John Stanton: Hamas’ IT Tops Human Terrain System IT in Internet Capability, Savvy (2.1)

Below, following my comments, you will find the latest article from John Stanton, the tenth in a series on the Human Terrain System, this time focusing on the information technology aspect of the Human Terrain System. Stanton noticed that while Hamas is able to almost immediately launch a memorial page for each of the fighters it loses, the Human Terrain System is unable to even edit a web page in order to post a notice in memory of Paula Loyd, the third HTS employee who died, succumbing to her injuries last week. Early on, HTS had also informed the press that a report on the attack on Loyd would be released, and that too has not yet been produced. An anonymous writer posted a message on this blog, explaining why and noting the shortcomings of the program’s administration. This came in response to questions from other commenters who wondered if there would be an attempt by HTS to minimize the number of its dead as they began to mount.

Cynical Imperial Prose that Only Begs Questions

However, HTS seems to have just released a new page dedicated to Paula Loyd. Unfortunately, in an extremely cynical move, HTS uses the opportunity to transform the meaning of the attack into one over gender rights, with the implicit characterization of all Pakistanis (Loyd was in Afghanistan) as performing similar acts of violence against all professional women. Why the dislocated reference? The result is to remove from the picture the fact that Loyd was not just a professional, but a professional employed as part of a foreign occupying military force, accompanied by both soldiers and at least one mercenary on the day of the attack. Again the suggestion is: it’s not our imperialism that is the problem, it’s their backward culture. It goes further, Loyd’s attacker is portrayed as insane (a suggestion repeatedly made on this blog by one HTS supporter who suddenly appeared the day before Loyd’s death, and on the day itself): Salam is described as warmly thanking HTS members and then suddenly, without warning, attacking Loyd. A madman from an inferior culture, that hates women, blindly.

If this is the kind of sensitive anthropology that gathers cultural information, it not only discredits HTS, it does a disservice to the professional abilities of Loyd and her reputed love for Afghanistan, its peoples and its cultures.

Since the Taliban took official credit for the attack, the suggestion is one of premeditation, not insanity, and since Loyd was chosen as the target, another viable and plausible question that no one is thinking of asking is whether the Taliban knows about HTS and is seeking to target its employees whenever it can.  HTS members and Loyd’s well wishers have often made the point about how well known and well liked Loyd was — which would also suggest that it would be very easy for the Taliban to have known about her. That discussion would have a chilling effect on recruitment, and no wonder then that it is a discussion that HTS and its supporters do not wish to entertain.

In an outrageous and bizarre rendition of events, HTS’ “report” also has Loyd up and talking, chatting and joking after her attack, with the flames immediately doused. She looks at her burnt hands (she still has eyesight, they imply), and wonders aloud if she will be able to finish her report — no trauma, no shock, all bravado. She is told she will need some plastic surgery, and she allegedly jokes that she always wanted to have some things done.  This account — to abuse the word “account” — is also problematic since it begs the question as to why she would need two months of intensive treatment,  what qualified her condition as “critical,” with the injuries so severe that eventually they overpowered her after more than two full months of constant care. Instead, HTS has Loyd virtually ready to join Cirque du Soleil moments after the attack. One might reasonably suspect that HTS is taking the opportunity to create a “hero” story from this incident, accompanied with a suitable golden girl photo, a story line that was anticipated on this blog. In fact, their report almost seems to follow the main lines of criticism produced on this blog regarding the reinterpretation and media projection of the Loyd incident.

I also have reason to be very suspicious of the account of Loyd being immediately immersed in water. I do not believe it happened so quickly. As any of us who have witnessed people pouring lighter fluid on their skin and setting it alight, no harm  is done, as the layer of fuel burns itself off, the performer smothers the flame before it reaches actual skin and starts to burn it. If Loyd had been immediately submerged in water, little harm would have been done, and she might really have been in a position to joke about it. Instead, she sustained third degree burns over 60% of her body, and died from the injuries, two months later, even with constant care.  The fact that a local blood drive in San Antonio was being conducted for Loyd, and raised 47 pints of blood, even weeks after she was admitted to hospital, suggests constant blood loss and very extreme injuries. Moreover, in the same tale told by HTS, when in hospital, Loyd was merely “sometimes responsive” (responsive being a word normally used in such circumstances when someone gives a sign of reacting to a stimulus, not usually talking back). It’s almost as if Loyd had suffered her worst injuries not from the attack, but after the attack, while under constant care — which either makes no sense, or implies something quite perverse.

That someone is fabricating a tale is certain; what is open to speculation is the reason for the story-telling.

There is also the question of why Don Ayala, the mercenary who executed Loyd’s detained attacker, was so enraged (as alleged or implied by reports thus far), that he felt the need to kill Salam — if Loyd was so lightly affected by her attack, as HTS suggests. And did Loyd, then on her feet and joking, according to the HTS account, not have any say in the matter of Salam’s fate? Or is HTS suggesting that she knew and agreed with the execution? This could even have legal implications in the case against Don Ayala. This is the kind of mess this amateurish piece of HTS propaganda is creating.

Lastly, HTS admits: “For the duration of her hospitalization, HTS provided a uniformed military staff member to support Paula’s family and ensure that she received adequate care.” Then this also helps us to make sense of a fact that transpired on this blog. By “curious coincidence” on January 6 I started to receive comments about Loyd, on an old post. At the same time, an anonymous message appeared on another blog announcing that Loyd had died — on January 6. The next day, someone who claimed to be a relative of Loyd’s, corrected that, and said the she instead died on January 7. So what? It suggests that someone from HTS was present at the hospital, as admitted above, and was told by, or overheard, a doctor suggesting the possibility that Loyd’s condition was worsening dramatically and that she might not last another 24 hours. Again, so what? It also suggests that someone else further along the chain misunderstood what was reported from inside the hospital, and took her death as final, and then decided to attack the blogs. At that time, starting prematurely on January 6, people who are likely in HTS, or affiliated with it, started appearing on this blog to try to rally some argument since I have been clearly identified, in international media, as a vocal critic of HTS — they were using her death in a vulgar attempt to shame me into silence, and several such messages were posted here, and not approved. This act of cynicism, if true (I challenge anyone to come up with a more plausible explanation of the facts), would fall in line with the kind of outrageous cynicism produced in HTS’ “report” on the death of Loyd.

As a result, what HTS produces is a botched piece that certainly does no service to the memory of Loyd, nor to the feelings of her family, while further discrediting themselves.  One gets the impression that HTS managers sought to use every ounce of Loyd to fabricate one more propaganda attack, even trying to convert her death into points scored, which tells us more of what all  of us should already know about this atrocity called HTS.

And, it is not the first time that HTS, or those employed by it, have sought to exploitatively ventriloquize one of their dead (see Tom Garcia’s obituary to Michael Bhatia). One would think that, if not for Afghans, they would have more respect for their own dead and allow them to rest in peace.

Final revision: 19 January 2009

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John Stanton’s nine earlier articles are available here: 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9. His latest article, also published in Pravda, is reproduced here with the writer’s permission.

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Hamas IT Tops Human Terrain System IT in Internet Capability, Savvy

14 January 2009

by John Stanton

“I’ve experienced the loss of close comrades before but it never gets easier. Paula Loyd is now free from pain caused by the doing the job we believed in.”

“My mind boggles, especially at the apparent lack of official interest by ‘Big Army’ in addressing and rectifying this situation.”

“Everyone with half a brain knows that this thing is totally in disarray. No one knows their asses from holes in the ground!”

“The end result is clear and quite simple to see: A group of inept, incompetent, self-serving contractors whose only desire is to promote their personal agenda. This single fact is the reason that the HTS program, no matter how noble, will ultimately fail.”

“The management of the Human Terrain System (HTS) program hiring practice is based on not what you know, but who you know, or who you’re related to. Qualifications are secondary.”

It seems that the information technology (IT) department of Hamas is far more qualified than its counterparts in the US Army’s Human Terrain System (HTS). And Hamas management apparently is more sensitive to its fallen combatants, plus its presence in the Internet, than Steve Fondacaro, the program manager of the HTS program, and Montgomery McFate, the Senior Social Scientist. The Hamas website (http://www.alqassam.ps/english/) is vivid, updated, and displays dozens of the obituaries, with pictures, of many of its KIA’s-some very recent. It appears standard operating procedure for the Hamas IT staff and management to get that information online ASAP.

In contrast Paula Loyd’s obituary finally appeared on the HTS website on 13 January 2009 (http://humanterrainsystem.army.mil/paula.html) only after a very loud outcry from current and former HTS staff, academia, and other interested parties. Moreover, at this writing, the HTS website has not been overhauled since October 2008. The simple task of maintaining a website is just one more in a long list of troubles that the HTS program has. Yet hand it to Fondacaro and McFate, they keep the money rolling in (for a copy of the Fondacaro-McFate road-show/status briefing titled HTS Information Briefing for Army G3, 16 October 2008, contact cioran123@yahoo.com). This should raise questions about the caliber of US military leaders who buy a program that has no hard audit of its measures-of-effectiveness (MOE) and has a documented history of troubles dating back to its days in JIEDDO.

Outsource to Hamas IT?

According to sources, the delay in memorializing Loyd’s death was because the former HTS IT department lacked the expertise/military accreditation to edit the site since it resides on a military domain. Montgomery McFate requested that the website be updated when Loyd was first injured but that did not happen because the webmaster, a former S6 in the US Army, had just completed his mobilization tour at Fort Leavenworth. According to sources, the remaining IT staff at Fort Leavenworth (mainly contractors) did not possess the skills required to edit the website. They also did not have the required military credentials to maintain a US Department of Defense web site.

“The website is technically broken. The menu bar at the top of the page is supposed to contain white text that displays a blue text drop down menu when the user places the curser over the word. But it’s all blue now, aesthetically very unappealing and difficult to read. It has not been fixed/updated, due to the shortcomings of the HTS IT department,” said sources.

Unqualified HTS IT staff may also explain why the nonfunctioning MAP-HT software package has been completely outsourced to Overwatch Tactical, a subsidiary of Textron.

Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell

Fondacaro and McFate were recently pitching the HTS program to AFRICOM and, according to Wired’s Danger Room, were successful. According to sources, “They have been very successful in wasting the government’s money. The HTS concept was sound at one point but management lost sight of the purpose of the program and is responsible for trying to grow the HTS Empire so quickly that it cuts corners in critical areas like training. Instead of trying to fix identified program problems, Fondacaro and Steve Rotkoff (Deputy Program Manger) fire those that ask questions and refuse to resign, and then hire and train staff who quickly learn not to ask questions about inadequate training.”

Another source wondered how AFRCIOM could buy the “‘capabilities’ and services of HTS even if there are no units deployed to AFRICOM. Why would they have any need for HTTs?”

According to sources, HTS management employs people that do not have directly relevant experience nor should they be allowed the privilege of holding a US security clearance. Two recent cases have come to light. In one case, there is a social scientist that spent most of her time in Southeast Asia and has resided in Jakarta. One source had this to say: “What does she expect in Afghanistan! This is war! These people do not have the foggiest idea of what they are getting involved in.

In the other somewhat disturbing instance, if true, there is an HTS staff member who allegedly “has a known drug problem that has been brought up to the higher-ups but nothing has been done. There are people who are refusing to go to Afghanistan with him or to be on his team. He also has a severe gambling problem and before joining the program was living out of his car. He got the job because he knows McFate. Everyone with half a brain knows that this thing is totally in disarray. No one knows their asses from holes in the ground! There are those who started this program thinking it would be a good thing and that it would help the soldiers. You really see now that it is about Greed. The leadership is incestuous.”

According to other sources, competent staff who tried their best to make things work have been punished. “Another HTT Team Leader, Timothy W. Johnson (Retired Special Forces Major) and one of his Social Scientists (Retired Special Forces), both assigned to the USMC in Anbar, Iraq, were ordered home by Steve Rotkoff, per Steve Fondacaro. Reason: repeatedly asking for support from HQ Building 48. Social Scientist, Wayne Blye (Retired Navy Captain), is still waiting for a meeting with Rotkoff and Fondacaro. He was ordered to return from Iraq more than six weeks ago for a meeting. Until then he waits in a hotel.”

With the approval of HTS management, sources say, University of California Irvine English Professor Carol Burke, a noted folklorist, was “observing” HTT’s in action. Burke is scheduled to present a paper on Combat Ethnography on 5 March 2009 at the University’s International Studies section. It may well be that her travels and observations were in preparation for that event. She has been contacted for further details on her effort.

Or, maybe the HTS program will be reborn as the Combat Ethnography Program.

John Stanton is a Virginia based writer specializing in national security and political matters. Reach him at cioran123@yahoo.com

8 thoughts on “John Stanton: Hamas’ IT Tops Human Terrain System IT in Internet Capability, Savvy (2.1)

  1. Just caught this I guess right after it went up. Loved your intro, these HTS people are real butchers and gangsters. They almost appeal to my dark and sick side. However, that’s not how you pay respect to a deceased colleague, especially when it’s your program is what helped to get them killed.

  2. This does not address your comment, but I had another thought that I did not place in the post above, concerning deliberate Taliban targeting, and some of the contradictions this produces in my own thinking about one aspect of HTS.

    Let me start with the first part. If there is active Taliban targeting of HTS, then I seriously and sincerely fear what the next attacks might look like. The attack on Loyd was intended to be graphic and shocking, and my suspicion is that it was a mere matter of logistics that prevented the Taliban from video taping it. The next attack might see a HTS member getting kidnapped and something just as awful, or even worse (if that is conceivable), being done on video for the Internet audience. With the seemingly insatiable capacity for voyeurism in our society, you know that many would look at the video, even if just to post their comments — “these animals, slaughter them!” — to exercise their emotions and their nationalism.

    Following from that is the question whether civilian social scientists on Human Terrain Teams can ever get paid enough, when they incur such risks. There is the contradiction: I have frequently criticized the extraordinary payment levels, noting this is intended to lure people to sign up. However, when an attack such as the one on Loyd occurs, the question is whether any financial compensation could ever have been “enough” since it involves pricing a human life. That would apply to any soldier as well — and if you aim for compensation that matches something invaluable as a human life, you end up with an army of one, in permanent debt. In other words, the military does not just cheapen the life of others, it cheapens the life of its own, as a matter of course.

  3. Max, if you’ll forgive me for saying, next time post their stupid remarks. That’s not so we can entertain them but instead mount them as ethnographic exhibits.

  4. Hi Max,

    Just a quick comment on whether or not the HTS personnelle may be being targeted. I would be VERY surprised if they aren’t. Whether or not they might be considered as combatants under international law, they are certainly considered as such under the AQ / Taliban interpretation of Islamic law. More prosaicly, such strikes would have a really solid symbolic resonance with both their own potential recruits and with Western concepts. In other words, they can kill two birds with one stone by targeting HTS personnelle.

  5. Thanks Marc. While some would, and do, say “they know what the risks are when they sign up,” these observations like the ones you made are a bit more concrete and sobering than the general statement. Some might not really be aware of what the specific risks are, or, they might not be able to envision the kinds of situations and settings in which they will find themselves.

    In the meantime, HTS has created a story that raises all sorts of new questions thanks to its very many gaps and contradictions. They were late in putting it up, and now it seems like it was also done in haste nonetheless.

  6. Hi Max,

    Honestly, I am quite surprised that they managed to get up the memoriam page for Paula Loyd so quickly. My understanding of .mil sites is that there is usually a 3-4 week delay in any changes and that they have to be approved (usually by people with no understanding of what they are saying). It’s worse than dealing with Treasury Board here in Canada (and THAT is saying a lot)!

    I’ve never really felt that the “they knew what they were signing up for” line held much water for most of the social scientists involved. There probably was an intellectual understanding but, let’s face it, most of us have never been under fire. We may “know” intellectually, but we don’t “know” in our guts and we certainly don’t have the trained physical responses to handle it. And that is only considering the immediate environment…

    Honestly, I’m still mulling over the ongoing HTS story, but I think you are right that it raises all sorts of new questions (although I suspect that what those are differs between us :-) ).

  7. Thanks again Marc, and sorry to hold up your comment in a queue. While MadAxe has the right spirit, and I might give it a try, some of the stuff that comes in is barely coherent ranting of a personal nature and I don’t want it up on the screen.

  8. No worries, Max. I read some of the comments elsewhere (Danger Room comes to mind) and I agree – there is a lot of incoherent ranting. I son’t blame you at all for not wanting to have it up.

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