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article imageOp-Ed: Problematic Human Terrain System continues despite criticism

By Ken Hanly     Feb 20, 2013 in World
Washington - A program that sends civilian social scientists overseas to help US troops to better understand local cultures and develop good relations with local people will continue in spite of many problems.
The Human Terrain System, as the program is called, is described as follows:The Human Terrain System (HTS) is a United States Army, military intelligence support program employing personnel from the social science disciplines – such as anthropology, sociology, political science, regional studies and linguistics – to provide military commanders and staff with an understanding of the local population (i.e. the "human terrain") in the regions in which they are deployed.
The $250 million program has suffered serious problems and constant criticism. Among the problems are payroll padding, sexual harassment and racism, a USA Today investigation found. While the program is supposed to foster good relations with the local population, the social scientists often provide intelligence that may be used by the military for targeting purposes.
Some time ago in 2007, the Network of Concerned Anthropologists (NCA) was formed by a group of anthropologists many of whom were concerned about the Human Terrain System program. In 2010 the group sent a letter to Congress urging the government to stop supporting HTS. In part the letter said: "There is no evidence that HTS is effective...HTS is dangerous and reckless. HTS wastes taxpayers money. HTS is unethical for anthropologists and other social scientists."
One anthropologist argued that the American Anthropological Association Code of Ethics was comparable to the Hippocratic Oath for doctors. He said :: "Asking an anthropologist to gather intelligence that may lead to someone's death or imprisonment [...] is like asking an army doctor to kill a wounded insurgent
A 2010 investigation into the HTS found that team members were encouraged to inflate their time sheets to maximize pay. There were allegations made against the government contractors who recruited and trained those in the Human Terrain System. The investigation found that contractors were not held to account and that there was little government oversight.
Many commanders interviewed said that HTS reports were often worthless as far as their work was concerned. One commander said their work seemed to create anxiety among the local population. Recommendations were made to improve the program but the problems seem to remain.
Hugh Gusterson, an anthropology professor, who studied the program said: "It's another example of a military program that makes money for a contractor while greatly exaggerating its military utility. The program recruited the human flotsam and jetsam of the discipline and pretended it was recruiting the best. Treating taxpayer money as if it were water, it paid under-qualified 20-something anthropologists more than even Harvard professors. And it treated our ethics code as a nuisance to be ignored."
The local insights into the population useful to the military may consist of information used for targeting. In Afghanistan, for example, the Human Terrain teams provide information to military intelligence centers, Stability Operations Information Centers, as set out in a 2010 Pentagon intelligence plan. The team's reports are designed to aid in determining potential targets and adversaries. This description makes the social scientists spies who gather intelligence for attacks. The army says that external studies of the program have been positive and problems have been addressed.
USA Today obtained a report that is not yet published from the National Defense University, a think tank associated with the Pentagon. The report notes that collectively the Human Terrain System efforts did not make a major contribution to the counterinsurgency effort., The report cites a failure to adopt principles of counterinsurgency warfare as the main reason for their lack of success.
Those counterinsurgency principles would involve winning the hearts and minds of the local population which would deny the Taliban local support. Instead the group provided intelligence that helped the military target the local population. This is hardly a recipe to create local community support. Not surprisingly several HTS team members have been killed in the course of duty.
Much greater detail about the failings of the program can be found in this article at Stars and Stripes.
This opinion article was written by an independent writer. The opinions and views expressed herein are those of the author and are not necessarily intended to reflect those of
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