Human Terrain Team Systems has a new face. The official website of the organization appears to involve a little less spin and more accuracy in terms of the project goals, although it omits homage to the three social scientists who have thus far been killed. Soldiers and civilians who have been injured while working on HTT missions have never been officially mentioned at all.
The new face of HTS (Human Terrain Team Systems appears to be product of recent changes instituted by Sharon Hamilton who has taken Steve Fondacaro’s place as the acting director of the program.
For those that don’t know the program’s checkered history, here are some highlights: Since the first team deployed in 2007, three social scientists have been killed and multiple former or active duty military team members and their security, seriously injured or killed. One translator was kidnapped and later exchanged for detainees. Questions have been raised regarding issues of leadership at home and downrange, the selection and training of personnel, and the nature of relationships among members of teams. There have been accusations of violations of ethical principles and legal procedures as well. Complaints of routine discrimination against women and minorities run rampant and some HTT members have characterized HTS as a “hostile work environment” at home and abroad. Two investigations were initiated in 2010. One involves an article 15-6 (general) inquiry containing 33 counts. The other was started by the House Armed Services Committee and turned over to the Center for Naval Analyses. Although these results are in, they have not been made public. HTT manager, Steve Fondacaro, was fired early summer, 2010. In August, Montgomery McFate, the head of the Social Science Directorate was also forced to resign. HTS is currently looking through applications to find her replacement.
According to the new website: “The Human Terrain System (HTS) Project is an Army-led, OSD supported initiative to provide socio-cultural teams to commanders and staffs at the Army Brigade Combat Team (BCT) / USMC Regimental Combat Team (RCT), Army Division / Marine Expeditionary Force (MEF), & Corps / Theater levels, in order to improve the understanding of the local population and apply this understanding to the Military Decision-Making Process (MDMP). ”
“The HTS concept is to attach Human Terrain Teams (HTTs) to deployed BCTs / RCTs, Divisions, & Corps/theater, and support them with a CONUS-based Reach-back Research Center (RRC). The Human Terrain System uses empirical social science research and analysis to fill a large operational decision-making support gap. This research provides current, accurate, and reliable data generated by on-the-ground research on the specific social groups in the supported unit’s operating environment. This human terrain knowledge provides a socio-cultural foundation for the staff’s support to the Commander’s Military Decision Making Process (MDMP), both in planning and execution. It also enables a more effective rotation of forces through the creation and maintenance of an enduring, socio-cultural knowledge base.”
What is different between today’s and yesterday’s spin on the HTS website? The most obvious point is that today’s spin is poorly written and almost unintelligible to the lay and even military reader. On the other hand, if I have correctly interpreted what it says, it does appear that the role of HTS has changed.
Today HTS no longer appears to be claiming its operations lie outside of military intelligence. No longer does the recruitment page stress that the mission of human terrain teams is to reduce casualties and aid the nonlethal aspects of the counterinsurgency. The mission appears to have formally changed to include any research about the human terrain (local culture) that mightl facilitate the military decision making process at battalion, brigade, and higher levels.
I don’t know what this all means. I’ve heard that Colonel Hamilton is doing the best she can as a temporary acting director trying to sort out a complicated program. I’ve also heard that the training hasn’t changed. If this is true, it’s not a good a thing because the training has little to do with the realities teams face downrange. I’ve heard that the situation has not yet improved in theater.
I did hear a rumor – and this is only a rumor – that Hamilton went to Afghanistan to fire an individual in a leadership position and then ended up riding with him in an MRAP (armed vehicle) and was hit by an I.E.D. The person is still there. Maybe she got his side of the story and found out that he was good at his job and wasn’t what he was rumored to be. There is, however, one team leader who should never have been deployed in the first place and has caused problems on every team to which he’s been attached. I don’t know how he’s managed to stay where he is. I suspect that he knows how to manipulate the law regarding defense department employees and has threatened to sue.
It’s looks like HTS is going to be around for awhile. In time, we’ll see if the new website reflects real changes within the organization or if it’s another effort to dress the windows to increase the funding of the human terrain machine. If the program were seriously interested in change, they’d chop it down to size, introduce only ace teams to particular commands in theater, and only add to the roster of team deployments when they have top level personnel composing a new team. This is not a development that any defense contractor would want. The fewer people they bring in for training, the less money they make. The contradictions between the interests of the program and the military and those of the defense contracting world may continue to undermine the project and aid to the toll of the uninformed, unprepared, unqualified personnel sent downrange, resulting in an increase in the numbers of injured and dead.
To quote Bob Dylan, my favorite musical poet in regards to this ironing out the issues with human terrain in the context of funding defense contractors to handle the recruitment and training aspects of the job, “I just said good luck!”