Dominating the Information Terrain of the “Human Terrain System”: John Stanton and this blog

This is sure to bother those most closely associated with the U.S. Army’s Human Terrain System: some statistics on what web users find when they do searches for “human terrain system.” What is revealed is:

  • the news arena is heavily dominated by our good friend, John Stanton, far beyond any other writing on the human terrain system;
  • that four of the top ten blog posts of all time on the human terrain system have either featured John Stanton’s articles or have been closely related, and that is why this blog also appears in those results;
  • interest in the human terrain system peaked at an all time high in the January-February period, the period in which military anthropologist Paula Loyd died — not the best way to advertise a program;
  • that for all of Google’s search results for the “human terrain system,” this blog and John Stanton’s writing produce three of the top ten results.

As it turns out, it was extremely unwise for people such as Montgomery McFate (“Senior Social Scientist”) and Steve Fondacaro (Program Manager), to consistently let John Stanton’s articles go without any kind of public response, never contradicting, correcting, nor denying the content of his articles. As a result, he dominates the information terrain and his work is now a key factor in the “definition of the situation.” The work of all the milbloggers, war bloggers, and those who generally suck up to U.S. power under thin academic guises has been, it appears, largely for naught when it comes to the “information terrain” of public opinion, and the visibility of critical perspectives.

Let us now turn to some of the substantiation for the conclusions presented above.

Using Google Insights for Search, we find that not only did attention for the “human terrain system” peak in February, when the program suffered from some of the most serious criticisms and reversals of endorsements (such as that of the editors of Nature — a reversal that is now one of the top 10 Google search results for “human terrain system”), but that most of the peaks prominently feature John Stanton’s articles, as marked by the boxed letters below:

Popularity of searches for "human terrain system"

Popularity of searches for "human terrain system"

Dominant news stories for the peaks of interest in the "human terrain system"

Dominant news stories for the peaks of interest in the "human terrain system"

Here are the clickable links:

A: US Army report on Human Terrain System: toxic at headquarters and in Bagram
B: Human Terrain System meets the Bowman expeditions
C: Human Terrain System: Murder Charges, Paranoia, General Sacked
D: US Army’s Human Terrain System: Madness, Mayhem and Troughs of Cash
E: US Army’s Human Terrain System: From Super Concept to Absolute Farce
F: Former Human Terrain System Participant Describes Program in Disarray
G: Is the Human Terrain System Worth Its Spit?

Still, in terms of global interest in “human terrain system” the relatively more popular searches emanate from, in order: 1. the United States, 2. Iraq, 3. the United Kingdom, 4. Germany, 5. Canada, 6. Australia, and, 7. Afghanistan.

Geographic distribution of most popular searches for "human terrain system"

Geographic distribution of most popular searches for "human terrain system"

The above results can be confirmed by clicking here.

If we use some of Google’s other services, we find that the search results for all web pages on the “human terrain system” show John Stanton’s articles, and this blog, in the top ten results.

If we look at Google news search results, for all dates, we find that five of the top ten results are articles that are critical of the Human Terrain System, with most others incorporating the critical opinions of anthropologists as part of their stories. None of the top results are from the media that wrote supporting articles for HTS.

If we look at the Google blog search results, for all dates, the only anthropology blog that is represented is Open Anthropology, in second place, and once again John Stanton’s writing is also present in the top results, in fact, in four of the top ten results.

Besides congratulations, our warm thanks to you John.


This post also serves to tell the Pentagon’s Information Operations Task Force, that its effort to “control the message” and to plant fake news, has been met with the successful resistance of private citizens. (Thanks to John for that link.)

7 thoughts on “Dominating the Information Terrain of the “Human Terrain System”: John Stanton and this blog

  1. Van

    “interest in the human terrain system peaked at an all time high in the January-February period, the period in which military anthropologist Paul Loyd died”

    That would be Paula Loyd.

  2. Marc Tyrrell

    Very interesting, Max. Given the data you are using, what do you think the limits of interpretation are? I mean, I can see why you say John’s articles are dominating the search results, but that gives us no indication of people’s reactions to them – just the fact of the presence.

  3. Maximilian Forte

    The fact of the presence is very significant, since it shapes the boundaries of the field of possible interpretations. It also reflects some people’s reactions to the previous field (pre-mid 2007) which would have consisted mostly of McFate’s articles, the HTS website (if it existed yet), and perhaps a couple of anthropological reactions in professional periodicals. It shows that a kind of displacement has occurred in terms of the available and prominent voices on the subject, and it shows what kind of material has been most successful in gaining the greatest visibility.

    We cannot know what all people’s reactions are in any direction. But we can know that it is a mistake to simply ignore something that is prominent and that works to shape public perceptions of one’s project. People who are not too intimate with the parties in the debate, and who have no real interest vested in the outcome of the debate, would find such alternative perspectives quite illuminating. For example: undergraduate students. The majority of the ones I know who have independently searched for and read materials on HTS, come away from it shocked and disgusted, they think it’s an abomination. They might have thought so even without the alternative perspectives, but regardless of that, at least now we have an idea of some of the resources they have been finding online.

  4. Marc Tyrrell

    Hi Max,

    On the whole, I would agree – it certainly gives a decent picture of what’s out there in the google-sphere. My gut guess would track with your observation about the effects on people newly interested, although I noted that Small Wars is showing uo as well in the searches.

    I totally agree with you that it was a critical error on the part of the HTS to ignore most of the recent material. I’ll be intrigued to see if the IO types pick up on this.



  5. Former HTS member

    I am thankful for Stanton’s article’s. The reason McFate and Fondacaro haven’t directly responded to Stanton’s articles is because Stanton is telling the truth, everyone in the program knows it. After Stanton’s first article came out, Fondacaro was more interested in finding out who was talking to Stanton than correcting any problems. He and BAE were in the throws of crunching numbers and hiding figures in order to keep the money flowing. Soon after that, Fondacaro/McFate hired the Lincoln Group to do the dirty work and flood the blogs with ‘good PR’. To no avail. A friend of McFate’s (or as most of us call her “McFake”) is the director of the Lincoln Group (Christopher), in fact she got him the job at the Lincoln Group after he helped with the HTS program at the concept of it. The Lincoln Group is another shady organization….’birds of a feather’. There seems to be some conflict as to actually came up with the HTS concept. Some say McFate did, Fondacaro says he came up with the concept with 3 other guys in his gargage. They are all liars/theives and some say even murders for the deaths of Michael, Nichole, and Paula. Extreme, maybe. If they had actually cared about the program and its members, they would have put it together much better. Unfortunately, they put it together to ‘win the hearts and minds’ of the Generals and Secretary Gates for funding only. It’s all about the money. HTS has not and will probably not get any better. The only difference is that the Commanders are not allowing most HTT’s off the FOB’s knowing they are dysfunctional and putting the soldiers at risk. What has HTS actually accomplished? The first team to deploy made up stories and had the Commander make some phony statement about how good they were. If that team was sooo good, why haven’t they deployed again to help other teams instead of sitting at High Noon and milking the program for big bucks. Plus, why hasn’t McFate gone through the same flimsy excuse for training as the rest of us and then deploy with a team and help the teams out? After all she is getting paid over $400,000 a year to be an expert. Expert what? Instead of actually putting together professional teams that could help our troops, they chose to hire unqualified people, some had never ever worked before being hired for HTS, some had serious pyschological problems, those who had been priviously deployed had PTSD, many are alcoholics or have serious drinking problems, many of the so-called Arab analyst (linguist)hate America and the other analyst don’t speak the language or know the culture. Most of the SS thought they were better than everyone else, and didn’t even want to be in the same class with the rest of the members. Interestingly, the same ones (mostly PhD’s)who thought they were so much better in class, have either been sent home from theatre for not doing/knowing their jobs or have caused so much trouble in-theatre they have been told to cool it and do absolutely nothing because the Commanders can’t trust them. One SS was caught off base w/o permission and when searched the military found flash drives that he had downloaded classified info on. Another analyst (Arab linquist) was sent back to Kansas for not doing her job and causing big problems for the team and for being off base without permission. What did HTS do….she is still in Kansas sitting in a hotel getting paid to do nothing since Nov. 08. She is not the only one, there are many at hotels getting paid to do absolutely nothing, oh excuse me…they are getting paid to shop, go to the bars especially High Noon, have their hair/nails done, bringing their families with them,etc. Actually, now that I think of it….Stanton’s articles are quite light/fair considering what is really going on in the program. Is Gates really this blind or gulable? The military has/can do much better without HTS.

    1. Maximilian Forte

      Thanks very much for your message. To some extent then, John Stanton may even have been reserved in his articles. HTS leadership has trapped itself with its own schismatic approach: publicly ignore Stanton’s almost 20 articles, while privately discussing and criticizing them (not going public with one’s criticisms almost always suggests that there is a serious weakness with the criticisms themselves); and, pretend that the articles are not even being read, while threatening HTS employees against communicating with John. In the latter case, as one HTS employee recently explained to me, “they should not be airing dirty laundry, it’s an internal matter” — a Canadian anthropologist with some ties to the Canadian Armed Forces and experience in Afghanistan, “corrected” him by pointing out that when a program is publicly funded, there is no “private” or “internal matter,” the program has to remain accountable and cannot be run as a private fiefdom.

      Any HTS employees who felt intimidated, threatened, or even bullied into not speaking the truth to the press, were being cornered into a position that is fundamentally illegal, not to mention unconstitutional. Every program will have its “whistle blowers” — what is amazing about HTS is that when John’s articles first started pouring out, few who were sympathetic toward the program were even willing to admit that his information was coming from the inside, and not stuff that he made up. They would try to detain our attention on his phrase “sources say,” and ask “what sources?” when it was clear precisely where the sources had to be to relate such details. When I tried to defend his material from insiders as fact, rather than the pure product of imagination or fabrication, of course I met with some scorn. Then we are shown photographs from Bagram, with publicly posted notices to HTS people not to talk to John — so they knew all along that his sources were within, HTS management just wanted the names so as to better persecute people who were doing there job in forcing HTS into a public accounting. By absenting itself from John’s articles, HTS let John have unchallenged and total control over the nature and scope of the public accounting. They made his day.

      As for the Lincoln Group having people flood the blogs…that does not surprise me at all. That too is another matter that has resisted congressional scrutiny and public accounting — an agency in the employ of the military, conducting domestic propaganda, is in violation of the law (not the only time for LG either). On the other hand, this reaffirms my position that the ultimate value of HTS is as domestic propaganda, something I do not expect even critical HTS insiders to agree with.

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