Small Wars Journal

Institutional Failure: USA Today and the Human Terrain System

Mon, 03/28/2016 - 7:31pm

Institutional Failure: USA Today and the Human Terrain System

Michael C. Davies

The Human Terrain System (HTS) has found itself in the news again. A feat of considerable effort as the program ceased operations in September 2014. The latest reports via USA Today’s Tom Vanden Brook that the program remains alive and well, but under a new name, continues a long procession of poor reporting on the topic of HTS by him. Vanden Brook’s reporting over the course of the past two years is so obviously born of little-to-no genuine research, minimal analytical effort, and maximum sensationalism it can only be described as an institutional failure.

However, the institutional failure is not Vanden Brook and USA Today’s alone. Many of the most senior and prominent members of the American Anthropological Association (AAA) have also exhibited these same proclivities regarding HTS. These individuals have engaged in ‘research’ on HTS that fails basic academic standards. They have done so with impunity for many years, and continued to do so as the evidence against their initial and long-continued accusations have piled up ever-higher in front of them. It is the narratives offered by these individuals, along with zealous bloggers, that have formed a distorted view of the program, born of its mistakes and failures during its early years, for those like Vanden Brook turn up the Wurlitzer, and together misinform the public to the present day.[i]

The primary purpose of this article is to redirect energy towards far more useful pursuits on the many of the topics, issues, and concerns related to HTS. That is only possible by slaying the current purveyors of false and self-serving narratives. Thus, this article will undertake an examination of the work by Tom Vanden Brook on HTS, beginning with this authors’ engagement with the USA Today reporter on his initial pieces and ending with his latest set of articles. The discussion will offer a minimalist investigation into the work conducted by senior members of the AAA related to the reported end of HTS in June-July 2015 to the present day. A larger analysis of their work is most definitely warranted, as are ethical reviews by their respective employers, but the space offered here does not warrant it and would require significant intellectual and resource investment.

Finally, both as my primary work on HTS shows,[ii] and as has been previously openly stated,[iii] never should HTS’s failures, problems, and issues be swept under the rug. Nothing that will be contained within this piece should misconstrue the reader that any of the problems affecting HTS are being denied, only that all available evidence should be presented, and that evidence, in turn, should be contextualized accurately and analyzed professionally. In fact, the very problems HTS suffered should be widely acknowledged, and in turn, must be studied, analyzed, and learned from precisely because this authors own work on other programs, concepts, and processes within the U.S. national security system have validated their existence elsewhere and relationship to strategic effectiveness. This work conducted relating to the wars of 9/11 at the National Defense University (NDU) holds at its core that ground truth, in-depth analysis, and strong conclusions are the necessary foundation of victory, however small or large. Thus, to do otherwise is to invite defeat, further mistakes, and prolong vapid debates.

Unethical Beginnings

Before analyzing the specifics of Vanden Brook’s reporting, it would help to contextualize these problems by recounting the initial engagement with him in narrative form because it will offer insights into his continued efforts. In early 2013, members of the NDU research team were contacted by Vanden Brook about HTS as he was intending to write an article on the program and had received a copy of the second draft of what would become our book, Human Terrain Teams, via one of our interviewees.[iv] Vanden Brook stated he intended to quote from the draft within his article even though the draft was six months old, a draft, and was marked not for attribution.[v] Though highly disappointed our work had ended up in the hands of a journalist against our express desire, as we had completed the study and were in the process of preparing it for publication, we decided to work with Vanden Brook to ensure our analysis and conclusions were accurately conveyed to better inform the public on the program. As this was to be the first publicly released in-depth assessment of HTS,[vi] and because of the controversy surrounding the program, the vital importance of such a desire was obvious.

As part of the agreement to use the latest version of the study, we stated without equivocation that the latest version of the study that had been formatted for publication would not be shared with any third party, both verbally and in writing. Vanden Brook agreed and followed up with the relevant selections of his article once written. Upon receipt of his draft article, we expressed our vehement disagreement in writing as Vanden Brook had selectively quoted from our study, ignored context, and avoided our multi-faceted conclusions, using only selected parts to booster an easily noticeable narrative that did not reflect our facts as presented. Vanden Brook offered to make revisions but suggested his assessment was based on all relevant facts available to him. Considering we had been studying the program non-stop for well over 12 months at that stage and had concluded what one reviewer would eventually call, “a meticulous examination of the program during its early days, as well as a detailed explanation of variable team performance in the field,”[vii] it was interesting, as he had seemingly only engaged with the program for less than a month.

Within about a week, Vanden Brook’s first article was published.[viii] Not only had much of our work been dismissed from the article, the same criticisms as before—inaccurate context, avoidance of evidence, and ignoring conclusions—remained just as valid. Worse, we now saw the ‘evidence’ that Vanden Brook had amassed to reject our own. We protested directly to Vanden Brook who merely dismissed them once more as irrelevant. Our interaction with Vanden Brook validated the worst assumptions one could make about journalists.[ix]

A full understanding of Vanden Brook’s intentions, however, came within the next 24 hours when we discovered that both the draft and the formatted version we had provided had been put online by the Professor of Anthropology at Concordia University in Montreal, Canada, Maximillian Forte, via his website, Zero Anthropology.[x] That these files originated from Vanden Brook is without doubt. First and foremost, considering the history of leaks within the program, we feared this precise circumstance. To ensure we could track the perpetrators who abused our trust and goodwill, unique identifiers were imbedded in every single draft sent out. Moreover, the formatted draft Vanden Brook received was unique. Unfinished or non-core parts of the study such as the preface by Lt. General Michael T. Flynn and the index were stripped out. It did not even have a front or back cover by that stage. And again, a unique identifier was embedded. All Vanden Brook received was the study itself and the numbers matched perfectly, both of the draft Vanden Brook had obtained initially and the formatted version.

We contacted Vanden Brook and his editor about this obvious breach of journalistic ethics. The charges were denied in full and no further communication was ever made from their side. No attempt, as far as we know, was ever attempted to de-conflict our proof with USA Today’s denial by the newspaper itself.

Upon a direct request to Forte in a few short hours, describing this similarly unethical behavior, the files were removed from Zero Anthropology and an apology was provided, claiming it was a mistake. But Forte also expressed that he saw no inherent problem with putting an obviously unfinished draft he had no rights over with “not for Quoting or Dissemination” within its margins, along with an obviously unfinished book, online. Forte simply claimed he was well within his rights to do so because he publishes his work online and because the drafts had been “circulating by email, along with other documents obtained via FOIA.” This point further backs our claim against Vanden Brook as a key piece of Vanden Brook’s original report was the discussion on the investigations on HTS obtained via Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) requests that had not previously been seen by the public.[xi] Forte also ended his response by expressing no remorse for [likely] causing our publishers to lose money from offering their product for free many months before publication. It is only due to the desire of the senior leadership of the Institute for National Strategic Studies at NDU at the time to avoid a brushfire with little purpose to the mission of the University that these actions were never brought to light at the time.[xii]

Vanden Brook would publish again on HTS shortly thereafter, offering comments by Congressman Duncan Hunter (R-CA) on the issue of HTS.[xiii] A common occurrence in all of Vanden Brook’s articles to the present day.

HTT Effectiveness

Within the articles on HTS themselves, Vanden Brook’s analytical dishonesty is built around distorting and ignoring context and timelines to establish a deceptive narrative. Beginning with the most obvious falsehood, is Vanden Brook’s assertion of wide-spread worthlessness of the deployed Human Terrain Teams (HTTs) themselves:

And many commanders deemed worthless—or worse—the reports the teams produced. In one case, the commander of a brigade combat team in Iraq told the Army investigator that he ‘relied very little on his (Human Terrain team) and viewed them as incapable and of little value. He never looked at his team's products and believed their survey efforts actually created anxiety among the local Iraqi populace.’[xiv]

A single brigade commander is used as evidence to back up this claim. The problem is of course that the work Vanden Brook uses within his article to solidify his totalizing argument says the exact opposite. Through a combined analysis of all available commander assessments via three other assessments the NDU research team had amassed,[xv] including the mammoth interviewee data gathered by the Institute for Defense Analyses (IDA), along with interviews the NDU team conducted themselves, the outcome is clear and definitive and cannot be avoided with even a cursory glace within the study itself:[xvi]

As the reader can plainly see, though definitions approximately vary across studies, the overwhelming majority of commanders[xvii] saw their HTT’s as useful, often desiring more teams, more members, and greater numbers in general.

In cases where there was partial success, it was due to ineffective team members affecting entire teams, particularly the highly effective ones, personnel rotating in and out of theater leaving fewer and/or unproductive members to muddle through, not enough personnel being on teams at any one time, and highly destructive personnel being introduced into the teams. Effective teams were those that managed these very same problems to stop them affecting their capabilities.

Commanders themselves were part of the equation. Their ability to deal with the realities of the modes of warfare in Iraq and Afghanistan and embrace explanations based around norms, values, and political interaction were critical to the effectiveness of the teams.

Ineffective teams were those who either fractured due to personality clashes, bad leadership, commanders and staffs who focused on kinetic destruction, or generally ineffective and unqualified individuals—of which there were many, particularly in the early years.[xviii] Interestingly, our research also concluded that team members themselves judged the effectiveness of their teams far more harshly than their own commanders. The single quote from a commander used by Vanden Brook is an example of how team ineffectiveness can be qualified. But it is clear, this quote is the one and only piece of evidence Vanden Brook has ever produced across a slew of articles on HTS[xix] to back his claim of wide-spread programmatic ineffectiveness in the field. And he did it with the evidence that directly contracted this assertion in his hands at the time.

The misuse of the available evidence by Vanden Brook is compounded by one of the very examples he uses of team ineffectiveness. Vanden Brook quotes from a sworn statement, contained within the Army’s investigation he was able to obtain. The statement narrative revolves around an “unidentified team leader” who stated that in “attempting to enforce government rules on overtime,…[m]embers of the team ‘conspired together to have me fired (because) I refused to bow to their wishes for unconstrained overtime (and) comp time hours.’” This story is quite famous within HTS lore, and is covered in Human Terrain Teams, and it is doubtful, though the possibility that the story about to be told is a different individual to the one quoted by Vanden Brook is retained: A Team Leader arrived on what had been touted by the commander as an effective team. The leader proceeded to reject all requests for team members to participate in any meetings, refused to allow them on missions he did not set up himself, and rejected any and all arguments that anyone was working beyond the maximum arbitrarily-imposed limits, or at least only signed off on time sheets that stated so. The Team Leaders’ actions were so poisonous, after a time, the brigade commander told the senior HTS member in Afghanistan to, “get this [….] clown off of my base.”[xx]

In an act that defies reason, and is a testament to many of the problems within the management team of the program across the years and multiple program managers, the same team leader was later redeployed a few years later into Afghanistan once more as Team Leader. Continuing the tradition of destroying pre-existing relationships, the exasperated team produced a “17-page critique” of the Team Leader. The team members who produced this were either reassigned or quit in disgust at being reassigned, while the Team Leader stayed on, continued his destructive practices, and made life miserable for the only replacement available for an entire team who had been in country for many months.[xxi] It would seem self-evident that journalistic sources should not be the very fonts of failure that are being described.

Vanden Brook also mischaracterizes Human Terrain Teams conclusions to meet his narrative. Stating that,

USA TODAY has also obtained a soon-to-be published report by the National Defense University, a Pentagon-affiliated think tank, noting that Human Terrain System efforts ‘collectively were unable to make a major contribution to the counterinsurgency effort.’ The reason, according to the report: The Army failed to adopt the principles of counterinsurgency warfare….

While the National Defense University report, to be published by the Institute for World Politics, praised the military’s interest in cultural understanding, it concluded that the Army is expanding a program without a cogent strategy for success. The report concluded: “If the program cannot learn from its past, or fades away for lack of support or other reasons, it is quite likely that the future of socio-cultural knowledge in U.S. military forces will be much like its past—a story of too little knowledge, obtained and disseminated at great cost, and often too late to ensure success.”

The conclusions of the study—not simply the final pages of the ‘Conclusion’ chapter—speak about the multi-faceted issues HTS and HTTs had to deal with, overcome, and adapt to throughout its life, sometimes successfully, other times not. Vanden Brook is using only part of the conclusions generated by the study, as related to the U.S. Department of Defense and the U.S. Army more generally, not HTS specifically, to make it seem like they agree with his prior false claim of programmatic ineffectiveness. Considering it is now obvious that the Department of Defense, particularly the U.S. Army, are intent on minimizing functional and institutional changes that prepare for anything but conventional warfare—otherwise known as ‘core competencies’—once more,[xxii] these conclusions were rather prescient. But they are not conclusions that endorse Vanden Brook’s prior assertions.

Organizational Failures

The most damning and legitimate part of Vanden Brook’s reporting is related to the sexism,[xxiii] racism, and corruption that did affect HTS, particularly throughout its early years. Other forms were prejudice were on display as well.[xxiv] This was born of, first, the programs “catastrophic success”[xxv]—the requirement to rapidly build a very large program that was only a test with a small management team at the time the requirement arrived. Second, the wholly unacceptable behavior of the personnel contractors in this period, particularly BAE Systems, who were responsible for finding and sending individuals to the program in a way that was described as merely finding “warm bodies”[xxvi] to meet their contract obligations.[xxvii] An issue which has ebbed and flowed with attention on HTS,[xxviii] but has been at the forefront of HTS’s internal dynamics since its early days. As an example, correspondence was sent to BAE Systems, as shown in Christopher Sims’ recently released book on HTS, that “provides detailed analysis of the problems with specific personnel in the program and that continued problems without resolution should lead to BAE Systems terminating the contract.”[xxix] Finally, the laissez-faire training and team management style because of a lack of program management personnel and the highly variable individuals joining the program. The program therefore went through “a ‘best guess’ process permitted by…an ‘anything goes’ period in U.S. military affairs.”[xxx] This led to all manner of problems, just as Vanden Brook outlines, and is a constant throughout the NDU study as well as every other important in-depth work on HTS,[xxxi] not to mention form a core part of Montgomery McFate and Janice H. Laurence’s recently released book on HTS, featuring chapters written by management and team members on their time with the program.[xxxii]

The problem of pay was another issue that has received a lot of attention, though it has been blown far out of proportion related to the facts. To be clear, before HTS was forced to make its personnel members of the Department of the Army Civilians, all HTS personnel were contractors, including many of its managers. Both before and after the transition to U.S. Government status, individuals were highly paid, though less so after the transition. This is because contracted and government personnel in the field are paid by the hours they work, hence the consternation over time cards. However, this was not always an issue of fraud. The contracting companies themselves differed on what they considered work time and not, leading to significant confusion amongst people in theater. Government rules and regulations can be a literal minefield as well. For example, if in the field, outside the confines of a forward operating base, is time spent asleep considered work hours if in a combat zone? Does time at the gym, since it is necessary to meet the physical requirements of combat conditions? Does time spent reading? The answers to this differed by contractors and management personnel, when they employed someone, and whether the team member knew about this or not. More than that, few external commenters understand that when in-theater, spare time does not really exist, there is little to do, particularly on small bases, but work. Working a 14-hour day, or more, is normal because it is what is demanded of you by the fact you are on a military base in a combat zone.[xxxiii] Working a standard, civilian-style 8-hour day takes intentional effort and destroys one credibility in the process.[xxxiv]

Similarly, what is often left out of the discussion, is that U.S. Government rules demand these salaries in combat conditions. Combat pay, away-from-home pay, hardship pay, and numerous other salary requirements are the norm in both contracting and government processes by law. Thus if an individual, whose base salary is already above $100,000 because of their experience level on federal employee wage systems, spent 4-6 months training with HTS, was working 14-hour-plus days in an active combat zone, for 10-14 months straight, of course they will see a significant paycheck.[xxxv] All U.S. Government personnel—Department of State, Defense, the Intelligence Community, and even the FBI must abide by these same rules and regulations. Peter van Buren, in his book on his time in Iraq on a State Department Provincial Reconstruction Team, We Meant Well, noted that his salary while deployed would net him and his colleagues approximately $250,000.[xxxvi] It is also documented that the FBI suffered from the same problems of time card fraud.[xxxvii] Without a doubt other expeditionary programs suffered from similar problems. Within HTS, it cannot, and will not, be denied that many individuals took advantage of the confusions, inefficiencies, and lack of management capacity[xxxviii] to abuse this for their own financial end, particularly in the early years of the program, and that attempts to manage these problems by decree, such as the story noted earlier, led to significant team and management failures.[xxxix] But there were other mitigating circumstances to the entire issue that Vanden Brook and many others conveniently leave out. Again, the problems and failures of HTS will not be denied, but it is imperative they be put into the proper context and appropriate evidence is presented instead of making broad, sweeping statements to build an unsustainable narrative.

These legitimate issues eventually form an essential problem with Vanden Brook’s reporting—one that continues to this day. Vanden Brook is asserting that these issues are wide-spread and ongoing and were a prime cause of the programs’ eventual demise. First and foremost, the very evidence Vanden Brook continually relies upon comes from a damning report issued in 2010, on events between the program’s initiation in 2006 and 2010. Vanden Brook began publishing on HTS in 2013. In one of his most recent articles, he observed that, “the Army said it had terminated the controversial battlefield anthropology program, known as the Human Terrain System, which had been plagued by documented time sheet fraud, racism and sexual harassment.”[xl] The implicit assertion is that HTS was terminated because of the aforementioned fraud, racism, and sexual harassment. A narrative many others have latched onto as well.[xli] Yet, the program ended in late 2014. Not a single shred of actual evidence is presented that problems in 2007-2010 directly or indirectly led to the programs termination in 2014.

More than that, evidence about what happened between 2010 and 2014 exists. In an article in Joint Force Quarterly by Clifton Green, he outlines what he terms a “turnaround”[xlii] within the organization. Green was a Human Resources Manager within HTS. He was a prime witness to the changes and their effect. In particular, Green notes the termination of multiple employees, new and better management, more stringent hiring criteria—especially once BAE Systems lost the personnel contract, and that those wishing to redeployed once more were forced to repeat training since it was constantly being updated. These changes, “enhanced the program’s ability to fine-tune recruiting requirements...” and thus, “[b]y 2013, terminations for cause had declined greatly.”[xliii] This article was published online many days before Vanden Brook published his article on the end of HTS, describing it as “plagued” with problems, directly inferring they led to the programs termination.[xliv] Clearly he did not conduct any sort of due diligence, follow-up, or engagement with anyone within the program either then, before his prior articles, or later about the status of the ‘plague’ at the present time.[xlv]

Responding to Vanden Brook

It was not until after the publication of Human Terrain Teams, and after Vanden Brook continued to offer up his obvious falsehoods[xlvi] in the face of evidence to the contrary that any response came from the NDU team. As a gentle warning, in a response to similar failures of evidence and analysis by Gian Gentile on HTS,[xlvii] this author made many of the same points made here, naming Vanden Brook as another purveyor of fictions:

Tom Vanden Brook, a USA Today reporter, makes an uninformed assessment of HTT performance when he asserts commanders were disdainful of HTTs because of they were “worthless.” To support this observation he cites a single brigade commander. Such errors do a disservice to public debate over the program.[xlviii]

My co-authors, Christopher J. Lamb and James Douglas Orton would be a little more forthright in their expanded critique of Vanden Brook via Defense News a few months later. Though not named, Vanden Brook is the clear object of the critique: “Over the past year some news articles have promoted the claim that the [Human Terrain T]eams are poorly managed and ineffective.” In a plea to Congressman Duncan Hunter, Lamb and Orton requested he and other interested Representatives not “rely on bad reporting to make this important decision” regarding the future of HTS. The authors once again ran through many of the falsehoods in the media promoted by Vanden Brook and others, and what the evidence actually suggests.[xlix] Sadly, these gentle nudges and offerings had little effect.

“Lying to Win”

Before moving to the reported end of HTS, it would be worthwhile to recount another target of Vanden Brook’s ire in between his ‘reporting’ on HTS as it enhances the charges laid here. In early 2015, Vanden Brook wrote an article titled, “A-10 Warplane Tops List for Friendly-Fire Deaths.”[l] The A-10 Warthog is a close air support aircraft specifically designed to operate close to the ground at the forward edge of any battlefield. Its job is to destroy enemy targets as they approach friendly forces on the ground. It is an aircraft that opposes the identity, organizational culture, and desired missions of the U.S. Air Force.[li] The article regarded the aircrafts engagements in Iraq and Afghanistan, and its role in friendly fire incidents and civilian deaths. The article unsurprisingly mirrors many of the same analytical failures outlined here.

Tony Carr, a U.S. Air Force veteran and Distinguish Flying Cross winner, who writes under the pseudonym John Q. Public, described Vanden Brook’s reporting as a “lamentable piece of reporting, with Vanden Brook perhaps unwittingly advancing a despicable bundle of lies on behalf of the unnamed officials who made him their message mule.”[lii] The failures described are Vanden Brook’s use of ‘evidence’ to meet a narrative, even though the evidence does not back up that narrative. Specifically, 1) that the data on civilian casualties used by Vanden Brook was constrained to a short period, but the data on friendly fire incidents were across the entire span of the wars of 9/11, therefore providing wildly inaccurate measures; 2) the data used is focused on civilian deaths, not civilian casualties, the proper method of accountability; 3) Coalition aircraft incidents are not counted; and 4) focusing on total deaths rather than the rate at which deaths occurred as a function of total sorties. When the figures adjusted to common, accepted, and accurate measures of effectiveness, the conclusion becomes: the A-10 presents “15 to 20 times less risk to civilian casualties than the B-1.”[liii] When seen in context of Vanden Brook’s reporting on HTS, it is clear that journalistic ethics and accurately presenting evidence are not his priorities.[liv]

The End of HTS

The end of the Human Terrain System was first announced to the public on June 29, 2015 via the website, Counterpunch, by critic of the program, Roberto Gonzalez, Professor of Anthropology at San Jose University.[lv] A few hours later, Vanden Brook would release his own article.[lvi] Gonzalez’s piece would unleash a veritable avalanche of articles on HTS, from those praising the move,[lvii] to those deriding the decision,[lviii] to those questioning what comes next.[lix] The program had ended expeditionary operations in early September 2014, with the program itself closing a few days later.

Gonzalez’s article is an amalgam of the dishonesty shown by the anthropological community’s commentary on HTS: deriding any work done by the teams without any genuine, let alone systemic, analysis of the actual work conducted in the field: “Department of Defense photos portrayed HTS personnel sitting on rugs while drinking tea with Afghan elders, or distributing sweets to euphoric Iraqi children. Here was a war that Americans could feel good about.” Accusations of the harm the program does to others with no evidence back it up: “the potential harm it might bring to Iraqi and Afghan civilians—and to future generations of social scientists who might be accused of being spies when conducting research aboard.” Gonzales also uses commentary such as Gentile’s[lx] aforementioned article[lxi] simply because it backs up his pre-existing beliefs, while ignoring that the article was challenged not just by myself, but another commentator[lxii] who saw the analysis as self-evidently weak and without merit. Gonzalez would repeat the same points a few days later in another publication.[lxiii]

In another incident directly related to these events, and equally illuminating to the overall argument presented here, a few months after the end of HTS was announced, Gonzalez would co-author another Counterpunch article with fellow anthropologist and critic of HTS, David Price. Titled, “The use and Abuse of Culture (and Children): The Human Terrain System’s Rationalization of Pedophilia in Afghanistan,”[lxiv] the article discusses issue of pedophilia in Afghanistan, and the engagement with this topic by HTS personnel, particularly the original HTS Senior Social Scientists Montgomery McFate, and the now famous Pashtun Sexuality report authored by then-HTT Social Scientists, AnnaMaria Cardinalli.[lxv] This report and the issue it discusses is one of the most referenced pieces on or about HTS, and at the time of its creation, many individuals would have preferred the report was never written, let alone released, because of what was described as its “poor methodology and reasoning.”[lxvi] The article describes HTS as enabling pederasty by describing it as culturally derived and an example of “off-the-shelf Orientalist stereotypes.”[lxvii] The Counterpunch article further uses the work by Jeffrey Bordin, A Crisis of Trust and Cultural Incompatibility,[lxviii] then a TRADOC Red-Team Analyst and later a HTT member, as means to means to further their argument, suggesting that, “Bordin downplays child abuse a cultural quirk.”[lxix] By downplaying the act of child abuse as a cultural fact of Afghan life, Gonzalez and Price argue that HTS is rationalizing child abuse and therefore allowing it.

Gonzalez and Price never actually provide evidence that the work by Cardinalli and Bordin led to this ‘rationalization.’ They merely cite a comment from McFate and a report that “training materials” were provided to Soldiers and Marines “in which sexual assault is explicitly described as a ‘cultural’ phenomenon in Afghanistan,” and move forward into a discussion on counterinsurgency theory. No direct connection is ever established. This is important as the words of the two authors Gonzalez and Price are deriding directly contradict such assertions in the first place. In the case of Cardinalli, her own book, Crossing the Wire, about her time in the program and the report which garnered significant coverage, is not referenced at all by Gonzalez and Price. If they had read it, they would have seen that Cardinalli says that, “It … requires generational involvement if an intervention in the cycle is going to take place. At least one generation of children must grow up experiencing unviolated safety.”[lxx] Stronger family relations, better policing, and economic stability are the three initial recommendations Cardinalli make to achieve this generation. Cardinalli is not rationalizing the behavior, suggesting it should be allowed to continue, merely offering how it is justified by those who conduct such acts, while offering solutions on how to precisely stop it. Bordin, however, offers a stinging and heated response aimed directly at Gonzalez and Price, along with another author of a separate article, for misrepresenting his work as they have:

Nowhere in this document, or in any others I have produced, do I state such an immoral proclamation for troops to ignore any type of abuse they observed in Afghanistan, quite the contrary. My question to all three of you is did you even bother to read this Red Team field study before making these false accusations?[lxxi]

Bordin ends his rejoinder by accusing Gonzalez and Price of engaging in “despicable lies…reflective of both gross negligence and moral cowardice.” The magnitude of Bordin’s anger speaks to how poorly reflective the analysis and reporting of Gonzalez and Price is, and, in this authors opinion, has been on all issues related to HTS since the very beginning.

It is within this zeitgeist created since HTS began, born of intentional misinformation and bias, that articles are published regarding the end of the program. Titles like, “Army’s Anthropology Experiment Ends in Defeat,” which are repeating Vanden Brook’s tales that “the death blow came because of corruption and severe mismanagement.”[lxxii] Let me be very clear here: The Human Terrain System ended because the requirement for deployed teams in Afghanistan was no longer warranted due to the lack of general purpose forces in combat and the revision of special operations teams to purely kinetic, high-value targeting missions within multiple theaters. This is on top of the fact Special Operations Command had built their own ‘human terrain’-like capability external to HTS. In fact, it is Vanden Brook himself who relates this information: “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.”[lxxiii]

Furthermore, in an article that will be vitally important just below, a senior advisor in the U.S. Army’s Training and Doctrine Command’s intelligence branch, and former member of the HTS management team, Gary Phillips, says about the end of HTS: He [Phillips] “disputed the notion that [HTS], managed by TRADOC, was canceled altogether, as first reported by USA Today late last month. Rather, Phillips argued, there were simply no requirements for human terrain teams in any theater after Sept. 30, 2014. ‘The whole program was driven by requirements,’ he said.”[lxxiv] Just as the program had removed its teams in Iraq with the end of combat operations in 2010, with the end of the requirements from Afghanistan, the program itself was shuttered. HTS had made significant strides to improve both its managerial and team performance as outlined by Green above. But most importantly, nothing been produced, reported, or offered to suggest HTS was shuttered because of any mismanagement issues in the past, let alone in the very recent past. HTS ended because the combat requirement for its existence ended. Vanden Brook, and others who follow him, are making a statement that has no basis in fact.[lxxv]

Simultaneously, the lack of desire to institutionalize the program into formal U.S. Army structures is due to the very possibilities outlined in the NDU study[lxxvi]: The Army has no institutional desire to prepare for irregular warfare beyond superficial levels,[lxxvii] therefore large resource-intensive units have no place in the Big Army; only small, niche, and boutique organization are allowed to survive. Nor has the primary alternative to HTS, institutionalized practices and training,[lxxviii] been built to ensure an HTS-like capability is not needed because the knowledge, practices, and lessons are inherent within the Service. This is why so many ‘lessons learned’ units have been downgraded or shut down, most obviously the U.S. Army’s Irregular Warfare Center.[lxxix] The recently released Future of the Army[lxxx] report is clear in this desire. One analyst notes that the report “virtually ignores stability operations altogether.”[lxxxi] Though a member of the Commission team counters this by stating that increasing enablers, “such as logistics and military police,” is what is necessary to win wars fought by irregular means.[lxxxii] A statement that explicitly rejects core conclusions by those in the ‘lessons learned’ sectors of the national security establishment.

Nevertheless, it is out of the numerous articles written on the end of HTS that Vanden Brook does himself the greatest harm. His piece written on February 9, 2016 begins with the supposedly astounding pronouncement that HTS has been “revived” under a new brand, the Global Cultural Knowledge Network.[lxxxiii] He continues a month later with additional ‘reporting.’ An anonymous source offers some interesting commentary:

It is not clear why the Army said the program was dead, according to a Defense Department official who spoke on condition of anonymity because officials were not authorized to speak publicly about the program…. Not only is the Human Terrain System alive, the official said, but the Army could expand it if more money becomes available…. The Human Terrain System remains a program of record, which means it is designated to receive funding for years to come, the official said. Its current budget is about $1.2 million per year and employs two Army officers, two civilian employees and five contractors. Though there is no longer a requirement to deploy social scientists to battlefields, commanders have stated a need for social and cultural information in areas that they operate, the official said.[lxxxiv]

First of all, not a single quote from the unnamed official is in quote marks. They are all disjointed and paraphrased by Vanden Brook. It is therefore impossible to know just what precisely was said in the conversation, and considering his history of having a tenuous relationship to the truth, the language must be taken with the highest skepticism. Second, Vanden Brook himself reported the month before that the new program was called the Global Cultural Knowledge Network. HTS, as a program and a title, is deceased. So either the unnamed official is being misquoted and misconstrued by Vanden Brook, or their ‘facts’, individually or together, are not trustworthy. Finally, as Vanden Brook ends the article without another ‘quote’ that, “the Global Cultural Knowledge Network, the Defense official said, is not a replacement for the Human Terrain System but a part of it.” Again, as the program is dead, how can the Network be part of something that does not exist? If Vanden Brook’s quotes are word-for-word correct, the official is not a reputable source.

But most importantly, all of this was reported in July 2015. Justin Doubleday of Inside Defense, who had previously written before on HTS,[lxxxv] reported that TRADOC had used existing capabilities and requirements for sociocultural reporting into “…into a small program that will no longer send teams of social scientists into combat zones.” The program is called the Global Cultural Knowledge Network and operated “as a ‘reach-back’ resource for Army units preparing to deploy abroad.”[lxxxvi] Doubleday talked about the small team of individuals working on the program, how they had morphed out of HTS and towards the reach-back research cell designed to provide units in the field with reports on their area of operations. Should any requirement for field social scientists emerge, while the program would offer their “advice and assistance” on how to set up a team, it is up to the command, whether local, theater, Service, or Combatant Command, to do that themselves. The Network and TRADOC are not part of that. Vanessa Gezari, the author of another book on HTS, The Tender Soldier, also reported this very fact as well in August 2015. She adds further depth to the new Network:

It’s a ‘reachback’ center: a United States-based organization that conducts research to help deployed troops with sociocultural questions. Its purpose is, in part, to act as a placeholder. ‘Should we ever need to ramp up and expand capability, we have this nucleus,’ said Gary Phillips, a senior intelligence adviser in the Army’s Training and Doctrine Command. But Phillips said his command should never again deploy social scientists to the battlefield, because it lacks the administrative and support infrastructure to manage them. ‘I think we learned a heck of a lot,’ he told me.[lxxxvii]

The notion that this is breaking news, that the U.S. Army misled Congress or anyone else on the nature and character of the program, its ends, and what is currently underway is blatantly false. The necessary information has been readily available.

The journalistic malpractice conducted by Tom Vanden Brook has been born of little-to-no genuine research, minimal analytical effort, and maximum sensationalism. Across multiple years and a dozen articles, his work and personal ethics fail basic journalistic standards. The fact he has been allowed to continue to peddle his wares in such a manner is reprehensible and could only be described as an institutional failure within USA Today itself. A fact made worse by the obvious impact Vanden Brook’s reporting has had on specific members of Congress.


What has been presented here is but a small part of the topics, debates, and narratives that surround HTS. As have been repeatedly stated, never should any of the significant or insignificant problems, mistakes, and failures that occurred throughout the life of HTS be hidden from view. They give insights into problems throughout the entirety of the U.S. national security system and society writ-large, both of which relate directly to strategic effectiveness. But the blatant misreporting, evidentiary falsehoods, and unethical behavior should never be tolerated in any sector of society charged with illuminating public discourse.

In an effort to proceed to the next steps on what should occur on this issue, a series of recommendations will be made. These suggestions are aimed directly at Congressman Duncan Hunter  as he is clearly interested in the program, derides its failures, and, by his own words, wants to “take a closer look at Human Terrain Teams and other programs… because the military has not measured their effectiveness properly.”[lxxxviii] These recommendations, if enacted and completed, would also provide the public with the much needed knowledge and understanding of the program that will dissipate the fog that been intentionally raised over it by all sides.

Congressionally fund a full programmatic history of HTS. The CNA report had minimal time to engage with the program. The NDU study was denied direct interaction with the program. West Point and the IDA study had minimal offerings regarding programmatic history. What happened past 2010 to the very end within the program is important, because it offers an example of how to turn a Defense Department program around amidst significant failures and how to learn from mistakes. That story should be told, and a full programmatic history, from beginning to end, with direct access to all available information and personnel will achieve precisely that.

Congressionally fund separate longitudinal effectiveness studies for the HTTs in Iraq, Afghanistan, and Africa, differentiating effectiveness between the Human Terrain Analysis Teams, the Human Terrain Teams, and the individuals who operated with special operations forces. The NDU study only focuses on teams in Afghanistan in the first years of HTS’s life. The IDA and CNA studies placed all team and effectiveness data from all theaters together. The stories and assessments of each theater are vastly different and need to be told and analyzed independently. Recommendation 1 will help to put it all together, but operations, and therefore team effectiveness, in each theater, even each team locale, should be considered independent of one another. Moreover, simply looking at the ‘commanders’ as a lone variable of performance is limiting. A wider view of effectiveness with command staff and other military units and enablers is needed to get a fuller picture of how teams like HTTs operated and their effectiveness.

Bring together military, academic, and private funding initiatives to fund a study on the ethical issues related to HTTs. Much of the published work by senior members of the AAA and Network of Concerned Anthropologists (NCA) fails basic academic standards as they lack all but minimal levels of primary evidence, systematic analysis, systematic analysis of what insignificant primary evidence they do hold, on top of their engagement with the national security discourse they so readily dismiss and deride and therefore eagerly misunderstand.[lxxxix] Members of the AAA, and even CEAUSSIC report authors, readily discussed these inherent biases and their effect on the report.[xc] Together, these issues lead this author to conclude that the report is not credible. Similarly, as several of the chapters in Montgomery McFate and Janice Laurence’s new book on HTS, Social Science Goes to War, shows, many of the critiques by the AAA and NCA were without merit, but it remains a small sample.[xci] On the other hand, as Christopher Sims concludes, “the caliber of research that the team can achieve in a war zone is open to interpretation” precisely because of the “disordered environment” of a combat zone itself.[xcii] A more comprehensive analysis of the ethical issues involved in such work in practice is therefore required. This is where outside engagement with scholars as well as Government and military personnel and academics can be useful as it will bring the multiple worlds of those involved together to assess how each views ‘ethical’ engagement in a combat zone, and what the ground truth is on how the personnel acted in theater.

Congressionally fund effectiveness studies on Female Engagement Teams and Cultural Support Teams, differentiated between the teams used by general purpose forces and special operations forces. No study on either program in either composition exists, has been completed, or at least are publicly available if they do.[xciii] Both team concepts are either derived from HTS or existed in the same intellectual space, and were often brought to fruition by HTS-linked individuals. They also operated, overlapped, and intersected with HTTs in the field. In line with Recommendation 2 on the need to study how these programs operated, operated individually, and within the larger command structures, such a study would further the knowledge and understanding of fellow ‘culture’ centered programs operated in the field. This would also provide valuable information as women are further integrated into the U.S. military.

Congressionally fund a study on all current non-doctrinal sociocultural organizations like HTS. Following Recommendation 4, it is currently unknown just how many programs and organizations were created to look at the ‘culture’ issue during the wars of 9/11. A version of this recommendation was originally suggested along with the previously unfunded PACOM HTT test.[xciv] Programs like HTS have proliferated, few have been assessed, and no analysis exists to assess each program against their viability, effectiveness, or cross-purposes, let alone redundancies.

Have the HTS reports by the Center for Naval Analyses and the Institute for Defense Analyses publicly released. In order to further promote transparency on the program, and continue to learn from its failures and successes, the release of both reports in final published form in short order would provide scholars, Congress, the Defense Department, and interested individuals with greater evidence and analysis to enable more informed commentary on the program writ-large.

In Conclusion

In a highly valued act of solidarity with the U.S. military, Rep. Duncan Hunter has been at the forefront of protesting the punishment of soldiers who confronted the issue of child rape in Afghanistan.[xcv] His efforts have led to a full assessments of the issue by the offices of the Defense Department Inspector General.[xcvi] Yet, Hunter and his staff have yet to make the connection between that defense of military personnel who protested these actions and that HTS and other programs like it were instrumental in the awareness of the issue and how it affected military personnel in the field, and the strategic goals of the U.S. in Afghanistan more generally. Congressman Hunter needs to de-conflict this dissonance in order to better engage with the topics at hand, and the recommendations above offer a key avenue to achieve such an end.

In closing, it should go without saying that chest-thumping, particularly when done under the guise of little-to-no genuine research, minimal analytical effort, and maximum sensationalism does nothing but harm. Tom Vanden Brook of USA Today has a documented history of abusing the public’s trust and misinforming Congress to meet his own ends. This must end. Programs like HTS are microcosms of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan and elsewhere. Failures of imagination, understanding, effective execution, and even what victory means define these wars. These problems can only be remedied by better understanding the past and learning from it. People like Vanden Brook make that harder for the those of us doing exactly that.

The views expressed here are the author’s own and are not necessarily the views of any co-authors, the National Defense University, the U.S. Department of Defense, or the U.S. Government.

End Notes

[i] For the latest example, see Jeff Martin, “Army’s Human Terrain System Needs to Be Buried Once and for All,” AAA Blog, March 11, 2016, available at <>.

[ii] Christopher J. Lamb, James Douglas Orton, Michael C. Davies, and Theodore T. Pikulsky, Human Terrain Teams: An Organizational Innovation for Sociocultural Knowledge in Irregular Warfare (Washington, DC: Institute for World Politics Press, June 26, 2013); Christopher J. Lamb, James Douglas Orton, Michael C. Davies, and Theodore T. Pikulsky, “The Way Ahead for Human Terrain Teams,” Joint Force Quarterly 70 (3rd Quarter 2013), 21-29, available at <>.

[iii] Michael C. Davies, “The Truth About Human Terrain Teams: An Evidence-Based Response to Gian Gentile,” E-International Relations, September 21, 2013, available at: <>.

[iv] In order to meet the highest standards possible, we provided each interviewee, the HTS program, and other notable HTS scholars with copies of our first and second draft of the study. This enabled each interviewee to validate how we had used their words, provide additional information, context, and primary and secondary evidence, and double-check our own work.

[v] In each email in which the drafts were sent, as well as contained within the headers and watermark of the drafts themselves, it was made clear the drafts were not for distribution or attribution. Again, this was to ensure our work met the highest possible standards and reflected ground truth as closely as we could make it in its final form.

[vi] The Congressionally-mandated study by the Center for Naval Analyses was released for a matter of hours in February 2011, reportedly by mistake, then pulled offline and remains officially unavailable. It is publicly available via other websites, but CNA claims it has been revised. It is unknown to what extend the report has been revised, if at all.

[vii] Christopher Sims, “Academics in Foxholes: The Life and Death of the Human Terrain System,” Foreign Affairs, February 4, 2016, available at <>.

[viii] Tom Vanden Brook, “Army Plows Ahead with Troubled War-Zone Program,” USA Today, February 18, 2013, available at <>.

[ix] On the other hand, our engagement with Vanessa Gezari, the author of The Tender Soldier, has always been of the highest regard and professionalism.

[x] Maximilian Forte, “Documents: Investigations into the U.S. Army’s Human Terrain System,” Zero Anthropology, February 19, 2013, available at <>. It was on this post that the links to the NDU study draft and formatted draft were displayed. The site was changed without explanation with the removal of these documents.

[xi] Vanden Brook, “Army Plows Ahead with Troubled War-Zone Program.”

[xii] Maximilian C. Forte, email to Ted Pikulsky and Michael Davies, February 19, 2013. Copy of email in authors possession.

[xiii] Tom Vanden Brook, “Congressman: Troubled Army Program Needs More Oversight,” USA Today, February 19, 2013, available at <>.

[xiv] Vanden Brook, “Army Plows Ahead with Troubled War-Zone Program.”

[xv] Yvette Clinton, Virgina Foran-Cain, Julia Voelker McQuaid, Catherine E. Norman, and William H. Sims, Congressionally Directed Assessment of the Human Terrain System (Arlington, VA: Center for Naval Analyses, November 2010), available at <>; Jack A. Jackson et. al. Contingency Capabilities: Analysis of Human Terrain Teams in Afghanistan, Draft Final Report, IDA Paper P-4-4809; Log H11-001954/1 (Washington, DC: The Institute for Defense Analyses, December 2011); Cindy R. Jebb et al, Human Terrain Team Trip Report: A “Team of Teams,” Prepared for TRADOC G2 by the USMA’s Interdisciplinary Team in Iraq, 2008, available at <>. All reports are in author’s possession.

[xvi] See Lamb, et. al., Human Terrain Teams, 175-181.

[xvii] “Commanders” has primarily been described across all studies as brigade-level commanders, as that is the primary commander HTTs report to. However, some task forces with HTTs in Iraq and Afghanistan have been commanded by General Officers, while lower level commanders down to company-level, as well as staff officers have also been interviewed as they were the primary operational decision-makers of the teams in the field.

[xviii] Lamb, et. al., Human Terrain Teams, 170-181

[xix] Other similar assertions were made in later articles, “Equally troubling were dismissive comments from commanders in the field who found the reports of Human Terrain Teams to be worthless.” Tom Vanden Brook, “System Failure: Anthropologists on the Battlefield,” USA Today, August 11, 2013, available at <>; “Some commanders also questioned the value of the teams’ reports, according to Army documents,” Tom Vanden Brook, “Army Leaders Warned About Issues with Social Scientists,” USA Today, September 23, 2013, available at <>.

[xx] Lamb, et. al., Human Terrain Teams, 60.

[xxi] Ibid., 145.

[xxii] John Scales, “Thoughts as I Watch My Army Walk Away from Counterinsurgency Once Again,” Foreign Policy, February 11, 2016, available at <>.

[xxiii] Lamb, et. al., Human Terrain Teams, 142-144.

[xxiv] Joshua Foust, “What It’s Like to be Gay in the Ultra-Masculine NatSec Community,” Foreign Policy, September 30, 2015, available at <>.

[xxv] Montgomery McFate and Steve Fondacaro, “Reflections on the Human Terrain System During the First 4 Years,” PRISM 2, no. 4 (September 2011), 63-82, available at <>.

[xxvi] Lamb, et. al., Human Terrain Teams, 145.

[xxvii] Ryan Evans, “The Seven Deadly Sins of the Human Terrain System: An Insider’s Perspective,” FPRI, July 13, 2015, available at <>.

[xxviii] Spencer Ackerman, “Hundreds in Army Social Science Unqualified, Former Boss Says [Updated], Wired, December 21, 2010, available at <>; Christine Toomey, “Fields of Fire,” The Times Literary Supplement, February 3, 2016, available at <>.

[xxix] David Zacharias, letter to BAE Systems TSS Leadership, December 1, 2008. Cited in Christopher Sims, The Human Terrain System: Operationally Relevant Social Science Research in Iraq and Afghanistan (Carlisle, PA: Strategic Studies Institute, December 2015), 396, available at <>.

[xxx] Sims, The Human Terrain System, 372.

[xxxi] Vanessa M. Gezari, The Tender Soldier: A True Story of War and Sacrifice (New York: Simon & Schuster, August 13, 2013); Paul Joseph, “Soft” Counterinsurgency: Human Terrain Teams and US Military Strategy in Iraq and Afghanistan (New York: Palgrave MacMillan, 2014); Clinton, et. al., Congressionally Directed Assessment; Sims, The Human Terrain System.

[xxxii] Montgomery McFate and Janice H. Laurence, eds., Social Science Goes to War: The Human Terrain System in Iraq and Afghanistan (New York: Oxford University Press, 2015).

[xxxiii] Lamb, et. al., Human Terrain Teams, 149.

[xxxiv] Much of the contention over time cards could have been avoided with 1) fixed salary employment contracts or by 2) eliminating compensation time. 1) Derived from this authors assessment of the Civilian Expeditionary Workforce, forthcoming, NDU Press. 2) Clifton Green, email to author, March 16, 2016.

[xxxv] Clinton, et. al., Congressionally Directed Assessment, 88; Human Terrain Teams, 41.

[xxxvi] Peter Van Buren, We Meant Well: How I Helped Lose the Battle for the Hearts and Minds of the Iraqi People (New York: Metropolitan Books, 2011), 9.

[xxxvii] Office of the Inspector General, An Investigation of Overtime Payments to FBI and Other Department of Justice Employees Deployed to Iraq and Afghanistan (Washington, DC: Department of Justice, December 2008), available at <>.

[xxxviii] It was reported that a single U.S. Army soldier with no civilian finance background was responsible for timekeeping. Clifton Green, “Turnaround: The Untold Story of the Human Terrain System,” Joint Force Quarterly (3rd Quarter 2015), 64. However, after a year, additional individuals were brought into to run this section. Clifton Green, email to author, March 16, 2016.

[xxxix] Lamb, et. al., Human Terrain Teams, 149.

[xl] Tom Vanden Brook, “$725M Program Army ‘Killed’ Found Alive, Growing,” USA Today, March 10, 2016, available at <>.

[xli] Jonah Bennet, “Army Ends Social Science Program Fraught with Fraud and Sexual Harassment,” The Daily Caller, June 30, 2015, available at <>; Tobin Harshaw, “Army’s Anthropology Experiment Ends in Defeat,” BloombergView, July 15, 2015, available at <>; Darien Cavanaugh, “The U.S. Army’s Human Terrain System Was an Expensive Failure: And it Might be Coming Back,” War is Boring, March 27, 2016, available at <>.

[xlii] Green, “Turnaround.”

[xliii] Ibid.

[xliv] Tom Vanden Brook, “Army Kills Controversial Social Science Program,” USA Today, June 29, 2015, available at <>.

[xlv] In a later article, Vanden Brook writes, “To be fair, the Army says that most of the abuses has been addressed….” Vanden Brook, “System Failure.”

[xlvi] Ibid.

[xlvii] Gian Gentile, “Counterinsurgency: The Graduate Level of War or Pure Hokum?,” E-International Relations, August 3, 2013, available at <>.

[xlviii] Davies, “The Truth About Human Terrain Teams.”

[xlix] Christopher Lamb and Doug Orton, “Bad ‘News’ on a Good Program,” Defense News, January 7, 2014. For an unknown reason, this article is no longer available via the Defense News website. The author retains a copy.

[l] Tom Vanden Brook, “A-10 Warplane Tops List for Friendly-Fire Deaths,” Air Force Times, February 6, 2015, available at <>.

[li] Carl H. Builder, The Masks of War: American Military Styles in Strategy and Analysis (Santa Monica, CA: RAND, 1989); Robert M. Farley, Grounded: The Case for Abolishing the United States Air Force (Lexington, KY: The University Press of Kentucky, 2014); Douglas N. Campbell, The Warthog and the Close Air Support Debate (Annapolis, MD: Naval Institute Press, 2003).

[lii] ‘John Q. Public’, “Lying to Win: Air Force Misrepresents Combat Records in Campaign to Retire A-10,” John Q. Public, February 7, 2015, available at <>.

[liii] Emphasis in original. John Q. Public’, “Lying to Win.”

[liv] For another deconstruction of Vanden Brook’s report that described it as a “disgusting joke,” see ‘The Blue Suiter’, “Air Force One is Better at Close Air Support Than the A-10, Because Statistics,” Medium, February 6, 2015, available at <>.

[lv] Robert J. Gonzalez, “The Rise and Fall of the Human Terrain System,” Counterpunch, June 29, 2015, available at <>.

[lvi] Vanden Brook, “Army Kills Controversial Social Science Program.”

[lvii] Tony Waters, “The US Army’s Human Terrain System Bites the Dust,”, July 6, 2015, available at <>; Alex Golub, “Good bye (and good riddance) to Human Terrain System,” Savage Minds, July 8, 2015, available at <>.

[lviii] Steven Metz, “Pentagon’s Decision to Cut Human Terrain System Short-Sighted,” World Politics Review, July 10, 2015, available at <>; Matthew Dearing and Jim Lee, “Research Returns from War,” Foreign Policy, July 23, 2015, available at <>; Whitney Kassel, “The Army Needs Anthropologists,” Foreign Policy, July 28, 2015, available at <>.

[lix] Evans, “The Seven Deadly Sins of the Human Terrain System.”

[lx] Gentile’s own understanding and analysis on counterinsurgency theory and practice is questionable as evinced in David Ucko, “Critics Gone Wild: Counterinsurgency as the Root of All Evil,” Small Wars & Insurgencies 25, no. 1 (2014).

[lxi] Gentile, “Counterinsurgency: The Graduate Level of War or Pure Hokum?.”

[lxii] Terry Tucker, “An Open Rebuttal to Gian Gentile’s Article on Counterinsurgency,” E-International Relations, August 20, 2013, available at <>.

[lxiii] Roberto J. Gonzalez, “U.S. Army Ends a Costly Mistake,” The Progressive, July 12, 2015, available at <>.

[lxiv] David Price and Roberto J. Gonzales, “The Use and Abuse of Culture (and Children): The Human Terrain System’s Rationalization of Pedophilia in Afghanistan,” Counterpunch, October 9, 2015, available at <>.

[lxv] AnnaMaria Cardinalli, Pashtun Sexuality, Human Terrain Team (HTT) AF-6, Research Update and Findings, undated, available at <>.

[lxvi] Lamb, et. al., Human Terrain Teams, 51.

[lxvii] Price and Gonzalez, “The Use and Abuse of Culture (and Children).”

[lxviii] Jeffrey Bordin, A Crisis of Trust and Cultural Incompatibility: A Red Team Study of Mutual Perceptions of Afghan National Security Force Personnel and U.S. Soldiers in Understanding and Mitigating the Phenomena of ANSF-Committed Fratricide-Murders (Afghanistan: U.S. Army, May 12, 2011), available at <>.

[lxix] Price and Gonzalez, “The Use and Abuse of Culture (and Children).”

[lxx] AnnaMaria Cardinalli, Crossing the Wire: One Woman’s Journey into the Hidden Dangers of the Afghan War (Havertown, PA: Casemate Publishers, 2013), 235-236.

[lxxi] Jeffrey Bordin, “A Rebuttal to Dr. David Price (St. Martin’s University), Dr. Roberto Gonzalez (San Jose State University), and Mr. Paul McLeary (Foreign Policy Group), from Jeffrey Bordin, PhD – 9 OCT 2015,” Public Intelligence Blog, November 6, 2015, available at <>.

[lxxii] Harshaw, “Army’s Anthropology Experiment Ends in Defeat,”; Also see, Price and Gonzales, “The Use and Abuse of Culture (and Children).”

[lxxiii] Vanden Brook, “Army Kills Controversial Social Science Program.”

[lxxiv] Justin Doubleday, “Controversial Army Social-Science Program Morphs into ‘Reach-Back Office,” Inside Defense, July 10, 2015, available at <>.

[lxxv] In his most recent account, Vanden Brook adjusted his tone and offered a new nuance: “The program, at its height in 2010, was plagued with documented incidents of fraud and sexual harassment,” Tom Vanden Brook, “Congressman says Army Misled Congress About Social Science Project,” USA Today, March 23, 2016, available at <>.

[lxxvi] Lamb et. al., Human Terrain Teams, 216-219.

[lxxvii] Joshua S. Jones, Protecting the Mission: The Case of the U.S. Army, Thesis, American University, 2013, available at <>.

[lxxviii] Ben Connable was the most prominent figure promoting this option, with the U.S. Marine Corps’ Center for Advanced Operational Culture Learning and the U.S. Air Force’s Air Force’s Culture and Language Center being organizational expressions of this idea. See Ben Connable, “All Our Eggs in a Broken Basket: How the Human Terrain System is Undermining Sustainable Military Cultural Competence,” Military Review (March-April 2009), 57-64, available at <>. Also see Paula Holmes-Eber, Culture in Conflict: Irregular Warfare, Culture Policy, and the Marine Corps (Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press, 2014) and Robert A. Rubinstein, Kerry Fosher, and Clementine Fujimura, eds., Practicing Military Anthropology: Beyond Expectations and Traditional Boundaries (Sterling, VA: Kumarian Press, 2013).

[lxxix] Bill Ackerly, “Army Irregular Warfare Center (AIWC) Completes Mission,”, June 23, 2014.

[lxxx] National Commission on the Future of the Army, Report to the President and the Congress of the United States (Washington, DC: Department of the Army, January 28, 2016), available at <>.

[lxxxi] Andrew Hill, “Ignoring the Army’s Recent Past Will Not Help It Win Future Wars,” War on the Rocks, February 2, 2016, available at <>.

[lxxxii] Rickey E. Smith, “Setting the Stage for the Future of the Army,” War on the Rocks, March 2, 2016, available at <>.

[lxxxiii] Tom Vanden Brook, “Army’s Rebranded Social Science Program Draws Flak,” USA Today, February 9, 2016, available at <>.

[lxxxiv] Tom Vanden Brook, “$725M Program Army ‘Killed’ Found Alive, Growing,” USA Today, March 10, 2016.

[lxxxv] Justin Doubleday, “Congress Authorizes Army to Use Human Terrain System in Pacific,” Inside Defense, December 24, 2014; Justin Doubleday, “Army Says Human-Terrain Program in Pacific is an ‘Unfunded Requirement’,” Inside the Army, April 17, 2015.

[lxxxvi] Doubleday, “Controversial Army Social-Science Program Morphs into ‘Reach-Back Office.”

[lxxxvii] Vanessa M. Gezari, “The Quiet Demise of the Army’s Plan to Understand Afghanistan and Iraq,” The New York Times, August 18, 2015, available at <>.

[lxxxviii] Vanden Brook, “Congressman: Troubled Army Program Needs More Oversight.”

[lxxxix] Josef Teboho Ansorge and Tarak Barkawi, “Utile Forms: Power and Knowledge in Small Wars,” Review of International Studies 40, no. 1 (January 2014), 3-4.

[xc] Carolyn Fleuhr-Lobban, Ethics and Anthropology: Ideas and Practice (Lanham, MD: AltaMira Press, 2013), 103-104; Paul Nuti with Kerry Fosher, “Reflecting Back on a Year of Debate With the Ad Hoc Commission,” Anthropology News 48, no. 7 (October 2007), 3-4.

[xci] In particular, Carolyn Fluehr-Lobban and George R. Lucas, Jr., “Assessing the Human Terrain Teams: No White Hats or Black Hats, Please,” 237-264, in Montgomery McFate and Janice H. Laurence, eds., Social Science Goes to War: The Human Terrain System in Iraq and Afghanistan (New York: Oxford University Press, 2015).

[xcii] Sims, The Human Terrain System: Operationally Relevant Social Science Research in Iraq and Afghanistan.

[xciii] Gary Owen, ““Reach the Women”: The US Military’s Experiment of Female Soldiers Working with Afghan Women,” Afghanistan Analysts Network, June 20, 2015, available at <>.

[xciv] H.R. 4435, Howard P. “Buck” McKeon National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2015, Report of the Committee on Armed Services, House of Representatives, U.S. Congress, May 13, 2014, available at <>.

[xcv] Joseph Goldstein, “U.S. Soldiers Told to Ignore Sexual Abuse of Boys by Afghan Allies,” The New York Times, September 20, 2015, available at <>; Tony Perry, “Congressman Protests Punishment of Soldiers Who Confronted Alleged Child Rapists,” The Los Angeles Times, September 26, 2015, available at <>.

[xcvi] Department of Defense Inspector General, Allegations of Child Sexual Abuse by Members of the Afghan National Defense and Security Forces (Project No. D2016-D00SPO-0083.000), Memo, February 19, 2016, available at <>.


About the Author(s)

Michael C. Davies is a freelance researcher and editor. He worked at the National Defense University in Washington, DC for nearly 5 years conducting research on the wars in Iraq, Afghanistan, and elsewhere at the behest of various parts of the Office of the Secretary of Defense, the Joint Staff, Special Operations Command, the Intel Community, and the U.S. Army. He is one of the co-authors of Human Terrain Teams: An Organizational Innovation for Sociocultural Knowledge in Irregular Warfare, co-edited Changing Mindsets to Transform Security: Leader Development for a Complex and Unpredictable World, and is the co-author of a forthcoming study on the Civilian Expeditionary Workforce. He is one of the progenitors of the Human Domain concept for the U.S. Strategic Landpower Task Force. He studied at the Australian National University, receiving a Master of Strategic Affairs at the Strategic and Defense Studies Center and a B.A. in International Relations and Political Science.



Mon, 03/28/2016 - 8:50pm

Great article. I was on the team led by David Mam. in AFG that he destroyed, and I was one of the authors (signed by all four team members) of the 17 page memo documenting his incompetence, character assassination and toxicity. This memo was subsequently ignored and a whitewash "inquiry" was conducted by Alvin "Scott" Mos. David had done the exact same thing to a previous team. David is literally one of the most toxic people I have met in my entire life, and after discussing him with several professionals I believe he is what is called an Industrial Psychopath.

A significant factor in our resignations had to do not only with Dave's toxicity, but the organizational coverup led by Alvin. The HTS program lost a lot of experience and talent.

The frustration is multiplied by the fact that the German army in Kunduz, to which we were attached, was taking gruesome casualties during our time there. I truly feel that we could have been of some assistance to them.