Human Terrain System Leadership: Worst Ever? John Stanton

Human Terrain System Leadership: Worst Ever? “They Don’t Give a Rat’s Ass Except for the Money”

by John Stanton

29 March 2010

Thanks to the work of Howard Altman of Tampa Bay Online, we now know that US Army 1/LT Brian Brennan is alive and well and pursuing life’s challenges with vigor. Brennan was the driver of the Humvee in which the late Michael Bhatia, a civilian Human Terrain Team member and Brown University graduate, was riding when it ran over an IED. In death, Bhatia was lionized by the US media for his contributions to the global US war effort, while Brennan received nothing close.

Brennan survived but his injuries required that both legs be amputated. According to Altman, “Brennan, 23 at the time, knew something was wrong, but canceling a meeting is taboo in Afghan culture, so he drove on. He had a mission: to safely deliver a team of civilian operatives charged with reaching out to locals and learning more about the village’s culture and needs. The Human Terrain team Brennan was delivering is a key component of the U.S. counterinsurgency strategy of fighting the Taliban and al-Qaeda by winning over the hearts and minds of the Afghan people.”

Observers indicate that Brennan received faulty cultural advice and that, among other factors, may have contributed to  the incident. Based on available information, the HTS casualty rate currently looks like this:

* Paula Loyd-killed/died of wounds

* Nicole Suveges–killed

* Michael V. Bhatia–killed

* Lt Brian Brennan–(both legs amputated)

* Wesley Cureton–wounded, status unknown

* Scott Wilson–wounded, status unknown

* D. Ayala–guilty of manslaughter

* A. Salam, Afghan National killed by Ayala

* Issa Salomi–Hostage, released late March 2010.

Don’t Give a Rat’s Ass

“Honestly, the Human Terrain System is just a good old boy system of retired colonels who care only about punching the time-clock and financial gain. They don’t give a rat’s ass about the people downrange. They only care about selling the program,” said a source.

“The crap that goes on in the HTS program is unbelievable. There is a double standard for civilians and military personnel. Women and other minorities are treated like shit,” said one observer. According to one source, if the military complains about issues with civilians like poor performance, it can affect their own performance evaluations.

In one instance, according to sources, a posted note was place on a prospective HTT candidate’s paperwork with the words “no more of these people.” The applicant happened to be an African American. Other observers indicate that there are no African Americans in positions of “real authority.”  “There have been a few  African Americans placed in purely symbolic positions of responsibility but they didn’t last long.”

In another instance, an HTT member was allegedly double-dipping by billing the US government for HTS work when it turned out that he was “grading papers and writing for the university that employed him too.”

Other dysfunctions have emerged.  Apparently, one HTS employee has been in Iraq for 14 months and “needs a psychological examination” said an observer. “He ran off a lot of good people.” That individual, (and a local Iraqi) was allegedly caught in the theft of ammunition and other goods and arrested by MP’s. “HTS management just blew it all under the rug. Apparently, HTS management decided to keep him and let him work by himself.

Not Bad Apples, Bad Leadership

“Nobody cares about the HTS program,” said sources. They pointed, again, to fraud, waste and abuse specifically fudging “comp time and overcharging based on no work product.”

“Look, it rarely takes 24 hours to produce a report. On occasion, maybe, but people are billing for work they did not do. Some of them just surf the Net all day and claim that as a report,” said an observer.

In reality, there is no such thing as an HTS reach back operation said a source. “If we need something on a Friday night out of Fort Leavenworth [HTS HQ], forget it. At times we are 24/7 and they never are.”

According to one source, HTS management continually orders high-end items like video recorders and top-of-the-line computer gear for use in Iraq and Afghanistan. “It’s all useless crap. We don’t need that gear and we’ve sent some of it back. What we need are simple items like paper, staples, paper clips, pencils. It’s obvious what HTS management is doing and it’s all political: they want to spend all the line item money so they can go back to Congress and ask for more.”

“This is the worst assignment I’ve ever had and it’s the worst leadership I’ve ever seen,” said a source.

One has to wonder that if HTS is a “key component in COIN” why US COIN leaders continue to applaud the dysfunctionality of HTS. Some say these are “glitches” and are part of a new program and that “everyone knows there’s corruption and ramp-up woes so what’s the story.”

The story is that corruption and the degradation of standards has become acceptable in many corners of American society. That it has happened in the US national security arena is a grave danger to the nation and, as HTS shows, the lives of people downrange.

An “I Didn’t Do It Pontius Pilate” attitude appears to be the new American mantra whether in this tiny HTS program or in the board rooms of American business. Perhaps US government/industry/academia should turn Human Terrain analysis inward to figure out what has gone wrong with American culture.

Maybe that US Army officer conducting the HTS AR 15-6 investigation will make a start.

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7 thoughts on “Human Terrain System Leadership: Worst Ever? John Stanton

  1. Frederick Melo

    John, you’re a good writer and obviously deeply concerned about these issues. But you constantly quote unnamed sources — an “observer” said he’s not happy, a “source” said he’s unimpressed. Is this source a military official, your uncle, your limo driver, an army grunt, my great grandma? Give me a little more. Bhatia was a friend at one time, so perhaps I’m too close to these issues, but it’s as equally hard to hear “this program is awful – trust me, I’d know” as “this program is great – trust me, I’d know.” A little context about your “sources” is in order.

    Thanks for your constant inquiry. I’m still listening. As for Brian Brennan, I’m glad you shared info. about his status. Since Bhatia’s funeral, I’d always wondered.

  2. John Stanton

    A good question. There are about 60 sources or so now. I’ve lost count. They are in and out CONUS, former and current HTS, out range and down range, old and young, civilian and active, ex-military and no-military. Most think the program was/is a great idea. They are the harshest critics of HTS not AAA. 60 sources in a relatively small program of 375 or so is way too high to attribute to “a few bad apples”.

    Most make their livings by contracting with the government whether HTS or other programs. To name them openly is simply not appropriate.

    This series started in the summer of 2008 with an unsolicited communication. It continues on because I continue to receive correspondence of that type. Their voices need to be heard and the story told, particularly for those who perished/were wounded and for the anguish their families have gone through. In short, they all matter.

    The appropriate personnel in Congress are looking into some the issues mentioned throughout the effort and the AR 15-6 is still in process I understand. Unknown what will come of this activity if anything. Many people are taking great risks to correct troubles within the program.

    I have always supported the concept but believe it should be strictly military w/military oversight. It is an Intel program (OS ’til info is compiled) so let’s call it that. It’s part of IO or should be. It’s kill/pacify chain stuff. I have written as such over this series and discussed it in unrelated works in 2007 prior to getting involved here.

  3. Frederick Melo

    As always, thanks for your quick response, John. I have no strong opinion of the Human Terrain program, besides the fact that Bhatia was killed while enrolled in it. Have you seen the movie they filmed? I’m hoping to catch it sometime.

  4. Dr. Marilyn Dudley-Flores

    I would like to tag on to what Frederick and John have discussed. I have written elsewhere in these pages that John Stanton deserves a national medal for bringing the issues concerning the Army’s Human Terrain System into the public eye (see As to Stanton’s reasons for keeping his sources confidential, there are real dangers to those sources when they go public.

    I was not a Stanton source until I was wrongfully fired from the Human Terrain System. Before I contacted John, I contacted CNN and some other mainstream news organs, which did not follow up. I have since learned that one newspaper did try to follow up, but had been stonewalled in its Freedom of Information and Privacy Act (FOIPA) requests for information so that it could write a well-researched story.

    Why was I fired? I was fired for trying to report the criminal treatment of half of my HTS counterinsurgency team at the hands of the other half. This was criminal treatment that would have resulted in my murder on or around Bagram air base, as presaged in the “Kill the Cow” whiteboard item that had been briefed by the rotten half of the team behind the backs of those of us who were being victimized (see Further, I was fired in an attempt to silence me, to cover up the rotten people and events that were sabotaging the Army’s Human Terrain System. It was embarrassing. It was bad press. That is because President Obama was at the time being sold the bill of goods that the HTS would be the “cornerstone of the civilian surge in Afghanistan.” And, finally, I was fired to decrease the risk to those condoning the sabotage of HTS as a warfighting system, who are themselves saboteurs. At the end of the day, guys like Steve Fondacaro and higher-ups over him do not want to go to jail for treason.

    Firing me, though, did not do the trick. I continued to discuss what had happened to myself and to my Afghanistan teammates. I continued to discuss the issues needing correction with those of my teammates from among those HTS’ers on the 20+ teams across Iraq and Afghanistan. So, the Information Operations (propagandizement) that greeted me when I set foot on Bagram resumed over the blogosphere. Max Forte and my answered FOIPA request confirmed that one of those propagandizers, Lieutenant Colonel Bob Bateman , was counter-blogging my story from his Pentagon computer during his duty hours. He even threatened Max (see Unless Bateman was goofing off on the job, the conclusion is that he was assigned to use a weapon of war (Information Operations) against me (and Max) in his job in a Pentagon think tank close to the SECDEF.

    Cut to 8 September past…. Foreign Policy magazine wrote a critical piece about HTS and mentioned me by name. They got the story a little jacked around because they were not careful with their sources, but that was OK. At last, a mainstream periodical referred to the debacle on Bagram on the 101st Army Airborne Division’s watch and under the managerial eye of Fondacaro et al.

    A few days after the Foreign Policy article was published, I had a pre-arranged meeting with a staffer of Senator John McCain in Arizona. I had already presented to McCain’s office 600+ pages of evidence, analysis, and narrative. The McCain camp seized on my repeated theme throughout the 600+ pages that the problems typified by my counterinsurgency team sabotaged a warfighting system. McCain, a ranking member of the Senate Armed Services Committee (SASC), had his people forward my 600+ pages to Senator Carl Levin, Chair of the SASC.

    A short time after this meeting, returning home from Arizona, a colleague and I were assaulted by a group of three men at a stop along the road where we had been expected to stay over. It was an organized and systematic attack where I was inexplicably targeted without any precipitating events. Before assaulting me, my attacker told me, “I don’t like people talking bad about the military.”

    In keeping an objective mind, perhaps this event does not follow from the previous egregious ones, but it does make one wonder if those who wanted to shut me up are willing to go beyond propaganda.

    These are the types of things that John Stanton’s “sources” fear, and this is why he protects their confidentiality. In the meantime, I am an identified source, a source intent upon speaking truth to power. For, as a former member of the armed forces of the United States, I once swore an oath to defend the Constitution against all enemies foreign and domestic. I remember that oath. I take it seriously, and no amount of wrong heaped upon wrong will make me shut up.

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  6. Terry the Cork

    If Karl Slaikeu is employed by this organization, then it must be a make-work program for shitty Psychologists who couldn’t cut it in private practice, industry, education or anywhere else. Slaikeu is a totally arrogant, worthless piece of shit who fucked up at both the University of South Carolina and the University of Texas. I hope a raghead puts an RPG round right up the bastard’s ass….

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