The Pentagon has spent hundreds of thousands of dollars in recent years so that researchers can study the body movements of foreign leaders, including Russian President Vladimir Putin, in hopes of predicting future behavior.
An article published by USA Today reporter Ray Locker on Thursday and corroborated by documents discovered by RT provides rare insight into a scarcely-discussed military effort that for years has relied on the expertise of body movement analysts to interpret the nonverbal projections of Putin and other heads of state.
“US policymakers are seeking any advantage they can find,” Locker reported. In order to accomplish as much, he added, the United States Office of Net Assessment — a division of the Dept. of Defense — has since at least 1996 employed Naval War College research fellow Brenda Connors: one of only a few movement pattern analyst practitioners in the world to be sanctioned by the Motus Humanus organization, according to the military school’s Dr. Mary Raum.
Locker wrote that since 2009, Connors has worked on the ONA’s Body Leads project, an effort he believes has cost the Pentagon at least $300,000 in the last five years as officials have ramped up efforts to gather foreign intelligence.
Connors was writing about the “telling movement signature” of then-Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein for the Providence Sunday Journal a decade ago, but her work on Putin himself goes back to at least 2004. By 2008, she had found herself authoring a report for the ONA called 'Movement, The Brain and Decision-making, the President of Russia, Vladimir Putin.' In the few years since, however, Locker says that the 'Body Leads' project intended to study the physical traits of numerous foreign leaders has been blessed with the talents of others.
“Since July 2011,” he wrote, “the war college had paid $165,735 to Richard Rende, a Brown University psychiatrist and specialist in the field of movement pattern analysis, federal spending records show.”
“Timothy Colton, a Harvard University expert on Russia, has been paid $113,915 since 2009 for his research with Connors, military contract records show,” he added.
Combined, the Pentagon has purchased access to a rare sort of expertise that’s provided by Connor and company, and the Motus Humanus-approved analyst really may be one of the most knowledgeable people on the planet when it comes to dissecting the Russian president’s mannerisms.
But like many Pentagon projects, US officials aren’t particularly eager to discuss Body Leads, and neither the military nor Connors answered Locker’s requests for comment. According to a solicitation found on a military website for a behavioral research associate fellow position, however, it isn’t hard to see that the DoD really is determined to divulge as much as they can about foreign leaders by any means necessary.
“The objective of the ongoing work is to advance and test behavioral movement analysis as an analytic tool to predict human decision-making style,” the solicitation reads in part. “ Two broad areas of research are 1) to pursue and advance the development and application of methodological work supporting remote behavioral profiling of selected world leaders, and 2) to contribute to efforts to disseminate the concepts and finding of the Body Leads project to the scientific community and policy makers.”
Among the requirements sought by the Pentagon in applicants were a PhD in human or behavior science, as well as the ability “to code behavioral aspects of movement in humans from video files” and “recent experience working with and supporting movement pattern analysis and the related work of body leads analysis of political leadership.” Another article about Connors published on the internet shows her working with the Body Leads project on “a cutting-edge algorithm-driven research analysis tool designed to decode human facial expression and emotion.”
Speaking to CNN on Friday morning, USA Today’s Locker said he imagines the Body Leads team is already working on analyzing remarks made on camera by President Putin as recently as this week. For a decade, though, Connors has already been attempting to dissect the Russian president.
Connors characterized Putin’s body language as a “highly restricted...head-to-tail spinal pattern similar to fish movement” in one 2004 report, according to her because he likely did not crawl as an infant.
“Putin’s bodily imbalance and self-image show him to be risk-averse — stuck in place and time — and extremely sensitive to criticism,” she wrote.
“Putin's physical problems "created a strong will that he survive and an impetus to balance and strengthen the body...When we are unable to do something, really hard work becomes the way,” she said a year later during an interview with The Atlantic.
"He is like that ice skater who had a club foot and became an Olympic skater," she said. "It is really poignant to watch him on tape. This is a deep, old, profound loss that he has learned to cope with, magnificently."