Imperial Instruction: The Human Terrain System’s Academic Trainers, Part 1

As part of the series designed to “map the terrain” of war corporatism, beginning with charting the private corporations contracted by the Human Terrain System (HTS), corporations with military, intelligence, and other specializations, then examining the various other human terrain efforts outside of HTS, and then generally considering how anthropologists and other social scientists have sought to capitalize on the “war on terror,” one of the elements that was missing was an outline of who the academics are that train HTS employees. We already know the identities of several social scientists, and others, who have formed part of Human Terrain Teams in Iraq and Afghanistan, but we have had no list of those who train them–the academics behind the curtain. This is an attempt to fill in that gap, using and synthesizing materials freely available online, and with some leads and other information provided by Roberto González, John Stanton, and Jamil Hanifi, and three former HTS employees who have contacted me by email. Needless to say, it is unlikely that the list and overview provided here is a complete one.

Two universities in particular have played a role in training HTS recruits: first and foremost, the University of Nebraska at Omaha, and its Center for Afghanistan Studies; second, the University of Kansas, and in particular some members of its anthropology department. We will look at these two in order, and then consider disparate characters who are not attached to either institution but who have worked as classroom instructors for HTS recruits.

University of Nebraska at OmahaCenter for Afghanistan Studies (CAS)

The Center for Afghanistan Studies offers “Afghan Immersion Seminars” specifically as part of formal training for recruits in the Human Terrain System. The work of UNO-CAS relates to the Army’s counterinsurgency mission in at least two ways, one of which represents a failing of HTS. The first is that seminars and their professors constitute part of what the Army’s Counterinsurgency Manual FM 3-24 described as “intelligence preparation of the battlefield” (IPB) and the role of “open source intelligence” within that:

3-11. Open-source intelligence is information of potential intelligence value that is available to the general public (JP 1-02). It is important to predeployment IPB. In many cases, background information on the populations, cultures, languages, history, and governments of states in an AO is in open sources. Open sources include books, magazines, encyclopedias, Web sites, tourist maps, and atlases. Academic sources, such as journal articles and university professors, can also be of great benefit.

The second way in which the work of the UNO-CAS relates to counterinsurgency, and reveals the shortcoming of HTS, is that it is precisely that UNO-CAS must offer “Afghanistan immersion,” since HTS failed to attract specialists and experts with advance local knowledge and experience. It seems that for the most part those who know most  (and are willing to supply themselves for the purposes of waging war on another people) train those going to Afghanistan, rather than going themselves to participate in Human Terrain Teams.

The seminar program was initially organized as a result of negotiations between HTS’ Major Robert Holbert, and the CAS’ Prof. Thomas Gouttierre. Holbert, who served on the first HTT deployed to Afghanistan, is now the regional training coordinator for the Human Terrain System at Fort Leavenworth (source). The CAS reports that it has received more than $80 million in grants and contracts from the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID), the Department of State’s Fulbright Program, UNOCAL, UNDP, World Bank, and other sources–but they do not list the Department of Defense, even if they have been contracted to train HTS recruits. Nor is it clear if they were paid by the U.S. Army, or by BAE Systems.

The leading academic trainers of HTS at UNO-CAS are Thomas Gouttierre (Director of UNO-CAS), Esmael Burhan (teaches Dari), and John (Jack) Shroder (UNO professor of Geography and Geology, director of the National Atlas Project of Afghanistan), and Michael Bishop.

(Left: Burhan; Centre: Gouttierre; Right: Shroder)

Coincidentally, both Jamil Hanifi and myself know Esmael Burhan — Jamil much better since he went to school with him in Afghanistan. In my case, I know Burhan from a very brief encounter at a conference that he organized at UNO on a yearly basis, and which I attended in the mid-1990s, a “Third World Studies” conference that drew a great many participants seemingly from every little college and university in the U.S. that I never heard of. It is now called the “Global Studies Conference.” My very first academic publication was in a journal published by the same people at UNO,  The International Third World Studies Journal and Review. The conference has taken place for 33 years, and one has to wonder, given the ties of UNO to the U.S. military, how well the conference is used by government attendees for “open source intelligence” purposes. Esmael Burhan’s CV is located here and here.

In an interview, Thomas Gouttierre provided an overview of teaching purposes in the Immersion Seminars, to Claudia Anderson of The Weekly Standard:

“You can teach the basic elements of how to work with Afghans. Avoid pork and alcohol. Show sincerity. Afghans like to talk. Engage them in a way that makes them want to talk to you. Find a way to negotiate differences.”

Gouttierre’s experience in Afghanistan dates back to the early 1970s, when he and his wife went to Kabul as Peace Corps volunteers and stayed on when he became a Fulbright fellow and later executive director of the Fulbright Foundation (source). Thomas Gouttierre’s biographical statement is available here and here.

John Shroder is a UNO professor of Geography and Geology, and director of the National Atlas Project of Afghanistan. Shroder’s involvement with the “war on terror” began before HTS came into being. His expertise was apparently called upon in the “hunt” for Osama Bin Laden — he appeared on PBS, The Newshour, for a segment titled “Searching for Bin Laden,” on 20 November 2001. Anderson noted that Shroder “writes widely on Afghanistan’s mineral and energy resources and their considerable potential for development, the subject he addressed for the HTT seminar” (source). John Shroder’s faculty page is available here.

Anderson also introduces us to “Professor Michael Bishop, expert in something called Geographic Information Science.” She continues:

“He showed a rapt audience how using remote sensing and computer maps of Afghanistan they can display numerous physical features of the country—soil quality, vegetation, water, snow, cloud cover, and many more—at high resolution at the click of a mouse. This capability has myriad applications, from the design of irrigation systems to prediction of floods to the location of safe construction sites. It will be made available via a ‘reachback’ system now being developed to allow HTTs to consult distant experts and databases by email.”

…three weeks on language, history…mineral resources, terrorism:

HTS trainees in UNO-CAS’ Afghanistan Immersion Seminars receive instruction in “Language, Culture, Society, History, Geospatial, and Political Affairs of Afghanistan” (source). They also “have classes in the history and politics of Afghanistan in the 20th century, Pashtun society and culture, women in Afghanistan, religion in Afghanistan, the Afghan Army and its evolving structure, the globalization of religious extremism, medicine in Afghanistan, and the role of drugs in international terrorism.” Six of their ten instructors are Afghans (source). Seminars also offer “a geological survey of the country, with all of its important mineral resources” (source).

Claudia Anderson of The Weekly Standard made another observation from her time spent witnessing instruction in the seminars: “The first thing that struck me on taking my seat at the back of a crowded classroom on the Omaha campus was the amount of gray hair. The median age of the 30 or so HTT students must have been 40” (source).

…months of training in survival, social science methods:

This is not the only training program that HTS recruits undergo. During their longer stay at Fort Leavenworth they receive “basic survival training and concentrate on social science methods and analysis. Some are sent to participate in exercises at a simulated Afghan village in Death Valley” (source).

Kansas and Missouri also provide training grounds for exercises by Human Terrain Teams:

“For their final exercise, team members are dropped off in small towns near Fort Leavenworth—places like Bonner Springs, Kansas (population 7,000) or Smithville, Missouri (population 6,000)—to assess the human terrain. They fan out in pairs or threes to interview locals. They introduce themselves as students from Fort Leavenworth who’ve been assigned, for instance, to ascertain how the town copes with flooding from the Missouri River” (source).

…and one or two days on ethics:

At some point in their six months of training, HTS recruits spend only one or two days discussing ethics, which is the primary point on which the American Anthropological Association has denounced the program. According to one person, “Greg,” who said “I’m a social science instructor with HTS”, all HTS members “are provided an intensive 1-2 days of research ethics training. This includes dealing with issues of lethal targeting, informed consent, and protection of research participants/populations.” He then challenged critics of HTS: “audit anthropology PhD programs across the US and see what percentage have ANY research ethics training requirements” (source).

Moreover, it seems that not enough is devoted to discussion of “informed consent” and the dangers of using signed consent forms that establish a paper trail between a researcher, his or her interview data, and the person interviewed–one ordinarily should not produce instruments that can compromise the confidentiality of an informant, let alone in a war zone. Producing written consent forms to possibly illiterate villagers is also astounding. What I have been told by one academic who served on a HTT in Iraq is that the forms are then digitized, and deposited with HTS–such forms should never leave the possession of the researcher, and ought to be destroyed within relatively short order. Given that HTS is in the business of producing a database that is then fed into larger military and intelligence databases, this decision borders on criminal negligence. Add to this the U.S. Army and NATO producing photos of HTT persons interviewing villagers, on their respective Flickr photostreams, and we have the start of an assassination-ready database for members of the Afghan resistance to terminate collaborators. If such details were presented for ethics review at my university, the research would be barred from proceeding.

Having said that, at least one of my ex-HTS correspondents seemed to be extraordinarily conscious and conscientious about the need to preserve data at some remove from U.S. military hands, in part to keep it aside for the purpose of future academic publications. The precautions taken were many, and the reports supplied, he insists, could not possibly be used by anyone for lethal targeting. At the same time, the overall thrust of his communications seem to indicate that he was very aware precisely of the ethical dangers of working alongside the military, for the military’s purposes, for him to take such measures to protect data. In addition, in this one case, the persons interviewed were introduced to him by the Army, from a range of local collaborating elites and notables, and whose identities were thus known to the Army well in advance of his beginning his research.

What was not discussed between my ex-HTS informants and myself is this particular fixation on “lethal targeting.” It stems from early criticisms by numerous anthropologists back in 2007, directed against the aims of the HTS. Since then, debate has moved on and widened, with an understanding that a mission need not be lethal at all, ever, for it to be one that supports neo-colonial occupation. To simplify, the early argument was one against mercenaries, and the later argument is one against all missionaries.

The University of Kansas, Department of Anthropology

Bart Dean

Bartholomew C. Dean ( teaches for the HTS program. Bart Dean, an Associate Professor in Socio-Cultural Anthropology (Ph.D., Harvard 1995) lists as his research areas: critical theory, kinship, politics, symbolic forms, material culture, health and human rights; Amazonia, Latin America.

Felix Moos started the effort that led to the establishment of the Pat Roberts Intelligence Scholars Program, and also takes part in HTS training events. Felix Moos is a Professor in Socio-Cultural Anthropology (Ph.D., Washington 1963) whose research areas are listed as: applied anthropology and ethnology, culture change and development, comparative value systems, ethnic conflict; East and Southeast Asia, Pacific.

Felix Moos

Bart Dean and Felix Moos have taken part in joint military-academic social science roundtables, that included HTS personnel, one of the first having taken place in June of 2007 and described by Jeff Crawley of the Fort Leavenworth Lamp (“Soldiers, scholars team for social science roundtable”), as a roundtable titled “How Do I Come to Know What I Didn’t Know I Needed to Know?” The Foreign Military Studies office (FMSO) co-sponsored the event with the Command and General Staff College’s Center for Army Tactics. Bart Dean said about the event, “it’s nice to see how we can work together … and all mutually learn from one another.” For the event, a soldier would write a paper about his unit’s experience in Iraq or Afghanistan, and then it was submitted to a scholar, and they would sit down and ask each other questions. Then, “the scholar extracted the social science perspectives from the events and they were assimilated into the paper.” The event also paired military officers with anthropology graduate students. (One can read the papers resulting from this event: “To Change an Army: The Establishment of the Iraqi Center for Military Values, Principles and Leadership,” by Colonel Jack D. Kem and Aaron G. Kirby; “Civil-Affairs Confronts the ‘Weapon of the Weak’:  Improvised Explosive Devices in Iraq,” by Dr. Bartholomew Dean, First Lieutenant Charles K. Bartles and Sergeant First Class Timothy B. Berger; “Fitting Into the Fight – An Engineer’s Dream: From a Brigade Troops Battalion S3,” by Major Alexander Fullerton and Dr. Garth Myers; “An Advisor’s Experience: C CO, 2/19th SFG (A) December ’01 to September ‘02,” by Master Sergeant Michael Coker and Dr. Pauletta Otis; and, “Some Concluding Remarks on a New Era in Warfare,” by Dr. Felix Moos.)

Rob Kurz, an analyst at the Foreign Military Studies Office, had this to say about the import of the event: “Not so long ago, when military planners looked at a situational map, all they saw were red layers (adversaries) and blue layers (friendlies), but not green layers (populations). If [we] can know and understand the green layer, the civilian population, then we can see behind it and who among them is actually working against the U.S. coalition.” Once again, as many times before, we have a military person candidly identifying the intelligence value of gathering cultural information, for better targeting of those who are, as Kurz says, “actually working against the U.S. coalition.”

While the event also serves to expose and train anthropology graduates to military thinking, Felix Moos explained the militarization of his own department in this manner: “The differences in the world today between thinking about war and actually fighting a war are smaller than they used to be.” This indicates the degree to which the gulf between the independence, integrity, and credibility of academia on the one hand, and the military on the other, has been bridged by his department.

(That is not to say Moos’ project is equally well received by everyone in his department: John Hoopes was quoted as saying, “I’m uncomfortable with anthropologists who are assisting with violent resolutions”. Hoopes added, about HTS employees identifying their work as anthropological, “the individual who does that puts anthropologists in peril by identification and association.” F. Allan Hanson, also in the same department as Dean and Moos, agreed with his colleague Hoopes: “People need to have knowledge of the people they are dealing with,” he said. “It’s the classified part that bothers me” [source].)

Felix Moos also supports the effort to use anthropology to do harm, by enlisting it in the service of better targeting: “If we are going to be successful in separating people from the insurgents, then we better get busy learning languages and cultures” (source). Other times, his statements are those representative of cultural imperialism, “How do you convince the people to come over to your thinking, or at least to approximate your thinking?” (source).

Felix Moos, right, professor of anthropology at the University of Kansas, and Army Capt. Roya Sharifsoltani, of the Human Terrain System, participate in a military-social science round table in November of 2007 at the Dole Institute of Politics. This was the second military-social science roundtable.

Moos and Dean both take the “clash of civilizations” approach when discussing the nature of the U.S.’ contemporary wars, while providing for useful domestic propaganda at home. In addition, it is the rationale for permanent, colonizing war. Moos was paraphrased by a journalist as saying that “modern wars aren’t about territory or resources, but rather because of differences in human ideas” (source). In Moos’ own words, “we can no longer look for explanations of war using historical contexts” – thus actively dehistoricizing and decontextualizing the subject (source). This is also the way a “scholar” goes about removing “root causes” and blaming “terrorists” and what is inside their heads, as if it were an isolated pathology, reacting aimlessly and without provocation. Dean is likewise said to have suggested that “battles now are being fought because people disagree with the beliefs of others” (source) – that is, it is entirely ideational, about values and ideologies, thus dismissing the territorial occupation by U.S. forces as occupation of territory, or the restructuring of the Iraqi economy as not having happened. These are the shallow depths to which anthropology sinks in the hands of the militarized anthropologists.

Echoing one of the sales pitches of HTS, Moos told the media at one of the roundtables with HTS that, “an informed military and a well-educated military will kill fewer people rather than more people” (source). Thus, it’s not the killing that is the problem as such, just the quantity of killing. It is also the kind of argument that would be unacceptable to American victims if they were the subject of foreign military occupation. In other words, it is an argument that can only win over those who have already been won over to war.

One of the more amusing passages in the media coverage came from Mike Belt of the Lawrence Journal-World & News, who said of Captain Roya Sharifsoltani, whose unit was deployed in provinces near the Pakistan border, that she “had one big advantage most soldiers don’t have. She speaks Arabic” (source). Felix Moos, for his part, praised this effort by HTS to deploy people with language expertise. The only problem is that Dari and Pashto are the major languages of Afghanistan.

For more on the work of Dean and Moos for the military, especially as they have tried to evangelize among social scientists at Oxford University, and on their subsequent roundtables with the military, see these reports in the military’s public propaganda organs in the mainstream media:

Also, Felix Moos is either featured or referenced in these 38 articles.


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6 thoughts on “Imperial Instruction: The Human Terrain System’s Academic Trainers, Part 1

  1. Pingback: Tweets that mention Imperial Instruction: The Human Terrain System’s Academic Trainers, Part 1 « ZERO ANTHROPOLOGY --

  2. Maximilian Forte

    …and speaking of missionaries, look at this remarkable photo of HTS’ Sister Cardinalli on the guitar:

    Whatever she is singing, you can be sure it is neither ADDIO LUGANO BELLA nor BANDIERA ROSSA!

  3. Pingback: Anthro roundup: Open Anthropology reveals the academic trainers of The Human Terrain System etc | Erkan's Field Diary

  4. jg

    I came quite close to applying to U Kansas for PhD studies, and while neither of the profs involved with HTS were ‘draws’ for me, it bothers me a bit that I could have ended up associated (if only by name) with the whole farce without even knowing it.

  5. Joel Gauthier

    “If we are going to be successful in separating people from the insurgents, then we better get busy learning languages and cultures”

    Yes that makes perfect sense because as we all know insurgents are alien replicons from beyond the moon … that or some sort of evil robots from the future … but certainly not people.

    This guy is an anthropologist?!? That is some definition of “applied anthropology” there Dr. Moos. So nice to see ignorance prevail all the way up the ladder in academia … refreshing

    1. Maximilian Forte

      Hello again Joel! I wrote a reply that poked fun at the same things you did, then decided that it was only mildly humorous and not deserving of a place here.

      Like you, I find it quite disturbing that Moos has decided with whom Afghan “people” should be associated, taking the U.S. presence as innocent, harmless, and unproblematic. The reality, according to most informed commentators, is that it is impossible to draw these distinctions–the Taliban (so-called, because it is a mass of movements, and actual Talibs are now a small minority) are firmly part of “the people.” An anthropologist might spend some time examining the taken-for-granted, and the labeling, for example, “insurgent.” He does not. An anthropologist must also consider his place in relation to “the people,” and he seems to be assuming a great deal, and arrogating a great many rights to himself at the expense of Afghans. What he is advocating is an ethical “black site.”

      You don’t recognize it as anthropology, and nor do I for that matter. He is definitely “applying” something, but I am not sure that most anthropologists would recognize it as anthropology.

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