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By John Helmer, Moscow

Timothy Colton, a Russia expert at Harvard University in the US, has admitted he has been engaged in research on Russia’s leaders as part of the Pentagon’s top-secret Operation BODY LEADS. Top-secret, that is, until last week’s disclosure of the operation to investigate President Vladimir Putin’s and Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev’s brains from their body movements and other evidence gathered under cover by academics and journalists. According to Colton, “I was not and never have been in any way a clandestine military contractor. I have never had a security clearance, and I have never conducted classified research for any organization.”

The disclosure sheds new light on the operation of universities, think-tanks and academic researchers engaged in the US Government’s campaign to overthrow the Putin government.

The Pentagon secrets were published last week when reports by Brenda Connors to the Pentagon’s Office of Net Assessment (ONA) were released to reporters who had filed a Freedom of Information Act request almost a year ago. Click for the full story.

ONA is an intelligence analysis unit reporting to the Secretary of Defense. Connors is a staffer of the “Chief of Naval Operations Strategic Studies Group” at the US Naval War College. BODY LEADS was an operation of ONA and the Navy, commissioned from the War College, which commenced in 2005 and was still running at least eight years later, in 2013. Connors describes the operation as “appl[ying] nonverbal methodology, primarily Movement Pattern Analysis, to shed light on the unusual and controversial power-sharing arrangement in Russia”.

A faculty member at the US Naval War College (NWC, picture below) until last year reported in a US intelligence community website on February 6 that Connors “was a protocol officer at the State Department and somehow wangled her way into lucrative research (i.e. non-teaching) faculty positions at the Naval War College; all this was a subject of some mystery to NWC faculty, but given that institution’s tendency to give out jobs to unqualified ‘special friends’, the Connors case isn’t really that much of an outlier. Connors has been at NWC for over a decade…doing whatever it is she does.”

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The War College website currently lists Connors with the rank of associate professor, and still at the CNO [Chief of Naval Operations] Strategic Studies Group. The Chief of Naval Operations – currently Admiral Jonathan Greenert – is the highest ranking US naval officer. He reports to the US Secretary of the Navy, and as a member of the Joint Chiefs of Staff to the Secretary of Defense and the President.

The Strategic Studies Group (SSG) (below), headed by retired Vice Admiral James Wisecup, is a warfighting staff reporting to Greenert. It says it provides “revolutionary naval warfare concepts. Revolutionary implies that the concepts would upset existing order. Therefore, these concepts are non-consensual. The SSG focuses it’s [sic] efforts on war fighting concepts that appear to have great potential, but Navy organizations are currently not pursuing. In conducting this mission, the SSG is at the leading edge of the Conceptualization Phase of the Process for Naval Warfare Innovation.”

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Noting that an internal US Navy audit of the War College in 2014 had found fault with its operations and accounting, the former NWC officer charged last week that money flows between branches of the defence establishment for intelligence work are open to corruption. “The Connors case is not isolated, and not the worst one either. I am aware of NWC faculty working for ONA, then selling the DoD-owned product on the open market at considerable profit. This is called “triple-dipping” and is flagrantly illegal, not to mention unethical. I’d like to tell you NWC cleaned this up and fired wrong-doers, but they did nothing of the sort.

Connors says in the declassified documents that “Colton [was] commissioned by me for BODY LEADS” to write a report titled “Some Hypotheses Concerning Putin and Medvedev”. According to Connors, Colton’s evidence included “the open record, the Moscow rumor mill, and access to Putin and Medvedev through the annual sessions of the [Russian] government-sponsored Valdai Discussion Club.” Read the declassified Connors ONA reports here.

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In this Kremlin photograph of Putin at the Valdai Discussion Club on November 13, 2011, Colton can be seen in the right rear background wearing a red tie. The VDC record of remarks on the occasion quotes Colton as saying through an interpreter: “the present model of government, which took shape in Russia in the last ten or twelve years, appears to have exhausted its potential or is about to reach that point. So the majority of our group – I don’t say all but the majority, anyway – are saying this year that Russia is facing formidable challenges, and what’s going on now isn’t very practical. Perhaps things will look different after the elections, when you become president again – but it cannot go on and on endlessly.”

In her report to the Pentagon, Connors said her methodology for “Movement Pattern Analysis” aims at the “decision signature elicited from a no-stress interview in which conditions support the most natural elicitation of the individual’s movement”. Citing Colton six months before he met Putin at the Valdai interview, Connors reports his assessment that “in the Insincerity and Lighweight Hypotheses, [Putin] is the mastermind of the current situation, having selected a nominal successor who is incapable of engineering real change. In the Frustration hypothesis, [Colton claims] Putin opposes changes Medvedev wishes to institute. Following the Smokescreen and Consensus hypotheses, Putin would be Medvedev’s co-conspirator, working with him either to blunt reform or to confine it to baby steps.”

In response to emailed questions, Colton said on Wednesday: “My work for Ms. Connors was under contract to the Naval War College, not the Office of Net Assessment. I did not inform VDC [Valdai Discussion Club] of my work for Ms. Connors, just like I (and the other participants in VDC) did not inform VDC of the other organizations that I work with.” By Naval War College, Colton may have meant the Strategic Studies Group of the Navy command staff, which is located at the College campus.

Putin’s spokesman Dmitry Peskov has said the Connors reports are “rubbish, unworthy of commentary.”

Andrey BystritskiyAndrey Bystritskiy, executive chairman of the Valdai Discussion Club, was asked to clarify whether the Russian Government or the club sponsors of Valdai knew that Colton was secretly reporting to the US government and whether Colton had been asked to clarify the Connors report disclosures. Bystritskiy replied he won’t comment because “the nature of this information is questionable.” The Valdai Discusssion Club lists as partners several Russian academic institutions, and as sponsors three state banks, plus corporate identities belonging to Alisher Usmanov, Alexander Mordashov, and Sergei Chemezov. Colton is still listed on the Club website as a “contributor”. His contributions seem to have stopped in 2012.

Colton implies he did more than one report for Connors and Operation BODY LEADS, and that he was engaged for more than a year. He refuses to say how many reports he prepared, or the period of his engagement. Ray Locker, a reporter for USA Today, wrote last week that Colton “has been paid $113,915 since 2009 for his research with Connors, military contract records show.”

Richard RendeIn September 2013 Colton was still at work with Connors. In an article for Frontiers in Psychology he, she, and a co-author, university psychiatrist Richard Rende (right), endorsed “the potential offered by Movement Pattern Analysis (MPA), an observational methodology that has been used in business and by the US Department of Defense to record body movements that provide predictive insight into individual differences in decision-making motivations and actions.” The paper reports an experiment interviewing 12 military officers, whose performance on a laboratory task was correlated to their interview movement records. There was no mention of Colton’s work in Russia.

Colton signed the following claim at the end of the 2013 paper: “The authors declare that the research was conducted in the absence of any commercial or financial relationships that could be construed as a potential conflict of interest.” Rende also signed. USA Today has reported that so far Rende has been paid more than $230,000 by Operation BODY LEADS.

Yesterday Colton claimed that “none of my assignments in Russia or with the VDC was funded by the US Government.” He adds: “My reports became property of the US Government and the US Government controls their further use. None of my reports was openly published by me.” Colton declined to explain how the US Government held proprietary right to his work if it hadn’t paid for it. He refuses to say if he was paid or his consulting activities earned the $113,915 reported last week.

Colton was also asked to explain the secrecy of his work. “None of my work with Ms. Connors was classified; all of my work with Ms. Connors was unclassified. I have never held a security clearance, and I have never conducted classified research for any organization. Harvard University has strict reporting requirements on all outside consulting activity. I have followed those requirements to the letter.”

Harvard University’s guidelines on external work and secret research by faculty members have been controversial within the university, and outside, since the 1970s, when students protested against the university roles in the Vietnam War of a professor of chemistry, Louis Fieser (below, left) , inventor of napalm; and of the White House National Security Advisor, Henry Kissinger, a professor in the Harvard faculty when Colton was a graduate student. Subsequent exposure of the involvement of the university’s president, Lawrence Summers (right), in corrupt manipulation of a US Government operation to influence Russian privatization in the 1990s, led to Summers’ exit from the university in February 2006.

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According to the current Harvard guidelines, “research should be published promptly in order to share the results with the scientific community and to establish a researcher’s priority, upon which academic reputations and career advancement depend. Excessive delay of a publication may cause the results to become stale and may permit a competing academic group to publish first, devaluing the advances of Harvard’s research group. It is, further, inconsistent with the academic enterprise if research results are in any way suppressed, including by conditions imposed by funders or sponsors of the research.”

“The University does not accept or agree to keep as confidential or proprietary, information that is germane to the work, required for publication of meaningful results and findings, and/or necessary for the verification of results by other scholars…Harvard does not accept publication restrictions in terms of content and timing of the release of findings, except for a 30+30 delay when patents are at stake. The University does not accept classified research. The PI must be able to report research results, although data that identify individuals, organizations or groups may be retained as confidential.”

Colton claims: “None of my work with Ms. Connors was classified; all of my work with Ms. Connors was unclassified. My reports became property of the US Government and the US Government controls their further use. None of my reports was openly published by me.”

Last June Colton appeared at the US bureau of Russia Today television to endorse the overthrow of the Yanukovich regime in Ukraine, and the democratic credentials of the regime which succeeded him. “It’s very hard to read Putin’s mind,” Colton acknowledged – without referring to his government research. “He’s very closed when it comes to his ultimate aims and intentions.”

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Watch the full interview: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=WqTkHs-79ck

Yesterday Colton was not available at his office to respond to follow-up questions by telephone. He was asked by email: “Is it correct to say that the US Government withheld your reports from publication, and that you were not allowed to publish or disclose to third parties? Do you think this withholding ipso facto makes the work clandestine in the sense of that term meaning private, concealed, secret? “

Colton declines to answer. His email claims: “I was not and never have been in any way a clandestine military contractor. I have never had a security clearance, and I have never conducted classified research for any organization. Therefore, there is no conflict between my role as an academic researcher and my work with Ms. Connors.”

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