Lab became a first stop on the tour of the base, where they learned that it was actually possible to recognize and control the level of their blood pressure. The lab included the world’s first multiple-synchrony brainwave feedback system, which we helped to design, in order to teach up to sixteen people at a time to “synchronize” their brain waves in order to move toward a team resonance and flow state of deep attunement to each other’s inner state of being.

Our goal with all of this modern and ancient technology was to build the soldiers’ skills and confidence that they could indeed recognize, understand, and influence/control their mental, emotional, and physiological experience, and that they could strengthen the mindful clarity they’d need to choose the wisest path of action even in the midst of the “VUCA” conditions of the battlefield.  (Note:  VUCA is a military term referring to operations in Volatile, Uncertain, Chaotic, and Ambiguous conditions.  Our training helped equip our men with the skills necessary to bring a deeper Vision, Understanding, Clarity, and Agility forward to meet the challenges of their VUCA mission environments.)

For men who were outwardly fearless and willing to give their lives for their country, the most terrifying part of our training was a month-long silent meditation retreat that was called, “the encampment.”  This was a time of intensive mental training and martial arts training where they learned skills for looking deeply into their own minds and bodies in order to recognize, befriend and transform their “inner enemies”, to resolve inner conflicts and tap inner strengths that could influence their outer effectiveness. They deepened their insight into how these internal enemies could ultimately cost them their lives if they were deployed on their mission. Our teams discovered and learned how to tap reservoirs of inner strength they never dreamed existed. Following this month of intensive mindfulness and meditation training the men were parachuted at night into a four-day ordeal called “the gut check” – a field simulation in very rugged terrain with a series of tests and check-points that needed to be passed on a strict timeline or the men would not have food or water for the next leg of the test.  Our two teams were the first in history to muster both the individual and team strengths necessary to successfully complete this extremely arduous mission simulation.

The “integral nature” of the Jedi Warrior training design provided an exquisite blend of methods for developing the wholeness and extra-ordinary capabilities of our soldiers. Ours was also the first program for the Special Forces to openly address issues regarding death, dying and grieving. We introduced highly sophisticated methods of physical and team training that were a step beyond the somewhat archaic practices that were the norm in their physical training. Our men learned to make wiser choices in diet to promote higher levels of performance. Jedi Warrior training enabled our soldiers to develop extraordinary skills for self-mastery, self-regulation, and resilience.  They learned skills for high-performance sleep, deep relaxation, energy healing, and how to find an inner state of calm intensity in which they could focus their minds for self -healing or to maintain states of clear alertness for long periods of time. They trained intensively in the martial art of Aikido, a martial art form that emphasizes cultivating a greater sensitivity to energy flow and force while creatively transforming the energy of inner and outer conflict. We applied these learnings to enhancing the mission skills and technical capabilities essential to their success, such as working with code, emergency medical work, and other vital skills necessary for their work. We also worked closely with the soldiers’ families and significant others to help integrate these insights and learnings into their home life and relationships.

In addition to the outcomes summarized below, some of the most notable impacts of our work were evident in an enhanced quality of communication and relationship with their families. Many wives and children of the men thanked us because their spouse/father came home and talked to them and openly shared his feelings and fears. Some commented that their husband/father seemed more in control of his emotions and was able to talk through difficulties without getting physically abusive. One team was selected as the most outstanding team in the NATO Games that year. Many of these men went on to train others in these inner arts, while others were recruited by Delta Force and other special units in the Service. Others taught at the War College or were decorated for their special roles in operations in Somalia, the Gulf War, and Eastern Europe. Over the years we have heard from many of the men that what they learned has saved their lives, their missions, their teams, and their families from many difficult situations. Reports over time indicate that the program had a profound effect on the lives of those who participated in it, opening a vast horizon of new possibilities for personal and professional development. The benefits of this investment in these people’s lives continue to this day.

Organizational Warrior Training: Special Forces at Work
The methods distilled through our work with the Jedi Warrior project have inspired and informed the design of hundreds of programs we have subsequently offered to organizations around the globe. Jedi Warrior provided an organizational learning laboratory that has great relevance for leaders in complex, high-stakes systems who seek wisdom, resilience, mindful presence, collective creative intelligence, fierce compassion, and courage. With practice, the Jedi Warrior core disciplines allow insight and intuition to deepen, courage and confidence to grow, health and performance to improve, and innovation to be guided by a wisdom congruent with the pressing needs of the times.

When our colleagues in other organizations hear about the work we did with the Army Special Forces, they often respond by saying,  “We need a Jedi Warrior or ‘ultimate warrior’ training program for the people in our organization! We work on an organizational battlefield with every growing levels of volatility, uncertainty, complexity, and ambiguity and need to develop greater skills to increase our personal and collective resilience, wisdom, creativity, and strength.” In response to these requests we have designed and delivered a variety of programs incorporating methods from the Jedi Warrior program for over 100 corporate clients around the globe with inspiring and enduring results.

*The original design for this program was created by us (Joel & Michelle Levey) and Bud Cook, and then at a later stage we brought in Richard Strozzi Heckler (aikido teacher), and Jack Cirie (team leader) as members of our core delivery team.  It was inspired by the vision of Lt. Col. Jim Channon’s inspired work with the First Earth Battalion.  A host of remarkable advisers and visiting trainers also participated in this program, and each brought great wisdom, expertise, and inspiration to this historic training.

Joel & Michelle Levey
email : levey [at] wisdomatwork [dot] com


The Defense Center of Excellence (DCoE) for Psychological Health (PH) and Traumatic Brain Injury (TBI) is soliciting proposals for studies on Complementary and Alternative Medicine (CAM) in service members dealing with sustainment and treatment for psychological health and promoting healing for traumatic brain injuries in service-members. The high prevalence of psychoneurological and other brain injuries associated with the current OEF/OIF war effort make it especially important to understand current use of CAM therapies by service-members, and to explore approaches that may be particularly effective in both protecting and treating the injured service-member. The DoD is dedicated to supporting evidence-based approaches to medical treatment and wants to support the use of alternative therapies if they are proven efficacious. Specific aims of this call for proposals focus on a holistic approach for trauma spectrum disorders, including patients with TBI and/or post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), depression, anxiety, and/or substance dependence/abuse. With the focus on a holistic approach for trauma spectrum disorders, including patients with TBI and/or post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), depression, anxiety, and/or substance dependence/abuse, the following delineate several of the areas of interest: 1. Conducting rigorous clinical studies to determine the efficacy of alternative therapies for treating psychological health injuries using techniques such as music, animal-facilitated therapy, art, dance/movement, massage therapy, EMDR program evaluation, virtual reality, acupuncture, spiritual ministry, transcendental meditation, yoga and other novel approaches. 2. Identification of patterns of use of CAM therapies to build resilience in military populations, 3. Identification of factors and perceptions associated with use of alternative and complementary therapies by service-members, 4. Studies of mechanisms and efficacy of biologically-based treatments, botanicals, and nutritional supplements for enhancing cognitive function and mood in patients with trauma spectrum disorders, including TBI and/or PTSD, depression, anxiety, and/or substance dependence/abuse, 5. Studies that examine gender-specific implications and issues related to the use of CAM therapies, 6. Biological mechanisms and efficacy underlying acupuncture for trauma spectrum disorders, including TBI and/or PTSD, depression, anxiety, and/or substance dependence/abuse, including neuroimaging studies, and 7. Identification of the use and efficacy of therapies using bioenergies such as Qi gong, Reiki, distant healing, and acupuncture, especially new biophysical approaches involving instrumentation.Proposals must provide a clear justification and military relevance for the choice of therapies selected for study. Collaboration with DoD medical researchers at the Defense and Veterans Brain Injury Center (DVBIC), clinical research laboratories at military medical centers and VA centers are encouraged and will be considered in the selection of awards. Studies should be designed to test pragmatic and theoretical components at once; thus, they need to include sham control to separate specific from non-specific effects. Rationale should include why the intervention should have effects across trauma spectrum and evaluate putative mechanisms. Use of primary care and community sites should be accessed and networked into participate. Two types of proposals will be considered. Individual research proposals containing preliminary data are expected to average $200,000 per year for up to four years of support; no proposal award will exceed $1M in total funding (including indirect costs). Seedling grants proposing innovative but testable hypotheses without preliminary data, will be considered for $300,000 in total funding (including indirect costs), with research to be completed within 18 months. A total of approximately $4,000,000 is available for the portfolio of projects to be funded.

Pentagon researches alternative treatments
BY Gregg Zoroya  /  10.7.2008

The Pentagon is seeking new ways to treat troops suffering from combat stress or brain damage by researching such alternative methods as acupuncture, meditation, yoga and the use of animals as therapy, military officials said. “This new theme is a big departure for our cautious culture,” Dr. S. Ward Casscells, the Pentagon’s assistant secretary for health affairs, told USA TODAY. Casscells said he pushed hard for the new research, because “we are struggling with” post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) “as we are with suicide and we are increasingly willing to take a hard look at even soft therapies.” So far this year, the Pentagon is spending $5 million to study the therapies. In the previous two years, the Pentagon had not spent any money on similar research, records show. About 300,000 Iraq and Afghanistan war veterans suffer from PTSD or major depression, and about 320,000 may have experienced at least a mild concussion or brain injury in combat, according to a RAND Corp. study released this year.

The Army reported a record 115 suicides last year, and suicides this year are at a rate that may exceed that, said Col. Eddie Stephens, the Army’s deputy director for human resources policy. The Department of Veterans Affairs reported last month that suicides among Iraq- and Afghanistan-era veterans from all services reached a record high of 113 in 2006, the latest year for which there were figures.  Some military hospitals and installations already use alternative therapies, such as acupuncture as stress relievers for patients. The research will see whether the alternatives work so the Pentagon can use them more, said Army Brig. Gen. Loree Sutton, head of the Defense Centers of Excellence for Psychological Health and Traumatic Brain Injury. Many of the treatments have been used for centuries, Sutton said, “so it just makes sense to bring all potential therapies to bear.”

Her office issued a request for research proposals this year on therapies ranging from art and dance, to the ancient Chinese healing art of qigong or a therapy of hands-on touching known as Reiki. Sutton’s office narrowed a list of 82 proposals to about 10 projects this year, and research should begin, with servicemembers as subjects in some cases, in the next few months, said Col. Karl Friedl, head of the Army’s Telemedicine and Advanced Technology Research Center, which oversees the work. Friedl said research will include how meditation can improve emotional resilience; how holding and petting an animal can treat PTSD and how acupuncture pain relief can relieve headaches created by mild brain damage from blasts. “We want to add everything we can to our tool kit” for these injuries, said Col. Elspeth Ritchie, an Army psychiatrist.

Some soldiers who suffer from PTSD are reluctant to share their experiences in traditional psychiatric therapy, said Col. Charles Engel, an Army psychiatric epidemiologist. He said those soldiers may be more willing to use acupuncture and other alternatives if they are effective. Initial research this summer with combat veterans showed that acupuncture relieved PTSD symptoms and eased pain and depression, Engel said. “Improvements were relatively rapid and clinically significant,” he said. About one third of sailors and Marines use some types of alternative therapies, mostly herbal remedies, according to a survey conducted last year. A recent Army study shows that one in four soldiers with combat-caused PTSD turned to herbs, chiropractors, acupuncture or megavitamins for relief. Although the Pentagon’s study of alternative medicine for combat diseases is unique, research into such therapies for broad public use is not new, said Richard Nahin, a senior adviser for the National Institutes of Health’s National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine. The NIH spends about $300 million a year on similar research.

Probing Edges Of Medicine — And Reality
Homeopathy Against Bioterrorism? For a Local Research Institute, Few Areas of Study Are Too Far Out
BY Sandra G. Boodman  /  July 12, 2005

Ask Wayne B. Jonas why the scientific foundation he directs is funding research into the effects of prayer, the use of homeopathy to fight bioterrorism and whether magnetic devices can heal orthopedic injuries, and he offers a straightforward answer: Science is the way to determine whether they work. “We’re trying to stimulate good-quality research,” said Jonas, a former chief of the Office of Alternative Medicine at the National Institutes of Health (NIH) who directs the nonprofit Samueli Institute for Information Biology (SIIB) in Alexandria. “There is a good case for looking at these things scientifically, because we don’t know a lot about them.”

But, the 51-year-old board-certified family physician and retired Army doctor adds, “it’s difficult to walk the scientific fence” — dodging criticism from “the hard-core skeptics” who dismiss alternative medicine as quackery and the “hard-core advocates” who accept it uncritically. Jonas has headed the institute — named for its principal benefactor, California philanthropist Susan Samueli — since its inception in 2001. What began as a two-person foundation has grown into a research organization with four offices and a staff of 15. It has an annual budget of about $4 million provided by the Samueli family, and an additional $5 million in contracts from the Department of Defense (DOD) to study alternative treatments. Currently the institute is funding about 50 projects, awarding grants ranging from $20,000 to $250,000 to researchers in the United States, Europe and Asia. Some grants have been awarded to institute staff members.

Among the DOD-related projects, which are a collaboration with the Uniformed Services University of the Health Sciences, the military medical school in Bethesda where Jonas is a clinical professor, are several to determine whether the use of extremely diluted poisons, including cyanide and botulinum toxin, might protect soliders from higher doses to which they could be exposed in biological warfare. “The work in this area is in its earliest stages but has some promising characteristics,” said Iris R. Bell, director of research for the integrative medicine program at the University of Arizona College of Medicine. “The Samueli staff are open-minded scientists, they are not taking anything as dogma. They are asking the bigger questions, such as what are the assumptions of science? I would expect the work they do and the work they fund is going to be controversial.”

Critics of the institute say that while they support rigorous research into alternative medical treatments, Samueli is not doing it. “There is nothing of scientific value they’re doing that I’m aware of,” said Wallace Sampson, editor of the Scientific Review of Alternative Medicine and clinical professor emeritus of medicine at Stanford. “They’re all ideologues trying to prove something that doesn’t exist.”

Homeopathy, prayer and other forms of “energy medicine” belong to a category the NIH’s National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine, the name for the office Jonas once directed, calls “among the most controversial of CAM practices.” Homeopathy, a treatment invented in the late 1700s, is predicated on the belief that “like cures like” and that illnesses can be treated by stimulating a healing response through the ingestion of highly diluted substances such as herbs, heavy metals or poison ivy, which would cause harm at larger doses. In most cases no single molecule of the substance remains. Homeopathy has not been conclusively proven to be effective for any clinical condition, according to NCCAM, and its “key concepts do not follow the laws of science.”

Sampson and other critics of Samueli’s work also question its use of terminology not found in science, such as “information biology,” which Jonas defines as “the interaction of information with biological systems”; and “salutogenesis,” which he says is the process of healing and the opposite of pathogenesis, the process of disease. “We have to keep an open mind, but not an open mind to nonsense,” said Bruce Flamm, a clinical professor of obstetrics and gynecology at the University of California, Irvine. “The Samuelis are very generous people,” said obstetrician-gynecologist Flamm, “but this institute is a sadly misguided waste of money that could be spent on legitimate research.”

Last year, after Flamm repeatedly raised questions about a widely promulgated study conducted by researchers affiliated with Columbia University that prayer could help infertile women conceive, the study was withdrawn. (Samueli had no affiliation with the study.) One of the authors is currently serving time in federal prison on unrelated criminal fraud charges. Some skeptics say the Samueli-sponsored research is fundamentally unscientific and that much of it lacks the necessary safeguards to prevent spurious results. One paper presented at a Samueli-sponsored conference last year on optimal healing environments — a concept Jonas said he is helping to synthesize — was entitled “The Spa as a Model of an Optimal Healing Environment.” Written by an executive of the posh Canyon Ranch Spa in Tucson, it was published in the Journal of Alternative and Complementary Medicine. Using Canyon Ranch as a case study, the author concluded that “creating an optimal healing environment at any price point” requires “a dedicated, caring staff.”

What Objective?
“What they’re doing isn’t science, it’s faith healing,” said Robert L. Park, a professor of physics at the University of Maryland and the author of a 2002 book entitled “Voodoo Science,” which includes a lengthy discussion of homeopathy. Adrienne Fugh-Berman, an associate professor in the complementary medicine program at Georgetown University, said she regarded the studies listed on the SIIB Web site as “pretty self-indulgent.” Fugh-Berman, a physician who has published two dozen studies of alternative treatments, called the belief that homeopathy could be used to fight bioterrorism “embarrassing” and said she regarded optimal healing environments as “spa therapy for rich people. What bothers me about some of the research is that I suspect its objective is to create a veneer of science over certain strongly held beliefs,” she said.

Jonas disputes these criticisms and says the institute follows standard NIH grant review practices. He said the goal is to fund credible pilot studies to determine what works — or doesn’t — and that he has no other agenda. Negative results of studies are published on the SIIB Web site, he noted. While the nonprofit foundation tries to subsidize research that is rigorous, Jonas continued, it is not always possible to conduct randomized, double-blind, placebo-controlled studies of alternative therapies. “A high percentage meet those requirements,” he said, but “some things can’t be blinded.” Richard H. Grimm, an epidemiologist who is director of the Berman Center for Outcomes at the University of Minnesota, agreed, noting that much of conventional medicine is predicated on treatments that haven’t been put to such a test. “It’s relatively easy to do a randomized, placebo-controlled trial of something that fits into a capsule,” Grimm said, but not for a non-drug treatment.

Andew J. Vickers, an assistant attending research methodologist at Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center in New York, said the Samueli Institute should be judged on the quality of science it supports. Vickers said he forsees three possible outcomes for the research on homeopathy and prayer. The first is that they work, the second is that “none of this works and it’s a waste of time” and the third is that “they find other things along the way that would be scientifically useful. Science is full of examples of that.”

Suddenly Samueli
It was Susan Samueli’s longstanding interest in alternative medicine that led to the creation of the institute in 2001, Jonas said. Around the same time, she and her husband Henry endowed the Susan Samueli Center for Integrative Medicine in the medical school at the University of California, Irvine. The family’s fortune comes from Henry Samueli’s interest in Broadcom, a company he co-founded in the early 1990s while on leave from teaching at UCLA, where he earned a doctorate in electrical engineering. Broadcom pioneered the manufacture of chips used in DSL and cable modems just before the demand for these chips skyrocketed. Over a period of a few years, that invention catapulted the Samuelis from middle-class comfort to the ranks of the Forbes 400, a listing of America’s richest families.

The son of Polish Holocaust survivors who as a youth worked in his family’s liquor store, Henry Samueli has made record gifts to the engineering schools at UC Irvine and UCLA, both of which now bear his name. Several months ago the couple bought the Mighty Ducks professional hockey team. Susan Samueli, whose undergraduate degree in math is from Berkeley, has a PhD from the American Holistic College of Nutrition and a diploma from a British homeopathic institute. The holistic college is an unaccredited correspondence school located in Birmingham, Ala.

Jonas’s interest in homeopathy dates back to college. In a 1996 book entitled “Healing With Homeopathy,” he wrote that as a medical student he suggested trying homeopathy on several patients who were faring poorly with conventional treatments and was upbraided by supervisors. Later, while stationed as an Army doctor in Germany, where homeopathy is popular, Jonas said his interest in the subject grew, in part because he couldn’t understand how it might work. Jonas said he thinks the answer might lie in a substance released by an ingredient in glass or could be due to the placebo effect. He said he doubts the view, widely held by other homeopaths, that the water somehow retains the “memory” of the diluted substance, which results in healing. “There are possible ways to explain this on a rational basis,” he said.

Two months after the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks, Jonas, a former official at the Walter Reed Army Institute of Research, urged Congress to consider the use of homeopathy to fight bioterrorism. In testimony before a commitee chaired by Indiana’s Republican Rep. Dan Burton, one of the most enthusiastic supporters of alternative medicine in Congress, Jonas said that “homeopathic medical literature reveals numerous reports of apparently successful treatment of epidemic diseases . . . including smallpox” from the last century. A month later NCCAM chief Stephen E. Straus, a virologist, warned the House commitee against using alternative remedies for biological weapons. In 2003 Jonas was lead author of an analysis of homeopathy studies published in the Annals of Internal Medicine. The authors, all specialists in alternative medicine, concluded that homeopathy may be effective for some conditions and “deserves an open-minded opportunity to demonstrate its value” but should not supplant proven therapies.

To Colorado physician Steven Bratman, the author of a dozen books on alternative medicine and an expert in research in the field, using homeopathy to combat bioterrorism is “completely insane — not as insane as UFOs, but pretty close. For homeopathy to work, there would have to be a whole new law of science,” said Bratman, a former alternative medicine practitioner who said he abandoned acupuncture and other treatments about a decade ago after he grew increasingly uneasy about their lack of scientific underpinnings. “The fact that DOD is spending money on this research is unfortunate,” he said.

Increasingly, Jonas said, the Samueli Institute is focusing on projects that explore and define optimal healing environments, a concept that grows out of his long-standing interest in preventive medicine. “We have a biomedical system that is attempting to apply the acute care model to chronic illness,” he said. “We need a new way of thinking. . . . That’s the salutogenic model.” This interest in healing is reflected in the institute’s expensively decorated suite of offices overlooking the King Street Metro station in Old Town Alexandria. Situated outside Jonas’s office is a large section of an aspen tree, trucked in from land the Samueli family owns in Telluride, Colo. Native Americans, Jonas said, believed the aspen tree was endowed with curative properties. It seemed a fitting symbol.

Military tries ‘battlefield’ acupuncture to ease pain
BY David Wood  /  December 11, 2008

Using ancient Chinese medical techniques, a small team of military doctors here has begun treating wounded troops suffering from severe or chronic pain with acupuncture. The technique is proving so successful that the Air Force will begin teaching “battlefield acupuncture” early next year to physicians deploying to Iraq and Afghanistan, senior officials will announce tomorrow. The initiative marks the first high-level endorsement of acupuncture by the traditionally conservative military medical community, officials said.

Using tiny needles that barely penetrate the skin of a patient’s ear, Air Force doctors here say they can interrupt pain signals going to the brain. Their experience over several years indicates the technique developed by Col. Richard Niemtzow, an Air Force physician, can relieve even unbearable pain for days at a time. That enables badly wounded patients who arrive here by medevac aircraft to begin to emerge from the daze of pain-killer drugs administered by surgeons in the field. “This is one of the fastest pain attenuators in existence – the pain can be gone in five minutes,” said Niemtzow, a physician, acupuncturist and senior adviser to the Air Force surgeon general.

He and others stressed that tiny needles cannot replace morphine and other powerful drugs used in combat medicine. And they acknowledged that acupuncture doesn’t work for everyone. But neither does acupuncture provoke the kind of adverse side effects, allergic reactions and potential addiction associated with powerful psychotropic drugs often used to dull the pain of the severely wounded. “We use acupuncture as an adjunct” to traditional therapy, said Niemtzow. “The Chinese have used it for 5,000 years. It works, and it’s powerful.”

The procedure developed by Niemtzow is a variation of traditional Chinese acupuncture in which long, hair-thin needles are inserted into the body at any of hundreds of points to ease pain. Niemtzow’s variation uses one or more needles inserted into any of five points on the ear. The needles, which penetrate about a millimeter (or 4/100ths of an inch) into the skin, fall out after several days. The procedure can be repeated. The ear acts as a “monitor” of signals passing from body sensors to the brain, he said. Those signals can be intercepted and manipulated to stop pain or for other purposes.


Lysergic acid diethylamide, or LSD, has been a sacrament of artists, would-be prophets, and other such social chaff since the 1960s. Invented in 1938 by chemist Dr. Albert Hofmann while looking for an analeptic (circulatory stimulant), he found it had no effect on lab animals and forgot all about it. Years later, on the fateful day 16 of April, 1953, he accidentally absorbed a little through his fingertips and went flying on the first acid trip. By then the CIA had a ten-year-old program running, looking for interrogation drugs and truth serums. They’d played with caffeine, barbiturates, peyote, and marijuana. They also tried to get subjects to kill while under hypnosis, rounding out an operation seemingly concocted from the plots of situation comedies. Martin A. Lee and Bruce Shlain report in their Acid Dreams: The CIA, LSD, and the Sixties Rebellion, that by 1953, the CIA had authorized project MK-ULTRA, designed to perfect mind-control drugs during the Cold War. Conceived by Richard Helms of the Clandestine Services Department, it went beyond the construction of mere truth serums and ventured into disinformation, induction of temporary insanity, and other chemically-aided states.

The director of MK-ULTRA, Dr. Sidney Gottlieb, figured LSD’s potential as an interrogative agent paled in comparison to its capacity to publicly humiliate. Lee and Shlain note the CIA imagined a tripping public figure might be amusing, producing a memo that says giving acid “to high officials would be a relatively simple matter and could have a significant effect at key meetings, speeches, etc.” But Gottlieb knew that giving LSD to people in the lab was a lot different than just passing it out, and felt the department did not have an adequate grasp on its effects. So the entire operation tripped to learn what it was like, and, according to Lee and Shlain, “agreed among themselves to slip LSD into each other’s drinks. The target never knew when his turn would come, but as soon as the drug was ingested a … colleague would tell him so he could make the necessary preparations (which usually meant taking the rest of the day off). Initially the leaders of MK-ULTRA restricted the surprise acid tests to [their own] members, but when this phase had run its course they started dosing other Agency personnel who had never tripped before. Nearly everyone was fair game, and surprise acid trips became something of an occupational hazard among CIA operatives…. The Office of Security felt that [MK-ULTRA] should have exercised better judgment in dealing with such a powerful and dangerous chemical. The straw that broke the camel’s back came when a Security informant got wind of a plan by a few [MK-ULTRA] jokers to put LSD in the punch served at the annual CIA Christmas office party … a Security memo writer… concluded indignantly and unequivocally that he did ‘not recommend testing in the Christmas punch bowls usually present at the Christmas office parties.'”


British Army

Czech Army

Researchers tested pot, LSD on Army volunteers
BY Richard Willing  /  4.6.2007

Army doctors gave soldier volunteers synthetic marijuana, LSD and two dozen other psychoactive drugs during experiments aimed at developing chemical weapons that could incapacitate enemy soldiers, a psychiatrist who performed the research says in a new memoir. The program, which ran at the Army’s Edgewood, Md., arsenal from 1955 until about 1972, concluded that counterculture staples such as acid and pot were either too unpredictable or too mellow to be useful as weapons, psychiatrist James Ketchum said in an interview. The program did yield one hallucinogenic weapon: softball-size artillery rounds that were filled with powdered quinuclidinyl benzilate or BZ, a deliriant of the belladonnoid family that had placed some research subjects in a sleeplike state and left them impaired for days. Ketchum says the BZ bombs were stockpiled at an Army arsenal in Arkansas but never deployed. They were later destroyed. The Army acknowledged the program’s existence in 1975. Follow-up studies by the Army in 1978 and the National Academy of Sciences in 1981 found that volunteers suffered no long-term effects.

Insider’s account
Ketchum’s book, Chemical Warfare: Secrets Almost Forgotten, appears to be the first insider’s account of experiments performed on about 2,000 soldier volunteers, says Steven Aftergood, a government-secrecy expert for the Federation of American Scientists in Washington, D.C. Ketchum self-published the book, which he sells on his website. In an interview, Ketchum, 75, said he wrote the book to trigger a debate about the potential uses of non-lethal chemicals to incapacitate terrorists who take hostages or use human shields. “Incapacitating agents are designed to save lives,” he said. “Isn’t it at least something we should be thinking about?” Such research, says chemical weapons opponent Edward Hammond, would not only be illegal under current international law but probably never should have been performed. “There are things that have taken place in the past that should probably stay there,” says Hammond, director of the Sunshine Project, an Austin group that opposes biological warfare. Ketchum’s memoir draws from previously classified files, including filmed experiments, and notes of tests given subjects before, during and after they were fed, sprayed or injected with mind-altering chemicals.

He says:
•LSD was rejected for weapons use because even soldiers on prolonged trips could carry out violent acts.
•Even especially powerful marijuana lacked “knockdown effect.” It was rejected because its effects could be overcome simply by lying down and resting.
•Soldier volunteers were willing participants who knew the program’s potential risks. Drugs given to soldiers were described in general terms but not named though “many seemed to find out through the grapevine.”
•Intelligence reports of the time showed that Soviet researchers were planning a large-scale LSD program.
•The CIA ran a parallel program that sometimes gave hallucinogens secretly to unwitting citizens. The agency persuaded two Army doctors to carry out experiments for the CIA that the Army would not have authorized.

Ketchum says the Army phased out the hallucinogen project in about 1972, in part because disclosure of such research would have caused a “public relations problem.” Ketchum’s notes suggest the Army’s fears were not imaginary. They describe soldiers on “red oil,” an especially powerful form of marijuana, who smirked for hours and found even routine spatial reasoning tests to be hilarious. Soldiers under the influence of hallucinogens ate imaginary chickens, took showers in full uniform while smoking cigars and chatted with invisible people for two to three days at a time. One attempted to ride off on an imaginary horse while another played with kittens only he could see. Another described an order of toast as smelling “like a French whore.” Some of the researchers also took LSD “as a matter of curiosity,” Ketchum says. His lone trip, he adds, was “something of an anti-climax.” Colors seemed more vivid and music more compelling, he remembers, but “there were no breakthroughs in consciousness, no Timothy Leary stuff.” At least two soldiers who received LSD in the 1950s later sued the Army, alleging that the drug later caused them to suffer memory loss, hallucinations and occasional outbursts of violence. The claims were denied. After leaving the Army, Ketchum saw patients in a private psychiatric practice. The experiments on human subjects ended in 1975, according to Jeff Smart, historian for the Army’s Research, Development and Engineering Command at Aberdeen Proving Ground, Md. The United States signed a United Nations-sponsored chemical weapons ban in 1993 that outlawed incapacitating agents.

Calmative agents
Even so, the U.S. military has remained interested in researching non-lethal chemicals. In 2000, the Joint Non-Lethal Weapons Directorate, a Quantico, Va., group run by all four major military branches, commissioned a study of the possible military uses of “calmative” pharmaceuticals such as anesthetics and serotonin reuptake inhibitors. The Sunshine Project’s Hammond, who obtained the study through the Freedom of Information Act, says using calmatives as weapons would also be outlawed by the 1993 chemical weapons ban. Ketchum says that is not clear. In October 2002, Russian special forces used a calmative agent to subdue Islamist Chechen terrorists who were holding about 850 hostages in a Moscow theater. More than 120 hostages died from the drug’s effects.


Researchers tested pot, LSD on Army volunteers
BY Richard Willing  /  4/6/2007

Army doctors gave soldier volunteers synthetic marijuana, LSD and two dozen other psychoactive drugs during experiments aimed at developing chemical weapons that could incapacitate enemy soldiers, a psychiatrist who performed the research says in a new memoir. The program, which ran at the Army’s Edgewood, Md., arsenal from 1955 until about 1972, concluded that counterculture staples such as acid and pot were either too unpredictable or too mellow to be useful as weapons, psychiatrist James Ketchum said in an interview.

The program did yield one hallucinogenic weapon: softball-size artillery rounds that were filled with powdered quinuclidinyl benzilate or BZ, a deliriant of the belladonnoid family that had placed some research subjects in a sleeplike state and left them impaired for days. Ketchum says the BZ bombs were stockpiled at an Army arsenal in Arkansas but never deployed. They were later destroyed. The Army acknowledged the program’s existence in 1975. Follow-up studies by the Army in 1978 and the National Academy of Sciences in 1981 found that volunteers suffered no long-term effects.

Insider’s account
Ketchum’s book, Chemical Warfare: Secrets Almost Forgotten, appears to be the first insider’s account of experiments performed on about 2,000 soldier volunteers, says Steven Aftergood, a government-secrecy expert for the Federation of American Scientists in Washington, D.C. Ketchum self-published the book, which he sells on his website. In an interview, Ketchum, 75, said he wrote the book to trigger a debate about the potential uses of non-lethal chemicals to incapacitate terrorists who take hostages or use human shields. “Incapacitating agents are designed to save lives,” he said. “Isn’t it at least something we should be thinking about?”

Such research, says chemical weapons opponent Edward Hammond, would not only be illegal under current international law but probably never should have been performed. “There are things that have taken place in the past that should probably stay there,” says Hammond, director of the Sunshine Project, an Austin group that opposes biological warfare. Ketchum’s memoir draws from previously classified files, including filmed experiments, and notes of tests given subjects before, during and after they were fed, sprayed or injected with mind-altering chemicals.

He says:
•LSD was rejected for weapons use because even soldiers on prolonged trips could carry out violent acts.
•Even especially powerful marijuana lacked “knockdown effect.” It was rejected because its effects could be overcome simply by lying down and resting.
•Soldier volunteers were willing participants who knew the program’s potential risks. Drugs given to soldiers were described in general terms but not named though “many seemed to find out through the grapevine.”
•Intelligence reports of the time showed that Soviet researchers were planning a large-scale LSD program.
•The CIA ran a parallel program that sometimes gave hallucinogens secretly to unwitting citizens. The agency persuaded two Army doctors to carry out experiments for the CIA that the Army would not have authorized.

Ketchum says the Army phased out the hallucinogen project in about 1972, in part because disclosure of such research would have caused a “public relations problem.” Ketchum’s notes suggest the Army’s fears were not imaginary. They describe soldiers on “red oil,” an especially powerful form of marijuana, who smirked for hours and found even routine spatial reasoning tests to be hilarious. Soldiers under the influence of hallucinogens ate imaginary chickens, took showers in full uniform while smoking cigars and chatted with invisible people for two to three days at a time. One attempted to ride off on an imaginary horse while another played with kittens only he could see. Another described an order of toast as smelling “like a French whore.” Some of the researchers also took LSD “as a matter of curiosity,” Ketchum says. His lone trip, he adds, was “something of an anti-climax.” Colors seemed more vivid and music more compelling, he remembers, but “there were no breakthroughs in consciousness, no Timothy Leary stuff.”

At least two soldiers who received LSD in the 1950s later sued the Army, alleging that the drug later caused them to suffer memory loss, hallucinations and occasional outbursts of violence. The claims were denied. After leaving the Army, Ketchum saw patients in a private psychiatric practice. The experiments on human subjects ended in 1975, according to Jeff Smart, historian for the Army’s Research, Development and Engineering Command at Aberdeen Proving Ground, Md. The United States signed a United Nations-sponsored chemical weapons ban in 1993 that outlawed incapacitating agents.

Calmative agents
Even so, the U.S. military has remained interested in researching non-lethal chemicals. In 2000, the Joint Non-Lethal Weapons Directorate, a Quantico, Va., group run by all four major military branches, commissioned a study of the possible military uses of “calmative” pharmaceuticals such as anesthetics and serotonin reuptake inhibitors. The Sunshine Project’s Hammond, who obtained the study through the Freedom of Information Act, says using calmatives as weapons would also be outlawed by the 1993 chemical weapons ban. Ketchum says that is not clear. In October 2002, Russian special forces used a calmative agent to subdue Islamist Chechen terrorists who were holding about 850 hostages in a Moscow theater. More than 120 hostages died from the drug’s effects.

Vietnam Vets Sue CIA for Secret Drug Experiments on GIs
BY Jeff Stein  /  January 7, 2009

A Vietnam veterans group is suing the CIA for “thousands of secret experiments to test toxic chemical and biological substances under code names such as MKULTRA.,” its attorneys said today. The suit was filed in federal court in northern California on behalf of the Washington-based Vietnam Veterans of America, Inc., and six aging veterans with multiple diseases and ailments “tied to a diabolical and secret testing program, whereby U.S. military personnel were deliberately exposed, by government and military agencies, to chemical and biological weapons and other toxins without informed consent,” the Morrison & Foerster law firm said in a press release. The firm said the alleged CIA research program was launched in the early 1950s and continued through at least 1976 at the Edgewood Arsenal and Fort Detrick, Md., as well as universities and hospitals across the country contracted by the CIA. Defendants include the CIA, the Department of the Army, the Department of Defense and various government officials responsible for these agencies. “The CIA secretly provided financing, personnel, and direction for the experiments, which were mainly conducted or contracted by the Army,” the suit says.

According to the veterans, the experiments, conducted over a 25 year period, included:
·    the use of troops to test nerve gas, psychochemicals, and thousands of other toxic chemical or biological substances, and … the insertion of septal implants in the brains of subjects in … mind control experiments that went awry, leaving many civilian and military subjects with permanent disabilities;
·    the failure to secure informed consent and other widespread failures to follow the precepts of U.S. and international law regarding the use of human subjects, including the 1953 Wilson Directive and the Nuremberg Code;
·    a … refusal by the DoD, the CIA, and the Army to … locate the victims of their … experiments or to provide health care or compensation to them;
·    the  destruction by the CIA of evidence and files

Update: CIA spokeswoman Marie Harf said the agency would have no comment “on specific matters before the court.” But, she added, “CIA activities related to MK-ULTRA have been thoroughly investigated, and the CIA fully cooperated with each of the investigations. In addition, tens of thousands of pages from documents related to the program have been declassified and released to the public. “MK-ULTRA was investigated in 1975 by the Rockefeller Commission and the Church Committee, and in 1977 by the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence and the Senate Subcommittee on Health and Scientific Research,” Harf added.


I saw the movie The Men Who Stare at Goats [] with interest. I enjoyed the movie for what it was – a satirical look at the US military’s attempt to develop more of the full potential of their warriors using so-called paranormal approaches. Unfortunately, words like “paranormal” and “supernatural” are loaded terms which carry negative connotations. For this reason, scientists are hesitant to associate themselves with people who profess interest in such things. However, since I have already been associated with one of the real-life characters of the book and movie, I would like to discuss the real-life military possibility of using more of the potential of the human mind through my area of expertise – Invincible Defense Technology (IDT), a technique that includes Yogic Flying. I would also like to recommend a book by Craig Pearson, Ph.D. titled: The Complete Book of Yogic Flying [] which discusses this approach in great detail. (Full disclosure: Dr. Pearson is the Executive Vice-President of Maharishi University of Management. I am employed at the Center for Advanced Military Science (CAMS) which is affiliated with this institution.)

In The Men Who Stare at Goats, the character General Hopgood (played by Stephen Lang) is based on Major General Albert Stubblebine, US Army (Retired), a former commander of the US Army Intelligence & Security Command (INSCOM). He is satirically portrayed as attempting to walk through walls without success. In both the book and movie, a soldier under his command allegedly killed a goat by staring at it. In real life, Stubblebine served as a consultant on my Consciousness-Based Military Defense doctoral committee at The Union Institute & University. He was an intelligent pioneer in the development of human resource technologies for the US Army. Stubblebine understood the latent potential of the human mind, and, that warriors would eventually be trained to harness it. Jon Ronson wrote in his book, The Men Who Stare at Goats, “General Stubblebine passionately believes the First Earth Battalion [] doctrine that every human being alive was capable of performing supernatural miracles.”

While serving on my doctoral committee, Stubblebine helped organize my lecture series about Invincible Defense Technology in Moscow. Thanks to him, and the late Brig. Gen. Clarence E. Beck, U.S. Army (Ret.), I recruited another distinguished general (retired Soviet Army General-Major Leonid Shershnev, who fought in Afghanistan) as well as other military-related leaders to participate in my doctoral program in Consciousness-Based Military Defense which is now known as Invincible Defense Technology in military circles.

Shershnev was a key figure in the Soviet’s war in Afghanistan. His reflections on the futility of war were similar to Stubblebine’s and those of many of our own military personnel after the Vietnam War. Shershnev regretted the inappropriate waste of lives, and has vowed to spend his life working to create world peace. Probably due to his efforts, many generals and other military-related leaders from Russia and other former Soviet-block countries attended the Third International Conference on Invincible Defense in The Netherlands in the 1990’s. Senior leaders wrote encouraging assessments of the potential of Invincible Defense Technology to prevent war and terrorism and apparently reported back to their governmental leaders, urging implementation. See “The Need for a Prevention Wing of the Military by the Conference Participants” [
] and “The Race for ‘Inner Space'” [
] for related information.

The goal of Invincible Defense Technology is to enhance the peace-keeping capabilities of the military, adding a “non-lethal weapon,” a kind of national armor (called “rastri kavach” in ancient Vedic literature) that would ensure the security and invincibility of their nation. The founder and chief proponent of this approach is the late Maharishi Mahesh Yogi, a renowned scientist of consciousness and Vedic scholar. Maharishi stated that so-called supernatural abilities are normal to a stress-free nervous system, which can be achieved through the Transcendental Meditation program and its advanced practices, if people are properly trained in the correct manner to harness them. In 1997, studying this non-religious approach, I completed my Ph.D. under the auspices of the doctoral program at The Union Institute & University. Invincible Defense Technology was labeled such because Maharishi recognized its potential to prevent the birth of an enemy, a principle he abbreviated with the phrase “victory before war.” His vision was that any country taking full advantage of this technology could become invincible. He asserted that invincibility can never be attained through conventional weapons, but can be attained if a nation is incapable of creating enemies. If a nation has no collective stress, it becomes “friends” with everyone.

Prevention Wings of the Military consisting of about 3% of the military could ideally achieve this goal. These special units would be trained in the Transcendental Meditation (TM) and TM-Sidhi programs. They would practice them in large groups, twice a day. Extensive scientific research shows these programs not only reduce stress on the individual level, but also reduce the collective societal stress that is ultimately responsible for social problems, like war, terrorism and crime. For instance, a peer-reviewed study published in the Journal of Conflict Resolution [
] (32: 776-812, 1988) found that a group of only two hundred people practicing IDT in Israel during the Lebanon war were able to reduce war deaths there by seventy-six percent. A follow-up study of seven different TM-Sidhi assemblies published in the Journal of Social Behavior and Personality [
] (17: 1, 285-338, 2005) showed similar results as well as a 68% reduction of war injuries.

These “effects at a distance” have been studied in other ways, such as research showing changes in EEG (brainwave) coherence. During the practice of Transcendental Meditation, an individual experiences “transcendental consciousness,” a proposed fourth state of consciousness. This state is characterized by increased coherence of the EEG where different parts of the brain are working together more coherently. Increased EEG coherence during the TM program correlates with increased creativity and achievement outside the TM program, in activity. When many people practice this technique (or the more advanced TM-Sidhi program) together in one place, the coherence-generating effect is enhanced. Also, when meditating groups are large, similar increases in coherence are produced in subjects far removed from the group. One experiment showed increases in EEG coherence one thousand miles from the group. Another study offers a proposed explanation of causality in biological terms. Research conducted on the powerful neurotransmitter serotonin shows that it produces feelings of contentment, happiness and even euphoria. Low levels of serotonin, according to research, correlate with violence, aggression, and poor emotional moods. The peer-reviewed study showed that higher numbers of Invincible Defense Technology experts correlated with a marked increase in serotonin production among other community members. This finding offers a plausible neurophysiologic mechanism to explain reduced hostility and aggression in society at large. Another peer-reviewed study conducted globally showed that international terrorism dropped 72% and world conflict dropped 32% during the global experiment and went back to previous levels after it was over.

Militaries and civilian groups worldwide have already begun to harness the full potential of the human mind using Invincible Defense Technology. The book titled The Complete Book of Yogic Flying: Maharishi’s Mahesh Yogi’s Program for Enlightenment and Invincibility by Craig Pearson, Ph.D. is available at [] and is the most comprehensive book available on the topic of Invincible Defense Technology.

Editor’s Note: The Seoul Times previously published Dr. David Leffler’s co-authored article with renowned quantum physicist John Hagelin , Ph.D., which further discusses the military potential of Invincible Defense Technology. It is titled “S. Korea Needs a Defense System Beyond Nuclear Weapons.” []

{Dr. David R. Leffler serves as the Executive Director at the Center for Advanced Military Science (CAMS) []. David received his Ph.D. in Consciousness-Based Military Defense from The Union Institute & University in Cincinnati.}

Military solution improbable in Afghanistan
BY Maj.Gen.(Ret.) Kulwant Singh, Col. Brian Rees & Dr. David Leffler  /  Jun 17, 2009

In congressional testimony, Army Lt. Gen. Stanley McChrystal vowed that he would use a “holistic” strategy and take extreme measures to avoid Afghan civilian casualties. Its “measure of effectiveness will not be the number of enemy killed, it will be the number of Afghans shielded from violence,” he said. By starting to think holistically and measuring the effectiveness of avoiding casualties, McChrystal is on the right track. However, his new strategy may not be sufficient to bring an end to the protracted violence. War is based in social stress that is not likely to be ended by changing the rules of engagement, limiting airstrikes or using small ground units in search and detention operations.

Although a military solution to the Afghanistan war is improbable, it is possible to deploy a scientifically verified technology of defence to reduce societal stress and end the war. Extensive research has confirmed its effectiveness, and militaries have already applied it in order to defuse and eliminate conflict and prevent disruption and attack from within the country or outside the country.

Meditation has been shown to reduce stress not only in the individual but also throughout society. The Vedic tradition of knowledge, from ancient India, includes highly developed, non-religious meditation practices, in particular the Transcendental Meditation programme and its advanced techniques that have become the focus of intense scientific research over the past 50 years. These practices, taken together, are known as Invincible Defence Technology (IDT) in military circles. They have been used by members of many faiths to eliminate conflict in the recent past. If the military were to apply this human resource-based technology, which is non-lethal and non-destructive, it could reduce the collective societal stress fuelling the tensions in Afghanistan.

A Prevention Wing of the Military would be the ideal way to achieve this goal. It would comprise about 2 to 3 percent of the military of Afghanistan. The personnel involved would practice these technologies in large groups, morning and evening. Studies show that when the size of the IDT group reaches a particular threshold, war and terrorism abate, crime goes down in the affected population, and quality-of-life indices go up. Scientists have named this phenomenon the Maharishi Effect after Maharishi Mahesh Yogi, who first predicted it. In 1993, a two-month Maharishi Effect intervention was studied in Washington, DC. Predictions of specific drops in crime and other indices were lodged in advance with government leaders and newspapers. The research protocol was approved by an independent Project Review Board. The findings, published in Social Indicators Research, showed that crime fell 23 percent below the predicted level when the IDT group reached its maximum. Temperature, weekend effects, and previous trends in the data failed to account for changes.

Over 50 studies have evaluated and confirmed the reduction of crime, violence, terrorism, and even open warfare through the establishment of IDT groups. The causal mechanism has been postulated to be a field effect of consciousness — a spillover effect on the level of the unified field from the peace-creating group into the larger population. A study published in the Journal of Social Behaviour and Personality offers an explanation of a proposed causality of IDT in biological terms. Research on the powerful neurotransmitter serotonin has shown that it produces feelings of contentment, happiness and even euphoria. Low levels of serotonin correlate with violence, aggression, and poor emotional moods.

The peer-reviewed study showed that higher numbers of IDT experts practicing in groups correlated with an increase in serotonin production among other community members. These results were statistically significant and followed the attendance figures in the IDT group. This finding offers a plausible neurophysiologic mechanism to explain reduced aggression and hostility in society at large. The Maharishi Effect has also been documented on a global scale in a study published in the Journal of Offender Rehabilitation. When large assemblies of IDT experts exceeded the Maharishi Effect threshold for the world (about 7,000 at that time) during the years 1983-1985, terrorism globally decreased 72%, international conflict decreased 32%, and violence was reduced in other nations without intrusion by other governments. This study used data provided by the Rand Corporation.

The evidence indicates that the military may be able to accomplish its mission simply by establishing a coherence-creating unit of IDT experts. As part of its responsibility to protect, the military is obligated to thoroughly examine methods for preventing war and terrorism. IDT is such a method. All that is necessary is to provide the proper training for a group of military personnel- or indeed, any large group within the country. Lt. Gen. McChrystal has the opportunity today to implement a cost-effective, scientifically validated and truly holistic strategy to bring peace to Afghanistan. Events on the ground in Afghanistan and Pakistan may increase the difficulty of exploiting this opportunity in the future.

{Major General (R) Kulwant Singh, UYSM., PhD, leads an international group of generals and defence experts that advocates Invincible Defence Technology. Colonel Brian M. Rees, MD, US Army Reserve, a veteran of both Iraq and Afghanistan, is a graduate of the US Army War College, and is currently Deputy Command Surgeon of 63rd RRC, Los Alamitos, California. David Leffler, PhD, a US Air Force veteran, is the executive director at the Centre for Advanced Military Science.}

David Leffler
email : drleffler [at] hotmail [dot] com



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