Meet the MITRE Corporation: McClean, Virginia’s Dr. Strangeloves

by Tom Burghardt

Antifascist Calling…

Move over Herman Kahn. Forget the “missile gap.” The latest “crisis” facing U.S. “warfighters” in their noble quest to defend the “homeland” and dominate the “battlespace” is… the sleep gap!

That’s right. According to a newly disclosed report by The MITRE Corporation’s defense science advisory panel know as JASON, the United States must continue investigating the potential by America’s adversaries “to exploit advances in Human Performance Modification, and thus create a threat to national security,” Secrecy News reveals.

According to Steven Aftergood,

Their report examined “the present state of the art in pharmaceutical intervention in cognition and in brain-computer interfaces, and considered how possible future developments might proceed and be used by adversaries.”

Among their findings was the under-appreciated significance of sleep and the possibility of a “sleep gap” (a term not used in the report).

“The most immediate human performance factor in military effectiveness is degradation of performance under stressful conditions, particularly sleep deprivation.” (“JASON Warns of Threat from Sleeping Enemies,” Secrecy News, June 5, 2008)

Though its hard to take Strangelovian madness such as this seriously, the investigation of military applications of “Human Performance Modification” is no laughing matter. Undoubtedly, the Office of Defense Research and Engineering, the Pentagon agency that commissioned the study, aren’t laughing either.

When JASON researchers conclude, “If an opposing force had a significant sleep advantage, this would pose a serious threat,” its difficult not to crack a smile. That is, until one considers that the The MITRE Corporation, a McClean, Virginia-based “not-for-profit corporation,” was formed in 1958 when “several hundred employees from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology’s Lincoln Laboratories came to MITRE to create new technology for the Department of Defense–specifically the Semi-Automated Ground Environment, which used brand new digital computers.”

Currently fronting 6,700 scientists and “support specialists,” MITRE “customers” include the Air Force, Army, Navy, Marine Corps, Defense Information Systems Agency, Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA), Missile Defense Command, Office of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Office of the Secretary of Defense, Military Intelligence Agencies, as well as “other members” of the “National Security Community.”

Additionally, MITRE’s “Homeland Security customers” include the full panoply of agencies under the (dark) wing of the Department of Homeland Security: the Directorate for Science & Technology, the Directorate for National Protection & Programs, Office of Intelligence and Analysis, the Transportation Security Administration (TSA), U.S. Citizenship & Immigration Services, U.S. Coast Guard, U.S. Customs & Border Protection (Secure Border Initiative) and U.S. Immigration & Customs Enforcement (ICE).

According to researcher Nick Turse in his book The Complex, “MITRE brought in a cool $275,384,277” in research, development, test and evaluation money from the Pentagon in 2005. All in all, MITRE is one of the spookiest corporations you’ve never heard of.

As a leading provider of technical researchers for the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency, MITRE behavioral scientists are on the “cutting edge” of what Pentagon war criminals have euphemistically designated an “Enhanced Human Performance Project.” Among the more frightening aspects of this venture, DARPA claims they will “exploit the life sciences to make the individual warfighter stronger, more alert, more endurant, and better able to heal.”

In other words, a warfighting “Terminator” in the service of corporate power. These developments are further along than you might think. As Nick Turse revealed:

Right now, researchers are already growing insects with electronics inside them. They’re creating cyborg moths and flying beetles that can be remotely controlled. One day, the U.S. military may field squadrons of winged insect/machine hybrids with on-board audio, video or chemical sensors. These cyborg insects could conduct surveillance and reconnaissance missions on distant battlefields, in far-off caves, or maybe even in cities closer to home, and transmit detailed data back to their handlers at U.S. military bases.

Today, many people fear U.S. government surveillance of email and cell phone communications. With this program, the Pentagon aims to exponentially increase the paranoia. Imagine a world in which any insect fluttering past your window may be a remote-controlled spy, packed with surveillance equipment. Even more frightening is the prospect that such creatures could be weaponized, and the possibility, according to one scientist intimately familiar with the project, that these cyborg insects might be armed with “bio weapons.” (“Weaponizing the Pentagon’s Cyborg Insects,” TomDispatch, March 30, 2008)

Called HI-MEMS, Turse reports that DARPA aims to transform “insects into unmanned air-vehicles.” HI-MEMS program manager Armit Lal, an associate professor on leave from Cornell University described the research thusly at DARPA’s annual symposium, DARPATech:

“[T]he HI-MEMS program seeks to grow MEMS and electronics inside the insect pupae. The new tissue forms around the insertions, making the bio-electronic interface long-lasting and reliable.” In other words, micro-electronics are inserted at the pupal stage of metamorphosis so that they can be integrated into the insects’ bodies as they develop, creating living robots that can be remotely controlled after the insect emerges from its cocoon.

And, as with all military research aiming to weaponize all aspects of the natural world, MITRE scientists and their DARPA “customers” cloak their devilish tinkering as purely “defensive” moves designed to impede an unseen, but nevertheless cunning and ruthless “adversary.”

Thus we read in JASON’s bizarre executive summary:

1. Maintain a strong internal research activity, with concomitant personnel expertise, because this is crucial for evaluation of potential threats based on the activity of adversaries in human performance modification.

2. Monitor enemy activities in sleep research, and maintain close understanding of open source sleep research. Use in-house military research on the safety and effectiveness of newly developing drugs for ameliorating the effects of sleep deprivation, such as ampakines, as a baseline for evaluating potential activities of adversaries.

3. Develop a corps of trained analysts capable of evaluating technical developments in human performance modification. These analysts should be trained in assessing the meaning of statistical metrics, and also in assessing the experimental methods and results of the original scientific literature on which claims are based. (E. Williams,, Human Performance, JASON, The MITRE Corporation, March 2008, JSR-07-625)

And what conclusion can we infer from JASON’s recommendation that the U.S. develop a “technical knowledge base” in “behavior modification”?

The US military will certainly test whether, and to what extent, the new lessons of neuroscience can be used in military training, and it is reasonable to expect that adversaries will do so as well. We do not expect the development of super-soldiers as a result of improved training, although enhanced military capability can certainly be expected. However, unexpected adversarial behavior could result if training included behavior modification (e.g., for increased aggressiveness or decreased empathy). Thus one strong recommendation of this study is that the US should develop a technical knowledge base concerning scientifically based training tools, especially as applied in behavior modification. This knowledge base should be combined with information-gathering and analysis concerning the training techniques (both civilian and military) in adversaries’ cultures.

Simply put, psychoanalysis describe such notions as projection: the process whereby what is inside is misunderstood, consciously or otherwise, as originating outside the self or body politic. In its most malignant, pathological form–as is in the self-interested mendacities of corporate and political elites–projected attitudes seriously distort the object on whom they are projected, as in the branding of x, y, or z as a “new Hitler,” as a defense mechanism to mask one’s own aggression.

Interestingly enough, the Nazi’s genocidal project to eradicate the Jewish people was thusly theorized as a “defense” of Germanic culture against a “Jewish-Bolshevik conspiracy.” So it is today, with JASON’s obsession with the “training techniques” in “adversaries’ cultures” allegedly “training for increased aggressiveness or decreased empathy.” What is this if not a descriptive catalogue of the horrors visited on the Iraqi people by an “imperialism gone wild”?

As the history of the U.S. Government’s earlier experiments in “behavior modification” demonstrate, building on the “skill-sets” acquired from vanquished Nazi and Japanese war criminals, The MITRE Corporation and their DARPA “customers” are following along the path blazed decades earlier by the CIA and the Pentagon.

Sporting esoteric names and “above top secret” pedigrees, projects such as ARTICHOKE, MKULTRA, MKDELTA and MKNAOMI embodied the 1950s “cutting edge” zeitgeist of science, academia, military heavy-lifting, covert operations and expanding “business horizons.” While America’s Cold War vision was guided by anticommunist paranoia, consumerism and its accompanying cult of the “normal,” as well as the “can-do” optimism of “winnable” nuclear war, its ideological hubris arose in the political-economic context of an American superpower that had annihilated its German and Japanese capitalist rivals.

As America’s permanent war and surveillance society morphs into the dystopian phantasmagoria of Philip K. Dick’s The Minority Report, technological optimism–as is inevitable in kleptocracies such as the United States–is harnessed and reified by bio-behavioral modification engineers, sociopaths in lab coats, who populate outfits such as The MITRE Corporation like so many poisonous intellectual mushrooms.

Imagining monstrous hybrids fueled by perverse fantasies of swarming cyborg-insects that “dominate the battlespace” or morals-free imperialist “Terminators” jacked-up by “pharmaceutical enhancements” and “invasive brain-computer interfaces,” the JASONs, like their Hollywood namesake–the masked killing machine who ran amok in a score of popular slasher films–are, in the end, not harbingers of a bright, shining globalized future but rather, its terminal end point: the corporatist Borg hive where resistance is futile.

Tom Burghardt is a researcher and activist based in the San Francisco Bay Area. His articles are published in many venues. He is the editor of Police State America: U.S. Military "Civil Disturbance" Planning, distributed by AK Press. Read other articles by Tom, or visit Tom's website.

8 comments on this article so far ...

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  1. GL Rowsey said on June 10th, 2008 at 5:11pm #

    Burghardt. You have the secrecy beat. You don’t have to sensationalize it. Saying a well-slept army will outperform a stressed-out army may be Strangelovian madness to you, but it’s also obvious.

    Despite the fact there’s never been more secrecy revealed, there’s also (probably) a greater percentage of government documents classified now than ever in history. Not to speak of the pervasive and doctrinal secrecy in corporations, prisons, and the American “political process.” Sensationalism is simply counter-productive — remember everyone on the lefts’ avoidance of secrecy in the 1970’s because it rendered us smearable as conspiracy nuts? Or were you alive then?

    Just the facts, man.

  2. Tom Burghardt said on June 10th, 2008 at 8:31pm #

    Yes, I was alive during the 1970s, Lloyd, I and followed COINTELPRO, CHAOS & Minaret revelations quite closely. Along with the machinations of Garden Plot and Cable Splicer–where “continutity of government” schemes were first hatched.

    True enough, a “well-slept army” will outperform a “stressed-out.” That, however, was not the point of my piece. Nor did I think it overly sensationalist. If anything, I think I conveyed far-less of the sinister implications of so-called “Human Performance Modification” research being carried out by DARPA and their “not-for-profit” friends at MITRE.

    I’m neither interested in, nor do I pursue “conspiracy theories.” They leave me colder than a feral cat in an Antarctic winter. Having said that, we would be ill-advised not to pursue troubling leads, however strange they may superficially appear, simply because they’re so monstrous “they can’t possibly be true.”

    MITRE’s “sleep research” is only a portion (and a small portion at that) of what DARPA sorcerer’s are up to. I don’t reference Philip K. Dick just on a whim. These folks are really (and I mean really!) deadly serious when it comes to weaponizing the natural world.

  3. Lloyd Rowsey said on June 11th, 2008 at 4:45am #

    Are you saying, Tom, that you were a conspiracy-theorist in the 1970’s but are no longer interested in such, which now leave you “colder than a feral cat in an Antarctic winter”?

    And with regard to the “well-slept army” – my term of course not yours — forget my term. Using “the sleep gap” — a term you evidently (I could have said obviously) want credit for coming up with — you do not think it “overly sensationalist.” I only ask the obvious question, “How much sensationalism do you consider just right, Tom, for journalism about the sleep gap?”

    By stating so boldly in the third paragraph of your post that “I’m neither interested in, nor do I pursue ‘conspiracy theories’,” you imply that I am interested in these and I do pursue them. I am not, I do not, and I never have pursued conspiracy theories. On the contrary, in the 1970’s I spent three years of my life trying to convince the editors of such lefty American publications as Socialist Revolution and Monthly Review to publish my opus magnum, “The Political Economy of Secrecy — Information, Power and Capitalism.” BECAUSE my piece treated secrecy in a non-conspiratorial manner. Moreover, you may find my Opus Magum and read it at my LiveJournal blog by Googling to “yourdad65.” It is the last entry. If after reading my piece, you still think I am a conspiracy theorist — or even that your sensationalist approach to secrecy (both governmental and corporate) is the appropriate way to treat secrecy in America in 2008, I hope you are together enough to return here and post your reasons why. Or you might try writing a non-sensationalist article expressing your opinions about the matter and submit it to Dissident Voice for publication.

    There is a quotation attributed to Oliver Cromwell, delivered by “The Protector” in one of his speeches to the British Parliament in the late 1630’s or early 1640’s: “Consider in the bowls of Christ, gentlemen, the possibility that you are wrong!”

    When I gave up trying to convince the responsible left in the United States that secrecy could and should be treated non-conspiratorially, and that to treat it as such was absolutely necessary, I wrote Eli Zaretsky to the effect that: there will be no significant change in America unless and until the left deals with secrecy. I now see my prediction absolutely confirmed, and you Tom Burghardt, I see as the reincarnation of pig-headed refusal to address secrecy intelligently on the part of “the left.”

    Imagine the irony.

  4. Jim Cronin said on June 11th, 2008 at 7:50am #

    Well, we really do need to read about these things, and perhaps never before in our history has there been such great investigative journalism.
    But my take is that so-called progressive media spend far too much energy detailing the rightist juggernaut in exquisite detail while generally ignoring activism. Perhaps we can get back to activism when the next election shows conclusively that there will be no change. Or the next. Or the next.

  5. Tom Burghardt said on June 11th, 2008 at 3:24pm #


    I’m not getting into a pissing match with you. I didn’t state or imply you were interested in conspiracism or conspiracy theories. If you chose to read my comments that way, it’s your choice, not mine. Nor did I come up with the term “sleep gap,” it was cited below (and credited) to Secrecy News. I found it amusing, if you didn’t, well…

    You found my piece sensationalized, fine. Read the source material! By all means, read the JASON document, I did (at least the non-technical material). Check out Turse’s pieces at TomDispatch, or the material at

    You did however, duck the salient feature of my comment to you (for that matter, the central focus of my piece) the weaponization of the natural world.

  6. hp said on June 12th, 2008 at 9:45am #

    It sure seems like ‘national security’ is going to be the death of us all.

  7. Lloyd Rowsey said on June 12th, 2008 at 3:09pm #

    Okay, Tom. Let’s not get into a pissing match. I see you didn’t originate the term “the sleep gap.” My apologies for reading a parenthetical statement in your quotation from Steven Aftergood (ie, “a term not used in the report”) as a parenthetical statement by yourself, and consequently evidence that you wished to be considered the originator of the term.

    I also admit using the word “conspiracy” first, when I typed: “…remember everyone on the lefts’ avoidance of secrecy in the 1970’s because it rendered us smearable as conspiracy nuts?” However, I am at a loss to understand how you interpreted that to be accusing you of being a conspiracy theorist now, in 2008, instead of expressing solidarity with you as a likely fellow lefty in the 1970’s. (“it rendered US smearable” — Tom — you and me and others like us.)

    And my most deep apology for the immediately following, patronizing question about whether you were alive in the 1970’s, which was totally uncalled for. But Tom, you should not have read the question to obliterate my previous question, which assumed your and my common viewpoints in the 1970’s. And by reading it that way, YOU ducked “the salient feature of” MY (two) comments to YOU: to wit, the continuing refusal of the lefty newspress in America to treat secrecy differently from the way the mainstream newspress treats it. That is to say, the lefty newspress’ continuing attitude of, “So there’s secrecy, so what?”

    Finally, if I understand what you’re saying is the salient feature of your comment to me, the central focus of your piece — “the weaponization of the natural world” — and you mean that this weaponization is the most important thing in the world, let me assure you, Tom, we are in 100% agreement here. I can’t recall ever not thinking that the nuclear madness is humanity’s direst problem, and I have never ducked saying just that. In fact, I would hope to have the presence of mind to reply, to anyone pointing out the direness of this situation to me, with a saying I picked up in college in the 1960’s – “GWOS”. Pronounced gwuos. It stands for: “Goes WithOut Saying.”

  8. Raynard said on August 12th, 2008 at 6:01pm #

    Impeach Bush and Cheney now before its too late. You are so right heres the vid right here!

    Cyborg insects