07 December 2012

Brian Ferguson: "Full Spectrum: The Military Invasion of Anthropology"

Posted by AJP member Max Forte:

This and the previous post feature two chapters by Brian Ferguson dealing with the U.S. Army's Human Terrain System, and broader issues of militarization, global surveillance, and cultural counterinsurgency that arise. One of the chapters was nearing publication, but the very sad passing of our friend and colleague, Neil L. Whitehead, this past March has apparently hindered one of the projects. Both papers are published here with the expressed permission of Brian Ferguson. I am also using the opportunity to draw attention to some key passages.

Ferguson, R. Brian . (2011). "Full Spectrum: The Military Invasion of Anthropology." In Neil Whitehead and Sverker Finnstrom (eds.), Virtual War and Magical Death (pp. ##). Durham, NC: Duke University Press.

Global Scouts and Virtual Empire: Militarizing Anthropology and Neuroscience

Ferguson's chapters presents material that remains as important to current discussions on the future of anthropology as at any time during the zenith of debates around the Human Terrain System:
"this chapter draws on a flotilla of other manuals, reports, and proposals, to demonstrate just how deeply entrenched and programmatically wide-ranging are the military’s cultural demands. Anthropologists need to understand that the Department of Defense and other security agencies are already taking what they want from anthropology, and their appropriation of people and knowledge could transform the discipline in the years to come." (p. 1)
The Pentagon, as outlined by one of his sources, envisions a system of "global scouts" trained in anthropology, as part of the broader cultural turn in its plans for global surveillance and global counterinsurgency:
"At the heart of a cultural-centric approach to future war would be a cadre of global scouts, well educated, with a penchant for languages and a comfort with strange and distant places. These soldiers should be given time to immerse themselves in a single culture and to establish trust with those willing to trust them... Global scouts must be supported and reinforced with a body of intellectual fellow travelers within the intelligence community who are formally educated in the deductive and inductive skills necessary to understand and interpret intelligently the information and insights provided by scouts in the field. They should attend graduate schools in the disciplines necessary to understand human behavior and cultural anthropology." (p. 9)
It seems as if no stone is to be left unturned, with the Defense Advance Research Projects Agency (DARPA) settings its sights on neuroscience as well, with plans for "exploring the potential of neuroscience research and development and its applications to understanding human dynamics," since advances in using neuroscience "to understand the basis for human cognition, including non-invasive sensor technologies, may be applicable for understanding perception, the neurological origins of trust and compliance, and the neuroscience of persuasion–all relevant to the topic addressed in this report"--and the key goals here are trust and compliance, basic elements of indoctrination and submission. DARPA's interest in neuroscience extends to its applications for what are essentially propaganda operations, and efforts to stem the impact of competing ideas: "The broad concept is to develop quantitative neuroscience tools and techniques to predict the effects of 'ideas' within diverse populations" (p. 9).

As Ferguson shows throughout his chapter, what the Pentagon envisions--fantastic and magical as it may be--is a "virtual war simulacrum" that is built on "cultural awareness" and "ethnographic intelligence." The idea is to model the world, to create "a computer copy of the real world, the ultimate divination machine," with the actual or potential "Areas of Operations" including much if not most of the planet, "mostly directed at peoples of color, in areas where modernism has not extirpated 'traditional' identities and loyalties" (p. 11). DARPA envisions a world of "secure predictability" as Ferguson comments, but one based on very flawed assumptions, self-deception--and, we may add, opportunity for expensive research. The faith of DARPA is naive, as Ferguson argues, "justified neither by advances in social sciences, or in hard sciences such as molecular biology, where greater knowledge means recognition of expanding dimensions of ignorance" (p. 12).

Expeditionary Democracy, Armed Social Engineering and Militarized Wilsonians

Among the many sections that deserve close attention is one dealing with the goals of U.S. counterinsurgency in transforming whole societies, where "stability" actually means submitting others to U.S. dominance, rather than further normalizing any local status quo. Ferguson deals with ideas and policies of armed social engineering, development and civil governance, and of course neoliberal restructuring: "One important goal, in Afghanistan and elsewhere around the world (for instance Mexico), is to effect the transfer of communal landholdings to clear, transferable individual titles–showing, if there was any doubt, that Pentagon world restructuring is neoliberal world restructuring" (p. 7).

What I found especially striking was the following quote in Ferguson's work from Pentagon analyst Kalev Sepp:
"Call it militant Wilsonianism, call it expeditionary democracy, call it counterinsurgency, but this is... decidedly not stabilizing. It is an overturning of nations. It is, at its core, a revolution. American soldiers are the instruments of this revolution... The army would have to lead revolutions on a scale so vast as to completely eclipse what the USA experienced in breaking from Great Britain’s imperial rule, or in reconstructing the defeated slave states of the South following the American Civil War" (p. 7).
Ferguson also points out that a proposal by anthropologist Anna Simons and David Tucker, “Improving Human Intelligence in the War on Terrorism: The Need for an Ethnographic Capability” was submitted to the Office of the Secretary of Defense for Net Assessment in 2004. It has not been made public. The overarching goal is for the Pentagon to achieve a deeper and more insidious global reach, by bringing in "cultural awareness" and "human terrain intelligence," with the Pentagon acquiring "anthropology-level knowledge of a wide range of cultures," extending well beyond Iraq and Afghanistan, to Africa, the Pacific, and Latin America (p. 8).

Militarizing Open Access

Ferguson also addresses a number of issues and subjects raised on ZA in previous years, that remain pertinent with all of the orchestrated American hoopla about "open access publishing" that remains curiously oblivious, even now, about the practical benefits of such plans for the military and intelligence apparati. Interesting also is absence of any discussion of the ethics of facilitating military and intelligence research.
"Perhaps the broadest connection of the military and anthropology is already at hand, not through funding new work, but through the diligent mining and absorption of normal, published research and dissertations. The most important fount of anthropological data will not be from HTS social scientists, but from what security people call 'open sources.' The head of military intelligence in Afghanistan concludes open source information makes up 90% of the intelligence future, clandestine work merely being more dramatic. The standard operating procedure now for Human Terrain Teams is to pose a problem for the Reachback Cells stateside to investigate through open source materials." (p. 15)
Ferguson issues another important warning, similar to those made on ZA before:
"All anthropologists working in any area of potential interest to U.S. security agencies–and that is much of the world–should understand that any ethnographic information they publish, any sort of explanation of why those people do what they do, may be assimilated into the great network of security data bases and modeling systems, and through them made available to military, intelligence, and other security practitioners." (p. 16)
Throughout this strong chapter, Ferguson convincingly argues that the Pentagon's "cultural revolution" will have "a profound impact on anthropology and its intellectual environment." As he explains, summarizing key sections of his chapter:
"People with degrees from BA to PhD will find work with the military as teachers and analysts. (What may be distasteful for a tenured professor may seem quite different for a young person trying to set up a job, life and family). Campuses and social sciences will reorient to security needs. Militarily-oriented culture-seekers will filter into anthropology teaching programs. Militarily useful anthropology will be trained into soldier-anthropologist hybrids, who then can reproduce their own. Academic research will be funded and otherwise channeled into security relevant topics. All 'open source' work with possible security relevance will be assimilated into the great security networks and nodes of synthesis, analysis, and prediction." (p. 17)
It was especially encouraging to see that one of the central arguments advanced on ZA resonates in Ferguson's conclusions and recommendations, and hopefully more will heed this:
"One response to this global challenge would be to reorient scholarly efforts in a countervailing directions–studying, publishing, and teaching more on US militarism and its consequences, at home and abroad." (p. 19)

Past articles of related interest:

Brian Ferguson: "Plowing the Human Terrain: Toward Global Ethnographic Surveillance"

Posted by AJP member Max Forte:

This and the next post feature two chapters by Brian Ferguson dealing with the U.S. Army's Human Terrain System, and broader issues of militarization, global surveillance, and cultural counterinsurgency that arise. One of the chapters was nearing publication, but the very sad passing of our friend and colleague, Neil L. Whitehead, this past March has apparently hindered one of the projects. Both papers are published here with the expressed permission of Brian Ferguson. I am also using the opportunity to draw attention to some key passages.

Ferguson, R. Brian. (2011). "Plowing the Human Terrain: Toward Global Ethnographic Surveillance." In Laura A. McNamara and Robert A. Rubinstein (eds.), Dangerous Liaisons: Anthropologists and the National Security State (pp. 101-126). Santa Fe: SAR Press. 


Brian Ferguson begins by accepting that "those who advocate or sign up for the HTS have good intentions," though he is more generous than I am in making such a generalization. Ferguson adds that, "they hope to use ethnographic understanding to save lives and lessen the destruction of war." However, as he argues in this chapter, "the information they gather in the field also can be used to help identify enemies for 'kinetic' targeting, the application of military force. That is why participation in Human Terrain Teams (HTTs) crosses the ethical line" (p. 101). The issue of lethal targeting, and specifically of supplying the kind of information that can be used to sort out who the enemy is and thus to refine targeting, has been a persistent and controversial point in the debates around HTS. This raises two problems: 1) by focusing on issues of lethal targeting, HTS advocates have tended to narrow their responses to this issue, thereby dismissing any discussion of the many other ways that their work broadly serves the interests of U.S. imperial domination; and, 2) much of the evidence supplied to sustain the targeting argument tends to be circumstantial and suggestive. However, I think the focus in Ferguson's chapter is a valid one, and I believe he has done the best job yet of making a convincing argument. Few writers, however, remind readers that a formal war crime was also committed by a Human Terrain Team, when Don Ayala executed a detainee, one of the most glaring examples of the lethal side of HTS. Ferguson at least supplies information that shows that violence was always a latent capacity of HTS, to the extent that many of its team members carried weapons. More broadly however, Ferguson argues that, "Anthropologists must not help militaries figure out whom to kill. More than that, the HTS folds into a projected worldwide monitoring of indigenous peoples for security threats by the Department of Defense (DoD). Anthropologists should not do that either" (p. 101).


Among the passages that struck me was the one in which Ferguson explains that if HTS "were anything but a Pentagon program, it would be dead by now":
"three team members killed in the line of duty, one convicted of manslaughter, one under investigation for espionage, loud whistle-blowing about incompetence in multiple areas, inadequate training, unacceptable scholarly and anthropological standards, unclear and unworkable chains of command, intractable personality collisions from top to bottom, sudden changes in management and training locations, inability to recruit competent social scientists, appointment of unqualified personnel and cronies, an investigative finding of sexual harassment and creating an intolerable work atmosphere, abrupt pay cuts midstream followed by resignation of many civilian employees, and so on" (p. 102).

The Humanitarian and the Military Faces of HTS

Ferguson points out how the idealistic vision of "war without blood" is one that, "appeals to humanitarian sentiments," however, "that goal is conspicuously absent in articles written for military audiences. In those writings the point is that anthropology can help our side fight smarter and prevail" (p. 104). Thus, "HTS has two faces--one for the military and one for the public. The public relations campaign has been remarkably successful, but available facts do not support this claim of harm reduction" (p. 104). Ferguson goes in detail through the available accounts that provide evidence, both direct and suggestive, that Human Terrain Teams either explicitly or indirectly provide tactical information that could be used for lethal targeting purposes, even specifying individuals by name or position in a village as being a likely threat to U.S. forces. In addition, HTTs provided the kinds of measures needed for profiling whole segments of local populations as likely insurgents, would be insurgents, or supporters of insurgency. By zeroing in on HTS claims that they help soldiers avoid misunderstandings, to understand that not all locals are enemies, Ferguson rightly asks:  "But how can one better understand who is not the enemy without better understanding who is the enemy?" (p. 117). In other instances he finds that, "the mapper of human terrains is directly charged with identifying 'significant persons of influence' in a mission area and their connections to 'threat organizations'" (p. 118).

Military officers themselves have also written against "sugarcoating what these teams do," about how cultural information is inextricably tied to the intelligence process and to sorting out the local population to determine potential enemies (pp. 118-119). As Ferguson unveils, "whether HTTs are used for lethal targeting depends on the intentions of the commander" (p. 119), and as one HTS supporter, Col. Martin Schweitzer remarked, if he had an HTT during his first tour of duty, "I would've used it to have a better understanding of the population so I could eliminate them. You can do that with the HTT, but that doesn't win the fight" (p. 119).

"Anthropology" Does Not Make War or Domination "Better"

While Ferguson says that "an anthropologized Department of Defense might well mean less blundering around, less shooting and bombing" (even though he himself has found to evidence to warrant such a claim)," he notes that "a well-run imperium always finds ways to reduce the bloodshed," and that therefore there is at least nothing remarkable about the claims that U.S. military and political leaders are looking for "humane" ways to fight war. This is now a routine part of their sales pitch. Ferguson makes the interesting point that "increased power means decreased use of force," though this opens up debates on how that power is attained and maintained, and the very conception of power that he is using (apparently non-coercive) is also open to debate. Ferguson's basic argument here is that "if HTS works as its proponents say it does, it could be an important tool in strengthening US hegemony":
"However chimerical the vision of global ethnographic surveillance may be, the capacity the HTS is helping to build cannot be seen as being in the interests of the indigenous peoples of the world--the people to whom anthropology is most responsible--unless their interests coincide with incorporation into a neoliberal US empire" (p. 126)
Many thanks to Brian for circulating these papers for wider distribution and discussion.
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