Andrew Garfield’s Commercial Plea for War Research, and the Reality of Ethics in Human Terrain Teams

Two very different, but related, items have been published online this past week, related to the Human Terrain System and embedding anthropologists/social scientists in counterinsurgency. The first one I mention–unsurprisingly published by the Small Wars “Journal” –is written by Andrew Garfield of Glevum Associates, a private defense contractor that we have encountered here many times already in conjunction with the Human Terrain System (for a summary, look for entry #11).

Garfield in “Understanding the Human Terrain: Key to Success in Afghanistan” does not provide much that is new beyond the simplistic idea that, to paraphrase, “we need to know our enemies to better defeat them, and save our own hides.” Underneath a thin and cynical veneer of respect for social science research, Garfield clearly hopes that such research can fall into his lap without any of the other “incidental” trappings of social science, such as peer review, criticism, ethical conduct, or any discussion of the politics of the research. Indeed, Garfield seems to cast research done for war as value free–and in this totalitarian mindset, he has some justification: regularly we find that in practice objectivity means that you agree with the dominant order, play according to the rules, and uphold the system. In this Orwellian sense of objectivity, they have achieved the perfect truth: detachment…from detachment. Science, premised at least on some skepticism, is now premised on enthusiasm, or at the very least, a mild concern quietly mumbled down one’s shirt.

Garfield emphasizes “social science research,” because he has been told not to say “anthropology” — and so he ends up with these ridiculous assertions: “Social Science research, which is primarily face to face research…” Social science research is primarily face to face? Since when? He means ethnography, but has not been authorized to say it by his clients at HTS. That is HTS’ prerogative, but only when speaking to foreign media. HTS may claim to have gotten over anthropology, but clearly they cannot get by without continuing to promote their work as essentially anthropological, to our detriment, and as an insult to us.

Garfield trips over his tongue once more: “To develop an in depth understanding of the human terrain, one must first conduct comprehensive, systematic, timely, and ethically appropriate social science research and analysis. In order to do so, one must operate in the field and conduct primary face-to-face research, utilizing all available sources.” The italicized portion makes no sense whatsoever: if it’s face to face research, it’s only one source, the person with whom you are speaking. So on top of being dishonest, it is also a poorly written piece.

Garfield hoped to score quickly with this one: “such research collection [human terrain research] is attacked regularly by ivory tower academics that falsely question research ethics and methods based on personal ideologies, instead of defending the lives of Afghans, and U.S. military and civilian personnel.” Falsely question? You mean to say, after everything we know about HTS, that the questioning was “false”? And what about the answering, of which we have heard little? Or Steve Fondacaro’s recent comparison of HTT academics to hammers? There has been too much water passing under the bridge for Garfield to proclaim there is no river here–it’s a flood. Indeed, we are about to have yet another inside look at HTS ethics in just a moment, in connection with the second piece published this week. And in any case, why is “defending” the lives of U.S. military and civilian personnel a priority? Are all anthropologists conceived here as being patriotic and American? Thankfully, I am neither, and so I am permitted to think freely.

Garfield, unfortunately continues by ratcheting up his demands, in the tone of the hostage taker:

“Our military and diplomats must be given direct access to the full range of Social Science field research capabilities as a means to protect themselves and the people they engage and support. If this access is denied for budgetary, ideological or methodological reasons, many more Afghan civilians, and American and Allied soldiers will die, allowing the Taliban to prevail.”

BUDGETARY. There is the core concern of the article, as Garfield indeed mentions budgetary issues explicitly twice, and implicitly four times in that short piece. Garfield wants more money for his project. It’s not enough, not enough is being done, it’s never enough, we need more, and more, and more. The prospect of losing this war must terrify such individuals. They must be hoping that counterinsurgency continues forever, well past the next doctrinal meltdown in the Pentagon. Killing is what pays their bills, puts food on their tables, puts paint on their McMansions, and puts their spawn in private schools. The military-industrial complex is their bread basket. Without it, their whole house of cards flies apart.

The case he makes already lacks any logical sense: there has been funding exceeding $200 million for such research already, and the result is what? Many more Afghan civilians, and American and Allied soldiers have died, allowing the Taliban to gain strength beyond anything they have had in the past ten years. Well done.

Former HTS insider, Joshua Foust, is one of the few (including other HTS insiders posting in the comments section of Garfield’s piece) to offer criticisms of Garfield’s position on ethics. But Foust is himself a confused and contradictory individual. On the one hand, while seeking to distance himself from “Human Terrain System attackers,” he writes that a “complaint about methodology and sources is not the same as a complaint about ethics”– well, it can be, and in this case, it is. Thus on the other hand Foust then says: “Their [Glevum’s] products are consistently bad—questionable sourcing, often lacking informed consent (in 2009 they were interviewing Afghans without telling them they were providing information to the U.S. military and selling that as a feature).” Not a complaint about ethics? Foust reveals important information, at the same time that he does not understand what he himself is writing. That’s what comes with still being on the same team in this imperialist exercise, and it comes with not being able to think of the bigger picture, and not knowing how to conceptualize problems beyond the level of tactics and operations.

Now, a refreshing change, some honest writing. In Forum Archaeologiae – Zeitschrift für klassische Archäologie (55 / VI / 2010), Jon Price in consultation with former HTS employee John Allison, shares notes taken during the November 2009 entry training program for the Human Terrain System Project (HTS). Here is a selection of some of the ethical, prize-worthy assertions made to HTS trainees:

  • “You are taking the seat of a soldier so you need to carry a weapon.”
  • “The enemy doesn’t obsess over whether what they say is true or correct. We shouldn’t either.”
  • “The slogan, winning the hearts and minds of the people is just a slogan. That objective is not realistic. We save American lives.”
  • “A mullah who is preaching or whatever they do against the US, we need to target him; get rid of him, capture him, blow him up.”
  • “I don’t want to have to take the US flag to the door of a US mother and tell her that her son was killed. And Afghan mothers whose sons are killed as collateral damage. I don’t give a fuck about those people. I would just drive through their village in my Humvee and throw money at those mothers.”
  • “HTTs do not collect info that will be used in kinetic operations. When kinetically relevant information begins to be volunteered in an interview, you should pass the informant on to the Intel people. About 30% of the HTTs become tools for the kinetic intelligence needs of the Brigade [emphasis added]”
  • It was made clear that informants might well be killed as a result of their participation with HTTs. It is presumed that many will be collateral deaths.
  • “If you withhold information that might save the life of a US soldier, even if it will cause the death of your informant, you are shit.”

Of course, you won’t get that from Andrew Garfield, and as hard as you try, you will find nothing of this on the SWJ blog.

(On a side note, SWJ falsely claims to have an “open tent” policy when it comes to materials published on its blog–which is at best only partly true: it is certainly open to any amount of writing from those with a vested interest in continued war, and especially those who become aroused at the mere mention of counterinsurgency doctrine. It is also a place where you can find such memorable items as, “You Can’t Spell Assange Without an A and a S and Another S,” which also smacks of tea party xenophobia; dismissing Islamophobia, even while depending on it as the very premise of their mission; repeating the right wing mantra, “where’s the outrage in the Muslim world?” (indeed, where is it, when so many collaborate with Western occupations of Iraq and Afghanistan?); the phony concern with women’s rights in Afghanistan (anything to take a cheap shot at Nir Rosen), with the line, “I’ll remain not convinced we should ever empower these thugs” when that is exactly what the U.S. has been doing in empowering its warlord allies in Afghanistan (the needed myth for SWJ is that the Taliban have an exclusive monopoly on violence against women–just plainly dumb and absurd), while never mentioning the women killed by U.S. troops. So yes, definitely a tent open to some, and sometimes at the risk of seeming more like a circus tent–in their spare time, they like to make fun of the clothing that they imagine anthropologists wear. If they, and Garfield, have such a low opinion about us, then you have to wonder why they keep banging on about getting our research–pretty stupid approach. What SWJ publishes or not is their prerogative; claiming openness, however, does not stand the test of scrutiny. Better not to have said it.)

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2 thoughts on “Andrew Garfield’s Commercial Plea for War Research, and the Reality of Ethics in Human Terrain Teams

  1. John Stanton

    Well put Max.

    It’s all war all the time. And when you mix corporate and state power, whilst destroying social programs, you are on the road to fascism.

    Think of it.

    Trillions spent-with hardly a debate–on national security and salvaging Wall Street firms and auto companies. OK, I’m good with that since 1) large financial houses are instruments of national power and therefore weapons to be used to weaken financial stability of other countries and 2) auto companies employ what is left of the industrial class.

    BUT, then to turn around and say, Well, we can’t afford that $55 billion for unemployment benefits or that $900 billion (one year of defense spending) for healthcare is out of the question, then the system shows that there is nothing left of We the People….

    Carrier groups in the Persian Gulf. Carrier Group in wargames w/South Korea. National Guard troops on the US border and, no doubt, SOF operating in the anti-drug effort in Mexico and globally. New bases in Colombia, 5000 troops arriving in Costa Rica for antidrug efforts. Active Combat Brigade operating out of NORTHCOM. New DSB report says USA does not pay enough attention to its nuclear war (tactical) survivability. Cyber-fear, China-fear, fear all the time. Talk of war with Iran is now commonplace in the US society.

    It is pathetic down here. There is an awkward feeling my colleagues and I have experienced and it is the sense that you are an extra in a very bad B movie. It’s a surreal feeling. For me at least, Pink Floyd nailed it–comfortably numb, wish you were here, crazy diamond….Really though, it is alienation. And so if you are talking/debating politics with someone, even here in the capital of the empire, they don’t want to hear anything contrary to the message even when you show the maps, locations, history, data, etc.

    Still, I believe in the ideals expressed in the US Declaration of Independence and the US Constitution and the Bill of Rights. And so, for me, it is worth arguing for.

    But when WWIII begins, there will be no one to listen.

  2. Pingback: “An archive of interviews with anthropologists | Erkan's Field Diary

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