John Stanton: “US Army’s Human Terrain System Like Swine Flu”

Unless I have lost count, and I may have, this is John Stanton’s 17th article on the Human Terrain System, with his previous ones available here at: 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10, 11, 12, 13, 14, 15, and 16.

US Army’s Human Terrain System Like Swine Flu: Get Near it and You’re Infected

by John Stanton

Sunday, 07 June, 2009

The US Army’s Human Terrain System (HTS) it is arguably the most poorly managed and misguided US Army program since the early design and testing years of the Bradley Fighting Vehicle.

A year and 17 articles later it is clear that not much has changed in HTS. It is still the same troublesome program it was in June 2008 and, perhaps, has gotten worse. “It’s really reached absurd new levels”, said a source.

More commentary recently received from the field in Iraq indicates that it’s SNAFU. One can only imagine the situation in Afghanistan.

A source said that waste and mismanagement is still the norm program-wide.

“It will never get worse than HTS. Those of us who resigned look pretty smart but worry about the safety of our colleagues. HTS is crashing and it’s only a matter of time before US Army G-2 pulls the plug, but only after their names are firmly linked to the downfall. It has gone far beyond Steve Fondacaro (program manager) and Montgomery McFate (senior social scientist) now”.

Another source had much more to say.

“You wouldn’t believe how low morale has sunk. Everyone [here] maybe with the exception of [one] true believer is on the verge of quitting. It’s surreal. I mean, we start off our daily meetings with shit like, ‘And so I talked to Building 48 [HTS headquarters] and they’re going to send us DA civilian name tags. And we should have an RM by August. And, oh, by the way, enjoy your Saturdays and Sundays on the FOB since you won’t get paid for them, or for air travel on weekends, or for 2/3 of your time on missions.

“Does anyone in this [HTS] program think that there is going to be anyone here by August or July? It’s like they want to shut it down. It really feels like they just waited until everyone transitioned [from private contractors] and then went full-throttle into fucking us over”.

Proofreaders Wanted in Kabul: $15K a Month

“People who until a week ago were really dedicated to this program and its mission – including some who had already weathered several previous pay cuts…now spend all their free time (of which we now have a lot) sending out their resumes and looking for other jobs. And by this I don’t just mean career contractors and retired military—folks who have gotten used to high salaries—but mostly social scientists who stuck it out because they wanted to be here doing the job.

But you can only kick a dog so many times before it turns mean and turns on you. I would be hard pressed to think of any other employer so loathed by its employees. True, there are a handful of people who are sitting around with their eyes closed and their hands over their ears, still hopeful that, in the whimsical words of one unnamed social scientist: ‘They obviously do not want the program to go under so I’m sure they will get their shit together by the end of June. I think they will get it done but they will continue to stumble for a bit.’ I wish I lived in that universe. Anyway, assuming the people who were smart enough to jump ship earlier on haven’t taken all the other jobs–and perhaps even then–you are going to see a massive exodus. This time, unless [there are] bright-eyed, bushy-tailed, financially-unconcerned masses, I doubt the program can weather it.”

With no qualified personnel in the marketplace, perhaps one person—with a computer and communications link–can handle the workload of an entire Human Terrain Team (HTT). How about sending 1,000 one-man HTT’s all over Afghanistan? Treat them as a distributed sensor network that gathers tactical intelligence. But isn’t that the MO of the CIA and SOCOM?

So it Goes

“Hi, I’m your one-man HTT, ready to paint the cultural picture for the brigade, M-F, 0900-1745. If you are calling outside of normal business hours, please be assured that your pressing need for cultural knowledge will be addressed the following day, unless it is a weekend, in which case you’ll have to wait until Monday.

The ISAF [International Security Assistance Force] is hiring proof-readers in Kabul for $15,000 a month. A legitimate 9 to 5 job and you get to go home at night. Not much of a contribution to the war effort but so it goes…”

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

18 thoughts on “John Stanton: “US Army’s Human Terrain System Like Swine Flu”

  1. Deep Throat

    Not sure if there is anything to this, but you might want to see if these things tie together. WHo gave Ascend Intell thier HTS IT contracts. Who is USI, Inc (newport news, VA), who owns USI and do they have HTS contracts? If so, look at who the HTS IT Director is. How many of these companies and employees are West Point grads that go back to WP together? Who approves the HTS IT purchases and what companies are getting these contracts? I beleive this is just the TIP of the iceberg. Everyone’e “in bed” with everyone on this project. YOu might want to ask HTT members how much of the IT equip purchased they actually use?


  2. soldier

    Just curious, but if you know so much about these contracts you must be involved, right? SO if there is wrongdoing you must be in on it?

    Plus you really must be nuts if you don’t think these programs have some kind of overisght on thier spending.

  3. soldier

    I’ve read several articles today from this sight on HTS. I’ve got to say to all these authors – this sounds like one thing- Professionally jealousy. I think you all have heartburn beacuse these HTS Social Sc are making decent money, meanwhile the rest of you are trying to tweak out a living teaching p/t at some community college and writing your own blogs. Face the fact, they got the jobs and money you wanted!

  4. DeHouser

    The majority of academics I have encountered that pursued anthropology didn’t do so out of a love for a healthy bottom line. Indeed, there are many old jokes in the profession about working in anthropology or choosing something ‘profitable’ (pun fully intended). I admit being perplexed at your uncovering ‘professional jealousy’ in the writings on this blog, but then again, based on the tenor of your comments, I’m not entirely sure that you understand any of the issues at hand well enough to discuss them.

  5. former htt member

    the HTS IT director is a female whose husband is a retired 0-6 from West Point. It all goes hand in hand. While in Afghanistan we had to purchase our own SAT system, with our personal funds, our team chipped in, just to keep comms up with BLDG 48 and we NEVER had any responses from Fondecaro. He never returned our request for information.

    1. Robert B. Lewis

      I work for the US DOS as an Information Management Specialist. PRT comms is a difficult issue but I have addressed it here at the Department. First things first, get an Intelink-(U)passport account, then get a email account. These accounts are internet based ODNI approved for SBU/FOUO and free. Before deploying an HTT member should obtain an NIPRnet account. Most PRT’s are well equipped with communications gear that DOS pays for anyway; no need for an HTT IT/Comms Department.

      1. Maximilian Forte

        Thanks you Robert, but for interested outsiders who wish to understand you, could you kindly spell out ODNI and SBU/FOUO?

        Others may already know that a PRT is a provincial reconstruction team, and even more likely they already know that a HTT is a human terrain team.

      2. Robert B. Lewis

        ODNI stands for Office of the Director of National Intelligence. SBU stands for sensitive but unclassified. FOUO stands for official use only. BAE Systems’ employees complain about not having any contact with their employer while deployed. This probably needs to change. HTT members should be able to use military communications equipment/computers while assigned to military units. In the Washington Post article Karl is standing in front of a rack of radios. When HTT personnel are training at FT. Leavenworth military email accounts should be created for them. They should be given access to NIPR and SIPRnet. This does not cost a dime. Once these accounts are created the and Intelink-(U)&(S)passport accounts can be created by the individual user. Inteldocs can be used to save information(100MB) at least. This is free as well. The user can log onto any internet computer and use intelink-(U)once the passport account is created.

    2. Robert B. Lewis

      This is absolutely unacceptable. What is lacking at building 48 is a procurement management office. There’s alot more going on than just understanding IT. What usually happens is a retired General with an easy on the eyes Bearingpoint MBa/PMP shows up and sells the snow cone to the eskimo with a shock and awe power point presentation. Then someone else has to make the program work in the field. For an HTT to purchase its own BGAN terminal is evidence that not much happened after the initial proof of concept briefing. I have glanced over what I could find on Intelink-(U)about this program; according to the CONOP the program should not be underfunded or under resourced. BGAN terminals and Iridium secure satellite phones should have been purchased at the brigade level via a funding mechanism (charge #) and ordered from DITCO via GSA IDIQ. Thats the basic function of a GTM who has been thru the COR course; simple GS-12/13 stuff. I wrote an article today on our sounding board site (DOS) explaining how Intelink-(U)&(S),Inteldocs, Ugov.Gov email accounts and messenger combined with simple things like NIPR/SIPRnet accounts being created prior to arrival in theater can be combined to give customers a cloud appearance. Best of all these thing mentioned above have already been paid for by the taxpayer, the overburdened US tax payer who is about to flip the bill for FEDCARE Inc. One would think by now you could step off a helicopter in Iraq or Afghanistan and recieve unclassified and classified data. According to the HTT WP magine article the Taliban has forced local cellular providers to shut down operations after sunset. ENCOM; these are not dumb folks. We shouldnt be either. I am trying to get our folks to send a message just as a proof of concept; but no joy. How are we going to win this thing if we dont use all or our resources. The Taliban tells cellular companies to shut down or be blown up. We give a program millions more overburdened tax payer dollars and don’t even use it to its full potential. Okay time to wash dishes and go to bed.

  6. Mike the Cat


    Fer crissakes, use a spell-checker! I realize that’s a stop-gap measure… hold on as best you can until a brain-checker can be developed. There’s always hope.

  7. Soldier

    Mike the Cat,

    Let me guess, your a Social Science Degree holder who does not have one of these high-paying jobs?

    PS – I have a real job, I don’t have time to run spellchecker!

  8. SheepDog

    I will be joining the HTT soon. This question goes out to former members.
    If I get to the theater of operations and decide that the program is indeed in disarray, is it easy to quit and come back stateside?

    thanks in advance


    1. AnswerforSheepdog

      Yes. Let me assure you it is in disarray, but…there’s a longer answer.

      As of 2 months ago there were no policies in place to force you to pay for training or be fined for ending your engagement early. If you feel useless and your team is trapped on base, completely disengaged from the local populace, it may not be worth risking your life for and it’s easy to get on a flight, either military or commercial.

      Ultimately that is a decision you have to make for yourself. There is a need for cultural advising to the military, but you may have to break away from the team and the brigade level to do it. If you can find a niche and provide support, you may want to stay and be able to sleep at night without feeling like a sham. It’s worth it if you can help save lives, but that may not be possible. It depends on the level of respect you earn from the military and your personal ability to provide relevant information.

      Good luck.

  9. Taj Muhammad

    i would like to tell you that i am working with a construction company in afghanistn. after this i would like to tell you please forward my email address to any responsible person for contracts in afghanistan i will be thank full of you

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