Secrecy, Anonymity, Spying, and Lying: An Overview of the “Ethics” of HTS Infiltration (1.2)

Sir: In his war address to Congress, President Wilson dealt at great length on the theory that only autocracies maintain spies; that these are not needed in democracies. At the time that the President made this statement, the Government of the United States had in its employ spies of unknown number. I am not concerned here with the familiar discrepancies between the President’s words and the actual facts, although we may perhaps have to accept his statement as meaning correctly that we live under an autocracy; that our democracy is a fiction. The point against which I wish to enter a vigorous protest is that a number of men who follow science as their profession, men whom I refuse to designate any longer as scientists, have prostituted science by using it as a cover for their activities as spies.
Franz Boas, “Scientists as Spies,” The Nation, December 20, 1919.

It took 85 years for the American Anthropological Association to lift its censure of Franz Boas, the organization he helped to found, serving as its president for several years. Having recognized, very late, the wrong done by the AAA in humiliating and trying to silence Boas, how much have anthropologists really learned from this episode? How do they demonstrate what they have learned?


The Final Frontier

This follows from the previous post, A SPY IN OUR MIDST, featuring a Mother Jones report of the spying done by Montgomery McFate on behalf of corporations and against legal activist groups, such as gun control and animal rights advocates. Next to the post about the Pravda report on the corruption and malfeasance of the Human Terrain System, these two posts continue to bring hundreds of readers each day to this blog, with little sign of a decrease in interest. Similar numbers have been reported by other blogs running the Mother Jones report.

I also noticed that — still without public contradiction from McFate, or even her rabid, dysfunctional sock puppet who has established a foothold on the Savage Minds blog (gratefully, my blog is “enemy territory” in the minds of HTS people) — these accounts are echoed on a variety of other blogs, such as Blue Girl, Red State‘s posts, “Beware of the True Believers Around You,” and “Montgomery McFate, Sock Puppet and Agent of Misfortune,” and Iqra’i’s “Anthro Quick Hits: Telos and McFate.” That brought my search to others who have been posting for quite some time about the dishonesty, the campaign of lies that shrouds and that has been perpetrated by the “diva” of the Human Terrain System.

It is important to underscore here that none of these reports have been contradicted, denied, or even corrected by Montgomery McFate herself, nor her alter ego on Savage Minds. And even if the sock puppet were not McFate, it draws attention to her, it performs in public, it associates itself with her, and what it does is done with McFate’s knowledge; her silence implies her tacit consent, at a bare minimum. Otherwise it would be the easiest thing for McFate to enter the discussions herself, under her own name, and publicly disavow the sock puppet, would it not? That she instead continues to remain distant, and pretends to be apart, is telling enough.

The more important point is this: HTS publicists have tried to shield the program from any contention that violations of professional ethics occur with the program … even as ethics are being violated in the very publicization of the program, such as: outright spying on researchers, infiltrating blog discussions under anonymous pseudonyms spouting ever shifting lines of argument, character assassination, and mixed with selective flattery in an attempt to divide critics, and recruit supporters. Savage Minds is the target of this round of the campaign, and the rest of us might have reason for concern. One gets the sense that at least some of their bloggers are aware of what is happening and are meeting the challenge effectively. (See further commentary on this below, in the comments section.)

And why do blogs matter? Because they are the last place left, the last resort in a late and desperate attempt to pitch a program in a pall of public disrepute, a last ditch effort to save the image of HTS’ arch salesperson. Professional conferences, anthropological symposia, anthropology journals, and newsletters, are all closed to the HTS sales pitch. Radio, television, newspapers, have all been exhausted — there will probably be no more glowing celebrations of the McFate Campaign from respected journalists, not with the growing critical turn in the mass media, with so many ugly revelations about her work, and about the HTS program generally. This campaign to return anthropology to the imperial golden days of collaboration with colonial regimes and imperial counterinsurgency is meeting very stiff resistance, for now. However, as military spending on social science research continues to increase and widen, one can expect many to make compromises. One can also be certain that civilian and military officials in the Pentagon, as ostensibly supportive as they may be, are beginning to grow weary of the public criticisms, beginning to warily eye McFate and her program as a liability, a source of distraction, of unnecessary friction. Perhaps a desperate attempt at buying support from lesser known, less mainstream, less independent media outlets is in the offing?

No wonder then that the anthropological blog terrain is one of the final targets, one of the last lines of defense for McFate & Co. We can now see their “ethics” in action, as we become their targets, and some of us perform as their insurgents. Not to mention the fact that young anthropologists tend to gravitate around blogs, some of whom even appear to be vulnerable to the charms of the grossest sock puppetry, and thus they are potential recruits in the eyes of a McFate who confessed her “giddy” reactions to a journalist about each time she receives a letter of interest from an anthropology student. Chalk up another skull. Polish the brass handles on another casket.

It is that concern, McFate said, that makes her evangelize her fellow anthropologists, that makes her giddy when amid the many fan letters she receives from military personnel appears the occasional note from a fellow anthropologist expressing a desire to get involved — or at least an interest in the debate. (source)

Hunting Recruits: A Trail of Deceit and Misrepresentation

Someone who seems to have known Montgomery McFate as a child, has a blog titled “The Common Ills,” with a post that contradicts some of the “hippie” details of the story she has been selling to the media, the post in question delicately titled, “When Dumb Ass Met Dumb Ass” (part of which is a critique of The New Yorker). The blogger writes, among many criticisms,

Monty tells [New Yorker’s] Packer she’s helping conduct war on Iraq “Because I’m engaged in a massive act of rebellion against my hippie parents” — Monty always had delusions of grandeur — some might say “lies,” most just thought she was “creative.”

The post contradicts McFate on her supposed association with offspring of famous hippies, and her hippie background in general. The point is important: McFate has been used to sell HTS culturally, to academics, by trying to insinuate that there is something in this program for everyone, that some really hip, cool, radical, punk people are leading it, people who woke up though, people who are also cool enough to join the military when their country needs them.

The piece, written like it comes from someone who has suffered knowledge of McFate for too long, adds something that is very instructive:

a supposed hippie child (in her dreams) who woke up to reality and now will use knowledge of a people against them which is what her talk of “culture” is about — using it to conquer a people. She was frightening as a child, she’s more so today.

A comment on U.S. propaganda efforts in Iraq follows soon after, and besides being naive to believe that these do not occur, even if they had not been confirmed, the problem is that these activities have been documented and confirmed (as already noted on this blog). A Marine tells Packer that “we should have been visiting their [Iraqi] coffee shops,” since information is spread by rumour in Iraq, the writer believing the actual source of the quote to be McFate.

This reintroduces the point that “knowledge” gained by HTS researchers — whether one labels it “actionable intelligence” or not — is knowledge used to gain control and leverage over another people so that military plans can proceed more smoothly. Otherwise, what would they be doing there? If it were just non-partisan “humanitarian” work (a term so abused that it has come to include armed mercenary work), then of course they could have applied to the Iraqi Government for jobs … but Iraqis don’t count, except as objects. In fact, there is no attempt, no pretense even, of working with Iraqis for Iraqi futures, or even of rebuilding Iraqi social science capabilities so that Iraqis can construct their own version of the HTS, if they so wanted (my thanks to a reader’s comments here). In an act of further deceit and obfuscation, HTS’ counter-critics emphasize the idea that HTS researchers are not there (Iraq, Afghanistan) to get anyone killed — totally missing the point, by deliberately sidestepping it, that the problem is much bigger than that. It is the problem of using American social science as part of an American effort to coercively reconstruct the world in America’s own image, without any damage to the kind of social science that is produced, or even damage to social scientists themselves, to their lives and livelihoods. They will not address this, no matter how many times it is presented to them, because the discussion then becomes one about “imperialism.” Look for the word “imperialism” in the HTS vocabulary, and decide whether this is a debate they are prepared to handle.

Tying it together

And then of course there is that job as the spy, infiltrating the organizations that oppose her worldview, paid for by the highest bidder (so perhaps ideals do not figure in this story — but they do figure when we speak of ethics). Then there is that awkward, puzzling, and ultimately embarrassing blog — I Luv A Man In a Uniform — under yet another anonymous pseudonym, this time “Pentagon Diva,” writing with the mentality of a teen, all girl fun-and-games style, about sexy and alluring Pentagon officers and academic counterinsurgents. HTS is just, like, yeah like so cool. Then there are the two colleagues: “A former US intelligence officer who now works with the Network of Concerned Anthropologists saw Laurie Adler of TRADOC and Jessica Lawrence of the US army writing down the names and institutional affiliations of anthropologists who had signed the pledge of non-participation in counter-insurgency work as the pledge was passed around a session at the meetings.” And now, the latest attempt, the sock puppet, rambling, ranting, all fury, little substance, mostly wicked when not falsely pleasant, petty and pathetic. When in steep decline, even the sales pitch turns green and sour.

Anonymity for US, but not for THEM

While HTS personnel were busy collecting the names of those who signed the Network of Concerned Anthropologistspledge (a little more vigilance next time, please), notice how the Human Terrain System website makes mention of none of the HTS researchers. It makes the lie even more striking, when the insistence is that HTS researchers do not hide their identity, that there is no secrecy. On which anthropology department website are the names of faculty and staff omitted? That’s what open disclosure looks like: it has a face (there was even a sock puppet’s complaint that my face appears on this blog — I fail to hide, though the mirror insists that I reconsider), it has a name, it has an email address, and it says, even if briefly, what it is doing. But not on the HTS website, where the only names we know are of the high staff, and the dead.

It makes the lie about not being anonymous even more striking when Montgomery McFate is openly caught in a lie by journalists. My thanks go here to another blogger who has preserved, and narrated, a transcript from the Diane Rehm Show of Wednesday, October 10, 2007:

At fourteen minutes and seventeen seconds, David Price was allowed to present some of the serious issues such as the need for “meaningful, voluntary, informed consent. This is a fundamental principle of all human research in the social sciences. And if populations are being studied in theater there are big questions about how you get voluntary informed consent for research. Now the military doesn’t really have to worry about these sorts of things but social sciences do.”

Monty [Montgomery McFate] spun, “they are not conducting covert or clandestine activities. They identify themselves by name and the unit that they’re with to anyone they talk to so it’s not a secret program by any means.”

On the issue of anthropologists identifying themselves, Price pointed to David Rohde’s “Army Enlists Anthropology in War Zones” (New York Times) and declared it “talks about an anthropologist I think named Tracy and that’s the only name that’s given. So anthropologists need to be transparent about who they are and who they’re working for. . . . But I worry how transparent the program is if the people who are doing it aren’t being self-identified? Now the story says it’s being done for security reasons and so on. But if you go to the New York Times story and look at the nifty, little video they have — you know backing the story, it’s very strange because they don’t show the anthropologist — they intentionally withhold the person’s identity. Yet they show all these people who are talking to the anthropologist which of course they’re doing so at some personal risk, one would assume, in Afghanistan. And I worry about any sort of program where there’s a one-way mirror that’s going on.”

Susan Page: . . . there was a New York Times article last week which actually prompted us to do this show today. And it did talk about this anthropologist named Tracy, but it wasn’t clear to me, Montgomery McFate maybe you know, whether her [full] name was just not disclosed to the New York Times article, or if her full name is not being disclosed to the people she’s interacting with in Afghanistan. Do you know — do you know the answer to that.

Montgomery McFate: Her name was held from the New York Times story and in other media that’s come out of Afghanistan at her own request.

Susan Page: But does she give her [full] name to the Afghanis that she’s talking with.

Montgomery McFate: Yes, she does.

YES, SHE DOES — notice it, that’s where the lie is stated. Let’s resume:

Susan Price: But the Afghans — the Afghanis that she’s dealing with, do they know her name, her full name, does it seem transparent for them or does she also go just by her first name?

David Rohde: Um, she was transparent with them. I don’t think she gave her full name, I think she does identify herself as an anthropologist. I saw her briefly, but I don’t know what she does at all times. She personally, um, actually chose to carry a weapon for security that’s not a requirement for members of the team, I’ve been told. And she wore a military uniform which would make her appear to be a soldier, um, to Afghans that she wasn’t actually speaking with.

Susan Price: And so you think Aghans knew that she wasn’t a soldier even though she was wearing a military uniform and carrying a weapon? Or do you think that they just assumed that she probably was?

David Rohde: I would think that they assumed that she was.

Anonymity for HTS researchers, secrecy, and lies to shield them. But no anonymity for their targets, whether Iraqis, Afghans, or anthropologists who signed a pledge. This the “ethical” and “professional” research that is being touted, touted with lies, spread by anonymous sock puppets, while McFate remains completely silent in the face of report, after report, after report. Perhaps she has learned: lying to cover for her past lies will also be uncovered, and so we have an alleged “response” to Pravda, conveniently circulated only in private.

Although proponents of this form of applied anthropology claim that culturally informed counter-insurgency work will save lives and win “hearts and minds,” they have thus far not attempted to provide any evidence of this. Instead, there has been a flurry of non-critical newspaper accounts in publications including the Wall Street Journal and the Christian Science Monitor that portray these HTS anthropologists as heroically serving their nation without bothering to report on the ethical complications of this work. Missing are discussions of anthropologists’ ethical responsibilities to disclose who they are and what they are doing, to gain informed consent, and to not harm those they study. Portraying counter-insurgency operations as social work is naive and historically inaccurate.
–Roberto J. González and David H. Price, “When Anthropologists become Counter-Insurgents.”

Further Reading

American Anthropological Association. (2005). Referendum for uncensuring Boas.

González, Roberto J., and Price, David H. (2007). Pledging to boycott the “War on Terror”: When anthropologists become counter-insurgents. Counterpunch, September 28.

Gusterson, Hugh. (2007). U.S. Army spies on NCA at AAA meeting. Network of Concerned Anthropologists.

Gusterson, Hugh, and Price, David H. (n.d.) Spies in our midst. American Anthropological Association.

Price, David H. (2000). Anthropologists as spies. The Nation, November 2.

Silverstein, Leni M. (2004). Uncensuring Boas. Anthropology News, November.

8 thoughts on “Secrecy, Anonymity, Spying, and Lying: An Overview of the “Ethics” of HTS Infiltration (1.2)

  1. Warren Street

    Excellent work breaking down her involvement with the Human Terrain System. I am going to post on that as soon as I can gather enough material to do it justice.

    I should disclose that I am a former US Army intelligence analyst, but I’ve left that work behind for other things.

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  3. Warren Street

    Actually, I can’t improve on what you’ve done here. I think the posts you have here are the defining posts on McFate, who is probably in the process of going underground.

    I won’t follow up with anything else–all of this can suffice for now.

    If she pops up again in the future, I will ping back and see if you have anything–no doubt, you’ll have something interesting. Your community and my community are going to be very sensitive to her name and appearance at any future date.

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  5. Marti

    Great post. Can I clarify one point? The hippie piece written by C.I. of The Common Ills? C.I.’s the same woman who did the NPR transcription. C.I. does a “Iraq snapshot” Monday through Friday. Rebecca Winters is C.I.’s friend going back to college and Rebecca posts C.I.’s snapshot every day, she tacks it on to her post which is why Rebecca writes, “Let’s close with C.I.’s ‘Iraq Snapshot’.”
    And with Ava, C.I. co-wrote a piece at Third Estate Sunday Review on McFate and Sarah Sewall’s appearance on Charlie Rose:

    If I can add one more thing, today Congress had a hearing on counter-insurgency. The chair of the committee called Americans “paranoid” and it was discussed how that pesky Smith-Mundt Act keeps getting in the way of ‘freedom.’ C.I. was at the hearing and reports on it in today’s Iraq snapshot

    1. Maximilian Forte

      Excellent, thanks very much, and sorry for the long delay with the comment moderation, which is now off again.

      I am really enjoying reading the links to those posts above, and the further links within them — this should take some time, but so far it is extremely insightful.

      Much appreciated, thanks again.

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