Contemporary Colonial Scholarship and the Spreading Human Terrain System: AGS Bowman Expeditions, Zapotec Indians, and onto the Caribbean


(1) From Grassroots International via InfoShop News:

“The Union of Organizations of the Sierra Juarez of Oaxaca (UNOSJO) – a longtime partner of Grassroots International based in Mexico – denounced a recently conducted study in the Zapotec region by U.S. geography scholar Peter Herlihy. Prof. Herlihy failed to mention that he received funding from the Foreign Military Studies Office of the U.S. Armed Forces. The failure to obtain full, free and prior informed consent is a violation of the rights of indigenous communities as codified in the Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples adopted by the United Nations in 2007. In addition, UNOSJO fears that this in-depth geographical mapping of indigenous communities may be used in some harmful manner by the military.”

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(2) From UNOSOJO, on the Human Terrain System and the Bowman Expeditions:

…UNOSJO, S.C. began looking into the México Indígena Project. Investigation revealed that México Indígena forms part of the Bowman Expeditions, a more extensive geographic research project backed and financed by the FMSO, [US Foreign Military Studies Office] among other institutions. The FMSO inputs information into a global database that forms an integral part of the Human Terrain System (HTS), a United States Army counterinsurgency strategy designed by FMSO and applied within indigenous communities, among others.

Since 2006 the Human Terrain System HTS has, since 2006, been employed with military purposes in both Afghanistan and Iraq and according to what we have been able to determine Bowman Expeditions are underway in Mexico, the Antilles, Colombia and Jordan….

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(3) From El Enemigo Común, via KU Watch:

$500,000 in Department of Defense Funding to Kansas University for Mapping of Communally Held Indigenous Lands in La Huasteca and Oaxaca, Mexico

target-audience-sm.jpgNovember 26th, 2007 – Simon Sedillo writes: The funding is being made available to the Department of Geography by the Foreign Military Services Office (FMSO), based out of Fort Leavenworth in Lawrence, Kansas. Geography professors Jerome Dobson and Peter Herlihy, explicitly acknowledge the security and intelligence ramifications of their project, the Bowman Expeditions, citing the geo-political and cultural effects of the “neo-liberal property regime.” The home of the FMSO, Fort Leavenworth, was the command center of the western front during US expansionism into native lands in the early 1800s as well as the epicenter of the War Departments “control” over native populations after the civil war. Today, the FMSO focuses on emerging and asymmetric threats to the national security of the United States of America, which is a red flag as to their intentions in funding the Bowman Expeditions. US military intervention in Mexico has seen a steady increase in the last decade, and now is set on a fast track through Plan Mexico, which like Plan Colombia justifies further military funding for the “war on drugs.” The racist history of colonial rule and territorial occupation continues with a whole new set of conspirators seeking economic gain and academic notoriety. The maps produced by this project are not just of the physical landscape, but rather more intentionally of the cultural resistance to displacement. Through the rhetoric of unbiased science, and geographic exploration, the Bowman expeditions are actively paving in Mexico, the road to hell.

Kansas University, Lawrence, Kansas

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(4) The AGS Bowman Expeditions now plans to expand to the Caribbean as well, with funding from the U.S. Federal Government, and support from Fort Leavenworth:

Jerome E. Dobson
AGS President

picture of Isiah Bowman In the last issue of Ubique I wrote about our Bowman Expedition to Mexico in 2005 and 2006. This time I’ll write about our new Bowman Expedition to the Greater and Lesser Antilles.
As you may recall, the existing Mexico Indigena Project was established as the prototype for a much larger concept whose ultimate purpose is to combat geographic ignorance in all sectors of society. At full funding, AGS would send a geography professor and two or three graduate students to every country in the world for a full semester each year, with teams rotating on a five-year cycle so that each country is understood by five separate teams. Each team would collect open source GIS data and conduct one research project of the investigator’s choice. Allies at Ft. Leavenworth, Kansas, marketed the concept and funded the prototype. Now, a major step has been taken toward implementing the concept beyond its initial prototype….(more)

See also two powerpoint presentations on the México Indígena Project.

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US Army/TRADOC Embroiled in Another Controversy

by John Stanton

Pravda, 29 January 2009

“We call upon indigenous peoples in this country and around the world not to be fooled by these types of research projects, which usurp traditional knowledge without prior consent. Although researchers may initially claim to be conducting the projects in ‘good faith’, said knowledge could be used against the indigenous peoples in the future. UNOSJO is against this kind of project being carried out in the Sierra Juárez and distances itself completely from the work compiled by the México Indígena research team. ”

On January 14, 2009 the Union of Organizations of the Sierra Juarez of Oaxaca (UNOSJO) issued a press release accusing the principal researchers/managers of the Mexican Indigena — a program in the larger Bowman Expeditions — of unethical conduct for not fully disclosing that the US Army is a sponsor of the Bowman Expeditions. They also accuse the principals of geopiracy. According to a member of the anthropology community, “This is a nasty little story.”

“UNOSJO began looking into the México Indígena Project. The investigation revealed that México Indígena forms a part of the Bowman Expeditions, a more extensive geographic research project backed and financed by the FMSO [US Army’s Foreign Military Studies Organization], among other institutions. The FMSO inputs information into a global database that forms an integral part of the Human Terrain System (HTS), a United States Army counterinsurgency strategy designed by FMSO and applied within indigenous communities, among others. Since 2006 the Human Terrain System (HTS} has been employed with military purposes in both Afghanistan and Iraq and according to what we have been able to determine Bowman Expeditions are underway in Mexico, the Antilles, Colombia and Jordan.

“In November 2008, the México Indígena Project completed the maps corresponding to Zapotec communities San Miguel Tiltepec and San Juan Yagila. Contrary to the often-mentioned promise of transparency, México Indígena created an English-only web page, a language that the participating communities do not understand. Before the communities received the work, said maps had already been published on the Internet. Furthermore, the communities were never informed that reports detailing the project would be handed over to the FMSO. In addition to publishing the maps, the México Indígena team created a database into which pertinent information was entered: community member names and the associated geographic location of their plot(s) of land, formal and informal use of the land, and other data that cannot be accessed via the Internet.

“According to statements made by those heading the México Indígena research team, this type of map can be used in multiple ways. They did not specify, however, whether they would be employed for commercial, military or other purposes. Furthermore, as the maps are compatible with Google Earth, practically anyone can gain access to the information. Yet only community members can decipher information expressed in Zapotec (toponyms), unless, of course, one has the capacity to translate them, as in the case of FMSO linguistic specialists.”

What’s in a Name: Stone Cold Racist Isaiah Bowman

While UNOSJO’s claim of direct linkages between the Bowman Expeditions/Mexican Indigena (BEMI) and the HTS remain unsubstantiated at this time and may, indeed, be incorrect (a call to Lt. George Mace, PAO, of the HTS program could not returned in time for release), the fact is that US Army TRADOC owns the troubled HTS and a $500,000 chunk of the controversial BEMI — and the data that goes with both. As reported in prior pieces on the HTS, sources state that data from Human Terrain Mapping (HTM) for HTS does not remain compartmentalized but is shared with other US Army intelligence related databases. There is no reason to expect the BEMI data has been treated any differently. Furthermore, the BEMI appears to have accomplished what the HTS program promised but could not produce: a useful deliverable in the form of a user friendly geographic information system (GIS).

As one source put it, “Where HTS really dropped the ball was in successfully integrating the MAP-HT, which includes ArcGIS. HTT trainees are not even learning MAP-HT any more. It’s a total free-for-all in the field for HTS social scientists working on their dissertations or post doctoral research. AFRICOM teams will include geo-spacial analysts. Someone, or a software company is really pushing for geospacial intelligence. This is what the Mexico project is about. It all makes sense now.”

According to an October 2006 article by Sophia Maines of the Lawrence Kansas Journal, The Bowman Expeditions are the brainchild of Jerome Dobson. Dobson believes that the BEMI and related efforts are good for national security, K-16 geography education, and business in Kansas (visit website).

“Dobson, a geography professor and president of the American Geographical Society, believes the United States needs to use another way to understand the world. And, for $125 million, the United States can get started on a new track. Dobson’s idea — called the Bowman Expeditions — would have geographers and graduate students canvass the globe, gathering intelligence that can inform the government and the public about the world. In the process, the Expeditions also would help revive the stature of the oft-marginalized academic discipline of geography. The Kansas City nonprofit SmartPort Inc [] is pressing ahead with plans to turn Kansas City into an inland port for shipments from Mexico, allowing goods to pass over the Mexican border freely and to go through customs in Kansas City…the research in Mexico also can benefit SmartPort planners by offering information about the areas along the Mexican railway.”

The Bowman of the Bowman Expeditions is the notable Isaiah Bowman. Christian Parenti, reviewing Neil Smith’s book on Isaiah Bowman, American Empire: Roosevelt’s Geographer and the Prelude to Globalization, for a 2003 edition of These Times, notes this about Bowman:

“He helped draw up the modern border of Europe, helped shape America’s non-committal policy toward Jewish refugees from Nazism, and ran Johns Hopkins University and the Council of Foreign Relations. In all these capacities, he sought to harness ideas to the larger project of American commercial and political power on a global scale. But what strikes one most is Bowman’s opportunism: He was to the right of Roosevelt but subtly changed positions so as to always be in favor. He spent his life in the cloistered comfort of Ivy League universities and the inner sanctums of the executive branch. He was a stone-cold racist and anti-Semite who let Jews burn and talked of brown people in the global south as ‘smaller peoples’ in need of control and guidance. One of his last acts of accommodation just before his retirement and early death was to passively allow a Hopkins colleague and social acquaintance, Owen Lattimore, to be red-baited by McCarthy and driven out of a job. It was the perfect, politely brutal end to Bowman’s career, which is to say his life.”

What is US Army TRADOC Thinking?

Programs like the Human Terrain System and the Bowman Expeditions are typical examples of human terrain harvesting necessary for effective, non-kinetic, counterinsurgency (COIN) operations and to the national security strategy/tactics of the United States. On that front, a flurry of COIN manuals and COIN OpEds appearing in the New York Times has been compiled by Wikileaks. Reading through the US military manuals and between the lines, one discovers that cultural awareness/mapping is key to COIN which is key to defeating the “network of extremists”, as President Barak Obama puts it. And a key part of all that is the American people. At the US Government’s Interagency Counterinsurgency Initiative, Americans viewing the logo might be a bit perplexed. It reads “Whole of Government, Whole of Society.”

It has been determined by the grand brains of the USA, that Americans need to understand more about other people, like the Mexicans. Dobson claims that one of the Bowman Expeditions’ great by-products is that the human terrain data collected on another nation’s soil will be helpful in schooling Americans on the where and why of other people on the planet. Will Americans also be taught about Bowman the “stone cold racist”? The US Army TRADOC/FMSO paid $500K for an affiliation with Bowman without checking what’s behind the name. Perhaps human terrain mapping ought to start with the US education system both public and private, student and teacher, from K to civilian PhD, and Colonel on up. Further, virtually all human terrain programs are destined to fail until evolutionary theory, evolutionary psychology and evolutionary cognitive neuroscience are included as baselines. Then again, 50 percent of the American people do not believe in evolutionary theory. And they are supposed to identify countries on a map and understand the human terrain there?

And Over at HTS

According to sources, nothing has changed and, perhaps has gotten worse. “The contract stated that when we reached Afghanistan that we would be paid on a 120 hour work week. Halfway through training that was changed to 90 then 80, and in January we were told that Steve Fondacaro (PM) has requested our contracting firm to cut our hours to 60. That is a 25% pay cut from what we had agreed on because of budget shortfall and mismanagement of funds. I will tell you that people are leaving the program in droves and those already in Afghanistan are furious. There are several who have quit also. We have sent memo after memo to Fondacaro and Steve Rotkoff (DPM) getting no response. Something is going on and it’s easy for management to cut off funds for those who are doing the work and sticking their necks out.”

The following statement sums up the feeling of the many of the thirty sources behind this HTS series. It is shameful that the US Army TRADOC has allowed the current HTS state of affairs to persist. “As a former active duty officer I am utterly disgusted at the information I have received from various sources regarding the HTS program. This is certainly not the military that I once knew and I intend to do something about it. In the future, some of these people may be enjoying an extended stay in the Leavenworth area in government accommodations.”

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

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More on Research Ethics and Indigenous Communities:

Whose Blood Is It?” by Scott Jaschik, Inside Higher Ed, 01 December 2008.
“Blood, especially the blood of Native people, has some not just scientific value, but possible financial value…”

In the meantime, some complained that my suggested ethical code against  exploitation by foreign scholars “criminalized research” — I agree, especially where researchers behave as criminals, and crimes are committed. See:

How to Protect Yourself from an Anthropologist: A Code of Ethics from the Bottom Up (2.0)


Como protegerse contra un antropólogo: Un código de ética desde la base


9 thoughts on “Contemporary Colonial Scholarship and the Spreading Human Terrain System: AGS Bowman Expeditions, Zapotec Indians, and onto the Caribbean

  1. Mark Koolers

    In the meantime, some complained that my suggested ethical code against exploitation by foreign scholars “criminalized research” – I agree as well.

  2. Juan Garcia Robles

    Como siempre, los gringos quieran dominarnos–este vez con su maldito mapas del ejercito y los del CIA. Herlihy es un carbón de los Yanquis.

  3. Julio Davila Guiterez

    Que verguenza. Por que seguimos con la misma estructura de investigacion colonial? Basta con este sistema de abuso–su reputacion de tal senor Pedro Herlihy es bajo–no llegara a nestra sierra otra vez por favor.

  4. Pingback: Latest News on the Human Terrain System: No Longer Private Contractors « OPEN ANTHROPOLOGY

  5. Searle Nyom

    Y que noticias hay de este proyectyo del CIA y los geografos? Es cierto que hay un plan piloto entre la Universidad de Kansas y la Universidad de McGill de Canada para mapear la tierra de los Yaquis??

    1. Maximilian Forte

      Esto es interesante–yo no sabía nada del hecho de la participación de McGill, sólo de la Universidad de Kansas. Voy a ver. Mientras tanto: ¿Podría Ud posiblemente ofrecer algunos enlaces o nombres que tiene? Tengo que añadir que no me sorprendería por un momento si McGill está involucrada, dado que ya está recibiendo fondos desde las fuerzas aereas de los EE.UU. para la investigación sobre explosivos.

  6. Pingback: Human Terrain System Video News: John Stanton, and the AGS Bowman Expeditions in Mexico « ZERO ANTHROPOLOGY

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