Analysis: Interesting interview with a CIA psychiatrist

David Charney

David Charney

Veteran national security correspondent Jeff Stein has published some interesting highlights of an interview with psychiatrist Dr. David L. Charney, who has worked for the US intelligence community for over 20 years. Charney is one of several medical professionals whom the CIA has appointed to assist its personnel in dealing with a variety of emotional issues. Additionally, he has previously been appointed to supervise the psychiatric assessment of a number of American double spies, including Robert Hanssen, the former FBI agent who spied for the Soviet Union and Russia for over two decades. In the interview, Charney identifies a number of psychological disorders that tend to burden CIA officers, including post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), which often plagues agents who have survived “death-defying escapes after their covers were blown”. Other disorders include a variety of security-related obsessions, such as “fretting endlessly over whether a safe has been locked”, and adult attention deficit disorder (ADD). The latter is notable among some of the more gifted CIA operatives who tend to be “excitement junkies […], quickly tir[ing] of one task and [wanting to] take on more”. Another of Dr. Charney’s interesting medical observations is what he terms “moral duality” among CIA case officers and other agents. Specifically, he has noticed in the minds of CIA professionals a peculiar ethical cohabitation of, on the one side, their lawful behavior while stationed within the US, and, on the other, their unethical behavior when operating abroad: “when they go overseas their job is to lie, and steal, and they are okay with that because they see it as being part of their patriotism toward their country. But it does create a funny kind of duality of moral positioning”, says Charney.

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Expert news and commentary on intelligence, espionage, spies and spying, by Dr. Joseph Fitsanakis and Ian Allen.

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