John Stanton: US Congress Rewards Failure, Puts Personnel in Harm’s Way

Posted on October 10, 2009 by


This is John Stanton’s 20th article on the Human Terrain System, with his previous ones available here at: 12345678910111213141516, 17, 18, and 19.

John sent this article a few days ago, my apologies for being late. It is reproduced here with his permission, and has already been published in CounterPunch, which is also featuring an extended article by David Price in its print edition (a summary is coming next on this blog).

John has also published a book of his work on the Human Terrain System: General David Petraeus’ Favorite Mushroom.

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Human Terrain System 2009-2010: US Congress Rewards Failure, Puts Personnel in Harm’s Way

by John Stanton

  • “They are writing hours down that they do not work.”
  • “If the Department of Defense does not take a close look with a microscope at the program, then millions or perhaps billions of dollars will be wasted by the federal government and taxpayers.  The biggest and most grotesque problem that this program faces is the fear of calling it what it really is — Intelligence.”
  • “I believe there are some serious power struggles and back stabbing within the HTS Program. The students are paying the price. Too many in HTS seem to be on a power kick or need their egos boosted. They say things to students or in front of students that are wrong or against US Army regulations.”
  • “The social science personnel need serious screening to keep the psycho ones out. There seems to be an over abundance of them in the program. They all seem to be on some type of crusade.”
  • “It may be the commander’s battle space but it is your research.”
  • “Many HTT personnel would be willing to avoid the US Army Unit of Assignment mission to protect their research, and stand idly by while US /Coalition Forces and Local Nationals suffered casualties. This is not US Army policy and is completely contradictory to the HTS manual.”
  • “Forget the money speech. Drill it into the heads of everyone your work belongs to the US Army, not you.”
  • “HTS personnel do not recognize that the security element is in charge of the HTT’s safety when outside the wire — not the Social Scientist or the Team Leader. If the security element commander says it is time to go, then it does not matter if it is a Sergeant or a Captain giving the order — we leave, period. The Security Team Commander is responsible for the safety of an HTT. No Social Scientist has the tactical training or experience to make a critical decision.”
  • “A Social Scientist, who remains in the program, should be investigated for placing a classified brief from theater on the shared drive when not everyone in the class had a final clearance. He can spin it any way he wants but the fact is the brief is classified.”
  • “He was trying to pimp his book and see how many names he could drop. He dropped F-bombs and dipped tobacco during class. He was totally unprofessional.”
  • “There are no written reports on anything the unit wants that are worth a damn.”

Doctor Max Forte over at Open Anthropology highlights some interesting language contained in the Duncan Hunter National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2009.

“HTTs [Human Terrain Teams] are currently proving their value in Iraq and Afghanistan, and the committee believes that capability would prove equally valuable in other combatant command areas of responsibility. The committee recommends $90.6 million in Operation and Maintenance for the purpose of fielding additional HTTs to meet the current Central Command requirement of 26 teams. The committee encourages the Department to begin training, equipping, deploying, and sustaining human terrain teams with other regional combatant commands to include at least one each for Pacific Command, Southern Command, and Africa Command.”

The House and Senate Armed Services Committees are supporting an HTS program that is still in its infancy and whose concept — as of October 2009 — has not yet been proven. It can hardly qualify as a success story even though it was glowingly  portrayed as such by the Deputy Under Secretary of Defense,  Advanced Systems and Concepts in 2008 (acq.osd.mil/jctd/success.html). None other than the SECDEF, a Brigade Commander and “Sheiks of Al Tajy North, Iraq” weighed in by intimating that the US Army Human Terrain System was the best war fighting tool since the clenched fist. Wow! Not!

It is unfortunate that the proponents of using the US Army TRADOC HTS to divine the Human Terrain remain blind to program weaknesses and dubious data collection and reporting methodology. They are content to charge the American Anthropological Association as the primary opponent of HTS though it is those internal to the program — that have gone or are going through the HTS experience — that are its most vocal critics and, at the same time, strong supporters of the concept.

So here we are in October 2009 and reports continue to come in describing persistent problems with recruitment, training, deployment, and in-country performance. Sources indicate that little has changed to address these issues. Fraud in the form of over billing has now been alleged.

Social Scientists Do Not Understand the Mission: Screening Needed

“The academics in the program understand the world of quantitative and qualitative research and have typically worked alone,” said a source.  “They simply do not understand the team concept. This creates friction with other team members.  Further, the academics associated with the program only understand counterinsurgency from reading articles, books, and/or policy statements. This, they feel, makes them matter experts in the field.  Very few, if any, have ever been actively involved (on the ground) and experienced counterinsurgency in a direct fashion.  Just because someone (an academic) has read Galula, Kilcullen, Sepp, Nagl,  Schoomaker, Army FM 3-24, 3-24.2, or 3-0 does not mean that they have become experts in the field. Academics find it insulting to their intelligence that someone without a PhD could possibly know more [about counterinsurgency] than they do.” [Max Forte: one wonders if they are referring here to Karl Slaikeu, who took leave from his allegedly lucrative conflict resolution business to reinvent himself as a counterinsurgency theorist.]

Sources report that training needs improvement and that training should use real down range scenarios to teach the students.  For example, Counterinsurgency Training does not touch on platoon, company or battalion levels. These are the levels at which HTTs interact with the most. Training should include Patrolling, Reaction to Snipers, IED, Weapons Safety and Handling at a minimum.

“Students need to understand how training ties in with a combat unit’s downrange mission.  This point is the most important and is not explained or stressed during coursework. HTT personnel must understand that they are there to support the commander’s mission. This is not clearly understood by the students,” said one source. According to a source, HTT personnel can pick and choose research items and present what they want to the unit.

Some social scientists within HTS believe that their mission is to make the US Army a kinder-gentler fighting force when dealing with non-combatants, while at the same time warring with insurgents and other unfriendly elements.

Training rarely follows the HTS Handbook or is completely contradictory to it, according to sources. “Instructor’s put their personal spin during classes discussing politics, ethical beliefs, religious beliefs, and war stories. This is not conducive to a training environment and is very unprofessional. The instructors do not present the training well and it is obvious they are not trained in how to instruct. When the participation method of instruction is used the instructors often lose the class or lose control of the class.  There is too much training geared toward the Social Scientists and very little for Research Managers and Analysts.”

Peer evaluations should be modeled after the US Army evaluations. This leaves students no opportunity to evaluate someone’s personality and only allows for the review of someone’s performance and behavior.  In a program loaded with super-egos, this is very important.

According to sources, new social scientists to the HTS program were extended an invitation by the HTS lead social scientist. “Too many times I have heard that there was a personal invitation extended to them,” said one source. “Nearly all of the social scientists that I have had interaction with are in the program solely for the purpose of getting published at the conclusion of their deployment and return home.” According to sources, the social scientists guard their information as if it were Military Top Secret.  A local Unit Commander has continually been denied research data by social scientists who claim their work is proprietary, they say.

Sarcastic Know-it-Alls

Some HTS personnel are abrasive, sources indicate. One was rude and arrogant and would belittle the students during class. In one instance, sources say, a briefing by one instructor turned sour as she informed students that “the Social Scientist runs the teams and no one else has a say in anything.”  Clearly, according to sources, the instructor did not know the difference between an aggressive operation and a non- aggressive operation.  “For example, students are instructed that they will not be involved in a kinetic operation, such as a cordon and search. But any mission can go kinetic at anytime. “

The anthropology instructors have no practical experience with the HTS mission and attempt to relate their personal experiences in places like Africa studying AIDs/HIV to the students, sources report. The mission of the HTS is being lost in translation.  Sources say they can’t stress enough that “it is being presented to students that all the HTT will be doing is research on culture and people in the area. It is not understood that the HTT works for the unit of assignment, researching the items the unit wants and the HTT can lawfully perform. The primary focus is on the commanders.”

According to sources, a good example of this is an Ethics Class given by one instructor.  “Through the entire presentation he was adamant about how to handle research data. He made clear that HTT members should not write down any names of interviewees because this information should not be given to the military to be used for kinetic purposes. When the question was asked, What if the information gathered would directly impact the safety of the unit the HTT is assigned?  The instructor responded that the information was the property of the researcher and did not have to be given to the US Army Unit of Assignment.  He also stated that HTT personnel should avoid writing any information down so it could not be forced from the researcher. That being the case, many HTT personnel would be willing to avoid the US Army Unit of Assignment mission to protect their research, and stand idly by while US and Coalition Forces and Local Nationals took casualties. This is not US Army policy and is completely contradictory to the HTS manual.

Bright Spots

“There are numerous people in the HTS program who have an overabundance of knowledge related to counterinsurgency and the human terrain.  But these people are ignored because they do not have a PhD in Anthropology, Psychology, Political Science, etc.  It is my opinion that people who are in positions such as HTA’s, RM’s, and TL’s are just as important, if not more important, than the social scientists in that they are the ‘link’ between the military and social science,”  said one source.

According to sources, there are a number of training personnel who are top-notch. “The Immersion Training for Afghanistan is great.  The Language Training by one instructor is excellent. He takes a lot of time with us and is very patient.  The Geological Training conducted by another instructor was very educational. The History of Islam class is excellent.” According to one source, “I now have a better understanding of how Islam functions and why the attitudes of Islamic people seem so different from our own. It was very enlightening to see that Islam believes many of the same things as Christians do.”

Still, sources say, training should focus on the tribal problems, and areas of external tribal disputes. If HTT personnel had a general understanding of the differences between the Pashtu, Uzbek, and others, as well as why for example the Taliban was able to take over the country and it people when others in history could not do both, they say.

The Introduction to Anthropology Class and the Open Source Research Class received good marks.

“Language Training is the best,” said one source. “I would recommend staying away from the writing Arabic, three weeks is not enough time. Concentrating on conversational language would be more helpful. “

Sources had high praise for one instructor and some of the films made available to them for viewing in class. “The documentaries that another instructor has shown us are informative and provide a different view of how people used to live in Afghanistan before the Soviet invasion. The instructor has, as is his normal operational procedure, taken extra time with us to ensure we understand the language and proper usage. He is a very fine instructor.  The documentaries we have watched from the library are very good and informative in their own respect. But students who come here in future classes must understand that some of the issues portrayed in these films are blamed on the US and NATO. These documentaries are also very much based on Women’s Rights and how the women of Afghanistan are being mistreated and how this is the fault of the USA. It must be understood that some of the things said maybe offensive to some students and could cause serious differences between students of different genders, political persuasions, rank and religious background.”

Dark Spots: Fraud, Waste Abuse Again: Regulations and Policy Are Just Guidelines

Logistical nightmares remain the norm for HTS personnel during deployment. One source believes that the entire operational side of HTS needs to be overhauled. Transportation miscues, identification badge errors, delayed clearances, HTT arrival in-country not expected by military personnel, and billeting issues have yet to be smoothed out.

Worse, according to sources, is that some HTT personnel are inflating hours on time sheets charging the US government for activity never undertaken. Research reports have little value. “They have no product that can be given to the US Army Units of Assignment.  Army personnel have been asking for a product but have been given just enough verbal information by HTT personnel to keep them off their back.”

“This needs to be reported to someone,” said one source.

John Stanton is a Virginia based writer specializing in national security and political matters. His book, General David Petraeus’ Favorite Mushroom—Inside the US Army Human Terrain System—is available here http://www.wisemanpublishing.com/page11.php. Contact John at cioran123@yahoo.com.

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Posted in: INTRODUCTION