The report ordered by congress to assess HTS –Human Terrain Team System- has been released to the public.
To remind readers, HTS began as a controversial “proof of concept” defense contracting program around 2006. The first teams were sent to Afghanistan in 2007 and soon after that to Iraq. Their goal was to provide military commanders cultural information that would help them understand the world view, social structure, needs and desires and attitudes of the local population in order to “win their hearts and minds.”
By 2008, the program was undergoing a period of rapid expansion because, according to the former project director, Steve Fondacaro, the teams were so effective that “All of the brigade commanders wanted their own HTTs (human terrain teams)” as part of their counterinsurgency strategy.
The CNA report echoes Fondacaro’s claim when it suggests that the HTS is a “victim of its own success;” the rapid expansion of the program has resulted in an inability to recruit sufficient numbers of qualified personnel. According to the report, BAE contractors claim that they weren’t given enough time to vet and hire large numbers of qualified social scientists and military contractors to begin their training and go downrange.
Regardless of the reason, it’s clear that a lot of people who were recruited to HTS were not interviewed, even by telephone or effectively vetted in any meaningful way. The result, to quote a friend, “[one thing that is lacking is] a simple …psychological screening process that would eliminate the garden variety manic-depressives, psychotics, schizophrenics and (I am convinced of this) the occasional sociopath, that bopped into Leavenworth Kansas for HTS training. “
CNA researchers had only three months to do their analysis of HTS. As a result of this and other factors, their findings appear limited, their methodology diffuse, their recommendations few, and many questions are left unanswered.
l. CNA does not clarify who was included in the sample of HTS personnel who they interviewed to gather their data. It remains unclear if “informants” were handpicked by higher ups in HTS management and possibly TRADOC in order to put the most positive spin on the program and hide some of its deficits.
2. The notion of “victim of its own success” as a result of rapid expansion suggests that the first teams to go to Afghanistan were successful. No evidence is provided to support that implicit claim. The only team that I understand worked well as a team and was effective downrange in 2008 was Afghan team 4 whose members encountered a tragedy that prematurely terminated their deployment (The assault on Paula Lloyd and the death of the Afghan national responsible).
3. Stories/rumors are mixed about Michael Bahtia’s team, another social scientist who was killed early in the program’s history. Bahtia was well qualified. However, it appears that there was a lot of tension among his teammates that resulted in problems for all concerned.
4. The “model” first 2007 team that is most talked about in HTS training appeared to have had mixed success. Allegedly, the social scientist and team leader were constantly fighting and the social scientist rarely went outside the wire. I don’t know if this was true. There were at least two good people on that team. I don’t know what they did. I wonder if CNA questioned them and if they dared tell the truth.
5. During 2009-10, the period the report mostly covers, there have been some successful teams and/or highly productive individuals. There have also been troublesome incidents and some unfit persons in positions of leadership who remained in theater for long periods, causing misery to their team personnel. The dynamics of success and failure of teams are not explored in this report.
6. CNA mentions that an extraordinarily high number of persons leave the program early, while in training or shortly after deployment. Some they dismiss as what I would confirm are “sociopaths” – persons who milked the system for what it was worth with no intention of going downrange. The reasons why other recruits voluntarily left in the middle of training or while downrange remain unexplored. CNA should have interviewed a sample of individuals who voluntarily resigned mid-training or while deployed to find out why. I believe these interviews would have provided insight into the dynamics of the program.
7. The researchers take for granted that the individuals who were fired were fired for good cause i.e. “bad behavior.” I am aware of at least three and maybe four firings that were not based on “bad behavior” by the relevant employees. CNA should have tried to interview a sample of fired former employees to get the “story” straight. At least one I know is currently downrange on another contract and doing a very fine job.
8. CNA appears to think that the major problem in training is the primitive state of the classrooms. I suspect that that is and was the least of folks’ concerns. CNA should have realized this complaint was a cover for more important things going on like the relationship between what is taught in the classroom and what is needed downrange. More than a few HTS veterans say the class on research methods is/was a waste of time; that the new seminar leader system doesn’t work to help trainees along; that the system of peer review is a failure; and that a lot of the other instruction “sucks” and is irrelevant. The program terminated the one piece of instruction that Iraq bound students loved – the Lin Todd organized Iraq regional studies classes.
9. I am aware that new training is planned. That may be why CNA left this area alone.
10. CNA suggests on p. 90 that “recruits are trained in a team environment and when deployed they work in a team environment.” This is not true. Perhaps the new training will encourage teamwork. The training that existed from 2008-2010 did nothing of the sort. Indeed, I believe that the attitude of persons in certain levels of management likely increased divisiveness between social scientist and former military personnel in some classes. Early in 2008 or before, it appeared that social scientists were put on a pedestal, creating a sense of resentment among military personnel. By August of 2008, social scientists were constantly demeaned by persons in positions of responsibility (the so-called ASOs who have since been replaced by seminar leaders).
11. The CNA researchers were told to study the structure of management but not the managers. The only thing they say about management is that the former Director, Steve Fondacaro blames TRADOC for the program’s ills. People I know in the program recall Fondacaro bitching about BAE contractors as well. Another former HTS manager complained about TRADOC too and insisted that the program would be better off if it fell under DOD.
12. A friend who knows a great deal about the program’s history suggests that, indeed, “moving the program to DOD would not be a bad move…anything but TRADOC G2 but a better solution would be to put the project under the control of Army Special Operations Command at Fort Bragg, NC. “They know how to vet people… to use the psychological screening program that would weed out those w ho don’t pack the emotional/mental gear to serve as a TEAM member in a combat zone.”
13. Regardless, for CNA to focus only on structure and ignore the lack of leadership in the program is to omit consideration of one of the most critical factors that has resulted in the problems in training and downrange as well as in the resignations of qualified personnel. In addition structure may relate to the lack of leadership in a way that the CNA researchers were unable to explore because the omitted consideration about particular managers and how they operate and what sort of expertise they bring to the field.
14. I don’t know what to believe. I hear that “things” might be improving since persons at TRADOC stepped in.
15. CNA provides a list of areas of expertise that are desirable for human terrain team personnel to know. While I pretty much agree with the areas that they stipulate for social scientists, I’m not convinced that the same background is required for other positions, like team leader and research manager. In other words, I’m not sure everyone on a team needs a background in sociology, anthropology, political science, or international relations etc.
16. They do need to be open-minded. They must like and respect social scientists and the skills they have. They should understand the combat environment and help social scientists learn what they need to know to safely function in that realm. Most important, the team leader must understand and believe in the mission and know how to lead a mixed group, not through micromanaging, fear and intimidation tactics but by supporting the strengths of his people, treating them with respect, maximizing his and their resources, and helping his team do their job. This also means recognizing that his or her people are human and have weaknesses too. It means helping compensate for weaknesses or providing an atmosphere where a supposed weakness can become an asset, if the person involved is essentially good.
17. To quote a friend, “Big Boy Rules.” A team leader gives his people a leash so they can do their jobs and also have fun. If they screw up more than once or badly, they go home. That, I’m told, is the true meaning of the contractor’s expression “Big Boy Rules.” You are responsible for your own behavior and if you screw up, you go home.
18. CNA provides no evidence as to why and how and what dynamic existed among the teams that were successful in theater and got along and what went on among those who brigade or battalion commanders said failed.
I assume taxpayers paid for the CNA report. Unfortunately, it doesn’t say much about HTS that hasn’t been said before. Furthermore, the decision to make HTS a permanent part of military operations (versus a proof of concept program), appears to have been made before the investigation began and the report submitted for review.