Anthropology, Global Scouts and Expeditionary Democracy


This and the previous post feature two chapters by Brian Ferguson dealing with the U.S. Army’s Human Terrain System, and broader issues of militarization, global surveillance, and cultural counterinsurgency that arise. One of the chapters was nearing publication, but the very sad passing of our friend and colleague, Neil L. Whitehead, this past March has apparently hindered one of the projects. Both papers are published here with the expressed permission of Brian Ferguson. I am also using the opportunity to draw attention to some key passages.

Ferguson, R. Brian . (2011). “Full Spectrum: The Military Invasion of Anthropology.” In Neil Whitehead and Sverker Finnstrom (eds.), Virtual War and Magical Death (pp. ##). Durham, NC: Duke University Press.

Global Scouts and Virtual Empire: Militarizing Anthropology and Neuroscience

Ferguson’s chapters presents material that remains as important to current discussions on the future of anthropology as at any time during the zenith of debates around the Human Terrain System:

“this chapter draws on a flotilla of other manuals, reports, and proposals, to demonstrate just how deeply entrenched and programmatically wide-ranging are the military’s cultural demands. Anthropologists need to understand that the Department of Defense and other security agencies are already taking what they want from anthropology, and their appropriation of people and knowledge could transform the discipline in the years to come.” (p. 1)

The Pentagon, as outlined by one of his sources, envisions a system of “global scouts” trained in anthropology, as part of the broader cultural turn in its plans for global surveillance and global counterinsurgency:

“At the heart of a cultural-centric approach to future war would be a cadre of global scouts, well educated, with a penchant for languages and a comfort with strange and distant places. These soldiers should be given time to immerse themselves in a single culture and to establish trust with those willing to trust them… Global scouts must be supported and reinforced with a body of intellectual fellow travelers within the intelligence community who are formally educated in the deductive and inductive skills necessary to understand and interpret intelligently the information and insights provided by scouts in the field. They should attend graduate schools in the disciplines necessary to understand human behavior and cultural anthropology.” (p. 9)

It seems as if no stone is to be left unturned, with the Defense Advance Research Projects Agency (DARPA) settings its sights on neuroscience as well, with plans for “exploring the potential of neuroscience research and development and its applications to understanding human dynamics,” since advances in using neuroscience “to understand the basis for human cognition, including non-invasive sensor technologies, may be applicable for understanding perception, the neurological origins of trust and compliance, and the neuroscience of persuasion–all relevant to the topic addressed in this report”–and the key goals here are trust and compliance, basic elements of indoctrination and submission. DARPA’s interest in neuroscience extends to its applications for what are essentially propaganda operations, and efforts to stem the impact of competing ideas: “The broad concept is to develop quantitative neuroscience tools and techniques to predict the effects of ‘ideas’ within diverse populations” (p. 9).

As Ferguson shows throughout his chapter, what the Pentagon envisions–fantastic and magical as it may be–is a “virtual war simulacrum” that is built on “cultural awareness” and “ethnographic intelligence.” The idea is to model the world, to create “a computer copy of the real world, the ultimate divination machine,” with the actual or potential “Areas of Operations” including much if not most of the planet, “mostly directed at peoples of color, in areas where modernism has not extirpated ‘traditional’ identities and loyalties” (p. 11). DARPA envisions a world of “secure predictability” as Ferguson comments, but one based on very flawed assumptions, self-deception–and, we may add, opportunity for expensive research. The faith of DARPA is naive, as Ferguson argues, “justified neither by advances in social sciences, or in hard sciences such as molecular biology, where greater knowledge means recognition of expanding dimensions of ignorance” (p. 12).

Expeditionary Democracy, Armed Social Engineering and Militarized Wilsonians

Among the many sections that deserve close attention is one dealing with the goals of U.S. counterinsurgency in transforming whole societies, where “stability” actually means submitting others to U.S. dominance, rather than further normalizing any local status quo. Ferguson deals with ideas and policies of armed social engineering, development and civil governance, and of course neoliberal restructuring: “One important goal, in Afghanistan and elsewhere around the world (for instance Mexico), is to effect the transfer of communal landholdings to clear, transferable individual titles–showing, if there was any doubt, that Pentagon world restructuring is neoliberal world restructuring” (p. 7).

What I found especially striking was the following quote in Ferguson’s work from Pentagon analyst Kalev Sepp:

“Call it militant Wilsonianism, call it expeditionary democracy, call it counterinsurgency, but this is… decidedly not stabilizing. It is an overturning of nations. It is, at its core, a revolution. American soldiers are the instruments of this revolution… The army would have to lead revolutions on a scale so vast as to completely eclipse what the USA experienced in breaking from Great Britain’s imperial rule, or in reconstructing the defeated slave states of the South following the American Civil War” (p. 7).

Ferguson also points out that a proposal by anthropologist Anna Simons and David Tucker, “Improving Human Intelligence in the War on Terrorism: The Need for an Ethnographic Capability” was submitted to the Office of the Secretary of Defense for Net Assessment in 2004. It has not been made public. The overarching goal is for the Pentagon to achieve a deeper and more insidious global reach, by bringing in “cultural awareness” and “human terrain intelligence,” with the Pentagon acquiring “anthropology-level knowledge of a wide range of cultures,” extending well beyond Iraq and Afghanistan, to Africa, the Pacific, and Latin America (p. 8).

Militarizing Open Access

Ferguson also addresses a number of issues and subjects raised on ZA in previous years, that remain pertinent with all of the orchestrated American hoopla about “open access publishing” that remains curiously oblivious, even now, about the practical benefits of such plans for the military and intelligence apparati. Interesting also is absence of any discussion of the ethics of facilitating military and intelligence research.

“Perhaps the broadest connection of the military and anthropology is already at hand, not through funding new work, but through the diligent mining and absorption of normal, published research and dissertations. The most important fount of anthropological data will not be from HTS social scientists, but from what security people call ‘open sources.’ The head of military intelligence in Afghanistan concludes open source information makes up 90% of the intelligence future, clandestine work merely being more dramatic. The standard operating procedure now for Human Terrain Teams is to pose a problem for the Reachback Cells stateside to investigate through open source materials.” (p. 15)

Ferguson issues another important warning, similar to those made on ZA before:

“All anthropologists working in any area of potential interest to U.S. security agencies–and that is much of the world–should understand that any ethnographic information they publish, any sort of explanation of why those people do what they do, may be assimilated into the great network of security data bases and modeling systems, and through them made available to military, intelligence, and other security practitioners.” (p. 16)

Throughout this strong chapter, Ferguson convincingly argues that the Pentagon’s “cultural revolution” will have “a profound impact on anthropology and its intellectual environment.” As he explains, summarizing key sections of his chapter:

“People with degrees from BA to PhD will find work with the military as teachers and analysts. (What may be distasteful for a tenured professor may seem quite different for a young person trying to set up a job, life and family). Campuses and social sciences will reorient to security needs. Militarily-oriented culture-seekers will filter into anthropology teaching programs. Militarily useful anthropology will be trained into soldier-anthropologist hybrids, who then can reproduce their own. Academic research will be funded and otherwise channeled into security relevant topics. All ‘open source’ work with possible security relevance will be assimilated into the great security networks and nodes of synthesis, analysis, and prediction.” (p. 17)

It was especially encouraging to see that one of the central arguments advanced on ZA resonates in Ferguson’s conclusions and recommendations, and hopefully more will heed this:

“One response to this global challenge would be to reorient scholarly efforts in a countervailing directions–studying, publishing, and teaching more on US militarism and its consequences, at home and abroad.” (p. 19)

Past articles of related interest:

2 thoughts on “Anthropology, Global Scouts and Expeditionary Democracy

  1. Yes!
    very good to finally make very clear the intent of HTS from its inception. It was devised for precisely the purposes that Furgeson claims. Those who remained in the program had shown subordination to the values and the intent of the military. It is not the anthro-apologizing of the military, but the militarization of anthropology that was required of them as soldiers..
    From the fist week of training, it was all up-front, even being explicit about the intent of using the Stockholm Syndrome to either produce submission to the military chain of command, or to force resignation.
    “Bomb the ragheads back into the Stone Age!” was not a rare phrase to hear from the mouths of colonels. That will win their hearts and minds.
    There wrre many in our class who had been in the military as Intelligence specialists; and they saw this as the cutting edge of grass-roots intelligence gathering. Many saw their participation in Iraq or Afghanistan as preliminary training for either Africa or for Latin America and the Caribbean.
    It never had anything to do with “winning the hearts and minds”:, but eliminating hearts and minds both among the US troops and among the people of the nations they occupy; just as in Israel today.
    The goal is, as he points out, an all-seeing military eye, to force “stability” upon such as the people of the Niger Delta; because those Biafrans are living on land that contains OUR OIL! So, it is a US national security issue to dissolve their local social organizations and replace them with US oversight of management of the resources. Human terrain anthropologists can be of help in finding the social resistance leaders and also to understand the dynamics of social processes so they can interrupt those and replace it with Democracy and Freedom, USan Style. Then will come the TV, intgernet, and social media to replace local solidarity.
    It – not just the HTS, but the whole drone-manged thing – is an OUTRAGE.

  2. All the more so because you have the added insights of a former insider, your many points here help to place HTS within a much broader context of processes of “democracy promotion,” “stabilization” (or “stability operations”), “peace-building” (as opposed to peace keeping), and “humanitarian intervention”. Hegemony, militarization, and the inevitable regimentation of peoples are, as you note, deeply ingrained in all of these–such that seemingly earnest discussions of “when is it right to intervene for humanitarian purposes?” reveal and irreparable naivete. Many thanks, and apologies once again for comments disappearing into the spam queue.

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