Pravda Publishes a Scathing Report on the Human Terrain System

US Army Human Terrain System in Disarray

Millions of Dollars Wasted, Two Lives Sacrificed

Pravda, July 23, 2008

by John Stanton

According to sources, United States Army brigade commanders privately believe that the US Army’s TRADOC Human Terrain System (HTS) program is a “joke” and completely unnecessary. The HTS program is publicly supported by brigade military commanders, and Secretary of Defense Robert Gates, only because it is a “pet project” of the currently politically popular US Army General David Petraeus.

BAE Systems, the prime contractor on the project, has repeatedly been pressured by the HTS program manager and his staff to hire individuals who are not field-experienced ethnographers/anthropologists, but rather Google-fed political and social scientists. In two cases, pre-security clearance award investigations revealed that one candidate recommended for hire by senior staff was a felon. The other candidate had health problems that would have compromised the functions of a deployed Human Terrain Team (HTT). BAE Systems has been the punching bag for the poor decision-making of HTS program managers and advisors.

The tragic deaths of two HTS members — HTT IZ3 Nicole Suveges and HTT AF1 Michael Bhatia — came amidst program management’s confusion over roles and missions, ignorance of threat situations, even dress code problems. Key questions remain open. What’s the role of a civilian ethnographer/anthropologist working with the military in a combat zone? Is a civilian trained to respond to a threat without threatening the life of the team? Should they carry weapons and wear military gear? Are they there to enhance the kill chain, organize and facilitate sporting events, or examine trash dumps for behavioral patterns? What kind of data do warfighters and negotiators really want? What happens when the HTT leaves the site of success? What’s the historical experience of the US military with human geographers? (see David Price, Anthropolgical Intelligence: The Deployment and Neglect of American Anthropology in the Second World War: Duke University Press, 2008).

Whether all this mattered in the deaths of Suveges and Bhatia is utterly debatable. But according to sources, Suveges was a no-show at many training sessions at Fort Leavenworth and not properly trained for work in a combat zone. She was sent initially to the United Kingdom to recruit there for the HTS program and then afterwards was ultimately deployed to the volatile Sadr City in Iraq where three weeks later she met her end. One insider had predicted prior to her death that “someone was going to get killed.”

One of the HTS prime movers, TRADOC HTS Senior Social Scientist, Mrs. Montgomery McFate (Phd, JD), took a seven month sabbatical on the eve of the first deployment of the HTT’s to Iraq in 2007. Whatever guidance she had to offer the fledgling HTT’s would have to wait months until her sabbatical ended. Not bad for a $200,000 base salary and $200,000 in overtime, according to reports.

Allegations of HTS members plagiarizing Defense Intelligence Agency reports and articles from anthropology-specific blogs have been made. Remotely using search engines/databases and attending conferences to troll for HTS-related data, and passing that off as legitimate field data, are also alleged. HTS program funds may also have been used to allow participants to gain advanced degrees.

At the helm of it all is program manager Steve Fondacaro who has been described as a “great used car salesman” but not interested in programmatic details. One of his current goals is to market the HTS program to the controversial AFRICOM project and keep the funding alive. But his task will be difficult. On his watch the Pentagon/taxpayers lost $15 million on the MAP HT software/hardware effort. The MAP HT software/hardware apparently sits unusable with the blue wiring connections still hanging from shelves where the system was to have been housed and operated.

Sources indicate that sexual dalliances, falsified leave forms, crony no-bid contracts to Fondacaro colleagues (one in which deliverables were not fully provided), and verbal harassment of civilian staff have compromised the US Army’s TRADOC program. The hiring of a former Lincoln Group strategic communications specialist to handle public relations is a sure sign of trouble.

Worse still, the reach-back center at Fort Leavenworth remains understaffed. According to a source, the staff is “in a pinch” because Fondacaro is alleged to have used billets meant for reach-back operations to hire non-essential staff. Reach-back staff at Fort Leavenworth and HTT members in the field “do not communicate,” according to reports.

It is not clear whether Secretary Gates or General Petraeus are aware of these problems but they should be. Warfighters in the battlespace should not have to spend their time babysitting those who have an itch to play Army or engage in a proof-of-concept program that has, in one form or another, been behind every US attempt to colonize and/or subdue an intransigent population since the nation’s founding. While the funding for the HTS program is not large, mere millions, that money could be used to enhance training for Special Operations fighters or even buy better equipment for them. America’s uniformed soldiers have been experimented with and on — whether via faulty national security policy and tactics or recycled physical and social science — for the last eight years. That’s enough!


MF: It would be interesting to see the responses, if any, from people at the HTS. As far as I can see, there has been no public response yet, and if none is forthcoming that would suggest that either they have not read the report, or are unable to challenge its contents.

33 thoughts on “Pravda Publishes a Scathing Report on the Human Terrain System

  1. Eddie

    I am disgusted to see that McFate is among the war profiteers cynically filling her pockets in arming a war that she herself says she opposes. This is horrible.

  2. Dr. Pissed, Ph.D. Esq.

    McFate is a coward who refuses to show her face at the AAA meetings. She has a lot to answer for among anthropologists, and after reading this I think she has a lot to answer for to the family of the grad students who died while she was on her reported $200,000 “sabbatical” (I thought you had to do your own writing, not plagiarize others, to get a sabbatical), but she needs to answer the US congress and US taxpayers about how she has personally profited from Human Terrain–a program that has shown no objective results, has personally enriched McFate, damaged anthropology’s reputation, and not helped the Iraqi people.

  3. Don

    Dear McFate,

    What the hell?

    Please answer this simple question (and you can expect to be asked this if you ever show your chickensh** face at the SFAA or AAA meetings ever again: HOW MUCH MONEY HAVE YOU PERSONALLY MADE FOR YOUR INVOLVEMENT IN HUMAN TERRAIN?

    Seriously, you have to make this public, or we will all assume this is true. This is very, very disturbing on several levels.

    If the number is anywhere in the ballpark (including “overtime,” yeah right) of $400,000 you are professional toast, and all you have claimed is tainted. If this is true, you are nothing more than an opportunist con artist. As a vet, even the suggestion of this makes me sick, as an anthropologist it makes me very angry.

    Please explain yourself McFate.

  4. Mushroomy McStank

    I hope some journalist does some digging and clarifies whether or not McFate is indeed a well paid con artist using the War On Terrorism to build her carrier and to amass her own personal fortune.

    I’m calling my congress member and asking her to get the Government Accounting Office to look into the claims put forth in this article.

  5. Anthro Punk

    McFate responded to claims made in Newsweek that she disagreed with. I doubt she will do the same to the claims made in this Pravda piece.

    It is relevant that she and the other Human Terrain anthropologists are making four or five times the amount of money they could ever earn working in more honorable anthropological positions: McFate illustrates how honor is for sale. Nothing new there, but I wonder given McFate’s history of ignoring rules if there has been any criminal wrongdoing in the awarding of no-bid contracts and accounting features of this program.

    This report that McFate has skimmed off $400,000 for herself makes her claims of a brave patriotic idealist facing down her critics laughable. There is nothing brave about feeding the status quo at four times the pay you’d normally make.

  6. Shocked

    McFate paid herself $400,000 of tax dollars?


    Have any of the anthropologists and sociologists who had their work ripped off and used in the Counterinsurgency Manual been compensated by any of these people? I wonder what they will say when they learn of the true scale of this war profiteering?

  7. Maximilian Forte

    I think that some of the anthropologists looking on at what comes out of these reports have yet to really deal with the shock. For those of us under 50, this is disturbingly “new”, probably not the kind of situation they expected to face. Good point about compensating those whose work was ripped off.

  8. Old Soul

    This is disgusting. $400,000 for the crap she is pushing?

    McFate may be the most cynical and self serving anthropologist in all of history.

  9. Sean

    The Mother of the Human Terrain Team program Montgomery McFate supposedly on defensive over an article called US Army Human Terrain System in Disarray–Millions Dollars Wasted, Two Lives Sacrificed. It was posted here at Sydney Indymedia but is also at Pravda. McFate put her response to the piece at a yahoo group and said no one could forward to anyone outside group. Eh???

    Yahoo Group is here Ant Net/

  10. T. Anderson

    I’m fed up with McFate and all the damage she is doing to all of anthropology. Why the hell does she need all this secrecy any way? Now she’ll only respond to her military buddies on a private list serve and she forbids everyone to forward her secret response to anyone on the outside? What have you got to hide McFate?

    McFate is no scholars. Scholars operate in the open.

    Hey McFate, stop all your secrecy and your war profiteering and come out in the open and for once publicly defend what you believe in, without getting paid for it just like the rest of us do.

  11. Maximilian Forte

    That’s interesting news, I would like to see her response if it in fact exists. Why the response should be private is something that I don’t understand. From my point of view, private responses are as good as no response, which means that the article is left standing.

  12. HTT Supporter

    Not a single word of this article is true. Those of us who support McFate know she works for little money and that her devotion to the cause is true, I’ll bet she works for only about $75,000 a year, if she really was making closer to half a million a year it would tarnish all she is trying to accomplish, so none of this can possibly be true.

  13. Maximilian Forte

    To be frank, in my view her work could be totally voluntary, done for free, on her spare time, and it would not change the character and consequences of her engagement. I am not an American taxpayer so I cannot speak as one — clearly, both the way she is built up as a celebrity in the media, and the advertised figures of her earnings, are meant to build her up as a role model that will attract recruits. That’s why what I have posted on this blog is meant to counteract that, and it is not in this specific instance “ad hominem” (I tackle her arguments, and her celebrity status, in very different ways).

  14. Wilber

    McFate is a McFaker, she doesn’t really give a damn if an of the Human Terrain crap works at all. It doesn’t work, and she don’t care–so long as she gets celebrity and a cool $400,000 a year for being George Bush’s little cheerleader. Too bad those kids died while she’s a getting rich, but she’s keeping at it.

  15. Maximilian Forte

    From what I saw yet again today is that McFate is also quite a creep, that is “Dr. McFate” for the sycophants, or “sock puppet” for those who know better.

  16. Maximilian Forte

    I don’t think that is the same person. The one in that article is called Mary, and McFate is her maiden name. The one we are talking about is called Montgomery, and her married name is McFate.

  17. McPissed

    Keep reading the article…the featured weasel is Montgomery’s mother inlaw, and Montgomery herself shows up later in the pieces as a spy working for her later in the story.

    I feel dirty after reading about anthropology being abused like this.

  18. Maximilian Forte

    My apologies! Thanks for sharing that news, it really was incredibly bizarre stuff to read, and I don’t think we have yet seen the bottom of the treachery that constitutes this McFate character.

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  22. steve

    Has anyone questioned the Pravda article(s) sourcing? It’s abominable. It’s not journalism.

  23. steve

    Hi Max, I don’t know where to start with how bad the Pravda articles are other than to say they’re not journalism. Perhaps an analogy would better express it.

    What if I went out and chatted with some Afghan villagers and wrote up the experience as some kind of ethnographic ‘report’ (I don’t know what you anthros would call it) and published that ‘report’ on the web. Would that make me an anthropologist? I assume not.

  24. Maximilian Forte

    No, it might make you a journalist though. Seriously, it might not mean that you are called an anthropologist for doing some interviews with some Afghan villagers (by the way, at the very best that is all the Human Terrain Teams do…they don’t live with the villagers, they pass through — so your statement said a lot more than you might realize about these army anthropologists). But, professional labeling aside, does it mean that you are completely wrong? Also, does John Stanton call himself a journalist?

    The thing is that I am open to the possibility that there are problems with the account, but I am not seeing any corrections or contradictions. Have you wondered why that is, and what it means to let these articles stand without any kind of denial? In “the real world” of public politics that means the articles are valid.

    Just saying it is bad journalism is not enough. In fact he seems to be bringing up a lot of details that the other published reports, from what I imagine you would call good journalists, have not raised. So good or bad does not matter so much to me as whether or not what he reports is valid and accurate. Of course he is motivated in what he writes, and he is fairly open and direct about it. Political journalism has a long tradition, I am not sure it is “bad” for that.

    Then again, I obviously have my own biases here and the way I write on this blog will often make Stanton’s writing look rather tame. Regardless of any disagreements, I am thankful for your visits and comments, and you should feel welcome to post further if you like.

  25. steve

    Does Stanton call himself a journalist? I don’t know. I sure hope not. But he has published in an online English version of that vehicle of truth, Pravda . So he must be a journalist. Regardless of his stated credentials, you seem to think he’s a journalist and say as much in your post. More than that, he’s a “political journalist,” which I assume is something more exalted than the rest of us hacks who actually, you know, report facts that can be verified.

    My problem with the Stanton ‘thing’ — I refuse to call it an article — is that none of it is sourced, not a single claim. That’s the most basic tenet of reporting that every freshman journalism student learns in COMM 101 class; without identifiable sources you don’t have a story, you have, at best, an editorial; at worst, it’s rumormongering. Do I really need to tell you this? You’re smarter than this, Max. Your blog is smarter than Stanton’s ‘work’; and your blog also suffers by holding it up as a source of credible information. Why not just say that you hope the stuff he ‘reports’ is eventually proven true, if only because it comports with your ideas about the awfulness of the HTS program. At least that would be honest.

    You can’t be serious when you say that because the HTS program hasn’t denied Stanton’s claims, then the claims must be true. Again, Max, you are not this boneheaded, but perhaps you are more than a little conspiracy-minded when it comes to the HTS program. Did it occur to you that Stanton’s ‘thing’ is so laughably absurd that it doesn’t deserve comment? I’m only commenting because I’m a working journalist and I’m flabbergasted that anyone would take Stanton seriously. I’ve read the responses on this blog, responses from people who are probably intelligent, who seem to believe Stanton wholesale. It’s just mind boggling to me.

    I’m already giving Stanton way more time and attention than he put into that thing he wrote, so off I go to beat my head against the wall.

  26. Maximilian Forte

    Alright, fair enough, but I do know of the sourcing for some of those facts, which is why I credited him — it’s not just made up straight from the top of his head. Were you suggesting that?

    But you seem to have a bit of an axe of your own to grind here, in the way you scorn those critical of HTS.

    Ultimately, and this is my conclusion about the article: I don’t actually care. It was written with the U.S. taxpayer in mind, and I am not American. How American taxes may be wasted, who might be sloppy, which computers might not be installed, none of that means anything to me. If the program were super efficient, low cost, ultra-rigidly professional, with oppressive amounts of oversight…it would mean absolutely nothing for my own criticisms of HTS.

    If I were in charge of the program, and this is what was published — not just on Pravda by the way — I would at least post corrections or contradictions…you know, the same way they did with Newsweek. Newsweek was unable to verify that the corrections were indeed corrections, and did not reprint the response from HTS. Also, let’s not pick on Pravda too much — as I recall, one of the sources of anti-Iraqi propaganda that asserted the existence of WMDs, was the New York Times. Today, CNN continues to “slip” when it speaks of Iran’s “nuclear weapons program,” still unproven.

    Don’t you have any questions about the silence that has been maintained in this case by HTS? Their silence does not mean Stanton’s piece is true…just that it remains unchallenged.

    I am disturbed about the “identifiable source” issue and COMM 101. The major newspapers frequently quote unidentified sources who request anonymity. Why is Stanton being singled out here? Should he reveal the names of his sources? Should I? I can assure you, I won’t. What I can say is that I notice Stanton uses just a shaving of what he is told, which suggests to me that he is using only that information which he can corroborate.

    Incidentally, there is no need to suggest anyone is being conspiracy-minded, we all already know the most important details: it is a military program, put in place by the nation that invaded and occupies Iraq. That ought to be enough.

    By the way, have you posed any of these questions to Stanton? I would be interested in knowing what his responses are.

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