DOD nixed training center a year ago

Despite initial reports to the contrary, the School of Medicine will not open a training center for soldiers using a grant from the Department of Defense.

Ken McGraw, deputy public affairs officer of U.S. Special Operations Command, confirmed to the News Sunday that USSOCOM will not provide Yale with funds to establish the Center for Excellence in Operational Neuroscience — a program that would teach soldiers interviewing techniques developed by School of Medicine psychiatry professor Charles Morgan. Though the program had not yet been formally proposed to the University, Morgan told the News in January that the Department of Psychiatry was in the process of negotiating to secure a $1.8 million grant from the Department of Defense. But on Sunday, McGraw said that USSOCOM had already rejected Morgan’s proposal a year ago.

“The project had not gone through the appropriate channels there, nor here fully,” University President Richard Levin said Sunday. “[USSOCOM] basically decided to scrap the idea.”

After McGraw indicated in a Thursday statement to the New Haven Register that USSOCOM had awarded the University a $1.8 million grant, School of Medicine Dean Robert Alpern said representatives from the school called USSOCOM in confusion because they had no knowledge that any funding had been approved by the Department of Defense. Alpern said members of the federal department told him the information had been a misstatement, and it released a statement the following day saying that USSOCOM would not fund the center, Alpern said.

McGraw said that when members of his office received an inquiry about the status of the center, they found a former project officer from USSOCOM’s science and technology office currently on active duty who told McGraw that USSOCOM was providing the $1.8 million grant to Yale for a research and training center — information McGraw used to write the Thursday statement he retracted the next day. After searching for more information, he said, the unit launched an investigation late Thursday and found that the project officer had proposed Morgan’s Center for Excellence in Operational Neuroscience, but that the proposal had been rejected when USSOCOM initially reviewed it a year ago.

The project officer continued to seek funding in other Department of Defense organizations and later told USSOCOM that he had secured it from another internal organization, but the claim proved to be premature, McGraw added.

Upon contacting the other Department of Defense organization that planned to review the center, McGraw released a Friday statement retracting his initial confirmation of the center’s grant and confirming that USSOCOM had no intention of funding the center, he said. McGraw added Sunday night that USSOCOM’s investigation into the matter was ongoing.

Morgan did not respond to a request for comment this weekend.

The center had been shrouded in confusion since the start. The public would normally not know about the development of a grant proposal before plans were finalized, but exposure from a Jan. 7 New Yorker magazine article profiling a possible instructor for the center, theatrical pickpocket Apollo Robbins, exposed the plan to national attention.

“Obviously this whole process was somehow unusual,” Levin said. “It’s not common to hear about grant proposals in the newspaper.”

Disapproval by some Yale community members of housing a military training center at the University, and conflicting news about the purpose of the program — including reports disputed by Yale that the classes would teach interrogation methods and use disadvantaged minorities from New Haven as subjects — prompted protest online and across campus. Alpern said there was an “extraordinary amount of misinformation” circling around the media.

When newspapers and online media then picked up reports of opposition to the center, such as an open letter to Alpern from Michael Siegel MED ’90 threatening to pull his donations from the School of Medicine because of the proposed military center and the alleged potential mistreatment of New Haven minority residents as interview subjects, the University issued a Tuesday statement that the center had not yet been formally proposed.

“In short, the center, if established, would be designed in the best traditions of Yale research and scholarship,” Yale said in the statement. “Public reports stating otherwise are premature and based on speculation and incomplete information.”

Two days later, on Thursday, the University issued another statement that the plans for the center would be put on hold pending a full investigation of members of the Yale and New Haven communities’ concerns — the same day that McGraw said USSOCOM provided Yale with the grant. Yale released a final statement on Friday following USSOCOM’s correction.

The center, if approved, had been slated to open in April 2013, Morgan told the News in January.

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