The Human Terrain System: Global Counterinsurgency, Global Espionage, Global Occupation

HUMAN TERRAIN SYSTEMMax Forte: The article that follows was written by John Allison, a former member of the U.S. Army’s Human Terrain System. It was posted earlier as a comment on a report (Revealing the Human Terrain System in Wikileaks’ Afghan War Diary) that the media actively chose to ignore (specifically, Joanne Kimberlin of The Virginian Pilot). Instead, the active focus was on any possible concoction of “good news” about the “good guys” (Human Terrain System in Wikileaks’ Afghan War Diary: Searching for Evidence of the Positive). What John Allison does is to offer further corroboration and depth of detail to the work of the Human Terrain System in intelligence-gathering, global surveillance, and global counterinsurgency–where we are all the enemy.

Such are important contributions, especially as many former HTS employees have, for various reasons, been silent, or unquestioningly endorse the program, or simply muffle themselves when writing about their HTS experience in books, not wanting to “burn” a “former employer” (Foust‘s book being one example), thus effectively diminishing the significance and relevance of whatever they choose to say.

By John Allison

HTS Social Science cadet, retired

29 November 2010

These are my notes taken in my four-month training with them at Ft. Leavenworth. It should leave the reader with little doubt that your assertion [HTS uses its fieldworkers and their fieldnotes for military intelligence, as shown by what appeared in the Wikileaks Afghan War Diary] is correct.

What Human Terrain Teams actually do contrasts sharply with the Public Affairs image of HTS. This contradiction is the underlying reason for the constant cultivating of the Stockholm Syndrome pressure, both among the class members and by the contracted instructors. They kept massaging our viewpoints, shaping of our reality, making it clear what our actual roles would be once embedded.

Here are two groups of excerpts from my class journal to illustrate this mind-shaping. The persons quoted are subcontractors working for Develop Mental Labs, Inc. (Yes, that is really their corporate name.) All are former or current military career officers of the mid-level executive status or above.

Monday, 10/26 (beginning second week of training)

Afternoon – Team Composition

Team leaders tend to be or to have been of the rank of Colonel, Lt. Colonel or Major. Their job is to mould the team into the fit the military unit needs. Human Terrain Analyst, Research Manager, Social Scientist.

HTT Purpose – “to leverage non-lethal effects.”


Col X stated, in one of his anti–cult outbursts, loudly asserts that

“All great historic changes have been brought about by the military through warfare.”


PORKY PIG aka THOMAS MARKSDr. Tom Marks (see also here)– Global COIN and Analytical Methods for COIN Analysts.

Marks has been working in Colombia as advisor/contractor. There, he finds, Lack of Strategic Clarity, but also “mission creep”.

He defines a civil war within Islam, between “extremists” and the accepted “good” part of Islam. (Implying that ‘we’ might exploit it.)

Also he defines “extremists” within our own USA society’s discussion – exemplified by Noam Chomsky, Hezbollah, Al Qaeda … – comparing them to non-Islamic terrorists in such places as Columbia, Nepal, Phillippines, Somalia … This he calls Mission Creep in the War on Terror; and he sees it as opportunity to remake the world in the way “we” (the USans) want it. You just keep following and killing the Bad Guys until you’ve got them all, everywhere. Then the world will be safe for enterprise, survival of the fittest, and we will all have jobs and security. Simple. Not easy, Lots of tax dollars needed. Don’t expect results for a long time. It’s gonna be a long war.

MAOIST PEOPLE'S WAR IN POST-VIETNAM ASIAIn other words, the War on Terror has become the umbrella for getting the Bad Guys anywhere on the earth; guys that They – the NATO global military society – all agree on, like Hugo Chavez, Evo Morales, Fidel Castro, Mahmud Ahmadinejad, Daniel Ortega, Kim Jong Il, …. Muslims, socialists, communists, … they are all The Enemy; the Bad Guys.

The Bad Guys disagree with the assumptions of global capitalism and advocate a different kind of social order. Both socialism and Islam have the interest of the people and the social order as a main purpose; greedy profiteering is frowned upon; and this doesn’t set well with the Tea Party.

So, it seems that COIN is really about the obliteration of all alternatives to global capitalism.

The War on Terror morphed from “terrorism” (people using violent means to achieve a political goal) to “Global Insurgency” (a global uprising of peoples). So, Global COIN arose to respond to Global Insurgency.

“Violent Extremism” then extends to Mission Colombia where “we have been doing this – intimately involved in the war against FARC for at least 40 years.”

The US Ambassador to Colombia was recently moved to Afghanistan to apply the methods he had developed in Columbia. There, he

1. Called town hall meetings open to all in small regional areas.
2. Developed “Councils of Popular Governance”, which then connects to
3. “Councils of Security.”

Fundamentals of State Legitimacy

Those who attended the Councils of Governance and of Security gave legitimacy to the Regime in Control, even if only a minority of the People participated.

“Insurgency is armed politics.”

“Terrorism is armed politics that uses violence against innocent populace to shock and awe.”

[Hmmm, wasn’t that what US did in Iraq? Aren’t they also doing that in Pakistan and Afghanistan?.]

THE MAOIST INSURGENCY SINCE VIETNAMNote: Marks is on the faculty at one of a network of military universities that also merge into programs at public and private universities such as University. of Michigan, Harvard, the Naval Academy, Georgetown, University of Nebraska… etc

He takes time to redefine terms for the COIN rhetoric:

“In the ‘60s, “revolution” was used as a synonym of “insurgency”.

“Insurgents are always trying to challenge what is.” (i.e., what has been established and sanctioned by NATO and the USA, such as the current governments of Iraq or Afghanistan. Those who rise up against what the USA recognizes as the valid government are “insurgents”. They are insurgents even if the government that the people are rising up against was established by occupiers, as with the Israelis in Palestinian Territory, where the Israeli armed forces are the effective controlling government within a state – Palestine – even though Palestine has its own elected government. For the purpose of COIN strategy, if the Palestinian people rise up against Israeli troops in Palestinian Territory, the Palestinians will be defined as the “insurgents”)

Using the “System Restore” Command in Counterinsurgency Strategy

COIN strategy is committed to maintaining the status quo when we like it. But if, as in Bolivia and Venezuela, we don’t like the status quo, we might define it by what the state was like before the socialist revolution.

The current state government becomes, or becomes defined as a (hopefully temporary) successful insurgency – Both Evo Morales’ government and Hugo Chavez’s government fit into this as portrayed in the US media and government statements.. The obvious job of the US is to remove that established government of the successful insurgents and restore the rule of the US’s preferred, prior government through some sort of counterinsurgency movement paid for and trained by the Good Guys. In other words, we would train an insurgent movement, but call them “counter-insurgents” because they are trying to restore the system to some past condition that the US approved of.

[Breaktime, as I logged into my computer, “an invalid argument was encountered”. Hmm, how serendipitous!]

GWOT = Global War on Terror in COIN-Talk’s acronyms.

“Insurgency is a social movement that uses violence as a tactic within a method and logic of action.”

“Terrorism is armed political communication.” (Shock and Awe.)

“A pure terrorist group attacks The People.”

Successful mobilization of a popular uprising stems from economic, social and political deficiencies in the current government/economy. Those who seek change approach the population as both the Means and the Battlefield.

Here’s a cute vignette recorded in class: In order to “debunk” any ideas that revolutionaries are heroes, Dr. Marks uses Tarzan mobilizing the animals of the jungle as equivalent to Che Guevara’s mobilization of the Cuban people, which Marks portrays as organization from the “Top down”.

Marks pounds his chest and yodels to represent as crude the Cuban uprising. He claims, “It didn’t even work in Cuba. Che cooked the records” (Marks never documents his assertion that “it didn’t work”, and that Che “cooked the books”. I see this type of Psy-Ops as HTS giving us the sheep-dip treatment to disabuse us of any romantic ideas about revolutionary heroes.

He classifies Mao’s strategy as “bottom up”.

Marks: “If I say it, and I control media communications, then it is true.”

[Now, I ask you, is that “bottom up”?]

Like the Canadian and other main presenters (soldier or civilian, all have had a military career previously) Dr. Marks displays erudition – including personal knowledge and experience, in a rhetoric that creates a comparison in which “our way” is inherently the end goal of proposed transformation of these “Third World” nations ranging from Nepal and Afghanistan to Colombia and equatorial Africa.

This shows the advertised purpose of HTS as facilitating an understanding of the world of the Afghans is absurd; something doesn’t match up.

He eagerly “debunks” any positive self-image of those places, all which have insurgent potential (Nepal, …) from the US military ideological perspective.

He portrays only all the other First World nations – England, France, Spain … – as having had colonial ambition in these places, while the US was only there to provide aid/USAID. He ignores the facts that Gerald Berreman made public in the 1960’s regarding anthropologists working for the CIA along the Tibetan border, and what Louis Dupree was doing at the time I was in Afghanistan; and what is, no doubt, going on there and everywhere today.

That is to say, counter-intelligence spying by social scientists and other professionals runs through most government and private funding agencies.

CIA personnel or operatives can be found working in most of the other non-military programs in Afghanistan, or in any nation. They hold staff positions in the USAID, or in US funded programs at Kabul University, at the US embassy, in the US Geological Survey which has an outpost in Kabul, the US Department of Agriculture and many other places, including in-country academic research programs/grants.

Get this! Marks asserts that all idealistic goals, such as ethnic/linguistic self-determination, universal education, … etc, these are all simply to rouse and recruit the poor exploited masses to get them involved in a violent insurgency; and once the insurgent cadre has gained power, those goals will become only idle words.

That is what Dr. Marks asserts. Then, of course, there is reality! The record of social change in places like Cuba, Venezuela and Bolivia stand in contradiction to this assertion. The ideals in these socialist societies serve as guidelines for the revolution that was born out of the uprising.

The “revolution” is the actual day-to-day work of raising the standards of education and assuring it to all people; providing housing and sanitation facilities for all people; providing food to all, medical care for all; … these take over the driving force of the government from the grass root people up to the leaders. In several of those nations who not only hold but practice their idealistic goals, the work of carrying them out is its own advertisement that rouses and recruits the masses, the people, now better educated, with more industrial skills, rouses them to respond with energy for carrying out the changes that their parents’ uprising made possible.

Is the US and NATO getting such a result with the peoples of Afghanistan?

[Note: As I read back on my thoughts then, I see it this way: This is as though I am writing out my inner dialog arising from each day’s events. The environment in the classroom allows very little opportunity to take detailed notes or to use a camera, of course. So, writing out my thoughts served as a way to contextualize the very controlled social and cultural environment that I observed as I was participating in and being indoctrinated into it.]

Marks: Metrics have been developed to measure advancement of Tangible (landscape) and Intangible (minds) campaigns. [That way, we put the metrics into our PowerPoint and use it in our pitch for increased program budget.]

[Note: This is what you will see, later, is Marilyn Mitchell’s rationale for her entire “ethnographic methods” approach – “Metrics”.]

Classes of Warfare:

1. Terror;
2. Guerrilla;
3. Main Force;
4. War of Position.

Assess “the glue” that holds the movement together or holds the state together.

The Peace Movement designates the government as the Bad Guys.

Insurgents/Terrorists play by “Big Boy Rules”. [And, we know who is the Big Boy.]

Dr. Marks takes the same position as Greenberg on West Bank – Israel is the legitimate government, Palestinians are insurgents; in Palestinian Territory!

He points out that the Maoists in Nepal controlled the narrative. Marks controls the narrative. He leaves out the factor of the Military-Industrial Complex.

After having said that other nations, but not the USA, had colonial interest in the outcome in Nepal, he then tells us that the US had 500 troops involved – but Lost! Marks was one of the US officers on that mission.

In the end, as Dwight Eisenhower warned us, the one who wins from war is …

the Military-Industrial Complex that is the warfare industries linking together both private and government sectors.

2 February 2010

Gordon Obermiller, Marine Colonel, Provincial Reconstruction Team (PRT) Commander returned from his second AF tour, emphasizes differences from State Department personnel and USAID personnel. He portrays both USAID and State Department as irresponsible and not up to military standards.

This is actually because both of these compete with the Army for DoD funds for similar functions.

Obermiller, responding to an Afghan official’s comment that the US does not seem to have the Afghan people’s best interest in mind: “It’s true that we don’t have their (the Afghan people’s) best interests in mind. What we want is a compromise between what they need and what we want.”

[Note he does not say, “… between what they want and what we want”, which would require good faith consultation to learn what they want. Rather, the US military will decide what they need and then seek a compromise on that to accommodate what the US Army wants.]

Lee Hockman, retired Colonel, Public Affairs.

“Don’t defend the HTS program; explain your motivation for being voluntarily in it.”

They want to help us to express ourselves as HTS members. They will teach us how to do that, the Army Way!

Great Quotes by Hockman:

“In an interview, always work your response to all questions back to one key message; e.g., ‘We save lives’.”

“Don’t memorize what you are supposed to say. Focus on your personal experience … what you know … with the left and right boundaries [within the approved script]. You will sound more authentic.

“You don’t want to sound scripted.

“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.”

Hockman differentiates Public Affairs (PA) from Psy Ops (Psychological Operations). PA “informs” while Psy Ops “tries to influence.” But “PA helps to establish conditions [in the mind of the US public] that will lead to confidence in the Army.”

[So, Public Affairs is Psy-Ops carried out against the US population – domestic counterinsurgency. This was mentioned in David Price’s initial response (above) and comes up later in the Weston Resolve counterinsurgency war-game in Missouri.]

“We like the embedding of (news) reporters because it forms their (the news reporters’) perspective.”

[Note: This is also why they like the embedding of the “social scientists”?]

“Truth is relative. The job is to sell your credibility.”

“Plausible deniability” is the first escape from blame for collateral damage.

[Go back and dig your bullets out of the corpses, then tell them you didn’t do it, it was Taliban.]

“Public Affairs consists of offensive or defensive Information Ops”.

12 thoughts on “The Human Terrain System: Global Counterinsurgency, Global Espionage, Global Occupation

  1. ishtar

    This is a very important “insider” report. It will be translated into Arabic and posted on my blog. But what I would like to know from Mr. Allison, if possible, is what was their main mission. Was it collecting information from the natives? or analyzing surveys, reports about the natives? Was it conveying a brighter image of USA to the natives? or to the US public? Did their mission lead to more collateral damage? or did it save lives? whose lives?

    Thank you.

    1. John Allison

      Thanks you for the comment and for making it available in Arabic.

      I will be providing the entire essay from which this is excerpted. In that, this will become more clear. The purpose is to create an illusion. Here is a bit more from the essay in relation to your question:
      COIN Strategy: Dissimilating Rhetoric and Ancillary Side-Shows

      To be explicit: the raison d’être of HTS is to draw media focus away from the brutal truth that the nature of the battlefield has only changed technologically, not experientially, since the time of Genghis Khan. The larger and truer story of a battle or a war is still a story of one people’s army invading another people’s homes and using lethal force in trying to dominate the peoples and to control their interrelationships and their access to their land and their resources.

      And here’s where the “non-lethal leverage” comes in. It is trying to convince the people that what they are seeing is not what is happening.

      They call this ‘moving the Center of Gravity’ of the people who aren’t committed to the Bad Guys toward the USan side. That is what HTS is sold as being able to do. But, as one of our former Colonels pointed out, “that is not realistic”.

      Counterinsurgency is about how to present the war to the US taxpayer and to the world community. COIN is the US military’s explanation and sales pitch trying to put the best possible face on what they are doing in and doing to Afghanistan and doing to Iraq, with other theaters in preparation in Africa, Latin America, Indonesia, Malaysia and maybe even inside the USA – “mission creep”.

      In the final practical exercise known as Weston Resolve, where the assignment was to gather strategic intelligence on people and groups north of Kansas City – US citizens, including American Indians who had been resettled there along the Missouri River, when they were the defeated “insurgents” – I finally clearly saw COIN’s potential.

      Human Terrain Teams are the poster-children of this global military campaign, the Flower Child for Global Warfare, the portavoz for the Warfare Industry Sector, both public and private.

      The new COIN focus of the military image is the context within which HTS was developed as the public face of the US Army “winning the hearts and minds” of the local civilian population; winning the innocent majority away from supporting the “insurgents’ – the Bad Guys in the Area of Operations (AO). “A Battle of the Minds” as Fidel would say.

      Highly educated “social scientists” are presented as selflessly putting their lives on the line to help the US military win the hearts and minds of those Afghan peoples, turning them away from the evil force of the Taleban or other “extremists”, expediting schools for their children, providing water for household use, new crops to replace “drug crops”, opium poppies and marijuana/hashish plants.

      This projected image is aimed more at the US media and NATO allies than at the Afghans.

      The Afghans know the truth. They are the Human Terrain.

      I hope this provides a clearer picture. The rest will be given to ZeroAnthropology within the next few days.

      Saalam alaikum,
      John Allison

  2. Jeff

    I am curious if the writer is still in the program? I find his notes fascinating and would like to have additional details. What did Marilyn say to justify her existence and the methods she is teaching which I understand are unusable in theater?

    1. Jeff

      Take Question back… I see you have “retired.” Still I’m curious about Marilyn and her justifications. Also the training has changed and is in the process of changing or that’s what i hear. Is Marilyn still there? Who is the one good person who they say will soon be sacrificed? Did you (the author) resign in good standing or were you forced out because you voiced your opinion or something else? Thanks.

      1. Maximilian Forte

        I can’t speak for Marilyn Dudley-Flores, who is still occasionally in contact, and thought I would post a note in the likely event that she does not see this. Marilyn is no longer with HTS. Currently I believe she is somewhere in the Pacific (I forget where), teaching.

      1. Dr. Marilyn Dudley-Flores

        It sounds like Jeff is referring to Dr. Marilyn Mitchell. Any methods of mine would be usable in theatre.

        My recollection of the other Marilyn as a trainer was she was a social scientist who had spent most of her professional career in the corporate sector. Think Nissan or similar. From the essay above, it rather looks as if the HTS powers-that-be have her teaching from the standpoint of having to “tool up” for the subject matter she is now teaching. Perhaps Marilyn’s corporate eye may discover some new angle on that material — or not.

    1. Maximilian Forte

      Excellent, Ishtar. Unrelated, but I thought I would post it here while I remember: I am also speaking of your translation of the Iraq War Logs into Arabic, in a column I am now finishing for Al Jazeera Arabic. I will send you the link as soon as it is out.

  3. ishtar

    Thank you John, for your decision to leave the HTS, also for your decision to talk about it. I have a clear picture of it now. I have suspected for a long time, that the US military needs to hire anthropologists and social scientists to help disrupt the occupied societies . They have to study the dynamics of a society, its composition, its weak and strong points. This is the mission of HTS as I see it. I think this is the utmost lethal leverage: killing a society.

    Thank you Max, for mentioning me.

  4. Maximilian Forte

    Not to distract from the questions and exchanges above, but as I mentioned former HTS employee Joshua Foust and his book which allegedly includes something or other about HTS…this is the wonderful roasting he got yesterday from Salon’s Glenn Greenwald:

    Then we have the Good Citizens who are furious that WikiLeaks has shown them what their Government is doing and, conversely, prevented the Government from keeping things from them. Joshua Foust — who says “he’s spent the vast majority of his adult life doing defense and intelligence consulting for the U.S. government” — has a private Twitter feed for various intelligence officials and reporters, behind which he’s been bravely railing against WikiLeaks defenders (including me) and hysterically blaming WikiLeaks disclosures for everything from Chinese cyber warfare to the next terrorist attack. Plenty of other people are reciting anti-WikiLeaks condemnations from the same script.

    It’s hardly surprising that people like Foust who work for the Government and depend upon staying in its good graces are screeching all sorts of fear-mongering claims (he’s apparently a DIA analyst under contract for Northrop Grumman, though he doesn’t disclose that to his readers). That’s what the Government, its enablers and royal court hangers-on do: you wind them up and they insist that any restraints on, or exposure of, the U.S. Government will help the Terrorists get us, and subject us to other scary dangers. But what’s extraordinary is that these strident claims continue even after the U.S. Government’s prior “blood-on-their-hands” warnings have been exposed as wildly exaggerated. As the pro-Obama, pro-National Security State New York Times Editorial Page put it today with great understatement: “The claim by [] Clinton that the leaks threaten national security seems exaggerated.”

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