Thursday, May 20, 2010

Michael Griffin: McFate and Co.

McFate and Co.
by Michael Griffin
Nth Position


In 2005, the Pentagon took McFate and Kilcullen's ideas on waging COIN and submitted them to further testing in a 'proof-of-concept' programme, entitled Cultural Operational Research Human Terrain System, under the aegis of the Training and Doctrine Command (TRADOC), in Fort Monroe, Virginia. With its focus on intimate, local knowledge, the Human Terrain System (HTS), as it became known, was quickly identified as having a 'left of boom' application that could help to detect the fabricators and placers of roadside bombs if HTS teams could pinpoint the internal, cultural logic that, it was hoped, would endear villagers to the government, and the material and security benefits provided by the US military. HTS' initial funding, as a result, came from the Joint Improvised Explosive Device Defeat Organization (JIEDDO), created in 2003 to pool and prove efforts by the services, private enterprise and academia to develop IED counter-measures and improve intelligence gathering. Steve Fondacaro, the retired army colonel who had commanded JIEDDO for one year, was appointed HTS programme manager, while his deputy, Steve Rokoff, was closely linked with McNeil Technologies, a purveyor of 'intelligence solutions' and interpreters in Afghanistan. BAE Systems was designated lead personnel contractor, without going through a bidding process. [7] ' We're great at killing people and breaking things,' said Fondacaro of his new mission. 'But if we want to be relevant in the 21st century, we have to adapt. This is a competition for the support of the population. So we've got to understand how the society is hardwired.' [8]

McFate was appointed HTS' chief scientific advisor at a salary of $200,000, according to John Stanton, a specialist on national security, who has maintained a running watch on HTS since 2008. [9] At brainstorming sessions in the High Noon Saloon, 1 Choctaw St, Fort Leavenworth, Kansas, where the programme was located, McFate, Fondacaro, Rotkoff and Maxie McFarland, TRADOC's deputy chief of staff for intelligence, laboured to put flesh on the concept they'd worked so hard to envisage. A Human Terrain Team (HTT) consisting of five to nine members, weighted three parts to two between military and civilian personnel, was to be imbedded in each of the 26 US brigades deployed in Iraq and Afghanistan. They were to employ interviews, focus groups and opinion polls to generate complex databases on local leaders, tribes, political disputes, economic issues and social problems, and to advise commanders on nuances of body language, table manners, gift giving and the local art of the quid pro quo. In 2007, Defense Secretary Robert Gates awarded HTS a $40 million budget, increased to $143 million two years later, and Petraeus, a social sciences post-graduate himself, looked benignly on the manoeuvre. 'The HTTs have evolved into important elements in our operations in Iraq,' he said. [10] HTS had struck pay dirt.

The reaction among anthropologists was horrified dismay that their principles of impartial observation of human groups were about to be sold to the defence sector as a template for intelligence gathering or, more candidly, spying. HTS triggered flashbacks to Chile and the Vietnam War where anthropologists in the 1960s were recruited to provide insight into dissident movements that informed clandestine US campaigns to prop up dictatorship or assassinate enemy sympathisers. 'You pitch a tent... among the people you want to understand,' said Hugh Gusterson, professor of Cultural Studies at George Mason University, 'you live with them, you catch their diseases, you eat their horrible food, you share their joys and pains. The thought that you would cultivate these relationships of trust and intimacy, and then ... go to the Pentagon and say, "these are the people you should kill, these are the people you shouldn't kill." That's extremely problematical for people with that methodology.' [11] On 31 October 2007, the American Anthropological Association (AAA) warned that HTS jeopardised its code of conduct, which orders practitioners to do no harm to subjects, but fell short of outright condemnation until two years later when, after further study, it ruled that HTS 'can no longer be considered a legitimate professional exercise of anthropology'. [12] An AAA blog set up to gauge the opinions of its members - mostly Democrats by a wide margin [13] - vilified McFate for bringing the profession into disrepute; her name, manner and blog, doubtless, lent themselves to easy demonisation. HTS supporters countered that professional researchers would help reduce the need for indiscriminate, lethal force, improve negotiating strategies and yield more appropriate development options, objectives all imbedded in the new COIN strategy, but to no avail. 'I'm frequently accused of militarising anthropology,' she quipped, 'but we're really anthropologising the military.' [14] But it was a disingenuous remark: HTTs, outfitted with combat uniforms, body armour and weapons, were indistinguishable from soldiers in appearance and no amount of geniality could disguise that first impression.

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