Washington Post: Nationalizing the Human Terrain System

Extracted from,

DeYoung, Karen. (2009). U.S. moves to replace contractors in Iraq: Blackwater losing security role; other jobs being converted to public sector. The Washington Post, March 17, A07,

the following paragraphs on the so-called nationalization of the Human Terrain System:

“Human terrain” experts — civilian social scientists and linguists hired to help the military better understand Iraq and Iraqis — have been told that they must accept newly created government jobs, at potentially lower salaries, or leave. The highly touted human terrain program, which fields 20 teams of five to nine specialists in Iraq and six in Afghanistan, was begun by Odierno’s predecessor, Gen. David H. Petraeus.

Program head Steve Fondacaro said that when hazardous-duty, locality and other government pay benefits are added, total compensation will be competitive with the private sector at $147,000 to $236,000 a year. He estimated that at least 60 of about 100 currently contracted specialists would accept the year-long government jobs, with annual renewal options for up to four years, even though some have complained anonymously on blogs that the new arrangement constitutes an unacceptable pay cut. [see, as examples on this blog: here and here.]

Avoiding legal problems in Iraq, Fondacaro said, was more of an impetus for the move than cost-cutting. Although no U.S. contractor has been arrested under the new status-of-forces agreement, which became effective in January, he said the risks were too great in a country whose legal system is “a shambles.” He is also putting the same program in place for human terrain specialists in Afghanistan.

“I had to take action to protect our people and protect our mission,” Fondacaro said.

Fondacaro pointed to the Rockville-based contractor BAE Systems, which he said has informed employees that it would no longer accept liability for any legal problems they might have in Iraq and suggested they stay inside U.S. military installations at all times. “So here I am, paying exorbitant contractor wages for people whose company is not going to provide them any legal defense, and is recommending they don’t go outside” to make contact with Iraqis, he said. “Which is mission failure.”

By making the specialists into government employees, Fondacaro said, “this all goes away in one fell swoop. . . . They are protected under U.S. law and have the same rights and privileges as U.S. troops,” including immunity from Iraqi taxes and arrest.

Lucy Fitch, BAE Systems senior vice president for communications, said the “government has told us they wish to convert contractor positions in Iraq and Afghanistan to government positions” when the company’s contract expires in August, but she called Fondacaro’s description of company instructions “inaccurate.”

BAE employees were advised during December and January to stay inside U.S. military installations “until we could figure out . . . the legal implications and personal risk” under the new status-of-forces agreement, Fitch said. In a clarification last month, she said, employees were told that the company would “assist them in finding in-country legal representation” if they were prosecuted or sued for any reason in Iraq. If problems were related to “actions properly undertaken for BAE Systems,” she added, “we will provide them counsel at the company’s expense.”

It is interesting that Fondacaro, a U.S. military officer, comes out and publicly denounces the Iraqi legal system as being in shambles. We were told that the prosecution and eventual execution of Saddam Hussein, done under the supervision and guidance of the U.S. military occupation, were all the result of a fair and professional trial. Apparently, the justice system mounted by the U.S., to try Iraqis, is in “shambles” when used to potentially try Americans? Another “mission accomplished,” no doubt.

On a separate issue, while not disputing Fondacaro’s estimates of both the number of current HTS personnel who would remain with the program (higher than has been rumoured), and the salary levels (also higher than first reported), one has to account for the discrepant interpretations and representations.

BAE Systems for its part does not come across as particularly unhappy about being rid of HTS. At the same time, within the military, there are those who are not too happy with having HTS performing functions that are already built into the military (example).

Readers can also follow a current discussion involving an anthropologist for hire, Mark Dawson, who served with HTS, and decided to drop out. On his blog, Dawson writes:

…like so many, I am leaving due to the management of the program. I to believe it needs a very close and vigorous investigation for some very dubious issues from the hiring of individuals and companies with long standing personal ties to the program management to incredible unaddressed security violations and the dismissive attitude towards the people in the field that take the risks everyday. Many of us in the field have been begging the program management to address these issues since we started with the program and if anything it seems to get worse.

Dawson says HTS is “committing suicide by management,” though he likely meant mismanagement given the content of his rant. He also makes some unsubtantiated assertions about unnamed critics of HTS, rather wild and rancorous ones in my view, and then blames them for not improving the program (“How may I improve your cancer today?”), or for not being able to end the program on their own (as if they had any clout in the Pentagon, clout that Dawson lacked even though HTS was touted as a way for anthropologists to have a direct impact on policy — some of us did not have to join HTS to be disabused of this illusion). Dawson finds himself between the opponents of the program, that he seems to viscerally detest with little in the way of reason, and the program that he has abandoned (thereby reinforcing some of what “critics” have said). In response, an anonymous pro-HTS (or actual HTS) commenter has been scolding Dawson sharply, reminding him of his duty to essentially shut up, to not play into the hands of “coward anthropologists” (a bizarre sales pitch for attracting anthropology recruits to HTS), and for quitting just as the salary promised to be cut. Dawson does not respond to the charges. He would, however, like to come to a class near you to speak with “very few holds barred.”


3 thoughts on “Washington Post: Nationalizing the Human Terrain System

  1. Bob Bateman

    I’m trying to see if he can come speak to/in my class at the end of the semester. Would be interesting on a couple of levels.


  2. Former HTS member

    Fondacaro is a “used car salesman”. He is a con-artist to the max. HTS was not conceived to win the ‘hearts and minds’ or our enemies. According to Fondamoney, he came up with this program in his gargage, just like Steve Jobs. McFate tired to come up with the program to no avail. However Fondamoney saw dollar signs and decided to retire and soak the taxpayers even more with this farce of a program. McFake came up with helping the military from stateside with a computer program to enter culture data for the military to access. Wasn’t good enough for Fondamoney. So, he came up with deploying unqualified/unskilled money suckers that could care less about the program and were more interested in the $$$$$ and bickering and doing nothing. Secretary Gates is the one who needs to hear from all of us who have been in the HTS program to let him know what a waste/farce it is, not to mention a waste of taxpayers money!

    I find it interesting that BAE is saying no HTS member can go off the FOB…???? WTF! That was the whole idea of the program to be able to interview locals in the villages. Who are the teams interviewing? Other HTS members? The research that they are supposedly doing is from googling, cut and paste, totally useless information and taxpayers are paying for it. Please, don’t waste your time with asking Fondacaro to speak….he is a disgusting liar and con.

    Fondacaro and McFate will rot in hell for their greed and the deaths of three people.

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