What Katie Holmes is Saving Suri From: Scientology’s Interrogation of Children


NEW: Secrets of Scientology marriage counseling — Katie was right to stay far away from it.

There seemed to be more public derision than sorrow yesterday greeting the news that Katie Holmes had filed divorce papers in New York while her husband Tom Cruise was in Iceland filming a movie.

There was consensus among the tabloids that this split is over Katie’s concerns about the couple’s child, Suri, and Tom’s religion, Scientology. She’s seeking sole custody, which suggests this could be a long, tough fight between the celebrity duo.

If Katie is attempting to pull Suri out of Tom’s strange world before the girl gets any older, we asked several of our ex-Scientologist sources to explain what, at 6 years old, Suri was about to get into.

We talked with them about the oddities of Scientology schooling, and about the religion’s form of counseling — called auditing — which can begin as young as Suri’s age. But what may have convinced Katie to run was the frightening prospect that faces all Scientology kids beginning at 6 years old: a form of interrogation known as “sec checking.”

[See also: there was more blockbuster Scientology news yesterday, involving the defections of L. Ron Hubbard’s granddaughter, Roanne Horwich, and the father of church leader David Miscavige, Ron Sr., who each have escaped from Scientology’s secretive international headquarters — “Int Base” — east of Los Angeles. And: Our open letter to Tom Cruise.]

There are many things that set Scientology apart from other organizations. Its “auditing,” for example, was developed by founder L. Ron Hubbard when he published Dianetics in 1950. That summer, it became a brief fad in the United States to use Hubbard’s technique of counseling to help another person go into a kind of semi-trance and “remember” the experience of their birth. Within a couple of years, Hubbard was encouraging people to go back even farther and remember past lives, and the process was enhanced with the introduction of a device called an “e-meter” that measures skin galvanic reaction.

At the same time, Hubbard was building Scientology as a highly regimented, formal organization, and some of the techniques he had developed to counsel people were turning out to be very effective as measures of control.

In 1960, for example, Hubbard introduced a policy of “security checking,” called “sec checking” by Scientologists. It involves using the e-meter as an interrogation device, and Hubbard wrote lengthy lists of questions that a member should be asked by an “ethics officer” to make sure they weren’t hiding any covert hostilities to the organization. (Although Hubbard died in 1986, his thousands of policies are still iron-clad law in Scientology, and only those policies written by Hubbard himself — he’s still known as “Source” — can be considered legitimate.)

To this day, Scientologists submit to sec checking when they are suspected of being out of compliance with some policy or other.

Even if they’re only six years old.

In 1961, Hubbard developed a policy of security checking children. It’s still in effect, and now that Suri is six, she can be subjected to this lengthy interrogation by an ethics officer of the church.

“You get conditioned to tell them everything they want to know,” says Marc Headley, who grew up in Scientology but escaped from Int Base in 2005. “It’s all just information gathering.”

Headley says that between the Scientology concepts introduced in its “study tech” at Scientology school, courses taken at the local org, and the sec checking, “all that stuff is cultural programming, and once it’s in place, it’s done,” he says.

“I was sec checked when I was 7,” says Claire Headley, Marc’s wife.

“Jenna Miscavige Hill was getting sec checked at 12 or 13. I can think of numerous minors who received sec checking. It’s probably more prominent in the Sea Org, but I don’t think it was limited to the SO,” she adds, referring to the niece of church leader David Miscavige, and to the Sea Organization, Scientology’s elite hardcore.

Katie Holmes has had six years to understand how Scientologists are controlled through the use of interrogations, and it would not have been lost on her that children are sec checked in part to gather information about their parents.

“It’s a way to ‘third party’ people — to find out who is saying derogatory things to others,” Headley says. “They’re going to find out what’s going on. I mean, just read the thing.”

Well, here’s your chance to read the list of questions that L. Ron Hubbard came up with in 1961, and that to this day is used to interrogate the children of Scientologists, including the older children of Tom Cruise when they were this age, Headley tells me.

Read the list, and it should become clear why Katie Holmes wanted nothing to do with it for Suri.

HCO WW Security Form 8

The following is a processing check for use on children.

Be sure the child can understand the question. Rephrase it so he or she can understand it. The first question is the most potent.

Children’s Security Check
Ages 6–12

What has somebody told you not to tell?
Have you ever decided you did not like some member of your family?
Have you ever taken something belonging to somebody else and never given it back?
Have you ever pretended to be sick (ill)?
Have you ever made yourself sick (ill), or hurt yourself to make somebody sorry?
Have you ever wanted something very much, but never told anybody about it?
Have you ever gotten yourself dirty on purpose?
Have you ever refused to eat just to worry someone?
Have you ever remembered something about yourself and not told anybody, because you thought they wouldn’t believe you, or be angry at you?
Have you ever refused to obey an order from someone you should obey?
Have you ever told another child something that wasn’t true, just to frighten or upset him?
Have you ever bullied a smaller child?
Have you ever deliberately got another child, or a grown-up, into trouble?
Have you ever pestered older children, or grown people, who were trying to work?
Have you ever been mean, or cruel, to an animal, bird or fish?
Have you ever forgotten to give food or water to a pet entrusted to your care?
Have you ever broken something belonging to someone else?
Have you ever deliberately spoiled clothing of yours because you didn’t like it?
Do you have a secret?
Have you ever noticed something wrong with your body that you were afraid to tell anybody about?
Have you ever done anything you were very much ashamed of?
Is there anything about you your parents could not understand, even if you told them?
Have you ever failed to finish your schoolwork on time?
Have you ever flunked an examination at school?
Have you ever deliberately given a teacher trouble?
Have you ever tried to make others dislike some teacher?
Have you ever tried to make another child unpopular?
Have you ever broken, damaged, or taken, any school property?
Have you ever lied to a teacher?
Have you ever been late to school, or late to a class?
Have you ever stayed away from school, when you could have gone?
Have you ever cheated by copying someone else’s work, taking notes into an examination, or looking up answers in a book when you weren’t supposed to?
Have you ever spoiled things for somebody?
Who have you made guilty?
Have you ever done something you shouldn’t when you were supposed to be in bed or asleep?
Have you ever told others bad stories about someone?
Have you ever tried to make others believe that your parents, or teachers, were cruel to you?
Have you ever offered as an excuse for something you have done wrong that you are only a child, or that you haven’t grown up yet?
Have you ever felt that your parents and home were too good for you?
Have you ever felt that your parents and home weren’t good enough for you?
Is there anything you should tell your parents, and never have?
Have you ever done something to your body that you shouldn’t have?
Have you ever done anything to someone else’s body that you shouldn’t have?
Have you ever told anyone that you did something, when you hadn’t really done it?
Have you ever told anyone that you hadn’t done something which you really had done?
Have you ever ganged up on another child and made fun of him because he was different from the rest of you?
Have you ever made fun of another because of the way he looked?
Have you ever decided never to talk to someone again?
Have you ever made your parents or teachers work harder than they should?
Have you ever decided that you were too bright, or too smart for the other kids?
Have you ever annoyed an adult by something you did or said?
Have you ever hurt a child?
Have you ever made a child cry?
Have you ever made a child sulk?
Have you ever kept another child from having something that really belonged to him?
Have you ever found anything and failed to return it to its owner?
Have you ever told stories about someone behind their back?
Have you ever lied to escape blame?
Have you ever not told the whole truth about something so as to protect someone?
Have you ever felt ashamed of your parents?
Have you ever felt ashamed of your friends?
Have you ever disappointed your parents?
Have you ever run away when you should have stayed?
Have you ever felt sure your parents wouldn’t understand something that had happened in school, so you didn’t tell them?
Have you ever not told teachers something about your family because they wouldn’t understand it?
Have you ever failed to keep another child’s secret?
Have you ever felt it was just no use talking to someone?
Have you ever hurt someone you didn’t mean to?
Have you ever been sloppy about your clothes or possessions?
Have you ever cried when you shouldn’t have?
Have you ever been a coward?
Have you ever made too much fuss over a little hurt?
Have you ever tried to make your parents believe you were doing better in school than you were?
Have you ever told on anyone?
Have you ever teased younger children?
Have you ever made a mess and not helped to clean it up?
Have you ever broken or damaged something and never told anybody it was you who did it?
Have you ever let someone else get punished for something you did?
Have you ever cried till you got your own way?
Have you ever decided “Someday, when I’m grown up, I’ll get even”? If so, with whom?
Have you ever picked on someone smaller than yourself?
Have you ever upset anyone by throwing a temper tantrum?
Have you ever hurt anyone by telling them you didn’t love them any more?
Have you ever made out that you were more badly damaged than you were in order to make someone stop picking on you?
Have you ever pretended to like someone that you didn’t like in order to satisfy your parents?
Have you ever done anything wrong according to your own religion?
Have you ever not understood why someone was angry with you?
Have you ever pretended not to understand what you had done wrong?
Have you ever pretended not to understand what someone wanted you to do?
Have you ever been in places where your parents didn’t want you to go?
Have you ever spied on anyone?
Have you ever made friends with people your parents didn’t approve of?
Have you ever thought someone was crazy?
Have you ever broken up a friendship?
Have you ever let your team, or school, or club down?
Have you ever tried to keep someone from making friends with another child?
Have you ever pretended not to hear your parents or teacher?
Have you ever made a fuss about doing something that your parents or teacher wanted you to do?
Have you ever done something to someone that you’d hate to have done to you?


Hubbard, L. R. (1961, 21 September). Security Check Children. The Technical Bulletins of Dianetics and Scientology. (1991 ed., Vol. VI, pp. 290-5). Los Angeles: Bridge Publications, Inc.

It’s disturbing stuff, especially when you picture a child of Suri’s age holding the sensors of an e-meter, being interrogated by an adult determined to have her confess her transgressions.

I asked Headley what a child would have to do in order to be subjected to this treatment.

“A tantrum. Or really, anything non-optimum,” he said.

Frightening. No wonder Katie wants nothing to do with it.

UPDATE: We hear from our legal expert, Scott Pilutik, who offers us some thoughts on Katie’s reasons for filing her divorce in New York.

It’s really interesting that she filed in New York as opposed to California. I see news services attributing that to New York courts being tougher enforcing privacy, which may indeed be a factor. But so is, I’ll bet, her wanting to establish her residency here for the purpose of the sole custody argument. Cruise won’t be afforded the same deference celebrities are shown in LA, and if the underlying issue is Scientology, the New York courts will be far more likely to exercise skepticism. And even if a New York court winds up awarding joint custody (the greater likelihood, given how you basically need to be a violent deadbeat crackhead in order to lose partial custody), the court could force him to come to New York to exercise it. Which is why I think Cruise’s attorneys’ first move will be to sue for divorce in California, and simultaneously move to dismiss in New York for lack of jurisdiction and for forum non conveniens.

Thanks for that assessment, Scott. We’re going to keep you close by as this thing develops.

Tomorrow: we return with our regular Sunday Funnies post, in which we look at the latest wacky and tacky mailers that Scientologists send each other for fundraising. And we also have some interesting photos to show you.

Also, please remember to check our Facebook author page for other updates and schedule changes.

Tony Ortega has been the editor in chief of the Village Voice since March, 2007. He started writing about Scientology in 1995. You can catch his alerts at Twitter (@VoiceTonyO), at his Facebook author page, on Pinterest, and even this new Google Plus doohickey.

New readers might want to check out our primer, “What is Scientology?” Another good overview is our series from last summer, “Top 25 People Crippling Scientology.” At the top of every story, you’ll see the “Scientology” category which, if you click on it, will bring up all of our most recent stories.

As for hot subjects we’ve covered here, you may have heard about Debbie Cook, the former church official who rebelled and was sued by Scientology. You might have also heard about the Super Power Building, Scientology’s “Mecca,” whose secrets were revealed here. We also reported how Scientology spied on its own most precious object, Tom Cruise. (We wrote Tom an open letter that he has yet to respond to.) Have you seen a Scientology ad on TV lately? We debunked some of the claims in that 2-minute commercial you might have seen while watching Glee or American Idol.

Other stories have looked at Scientology’s policy of “disconnection” that is tearing families apart. You may also have heard something about the Sea Org experiences of the Paris sisters, Valeska and Melissa, and their friend Ramana Dienes-Browning. We’ve also featured Paulette Cooper, who wrote about Scientology back in the day, and Janet Reitman, Hugh Urban, and the team at the Tampa Bay Times, who write about it today. And there’s plenty more coming.