Documents: Investigations into the U.S. Army’s Human Terrain System

Posted on February 19, 2013 by


In line with the publication of this report in USA Today, Army plows ahead with troubled war-zone program” by Tom Vanden Brook, February 18, 2013, we are offering readers copies of many of the documents produced by investigations into the conduct of the U.S. Army’s Human Terrain System, with mirror links for each. There are a total of five items presented here.

The first we list is one which ZA released almost two years ago, in 2011, from the Center for Naval Analyses, and which we wrote about here: “Declaring the U.S. Army’s Human Terrain System a Success: Rereading the CNA Report.” The actual report is available online here only.

The second report, which seems to echo many of the toughest criticisms of the program from former insiders, was produced on May 12, 2010, signed by Lt. Gen. John E. Sterling, Jr., U.S. Army Deputy Commanding General/Chief of Staff, with this subject heading: Findings and Recommendations, AR 15-6 Investigation Concerning Human Terrain System (HTS) Project Inspector General Complaints (also available here, here, and here — 921.7 kb). This is perhaps the most damning of the reports yet produced. The investigator concluded that there were four “foundational defects” regarding HTS–quoting directly:

  1. There is inadequate direct Government oversight, leadership, and management.
  2. There is an over reliance on contracted services and on contract vehicles that do not contain necessary standards and mechanisms for contractor accountability.
  3. Project growth was and remains too rapid and too large in scope to be properly managed with the existing management structure.
  4. There is inconsistency in the application of and adequate standards for the selection of team members and in the quality of their preparation and training.

It was this report that documented findings of sexual harassment, racism and racial discrimination, as well as waste and fraud. As Tom Vanden Brook explains in the USA Today article cited above, the report above, critical as it was, tended to be overlooked or excluded when more positive assessments were produced by other investigating agencies:

“an analysis of the military reviews of the program… shows that the details of the scathing internal Army report were not passed on to others reviewing the program. A May 2010 study by the TRADOC’s Office of Internal Review and Audit Compliance at the Army’s Training and Doctrine Command, which controls the program, did not cite the problems with fraudulent time sheets, harassment or racism. Nor did a November 2010 study by the Center for Naval Analyses that Congress demanded from the Pentagon. The details were also missing in a June 2012 Pentagon inspector general’s analysis.”

Exhibit G is a testimonial statement from a HTS employee given at Ft. Leavenworth on April 14, 2010 (also available here, here, and here — 404.4 kb). This testimony concerns sexual harassment and some rather shocking forms of punitive and hostile gender discrimination within the program, that left this one member of staff pretty well demolished. As if not enough, a number of other scathing observations are offered:

“…Our recommendations were never implemented. It was quickly apparent HTS has no true leadership or clear mission. Teams were hurriedly deployed to Iraq and subsequently without exception failed either as a team or in the quality of the product delivered. This atmosphere was reflected in the staff’s struggles in dealing with the continuous deluge of unqualified students and severe personnel issues manifesting at Leavenworth and OCONUS. As a default setting HTS established as an SOP; poorly delivered, insufficient training, loss of institutional knowledge, low staff and student morale and worst of all an attitude of ‘quantity over quality.’ This gross lack of leadership and oversight sowed the seeds for the chaos and malfeasance to come.” [p. 3]

Exhibit W is another testimonial statement from a HTS employee, dated April 22, 2010 (also available here, here, and here — 409.8 kb). This testimony also speaks to the open hostility toward women in positions of authority within the program. Something else is interesting that comes up in this document, that clearly refers to Michael Bhatia, as he was the only male civilian employee killed while working for HTS: 

“There are pictures of fallen HTS civilian employees hanging in the High Noon Saloon. When I questioned them about the decision to put the photos in the saloon, I was told it was a symbolic place that reflected this organization. It is a bar, not a place to honor fallen comrades. I know for sure that XXXXX would be appalled to learn their son’s picture is hanging in a saloon. They were very against the program and refused to participate in the memorial service.” (p. 2) 

Exhibit W is also a very detailed source of cases of gender discrimination, sexual harassment, time card abuse, and other inappropriate behaviour.

One more testimonial from HTS staff member is produced in Exhibit Z which is dated April 19, 2010 (also available here, here, and here — 535.1 kb). This testimony concerns this kidnapping of an Iraqi-American HTS member, as John Stanton reported on ZA just over three years ago. The speaker is made to feel that she was somehow to blame for the kidnapping by Iraqi insurgents, and cites racist behaviour toward her. She describes an ugly culture prevalent within HTS, of attempts to get fellow members fired, and the spreading of awful rumours, such as this staff member allegedly being a “whore sleeping with all manner of men.” Between playing videos games at work, and illegally consuming alcohol on base, plus a pattern of cronyism, as revealed in this report, there is a lot of material that condemns this program from the perspective of those most closely associated with it.

UPDATE 1: USA Today published a follow up piece with news that could spell trouble for the continuation of HTS. See Congressman: Troubled Army program needs more oversight,” by Tom Vanden Brook, February 19, 2013:

The Human Terrain teams take funding away from more urgent needs such as paying for Marines to train and ships to operate, [Rep. Duncan] Hunter [California Republican] said. The Pentagon plans to cut funding for training except for troops headed to combat to deal with budget cuts scheduled for March 1.

“Even if it worked perfectly, and commanders said it was saving lives, we’re at a time now with our budget and economy that the money might not better be put to use in operational capability that we’re cutting,” he said.

The USA TODAY investigation, based on internal Army documents and interviews with social scientists involved in the program, found that there were substantiated instances of sexual harassment and racism and potential fraud in filing time sheets. Some commanders also questioned the value of the teams’ reports, according to Army documents….

A contractor was fired over a sexual harassment allegation, and a soldier was disciplined for making racist statements. However, no one appears to have been prosecuted or reprimanded for systematic abuse of time sheets. The Army’s internal investigation showed that supervisors directed team members to claim the maximum amount of overtime and comp time possible, earning them salaries topping $280,000 and entitling them to six months paid leave upon returning to the United States.

UPDATE 2: John Stanton has a new article related to these latest revelations about HTS, USA Today Does Journalism Right: Zombie US Army Program,” February 20, 2013. One of his inside sources told him:

“The associations that senior military officers have with corporate defense CEO’s and the proliferation of defense contractors with former military experience, literally overnight, providing dubious services, gadgets, and programs, is stunning. I don’t blame them. I blame the American people and the US Congress. At the end of the day, someone is going to ask: What did we get for all of the money we poured into the HTS program, and can you actually prove that it did what it claimed to do?”

“HTS got through three major funding hurdles, without a scratch. My bet is that after a cursory examination of where the money went, HTS will survive in some form or another. Because it is a cash cow, they [investigative personnel] don’t have to prove anything. There is no oversight of the program and no one is going to admit at this point that the program had gathered all the useful information about Afghanistan four years ago.”…

A source firmly believes that “there is no one in HTS who can look you in the face and tell you that anything new or useful has been learned in Afghanistan in the last three years, or that a single report generated by HTS bears any resemblance to any academically inspired research document that will assist any commander in the field in making a sound tactical or operational decision. With tactical operations winding down for the last year this is even more true.”

Posted in: MILITARIZATION