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In Harmonium

Being in the main the musings of a Symbolic Anthropologist

Some more thoughts on the HTS

Posted By on January 26, 2009

The past several days have seen more publications come out on the Human Terrain System.  I want to focus in on one in particular that shows up, of all places (!), in Men’s Journal: Afghanistan: The New War for Hearts and Minds by Robert Young Pelton.  The simplest way to describe Pelton’s article is as a cross between an episode of M.A.S.H. and some form of French bedroom farce.  While I *hope* it isn’t accurate, i.e. that he has taken poetic licence, I have a sneaking suspicion that it is pretty bang on (then again, I always liked the credo quia absurdam proof…).

A link to the piece was posted over at Small Wars Council and revived one of the HTS threads there.  This time, however, rather than a discussion of whether or not Anthropology might be useful to the military, things took a different turn.  In particular, the question came up as to what type of knowledge is being produced and who should produce it.  After all, you don’t need a Ph.D. in Anthropology to do a lot of the basic cultural mapping that the HTS is doing – the military (both US and British and others) have been doing it for centuries.

So, why exactly would the military need something like the HTS if not for basic socio-cultural terrain? Now that is the $64,000 question, isn’t it? At present, I *think* the answer is a rather complex one that goes well beyond the basic “cultural information is useful” line.

Last November, I presented a paper at the 2008 IUS conference at RMC on the use of “culture”, actually ethnographic knowledge, in Romano-Byzantine Professional Military Education (draft available here if anyone is a masochist; I’m not happy with it yet, but…).  One of the advantages of using a 2000 year timeline is that you can see how things change over time.

Now, one intriguing thing that the Romans (and Byzantines) did with their ethnographic knowledge was to parse it out into knowledge for the sake of combat and knowledge for the sake of political manipulation.  They didn’t start this way; it only developed after the disasterous Barracks Emperors period (3rd century c.e.) showed how dangerous it was to have political ethnographic knowledge in the hands of military commanders – they tended to revolt and set themselves up as Emperor.

Now, that happened in Rome, but is it analogous to the US?  Probably not given a whole variety of other differences.  What is important, however, is to draw out that distinction between knowledge for combat and knowledge for politics since they are, actually, quite different.  Even more important is to recognize under what conditions “combat” requires “political” knowledge.  In many ways, the Romans had it easy – beat someone on the field and enforce your political will.

The same option is not available today when combat and politics are so heavily entwinned.  For the US, that comes in via the population-centric model of counter-insurgency (COIN), while for the various non-state actors, it plays out in their conceptualizations of the area of operations (AO).  The reality, today, is that all combat is “political” in the sense that representations of it will be used to achieve political ends over and above any inherently political nature.

So, what does this imply regarding the HTS?  Well, first off, it certainly implies that the military needs an organic “culture capability”.  I would argue that the British had that, at least in the officer corps, simply because of the fact that their officers used to be “gentlemen” who, as part of their education, had to read many of the classics (in Latin and Greek), and were required to be fluent in several languages.  Not Anthropologists per se, but pretty good amateurs.  The US also had an organic capacity, originally via the officer corps and, later on, via the Foreign Area Officer career track.  As with the British, good amateurs who knew a lot about the realities on the ground.

So why get the “pro’s” involved?  Well, I would argue that Anthropologists showed just how valuable we could be during World War II.  But this value didn’t really play out in the realm of “combat ethnographies” (outside of the comic book guides and some of the tribal studies in the Pacific theatre); it played out in PSYOPS and cultural analysis leading to the occupations and social engineering projects in Germany and Japan in the post-War period.  Basically, the real “worth” of professional Anthropologists for the military was in the realm of political knowledge.

This does have some implications for the HTS.

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17 Responses to “Some more thoughts on the HTS”

  1. John Stanton says:

    Here is where HTS is going, has gone. Most of us watching this “good idea” program knew this had to be going on elsewhere and was meant for purposes far beyond Afghanistan/Iraq, Africa, etc. This is why there is so much support for it: use academia to widen the Intel net. From the US Gov perspective it is a great idea and, as far as I’m concerned, it falls under protect-defend the constitution, er, ah, the US way of life. Too bad the US Gov just can’t come out and say what it is doing, and academics, et al, just can’t stop wanting to play soldier. See below.

    Zapotec Indigenous People in Mexico Demand Transparency from U.S. Scholar

    By Saulo Araujo
    January 22nd, 2009

    The Union of Organizations of the Sierra Juarez of Oaxaca (UNOSJO) – a longtime partner of Grassroots International based in Mexico – denounced a recently conducted study in the Zapotec region by U.S. geography scholar Peter Herlihy. Prof. Herlihy failed to mention that he received funding from the Foreign Military Studies Office of the U.S. Armed Forces. The failure to obtain full, free and prior informed consent is a violation of the rights of indigenous communities as codified in the Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples adopted by the United Nations in 2007. In addition, UNOSJO fears that this in-depth geographical mapping of indigenous communities may be used in some harmful manner by the military.

    According to UNOSJO, University of Kansas geography professor Peter Herlihy approached local communities of the Sierra Juarez, Oaxaca, Mexico to collect information for his project and declined to fully disclose his purpose or his funding sources. In addition to this failure to fully inform indigenous communities of the nature of the study, Mr. Herlihy’s team took advantage of the good-faith of the Zapotec indigenous communities to undertake a study that appears to be of no benefit to the local people.

    For 518 years, indigenous people in the Americas have been abused, lied to and exploited in the name of “progress,” including in the fields of education and research. It is regrettable that a U.S. scholar misled indigenous people in the Mesoamerican region in a way that undermines their sovereignty. Echoing the concerns of our partners and allies, Grassroots International hopes that these U.S. military-sponsored studies will be terminated immediately. Further, we request that the University of Kansas hold Prof. Herlihy accountable for his violation of ethics in research, including abusing of the rights of UNOSJO and the indigenous communities of the Sierra Juarez of Oaxaca, Mexico.

    Read UNOSJO’s full statement below.




    We kindly request that you publish the present bulletin in your respective means of communication.

    Towards the end of 2008, the results of the research project México Indígena (Indigenous Mexico) were handed over to two Zapotec communities in the Sierra Juárez in the form of maps. Research had been undertaken two years earlier by a team of geographers from University of Kansas. What initially seemed to be a beneficial project for the communities now leaves many of the participants feeling like victims of geopiracy.

    In August 2006, the México Indígena research team arrived at the Union of Organizations of the Sierra Juárez of Oaxaca (UNOSJO, S.C.) to present research objectives and garner support to commence work in the Sierra Juárez region. At the time, the team included a Mexican biologist Gustavo Ramírez, an Ixtlán native well known in the area, who was responsible for initially approaching UNOSJO.

    Project leader and geographer Peter Herlihy explained the project objectives to UNOSJO, S.C., initially stating that it was to document the impacts of PROCEDE [a Mexican Government program has had on indigenous communities. He failed to mention, however, that this research prototype was financed by the Foreign Military Studies Office (FMSO) of the United States Army and that reports on his work would be handed directly to this Office. Herlihy neglected to mention this despite being expressly asked to clarify the eventual use of the data obtained through research.

    Herlihy mentioned that his team would collaborate with the following organizations: the American Geographical Society (AGS), Kansas University, Kansas State University, Carleton University, the Universidad Autónoma de San Luis Potosí and the Secretary of Environment and Natural Resources (SEMARNAT). He failed, however, to acknowledge the participation of Radiance Technologies, a company that specializes in arms development and military intelligence.

    Although UNOSJO, S.C. participated in some of the México Indígena Project’s initial activities, the organization soon ceased participation due to unclear project intentions. The Santa Cruz Yagavila and Santa María Zoogochi communities also ended up feeling the same distrust and they too abandoned the Project. For these reasons, the México Indígena research team localized activities within the San Miguel Tiltepec and San Juan Yagila communities, both located in the Zapotec region known as El Rincón de la Sierra Juárez.

    In November 2008, México Indígena members Peter Herlihy and John Kelly attended a meeting of the UCC, the Unión de Comunidades Cafetaleras “Unidad Progreso y Trabajo” (the Union of Coffee-Producing Communities “Unity, Progress and Work”), held in the community of Santa Cruz Yagavila. They announced the completion of the Yagila and Tiltepec community maps and offered their services to other organization-member communities. They went on to mention that research had been carried out with the collaboration of UNOSJO, S.C.’s own Aldo Gonzalez, a fact that was immediately refuted.

    Following the aforementioned UCC meeting, UNOSJO, S.C. began looking into the México Indígena Project. Investigation revealed that México Indígena forms part of the Bowman Expeditions, a more extensive geographic research project backed and financed by the FMSO, among other institutions. The FMSO inputs information into a global database that forms an integral part of the Human Terrain System (HTS), a United States Army counterinsurgency strategy designed by FMSO and applied within indigenous communities, among others.

    Since 2006 the Human Terrain System HTS has, since 2006, been employed with military purposes in both Afghanistan and Iraq and according to what we g=have been able to determine Bowman Expeditions are underway in Mexico, the Antilles, Colombia and Jordan.

    In November 2008, the México Indígena Project completed the maps corresponding to Zapotec communities San Miguel Tiltepec and San Juan Yagila. Contrary to the often-mentioned promise of transparency, México Indígena created an English-only web page, a language that the participating communities do not understand. Before the communities received the work, said maps had already been published on the Internet. Furthermore, the communities were never informed that reports detailing the project would be handed over to the FMSO.

    In addition to publishing the maps, the México Indígena team created a database into which pertinent information was entered: community member names and the associated geographic location of their plot(s) of land, formal and informal use of the land and other data that cannot be accessed via the Internet.

    According to statements made by those heading the México Indígena research team, this type of map can be used in multiple ways. They did not specify, however, whether they would be employed for commercial, military or other purposes. Furthermore, as the maps are compatible with Google Earth, practically anyone can gain access to the information. Yet only community members can decipher information expressed in Zapotec (toponyms), unless, of course, one has the capacity to translate them, as in the case of FMSO linguistic specialists.

    UNOSJO, S.C. is against this kind of project being carried out in the Sierra Juárez and distances itself completely from the work compiled by the México Indígena research team. We call upon indigenous peoples in this country and around the world not to be fooled by these types of research projects, which usurp traditional knowledge without prior consent. Although researchers may initially claim to be conducting the projects in “good faith”, said knowledge could be used against the indigenous peoples in the future.

    We hereby demand that Peter Herlihy honor his promise of transparency and that the Mexican public be made aware all his sources of funding and the institutions that received information on findings obtained in the communities.

    We further demand that, in light of these facts, the Mexican Government, firstly the Secretary of Environment and Natural Resources for having financed part of the research, as well as the Department of Internal Affairs, the Department of External Affairs, Deputies and Senators for possible violations of the Indigenous Peoples’ National Sovereignty and Autonomy, clarify its position on the matter.

    Oaxaca de Juárez, Oax., 14 January 2009


  2. admin says:

    Hi John,

    Thanks for posting this. I had just finished reading it, and I find it quite disturbing.

  3. John Stanton says:

    I’m trying to get in touch with FMSO, the Bowman people, et al, to sort it all out, find out why now with the protest, etc. Bowman Mexico Expeditions are supported by AGS and FMSO seem like HTT’s minus uniforms and guns as far I can tell. Check out their activity here http://www.amergeog.org/bowman-expeditions.htm and then this presentation http://web.ku.edu/~mexind/presentations.htm.

    At one of the AGS Mexico conferences there was an AFRICOM affiliated representative (you can find that info on the sites above). I’ve heard that this is the type of program the military is after because GEOSPACE info is neatly included, MAP HT failed in this regard. Of course, the UKansas folks were not in a “war” zone. You all will have to carry guns one day and it’ll be tough to convince the objects of study that your data will not find its way into mil intelligence collecting.

    I’ll keep you updated.

  4. John Stanton says:


    You can take out these links just wanted to send you the latest out today.

    Article #11 in the series on US ARMY TRADOC HTS includes BOWMAN/MEXICAN PROJECT and 14 Jan protest subjects. This effort deserves 10K words but this will have to do for now.



  5. John Stanton says:

    John Stanton writing.

    Article #11 in the series on US ARMY TRADOC HTS includes BOWMAN/MEXICAN PROJECT and 14 Jan protest.



  6. admin says:

    Hi John,

    Thanks for the links, I appreciate it. As a note, I’me getting some information coming in about factual errors in the original UNOSJO, S.C. piece, which I’m still trying to get confirmation / refutation on.

  7. John Stanton says:

    I do mention in the piece that HTS, FMSO linkages are unsubstantiated and may, in fact, be false. The Bowman Expeditions/AGS websites have addressed some of these accuastions and the responses arestandard ethics boilerplate. They also seem to accuse anyone critical of mil funding of not understanding that all mil funding is not bad.

    UNOSJO can hardly go toe to toe, response to response with BEMI, AGS, KU, et al, but that, of course, does not excuse errors on their part. Then again, anything, I think, the BEMI folks put out will be for their particular sponsors, academic community, etc.

    An FMSO representative, according to my sources, taught an HTS program course on “negotiations”. Will provide more information as I get it.

  8. Christopher King says:

    In regards to the long article pertaining to “Zapotec Indigenous People in Mexico Demand Transparency from U.S. Scholar”, there are two paragraphs that mentioned the Human
    Terrain System. In these two paragraphs there are five factual errors that I feel I need to address.

    1. The only connections that FMSO has to HTS is that both are TRADOC programs and there are hundreds of TRADOC programs.
    2. The FMSO global database is NOT an integral part of HTS nor does HTS utilize FMSO databases
    3. HTS does not get any support, financial or otherwise, from FMSO
    4. HTS was NOT designed by FMSO
    5. HTS has no affiliation with Bowman Expeditions

    Christopher A King, Ph.D.
    Social Scientist, IZ9
    HHC, 3BCT, 25 INF DIV
    Human Terrain Team
    APO AE 09393

  9. admin says:


    Thank you very much for making that comment. I really appreciate it.

  10. John Stanton says:

    Yes, Chris King is, well, kinda, sorta correct. It is good to have these absolutist statements on the record. Let me work to these points in no numerical order.

    To King’s Point #4: In fact, FMSO/Capt. Don Smith had an important role in the creation of HTS in 2005 timeframe. This is an excerpt from HTS-CORDS for 21st Century. “The concept for the current Human terrain System was suggested by Montgomery McFate Ph.D., J.D., and Andrea Jackson as described in their article, “an Organizational Solution for DoD’s Cultural Knowledge Needs,” Military Review (July-august 2005): 1821. Most of the practical work to implement the concept under the title Human terrain System was done by Cpt Don Smith, U.S. Army reserve, of the Foreign Military Studies Office, between July 2005 and August 2006″

    To Kings Point #1: Responsibility for the 100’s of programs at TRADOC ultimately rest with and CG’s and staff, not social scientists/contractors.

    To Kings Point #2: Good to know there is an FMSO global database (not aware of that). HTS is funded out of B19 (Map HT) which is an intelligence collection line item. All data from HTS makes its way into kill-suppression chain data chains. BEMI, is, by design of its proponents (Dobson, et al) and intelligence program. To think that BEMI data and HTS do not make the journey to some larger intel function is a bit silly. Senior sources have confirmed this commonality with HTS and FMSO. That does not mean they are integrated, it only means the data is traveling to some common locale.

    To Kings Point #3: FMSO contractors and or staff have instructed HTS participants in training. Sources indicate a course on “negotiation” featured an FMSO individual (course was said to have been “terrible”).

    TO Kings Point #5: That may, indeed, be the case but we’ll have to wait for more information from the field on that score.

  11. Drew says:

    Actually, Mr. King, HTS WAS designed by Dr. Kipp, Les Grau, and Don Smith, of FMSO.

    It was then cut loose as its own program, as it did not fit under the FMSO mission.

    I base my comments on personal interviews with Dr. Kipp and Don Smith.

  12. admin says:

    Hi John,

    Thanks for the heads up.

  13. Drew says:

    The quoted article is, to say the least, disjointed and self-contradictory. But I think I see a certain “kernel of truth” to it, especially since BAE has inexplicably been unable to hire anyone since last October.

  14. Max Forte says:

    Marc, have a look at this, it made me nervous just reading it and I expect there will be some very nasty fallout for the writer…or maybe not:


    On the other hand, you probably read this before it was even posted, didn’t you, you little devil.

  15. admin says:


    I doubt that the blog author will get much in the way of fallout. If, however, what he is saying about LT Jones is correct, then I hope that RYP (aka the “Pelch”) gets some major fallout.

    On the libel issue and its possible effects, I suspect that if Pelton keeps playing the heavy, as indicated by the email quoted, he will be in for a nasty surprise. If, and I say this advisedly, that email is a direct quote and if Pelton was engaged in those marketing activities, then his attempts to silence the blog author could easily be interpreted by some as a form of racketeering (http://legal-dictionary.thefreedictionary.com/racketeering), specifically a form of extortion aimed at producing profit. I’m not saying that this is what is happening, but I am saying that that is one possible interpretation of his actions IFF the material laid out in that blog post is true.

    That is really the crux of the matter, whether or not the material in that, and his previous, posts are true. If they are, then it isn’t libel.

    “Libel is the written or broadcast form of defamation, distinguished from slander which is oral defamation. It is a tort (civil wrong) making the person or entity (like a newspaper, magazine or political organization) open to a lawsuit for damages by the person who can prove the statement about him/her was a lie.” (source: http://legal-dictionary.thefreedictionary.com/libel).

  16. Max Forte says:

    Excellent points of course. I had also not thought of the racketeering angle at all, so that was an additional good point.

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