13 December 2010

A Resurgent Human Terrain System: Concerns for Anthropology, Including Canada

The U.S. Army's Human Terrain System (HTS), which incorporates social scientists into counterinsurgency in Iraq and Afghanistan, and which for most of its history actively sought to recruit anthropologists, is now showing signs not just of continuing but of expanding, while attracting the interest of the U.S.' military allies including Canada. Readers may recall that this program was actively condemned, first by the Network of Concerned Anthropologists (which circulated a U.S. and international petition garnering over 1,000 signatures, including dozens from the heads of some of the U.S.' leading anthropology programs), followed by a denunciation from the Executive Board of the American Anthropological Association, and finally roundly criticized in an extensive review by the AAA's Commission on the Engagement of Anthropology with the U.S. Security and Intelligence Communities (CEAUSSIC)--see the executive summary and media coverage here, and the actual report here. To date, the Canadian Anthropology Society (CASCA) has remained silent on the issue of the militarization of anthropology, reportedly/allegedly because it cannot take a public stand on political issues lest it jeopardize its status as a non-profit "charitable" organization. Anthropologists for Justice and Peace was, in part, formed so that anthropologists in Canada could speak publicly to such matters, and we have condemned and rejected HTS and all variants.

HTS seemed to undergo a long period of disarray, dogged by reports of corruption, mismanagement, and poor training, in addition to confirmed reports of serious ethical violations. These reports included: the pilfering of confidential field notes by HTS social scientists--by members of their own units--which were then fed to military intelligence--see analysis of Wikileaks data here--and U.S. Army admissions that Human Terrain Teams (HTTs) have been useful for the kind of "refined targeting" that was the substance of many accusations by anthropologists in the U.S. In addition, multiple reports confirm that one of HTS' roles is gathering intelligence. Now it seems that HTS is resurgent. Following a Congressionally-mandated investigation (which remains secret), HTS was faulted on "managerial" grounds--however, the two top managers, Col. Steve Fondacaro and anthropologist Montgomery Carlough-McFate have since been sacked, effectively removing that as an issue in the eyes of legislators. After claiming that it is not a "military anthropology" program, after sustained opposition by the AAA, HTS continues to deliberately market itself as "anthropology" in news media around the world (example 1, examples 2, examples 3). Moreover, McFate has been replaced as the social science director by yet another anthropologist, Dr. Christopher A. King (shown in the photo). King is a forensic anthropologist, whose doctoral dissertation was titled, "Osteometric Assessment of 20th Century Skeletons from Thailand and Hong Kong," and seems to not be a specialist in the kind of socio-cultural fieldwork that HTS boasts as a specialty--but he carries the important label, "anthropologist." Dr. King recently attended CASCA's 2009 conference in Vancouver, where he sat in on panels about the militarization of anthropology, as an official representative of HTS.

In a recent report by John Stanton at Zero Anthropology, we find a copy of an article from Inside Army News, where we learn of the expansion of HTS:
The Army is ramping up its controversial Human Terrain Systems program and will be sending more teams to Afghanistan this summer while simultaneously working with allied nations seeking to develop their own HTS capabilities, according to the program’s director [Colonel Sharon Hamilton]....
...the program continues to grow, despite various criticisms from academia and government. Col. Sharon Hamilton said in a Dec. 8 interview that U.S. Central Command has issued a requirement for 31 HTS teams in Afghanistan – an increase of nine teams — by this summer....
In addition, it seems that HTS is being actively marketed to U.S. allies, and the report specifically mentions an unnamed "Canadian general" who is interested in the program:
Hamilton also said her program has been working with allied nations that want to develop their own HTS programs. She would not say which countries were interested, but noted that a Canadian general was said to be very impressed with the program.
“We directly support six allied nations and they are all very interested,” she said. “Several of the allies have approached the Department of the Army wanting to develop their own capability because they have our teams with them in Afghanistan. We’re doing knowledge exchanges [and] we’ve have several representatives from other countries visit our training, visit our teams on the ground in Afghanistan.”
Furthermore, the HTS director is promising more active engagement with anthropologists in particular, in what can only be a new recruitment effort:
Hamilton said she also has stepped up the program’s engagement with the academic community by attending conferences for relevant groups, namely the American Anthropological Association, an organization that has remained steadfastly critical of the program.
An overview of HTS on the website of the U.S. Army also indicates that a geographic expansion of HTS will occur, in addition to a multiplication in the number of teams:
The near term demand from Iraq will continue at current levels while the demand for teams in Afghanistan is increasing; with the potential of adding 12 additional teams in the next two years. The HTS has a request for support from Combined Joint Task Force-Horn of Africa and additional requests from United States Forces Korea and United States Pacific Command.
For all of the organized opposition by anthropologists, it would seem as if our real work in prying anthropology loose of this imperialist grip has only just begun. AJP invites all Canadian anthropologists to join it in maintaining a vigilant eye on related developments in Canada, and to forward any news to anthrojustpeace@gmail.com.

Corrections (thanks to an email received from Dr. Christopher King):

*Dr. King not a forensic anthropologist: "I used to practice forensic anthropology but have not practiced since 2007. My undergraduate, MA, PhD are all in anthropology. However, I am currently employed as a U.S. Department of Army social scientist, not an anthropologist. To be clearer my undergraduate was a double major in anthropology and museum studies." 
*His doctoral dissertation was not titled, "Osteometric Assessment of 20th Century Skeletons from Thailand and Hong Kong". This was his MA thesis. 
His doctoral dissertation is entitled, "Stable isotopic analysis of carbon and nitrogen as an indicator of Paleodietary change among pre-state Metal Age societies in northeast Thailand", 2006. University of Hawaii at Manoa. 
Finally, "While my academic work has been in the anthropological sub-discipline of biological anthropology, I have always engaged in applied anthropology work, both forensic and sociocultural, to make a living."
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