01 October 2011

Anthropology at War: Human Terrain Social Science Director Admits Human Terrain Mapping is Scary, Troubling

Dr. Christopher A. King,
Human Terrain System
Perhaps two of the more stunning, and yet brief, moments to come out of a panel recently held at the Case Western Reserve University School of Law, was when the Social Science Director of the U.S. Army’s Human Terrain System (HTS), anthropologist Dr. Christopher A. King, essentially condemned his own program with what in hindsight he may call a careless admission. The moment comes in response to comments from an American Muslim audience member, that begins at the 1:08:24 mark. She raises the point about how human terrain mapping has been brought back home, and is applied to Muslim communities in New York City. In response, Dr. King clearly states that he finds this “scary” and then says it is “pretty troubling”, later repeating “troubling, that’s for sure”. As a co-panelist, Dr. David H. Price, anthropologist at St. Martin’s University, noted this (see the 1:12:56 mark), he remarked that it seems to be fine to apply the techniques against “Others” abroad, but suddenly it is not so good when applied domestically. What Dr. King thus leaves open is that locals in Afghanistan, Iraq, and elsewhere, in their homes, are justified in viewing HTS as scary and troubling, the same way that critics have observed it is scary and troubling. After years of public debate, we owe thanks to Dr. King for finally confirming that what we knew all along was correct, now even from his own perspective.

The second striking moment comes toward the very end of the first video below, when Dr. King admits, audibly, to Dr. Price, that he does not know what COINTELPRO is and has never heard of it before (see the 1:14:07 mark), even though it arguably provides many of the foundations for HTS itself.

The event at which these remarks were made was “The University and National Security after 9/11”--Panel II: “Academics at War: Anthropologists and other Social Scientists in Iraq and Afghanistan and in the Framing of Counterinsurgency Doctrine” (Arthur W. Fiske Memorial Lecture, Case Western Reserve University School of Law, Institute for Global Security Law and Policy, September 23, 2011):

Moderator: Professor Pete Moore, Case Western Reserve University.
Christopher King, PhD; Director, Social Science Director, Human Terrain System, U.S. Army.
Paper read for absent Professor George R. Lucas, Jr., Class of 1984 Distinguished Chair in Ethics, U.S. Naval Academy.
Professor David Price, Department of Anthropology, Saint Martin's University.

Some other notable points:

Prof. Lucas’ paper was a bit diffuse, but one point that stood out was his observation of the contradiction in U.S. military policy between the high-touch (cultural understanding) and the use of high-tech (drones, robotics).

Dr. Christopher A. King (HTS):
  • HTS is working with the U.S. Army’s Human Research Protection office to develop ethical standards;
  • King restates the doctrine of cultural understanding that is sought to inform actions and decisions in the war zones, what he calls, “sociocultural capability”, and here he largely restates the Counterinsurgency Field Manual;
  • HTS is now out of Iraq altogether (it once had 26 teams there), but has 31 teams in Afghanistan (four to five persons each);
  • at 22:40 King provides us with what we might call the HTS global domination map;
  • HTS has funding through FY 2015, funded via CENTCOM in Tampa--(subsequent clarification sent via email from Dr. King: "HTS, as an enduring capability, is funded by the Department of Army and not CENTCOM. This funding includes positions for individuals who work in the U.S. which includes HTS Project Management, reachback research, team training, and knowledge management (including MAP-HT & data respositories). Funding for all individuals/teams deployed in Afghanistan comes from CENTCOM. The funding through FY15 is for positions in the U.S. Funding from CENTCOM to work in Afghanistan is on a year by year basis")--however, in the video, King does in fact say that CENTCOM pays for the Human Terrain Teams deployed in Afghanistan;
  • HTS is no longer proof of concept, it is an enduring capability, a line-item in the budget;
  • four anthropologists with a PhD, and seven with a MA in anthropology, are currently employed by HTS, a small minority overall;
  • In a year HTS produces around 1,000-1,200 information “products” per year;
  • For a program not about “targeting,” as it likes to say, one of the slides indicates that one of HTS’ objectives is to identify key figures of influence at the local level, power dynamics, tribal leaders, etc., which of course would be useful knowledge in any targeting process, unless that targeting is utterly random and haphazard;
  • HTS IS doing a pilot project for AFRICOM--(subsequent clarification sent by Dr. King via email: "HTS is NOT doing a pilot with AFRICOM. HTS is doing a pilot with U.S. Army Africa (USARAF) which is a U.S. Army service component command of AFRICOM but located in Vicenza, Italy"); 
  • HTS is working with ABCA (American, British, Canadian, Australian and New Zealand) militaries in developing standard procedures for information gathering, developing centralized training for the militaries of those nations in terms of improving their “sociocultural capability”, providing training materials;
  • Otherwise, little in the way of novel revelations, or responses to criticisms--but 12-14 articles are coming out in Fort Huachuca's MIPB (Military Intelligence Professional Bulletin) journal this December.
Dr. David H. Price: 
  • Some background to his research, to the ways the FBI would seek information on anthropologists and the work they were doing;
  • He also speaks of the way contributions by anthropologists employed by the national security state were selectively ignored when they went against desired institutional outcomes;
  • The separation between politics and ethics is an artificial one; 
  • Price looks at three issues, ethical, political, theoretical, and how they impact how anthropologists work in counterinsurgency; 
  • “war is a force that gives anthropology ethics”
  • Price provides an overview of the American Anthropological Association (AAA) and the evolution of its position on HTS;
  • Anthropologists are very worried by the neocolonial implications of current military engagement;
  • AAA members deal with political issues, beyond minimal ethics ones; 
  • Theoretical models used by HTS will not work, will be counterproductive;
  • HTS is bringing in many people from disciplines where ethical reflections are minimal to nonexistent.
Pete Moore:
  • Moore reminds the audience of Daniel Pipes, and his Campus Watch, performing hostile surveillance on American academics who fail to toe the ideological line in the War on Terror;
  • He discusses attempts to deny faculty tenure and promotion;
  • He was asked by the FBI and CIA when at the University of Miami to inform on any Arab students that seemed suspicious, and to debrief local CIA officials when returning from field research;
  • Moore says there are numerous examples of field researchers who were actually government agents, and provides the example of Israelis in the West Bank posing as Canadian academics; and,
  • Moore asks: what constitutes a “colleague,” just having a PhD? How do HTS people qualify as colleagues? 
One questioner, a professor at Case Western’s Law School, remarks that most of what King described by HTS would not pass a review by a university’s Institutional Review Board.

The video was removed from the Internet on November 7, 2011

The second video below is also from: “The University and National Security after 9/11”--“How the Culture of Surveillance and Security Has Saturated The Culture of Higher Education”. Arthur W. Fiske Memorial Lecture, Case Western Reserve University School of Law, Institute for Global Security Law and Policy, September 23, 2011

Speaker: Professor Emeritus Cary Nelson, Department of English, University of Illinois, President, American Association of University Professors.

Cary Nelson’s broad and interesting address includes discussion ranging from government impediments to academic freedom; manipulation of visa policies to keep out radical academics; and in general, the impact of the national security apparatus in transforming the lives of academics, including those who serve it. He also mentions the warrantless customs searches of computer files from academics returning from travel abroad, and other cases where academic freedom is curtailed by the state, including the persecution of American Indian scholar Ward Churchill. Nelson addresses the question of self-censorship, and while seemingly contradicting himself early on, he comments that the “dominant emotion ruling campus life today is fear”. The climate affecting campus is one of intimidation by the national security state. Then, expanding on the multiple “measures” and hostile reactions against academia, Nelson talks about the anti-tenure diatribes in the press, among the multiple forces working against faculty, all of which, he argues, are held together by the glue of “national security”. Much of the remainder of his address describes the “surveillance campus,” in broad terms, focusing heavily on measurement and accounting methods that seek to quantify academic productivity and impact in meaningless and arbitrary fashions. He finds similarities between Nazi exterminationist rationale, as the dark side of the Enlightenment, expressed in the abstraction of reason, planning, enumeration, and value, as today also expressed by the national security state and its foreign policy. Calls to “rein in” and “supervise” academia are part of the broader impact of the surveillance and security climate.

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