The Central Intelligence Agency is looking for a few good doctors.
Hidden in the back pages of the Journal of the American Medical Association is an agency advertisement seeking physicians who might want to become "medical analysts" and use their training to "assess the physical health of foreign leaders and terrorists."
The job of medical analyst is not new, according to current and former intelligence officials and agency historians. It’s just that the agency is being more forthcoming in describing what they do to the public.
“It goes back to the Cold War,” said intelligence historian Jeffrey T. Richelson, author of “The Wizards of Langley.” “There was a story about CIA getting [former Soviet Leader Nikita] Khrushchev's urine … surreptitiously of course.
“They have been monitoring the health of world leaders for decades. It’s an essential element of biographical profiles,” he said.
Providing only limited details of how this analysis would be done, the ad advises that such medical analysts would work in several "specialized areas: internal medicine, epidemiology, infectious disease and public health." It adds that the analysts would be required to complete "security procedures including polygraph interview.”
The CIA promises prospective physicians that "your findings will reach senior U.S. policymakers dealing with the immediate and strategic issues facing the nation."
"As an intelligence officer working with a team of physicians, psychiatrists and psychologists, you will assess the physical health of foreign leaders and terrorists, and study global health issues,” the ad reads.
In fact, the CIA regularly develops personality profiles of top political leaders that include medical and psychological information, In some cases, it help U.S. negotiators understand who they are dealing with across a bargaining table, in others, it aids U.S. military planners in determining an enemy’s next move.
One former psychological profiler, speaking on condition of anonymity, said she would even have access to leaders’ sexual proclivities.
Among those for whom the United States has developed such medical information are some of the most obvious of U.S. adversaries, present and past, including Saddam Hussein, Osama bin Laden, Fidel Castro, and the former Yugoslav leader Slobodan Milosevic. Beyond the better known names, there are hundreds of other world leaders who are profiled, both friendly and unfriendly, Richelson said.
Two senior U.S. officials who have seen the bin Laden material note that it puts to rest the rumor that the al-Qaida leader needs dialysis for a kidney disorder.
In fact, the officials said, bin Laden suffers only from kidney stones, a painful but not deadly condition which can be treated with drugs.
In addition, the officials said that the CIA has determined that bin Laden has an enlarged heart and chronically low blood pressure. Beyond that, his only known malady is two missing toes from a war wound suffered in Afghanistan fighting the Soviet Union.
At one point, medical analysts thought bin Laden was a “bit of a hypochondriac,” said one former official, noting that the United States had heard of his constant health complaints.
That profile, said one of the officials, was developed with the aid of defectors from al-Qaida as well as foreign intelligence services, bin Laden family members and U.S. technical intelligence.
Milosevic to Castro
The medical profile of Milosevic, which was read to NBC News at the beginning of the bombing campaign against Serbia in 1999, also laid out several afflictions.
“Milosevic does not react well to stress,” said the profile, which was used by both negotiators at the Dayton Peace Accords and military commanders.
“He has violent mood swings in part attributed to adult-onset diabetes and occasionally severe back problems, both of which he suffers from,” the profile added.
“His weight fluctuates; he tends to put weight on when under stress. When stressed, he becomes an even heavier smoker and drinker than normal. He prefers Scotch and pear brandy. The drinking in particular makes the diabetes worse. He controls the diabetes with insulin.”
A profile of Fidel Castro reportedly discusses the possibility that he has arthritis of the spine, but also notes a history of longevity in the Castro family. His mother lived until age 92, his father until age 84, and all of his siblings are still alive.
Detailed findings for “VIP-Med” group
The analysts work in the CIA's "Medical and Psychological Analysis Center" at CIA headquarters in Langley. The center is part of the Directorate of Intelligence where all the CIA's analytical operations are housed, where it is known internally as "VIP-med.”
The center also does historical research using the data it gathers and in at least one instance, had its material published. The operations were described as “a U.S. federal government medical analytic unit.”
Analysts wrote a four-page “Brief Communications” for the Annals of Internal Medicine in April 2001, entitled, “Impact of Coronary Heart Disease on World Leaders.”
The report concluded, “Incidence of and death from coronary heart disease among office-holding world leaders has decreased over the past 30 years, possibly because of increased use of cardiac procedures. A coronary event in a world leader is unlikely to presage a change in government.”
Also of interest in the article was the underlying data used to support the conclusion, an indication of how much and how detailed the information collected by intelligence agencies can be: “From 1970 to 1999, 115 leaders were identified as having a coronary heart disease event. Of these, 64 had their first event while holding their country’s highest Office.
“We identified 27 such leaders in the 1970s, 19 in the 1980s, and 18 in the 1990s, all of whom were men. Age at the time of the event ranged from 43 to 88 years. The average age at the time of the event was 64.1 years during the 1970s, 62.6 years during the 1980s, and 63.6 years during the 1990s. Sixty-one of 64 events were reported as hospitalization for acute myocardial infarction.”
And although the ad also states that the "medical analysts" will study global health issues and that the work will ensure "a healthy America," one senior U.S. official said the main job of the analyst would be to work on the profiles. “That’s the highest priority,” said the official.