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Shawn Vestal: Firm behind CIA torture still has ties to Spokane

If you call the number once listed for the defunct Mitchell, Jessen & Associates, you will be told that neither James Mitchell nor Bruce Jessen has any association with the company now at that number.

Which is not to say that connections between the two companies don’t exist.

Three of the lesser-known officers of Mitchell, Jessen & Associates, which earned $81 million in government payments for designing and implementing the post-9/11 CIA torture program, are executives in the company that now has that number and office space: The Center for Personal Protection & Safety.

It’s a reminder that, while the two men whose names were on the masthead have gotten most of the attention, there are others in Spokane who played a role as well, connected through their experiences in survival training at Fairchild Air Force Base and a wide range of government contracting that followed. A big piece of that was the so-called “enhanced interrogation” program – developed from the survival tactics taught at Fairchild into a list of proactive interrogation techniques that have been widely condemned as torture, ranging from the use of stress positions and slaps to waterboarding.

A Senate committee report issued this week concluded the torture program was much more brutal than previously known and was ineffective at gathering useful intelligence. Republicans and CIA officials have insisted the report is flawed and the techniques did produce information that disrupted terror plots.

Taxpayers paid $81 million to Mitchell, Jessen & Associates before the torture program was ended in 2009 and the company’s license went inactive. At one point, the firm reportedly had 120 employees; numerous reports have depicted Mitchell and Jessen as firsthand participants in some of the most brutal overseas interrogations, including the 183 waterboardings of Khalid Sheikh Mohammed and an interrogation in which a prisoner died after being chained overnight on a cold cement floor, naked from the waist down.

Mitchell has left Spokane for Florida and has begun defending his firm’s work in interviews this week. His former partner, Jessen, has not responded to repeated requests for an interview. In 2010, Jessen built an 11,000-square-foot home valued at $1.2 million on a 15-acre lot in south Spokane County.

When the two men took out a city business license in 2004, they were listed as company officers along with two others: Roger Aldrich and Randall Spivey. Another Spokane man listed on state licensing documents for the company was James Sporleder. All three are current officers in the Center for Personal Protection & Safety (CPPS).

Attempts to reach the men for comment – at their offices and homes – were unsuccessful. But it’s clear that the men all shared a common background and professional relationship – in 2003, Mitchell, Jessen and Spivey were all presenters at a conference in Hawaii on “Homeland Security Training” organized by one of Spivey’s other companies.

Spivey has founded several companies, mostly built around security. He is listed as the founder and CEO of CPPS. Aldrich is listed on the firm’s website as the chief communications officer.

CPPS has offices in Spokane and Reston, Virginia. It bills itself as “the leading developer and provider of scalable training and consulting solutions in the U.S. for Workplace Violence Prevention, Active Shooter Response, and High Risk Travel,” and it claims its clients include more than 60 percent of Fortune 100 companies, thousands of universities and hospitals and a variety of federal agencies including the FBI, Department of Defense, Department of Veterans Affairs and the Social Security Administration.

Prior to his retirement from the military, Spivey served as an executive in the Department of Defense and oversaw all hostage survival training programs for DOD from 1997 to 2002. He was later involved with the Fort Sherman Institute, a short-lived anti-terrorism project at North Idaho College, and then started a firm called RS Consulting, teaching governments and companies strategies for surviving hostage situations. Aldrich also worked with RS Consulting through his affiliation with another government security contractor, according to a Spokesman-Review article in 2004.

Aldrich had a long and distinguished career in hostage survival training. He was once referred to as a “legendary military survival trainer” by the New York Times. He was Mitchell and Jessen’s superior officer while at the Fairchild survival school, and several published reports have indicated he was closely involved in the earliest efforts to apply survival-school techniques as tools for interrogation.

Air Force Reserve Col. Steven Kleinman, a longtime military intelligence officer who has become one of the strongest critics of the torture program, once called Aldrich “one of the founding fathers of the survival program in this country,” who turned the Survival, Evasion, Resistance and Escape (SERE) program into “the best (survival) program in the world.”

Sporleder was also a former official with the Joint Personnel Recovery Agency, which oversees the SERE program, according to Spokesman-Review articles from 2007. He is now identified as the president and co-founder of CPPS.

Shawn Vestal can be reached at (509) 459-5431 or shawnv @spokesman.com. Follow him on Twitter at @vestal13.