Small Wars Journal

Army Kills Controversial Social Science Program

Tue, 06/30/2015 - 12:10pm

Army Kills Controversial Social Science Program by Tom Vanden Brook, USA Today

The Army has quietly killed a program that put social scientists on battlefields to help troops avoid unnecessary bloodshed and improve civilians' lives, an Army spokesman said Monday.

The initiative, known as the Human Terrain System, had been plagued by fraud and racial and sexual harassment, a USA TODAY investigation found.

HTS, which spent at least $726 million from 2007 to 2014 in Iraq and Afghanistan, was killed last fall, Gregory Mueller, an Army spokesman, said in an email. Commanders in Afghanistan, where the U.S. combat mission ended last year, no longer had a need for the advice of civilian anthropologists…

Read on.


First: A definition of "development" from "Anthropology and Development: Culture, Morality, and Politics in a Globalized World," Introduction: Hope and Despair, Page 3, by Emma Crewe and Richard Axelby:

Development is: "... the purposeful pursuit of economic, social and political goals through planned intervention."… (Use the offered "look inside" option.)

This definition of "development" looks stunningly like what I have described as the central foreign policy goal of the United States/the West; thus, my "transforming outlying states and societies more along modern western political, economic and social lines."

Accordingly, "development" appears to be what we, and our "whole-of-government" partners, are doing throughout the world today. (Development-R-Us.)

This being true, then if anthropologists, in general, do not have a problem with working in the "development" field,

Then why would they have trouble working with our -- and our governments' -- military, police and intelligence forces; these such folks also being employed to do "development" work?

Herein, our military, police and intelligence personnel's job -- as part of this "development" process -- being to, essentially, deal with those individuals and groups that would actively resist our "development" projects/initiatives.

Outlaw 09

Mon, 07/06/2015 - 12:21pm

In reply to by Move Forward

MF--DCGS-A was originally when all is said and done designed to integrate over 35 different intel databases--many were though legacy systems as the intel soldier of 2004 was complaining that they had to enter in and out of multiple different databases when doing say analysis work--ISR became an afterthought tacked onto the project expansion requests motivated by comments to the Army by the contractor Textron as the increase in ISR occurred in late 2012 not before.

BTW Textron also designed/deployed in 2005 another failed intel system that cost the Army millions and the only thing used was the Tough Book by the military due their needing Tough Books and no funding was available for them--the intel troops hated the product on top of it as it never really worked.

Textron kept promising and promising and still DCGS-A is not finished.

Per the position pay for a GS12 step 1 in Germany is 62.5K --I know because regardless of the experience I brought in only 62.5K was approved by the GS hiring agency --you could have gotten a higher entry step if one had previous GS experience but in Germany it is automatically step 1.

Our GS13 who had prior GS time only knocked down 110K as he was maxed out on the steps.

Remember GS pay is largely defined by locality and cost of living AND the actual hiring agency--not everyone resides in DC or Virginia.

BTW--the F4 became a major dogfighter in VN after the pilots were sent off to Top Gun and then the ratio rates for dogfights in VN rose massively to the advantage of the F4--the F4 issue was one of pilots not the airframe.

250K was yes in a number of cases correct--average was in the 150-175K ranges--AND they were mostly GS13s --so how did they break the GS pay scales so easily??

Move Forward

Mon, 07/06/2015 - 8:53am

In reply to by Outlaw 09

<blockquote>I was in the trenches with it in 2005 and left the trenches with it in 2012 AND I challenge you to openly state it was working fine, great and super AND even now it is a perfect functioning system--BTW even the Army IG has questioned continuing the program.</blockquote>

You are missing the point that the requirement remains to integrate ISR from many hundreds of ISR sources, all with their own software and hardware. You cannot show me a Soldier or Civil Servant capable of independently doing that on their own, or that Palantir integrates all those systems instead of just some.

Yes, it will take time to work out all the bugs on such a complex ISR system. The P-51 Mustang started out as a lousy airplane initially. Our WWII tanks were inferior throughout most of the war. The F-105 was a poor aircraft for dogfighting and the F-4 initially had its own problems, but is nearly identical in concept to the multi-service F-35 that also will ultimately succeed.

<blockquote>Let's see for a intel DAC at the GS12/13 entry levels and with some experience the entry level is <strong>62.5K-65K</strong> per year AND what was and or is the entry level contractor say working for the JIEDDO intel side with the same clearance? Six digits (110K0 minimum lowest being 90K).</blockquote>

In the Washington D.C. area these are the pay scales for starting GS employees. Yes, the locality adjustment raises the listed pay (from but it is only about $5-9 grand more than nearby Fort Eustis, for instance:

GS-12: $76,378
GS-13: $90,823
GS-14: $107,325
GS-15: $116,021

Of course we need hundreds of thousands of competent GS employees and Soldiers. I've tried for over a year to get a GS job and finally may have succeeded (tentative) if you don't screw it up by forcing me to defend defense contractors. As you state, if Congress and the President would allow the numbers of Soldiers and Civil Service required for the job, we would not need so many contractors. But contractors are disposable. I did that job for 13 years and there is little job security. That is one reason they sometime get more pay in some areas. But I read that some HTS employees were getting well over $250,000 a year for questionable qualifications and claims of overtime. My GS-5, Step 10 wife makes $41 grand after 30 years of service...about what a junior E-4 makes who has more tax-free income and no medical insurance expense.

Outlaw 09

Mon, 07/06/2015 - 2:54am

In reply to by Move Forward

MF--you surprise me--I am assuming then you have never ever tried to work with DCGS-A have you--I was in the trenches with it in 2005 and left the trenches with it in 2012 AND I challegene you to openly state it was working fine, great and super AND even now it is a perfect functioning system--BTW even the Army IG has questioned continuing the program.

Come on MF--let's look at the F35--in principle the same exact method--get the military to buy it, then modify, modify, modify AND the taxpayers paying all the time AND this week the F35 failed to perform even at the close combat level AFTER exactly how much has been paid to DEFENSE CONTRACTORS.

Let's see the JIEDDO got a yearly funding budget of between depending on the year 4 to 6 BILLION USDs per and yet their mission --"defeat the IED" was what successful?--absolutely not--they are still blowing up around the ears of the infantry and what starting 2005--so say 7 years later and 28-42B USDs later--what did we get for it???

BTW--I was in one of the small programs also nested into the Training Brain and YES the HTS was formally part and parcel of TRADOC G2 fully nested into the TB--will be more than happy to provide a weekly summary report from the TB.

BTW--check out the history since you are into history EXACTLY WHY the TB was created--ORIGINALLY created---it was an offspring of JIEDDO used to train military intel (attack the network)scenarios for the Training Centers--Polk and the NTC which morphed in 2010/11 into simulations systems as a survival strategy--the TB was and is driven by a SES who requires for that rank X number of employees and budget otherwise normally a GS position. Know that well as I was part of the initial rollout into the NTC.

Actually the former TB was created with a self life of exactly how long it took for the JIEDDO to staff up their training division to assume that the TB was conducting at the training center BUT as with all OCO funded projects "shelf life did not count"--it was the years of "empire building and just how long can I rake it in".

Reference the 726M USDs--you are then telling me that full 726M was used for HTS salaries?--come on MF even you do not believe that.

If we take the ratio of 1.5 to 2 times a HTS salary as the "defense contractors fee for the position" (standard actually as their margin) and the fact that the HTS program had physical positions in the TB that are a cost factor--do not assume the TB did not along with defense contractors received nothing for providing office space, computer systems, security clearance maintenance, AND for picking up the costs for UPS/FedEx shipments that flowed over the TB contract etc.--yes they did present a monthly and yearly bill to the HTS program.

WHAT many outside of defense contracting do not fully realize and many inside do not as well--defense contractors are simply "body shops"--similar to the "IT outsourcing" developed by say AT&T in 1993/94 which I also went through--meaning a contractor fights for a bid and wins then he back fills the positions from the win. By 2012 this habit had gotten so bad that say BAE would win-and define the management positions for themselves (3 and they ran the project due to the fees received for operating it) and farm out the rest (say 21) to small sub contractors especially contracting companies preferably with vet and minority status as that looked great during the bid process.

I will challenge you to state that the actual military member and or the DAC is far more expensive than the "defense contractor" who also enjoyed a far higher salary run rate than the average DAC.

BTW--the only reason the US went for defense contracting was in fact due to the low manning rates of the military--if the Army had say the draftee rates of 1970 or even the volunteer manning rates of Desert Storm--defense contracting would have never been borne.

AND the great side effect for the politicians is that wow when we were in Iraq--I kept the numbers low--BUT in reality just how high was the defense contractor side in say 2010--almost double the militay numbers AND they were not shooters.

Let's see for a intel DAC at the GS12/13 entry levels and with some experience the entry level is 62.5K-65K per year AND what was and or is the entry level contractor say working for the JIEDDO intel side with the same clearance? Six digits (110K0 minimum lowest being 90K).

AND did you also know that the clearances granted by OPM for a DAC even at the Secret level is far far higher that DIS issues for military--actually a DAC Secret OPM clearance comes darn near close to that performed for a TS/SCI on the military side and OPM rejects individuals whereas DIS allows a lot through. Example--when you cross over from defense contracting to GS--do not think for a moment the TS/SCI that you had in the military will carry over--no OPM mandates that you have a OPM directed/paid for clearance. Do not think for moment the US government did not charge via DIS for the contractor clearances--actually a hidden income for the government contracting side.

And oh by the way if you were a clearance holder EVER and I mean EVER for OPM you entire SF86, background investigation, financial data are now OWNED and controlled by China and all OPM will give you for their total failure is a credit monitoring service --only for you but all others on your SF86 are fair game for ID theft.

So when I beat up programs I will be more than happy to go point for point as I have been there and done both DAC and defense contracting and have worked in those very programs as both-- done the walk and the talk.

Move Forward

Sun, 07/05/2015 - 11:38pm

In reply to by Outlaw 09

Come on Outlaw, don't be such a downer.

<blockquote>Especially since a number of them were tied to the war funding tied to the JIEDDO program which has also been canceled for equally good reasons.</blockquote>

Apparently, rumors of JIEDDOs demise are greatly exaggerated:

DCGS-A also appears to have an RFI out for an Increment 2 that will simplify use and perhaps invite Palantir to work its magic on the program. Not sure where you got the idea that DCGS-A is based solely on Iraq and Afghanistan. You are presumably aware that the Navy and USAF also have versions of DCGS, so unless you solely desire to rely on Intel provided from stateside and the sea reach, wouldn't you say that getting DCGS-A right makes sense?

I'm unaware of too many programs that start out very successfully without bugs or flaws in the system. The AH-64A had a early FLIR that caused problems, at least one Desert Storm fratricide, and major maintenance headaches and reliability problems for years. Look how it has turned out now with the Longbow radar and latest AH-64E Guardian. Look at the M-1 tank that started out with a 105mm gun and compare it to the latest iterations. How would we have fought and won the combat portions of all recent wars without these effective close combat systems that evolved into major successes.

Similarly, some journalists seem upset that an early F-35A had trouble with an extensively modernized and upgraded F-16 which has never been a slouch. Yet they fail to acknowledge that an export F-16 that falls into the wrong hands would never get close to or see the F-35A that would take it out at great distance. They also don't understand that modern air defenses and enemy fighters also would take out the F-16 at far greater distances while the F-35 would be largely invisible until much closer. Give the F-35 the AIM-9X Sidewinder and I suspect it will do just fine in close in dogfights, as well.

<blockquote>No one could get DCGS to work but boy did the defense contractors have visions for the future.

Every defense contractor and their employees were simply looking for new homes thus new funding in order to keep their jobs not improve the military.

Would guess out of the roughly 726M USDs spent on the program over 600M USDs went into the pockets of defense contractors and the running costs of the Training Brain who was tasked to support it thus it had it's hands in the pie as well.</blockquote>

I couldn't find much that said Training Brain had much involvement with the Human Terrain System. Also, clarify that the $726 million went to <I>that system</I> and not other Training Brain programs. I've never dealt with Training Brain but used many of their simulations extensively in training and worked with other contractors who modified data bases to make them interactive inserting the trainee into a historical battle. I would gladly compare the fidelity of such simulations to many of the artificialities of many combat training centers that cost a considerable amount to train units.

Please refrain from casting aspersions on the motivation of most contractors to improve our military. Don't group defense contractors (and I no longer fit that description) with the HTS hit-and-mostly-miss. Unless you can point to any military equipment exclusively designed, constructed, trained, sustained, and maintained by nothing but military or civil service, perhaps we should not be disparaging the patriotism and competence of the "military-industrial complex" or refer to it as "mickey mouse" as Rant enjoys doing.

Outlaw 09

Sun, 07/05/2015 - 9:15am

In reply to by ss2900

As you well know it was totally concerned with showing it's worth to the TRADOC G2 and the Training Brain as that was were it resided the last few years--why because it was necessary as it drove the body count and thus the promotion of a SES and the Training Brain--more people under it--more money flowed to it thus "more importance" to the TRADOC G2.

In fact there are a number of other intel driven small programs that were nested into the Training Brain that should have been killed years ago as they were now just a money maker for the defense contractors involved.

Especially since a number of them were tied to the war funding tied to the
JIEDDO program which has also been canceled for equally good reasons.

I took a major hit work wise for commenting here years ago about the abject failure of the program as I knew the inherent problems when it started plus I never in the field saw any advantage if the intelligence side had been during their own jobs correctly.

As simple as that BUT really 726M USD taxpayers money later and no one can show a "value add" is telling to say the least.

BTW--if one wants to fully understand the "downfall" of the HTS's look no further than the internal politics of the survival of the SES who ran the Training Brain as HTS fell under the Training Brain thus did the OCO funding until OCO funding dried up--yes there was talks about the concept becoming a "Program of Record" BUT so was the "Training Brain" to become a Program of Record but one needs a set number of employers and major SES player and funds.

As the drawn downs were coming and OCO funding became harder to get--it seems like all the small intel programs developed strictly for AFG and Iraq ie "ISR Topoff", "Attack the Network" "big data solutions" and a new "cloud driven"distributed intel system and others were nestled under TRACDOC G2 and the Training Brain--and the survival plan was being built for the Training Brain by BAE and the sub contractors working for them.

No one could get DCGS to work but boy did the defense contractors have visions for the future.

Every defense contractor and their employees were simply looking for new homes thus new funding in order to keep their jobs not improve the military.

Would guess out of the roughly 726M USDs spent on the program over 600M USDs went into the pockets of defense contractors and the running costs of the Training Brain who was tasked to support it thus it had it's hands in the pie as well.

A more detailed story about the recent demise of the Human Terrain System, written by a critical anthropologist, can be found in the magazine Counterpunch here…. The author's attitude is quite up front, but SWJ readers will also find some useful background as well.
I am also a long-standing member of the anthropology tribe, and while some of the negative comments about us academics in SWJ are justified -- yes, we can be self-promoting, intellectual snobs, naive, grandstanding, opportunism, irrelevant -- there are also plenty of people in academia who want to do the right thing, in this case, save innocent lives (U.S. military and Afghan-Iraqi civilian). And that this is harder than it looks. And that the HTS management was too focused on showing how effective it was to its superiors instead of allowing some of the competent social scientists to do their jobs right. Perhaps the military should develop its own anthropology program.

Outlaw 09

Fri, 07/03/2015 - 1:48am

The following are two key lessons learned out of the Ukraine fighting--there have been an unusual number of top US historians who have stepped up and are pushing back against Russian propaganda--when some in congress are actually supporting the propaganda.

The second is serious and the US Army should take notice.

Ukraine's Language War: American historian opines on make-believe language problem…

Biggest threat to militaries of the 21st century seems to be idiot soldiers who take selfies with geolocation info

101st Ranger

Thu, 07/02/2015 - 6:55pm

The HTS did not have qualified personnel to fill the number of positions that were created. The underperforming hires spoiled the program for all. The PRT recruitment was similar. The PRT leads were mass produced and qualifications such as city council member in Tacoma,WA or President of the Fairfax Little League indicated strong candidates for hire. That doesn't equate to success in Afghanistan. As a whole we need to "do less, better."

Outlaw 09

Thu, 07/02/2015 - 2:37pm

Having briefed the specific need for human domain information to the then Naval Cmdr of the JIED Task Force in Baghdad in 2005 and even laid out a formulated project at the time together with someone else a civilian handling the contractor info war that had been hired --BUT human domain that we were extremely short on-- on the interrogation side ----I watched it grow into a massive boondoggle where civilians and ex militay got GS13 positions and six digit incomes and the two I briefed on the critical needs of field interrogators got hired at the director and asst director then they got kicked out later under fraud abuses in the program.

It has been a boobdoggle from the beginning but was protected by the so called "Training Brain located in VA." in the last years where it had been nested into as a way to build an empire for the SES there along with other small intel contractor driven projects that should have been killed as well three years ago but kept alive due to "cash flows".

Good riddance--a sad mistake that has cost the US taxpayer hard
earned cash.

And field interrogators never got what they needed------human domain information.


Wed, 07/01/2015 - 12:05pm

In reply to by GBNT73

Beyond the problem of the commander being the "smartest/wisest" in the room, the Army likes conventional warfare. They like it a lot, and the idea that winning a war might require something other than killing people and blowing stuff up is as foreign to far too many Army personnel as veganism is to cannibals. Afghanistan and Iraq demonstrated, quite nakedly, that the Army and Air Force in particular spent a solid decade preparing to fight the wrong war (driven in part by budget constraints, but they could have easily prepared for something else with the same budget they had available to them during the 1990's). And yet, many senior commanders and retirees continue to argue that all wars should be fought as repeats of Desert Storm, notwithstanding the fact that the Gulf War obviously wasn't the "decisive action" it's made out to be. Perhaps even more unsettling is the perpetual use of the Second World War as the ironclad baseline, in a manner roughly reminiscent of commanders in 1914 who tried to fight the Great War with Napoleonic-era tactics.

thedrosophil: Here, here. *hand slap on table* The Army has no idea what to do with real expertise because expertise (defined as experience with a high level of focused education) reveals flaws in the sacred cows of bureaucracy and officer politics. The Army has herds of sacred cows. Here, the chief relevant sacred cow being "that the commander is always right." Primary corollary to that sacred cow is that "the commander is the smartest/wisest one in the room." Irregular warfare is too far outside the sacred cow training curricula for most Army officers and senior NCOs to grasp, and bringing in experts who understand the underpinnings of IW (or "wars amongst the people") highlighted the deep flaws in Army "learning" for those populations.

Robert C. Jones

Thu, 07/02/2015 - 9:15am

This was never more than a tactical Band-Aid designed for a specific tactical mission. That mission is over, so "killing" this program is no different than ending any of the other myriad support activities created to support operations in Iraq and Afghanistan.

The larger issues are that the Army actually believed this to be a strategic effort that could help overcome the fundamental strategic flaws inherent in the US understanding of these types of conflicts in general, and in those two conflicts in particular. It was not.

And If I never have to listen to one more HTS anthropological "expert" brief that "An Afghani is money, and not a person," and then sit down with a look of smug "I've save these cultural ignoramuses and the war" on their faces, it is a good day.

A bad idea, poorly executed. Good riddance.

Now, lets focus on what we really need: A plan to identify those regions and populations truly critical to US vital interests, and a program of benign, persistent engagement activities (not based on training security forces) to put the right people, in the right places, in the right manner to develop the true cultural understanding necessary to build our understanding, influence and relationships over time.

Second, to step back from the science of how people are unique that is so essential for good tactics, and to dedicate effort on the study of how people are the same that is so essential for good strategy. It is our want of strategic understanding that is the foundation of our strategic failures, not our confusion over what to call an Afghan. (And anthropologists can't help much with this.)

Bill M.

Wed, 07/01/2015 - 2:52pm

In reply to by thedrosophil

Agree, I generally find myself in the role of defending the military to further the debate. Quite frankly few others lower themselves to that level ::-). That doesn't mean I really support our stupidity.


Wed, 07/01/2015 - 1:46pm

In reply to by Bill M.

Very relevant observations as always, Bill. I would encourage you to see some of the discussion between myself and Sparapet on <A HREF="… thread</A>. A few thoughts.

First: the HTS folks' understanding of national and military objectives requires that such objectives exist in a coherent manner in the first place, and that commanders display the competence to translate those objectives into actionable missions and communicate commander's intent to their subordinates, be they uniformed or otherwise. Neither of those factors are the fault of the HTS folks.

Second, as I mentioned elsewhere, I'm not convinced that the ranks of career academia are the right place to recruit for HTS-style functions. Recent social science graduates who have no intention of continuing in academia, and who can be paid more competitively, could be recruited and trained to apply those fresh skills to meet military objectives. For various reasons, I think that this role would be best filled by civil service or contractor personnel, rather than uniformed personnel.

Third, we'll have to agree to disagree on the causes of military anti-intellectualism. I've seen too much evidence of a self-sustaining culture to accept that it can all be chalked up to bureaucracy and poor planning.

Bill M.

Wed, 07/01/2015 - 11:59am

In reply to by thedrosophil

On the other hand, the anthropologist probably didn't understand our national and military objectives. If true, they wouldn't have the ability or desire to make their expertise relevant to the military. We have all seen our share of academic experts who can wax and want endlessly as they criticize, but offer little in the way of practical suggestions on the way forward. There are very few Kilcullens in the world. Is the military really anti-intellectual? Perhaps, but I think that is a result of our bureaucracy and planning systems more than our individual service members. Are academics always intellectual? I offer that is a dangerous assumption.


Wed, 07/01/2015 - 8:14am

That line, "no longer had a need for the advice of civilian anthropologists", should read "Never understood the need, and finally killed the program because it continued to tell the Army something they didn't want to hear".