US Army/TRADOC Embroiled in Another Controversy
by John Stanton
“We call upon indigenous peoples in this country and around the world not to be fooled by these types of research projects, which usurp traditional knowledge without prior consent. Although researchers may initially claim to be conducting the projects in "good faith", said knowledge could be used against the indigenous peoples in the future. “UNOSJO is against this kind of project being carried out in the Sierra Juárez and distances itself completely from the work compiled by the México Indígena research team. ”
On January 14, 2009 the Union of Organizations of the Sierra Juarez of Oaxaca (UNOSJO) issued a press release accusing the principal researchers/managers of the Mexican Indigena—a program in the larger Bowman Expeditions —of unethical conduct for not fully disclosing that the US Army is a sponsor of the Bowman Expeditions. They also accuse the principals of geopiracy. According to a member of the anthropology community, “This is a nasty little story.”
“UNOSJO began looking into the México Indígena Project. The investigation revealed that México Indígena forms a part of the Bowman Expeditions, a more extensive geographic research project backed and financed by the FMSO [US Army's Foreign Military Studies Organization], among other institutions. The FMSO inputs information into a global database that forms an integral part of the Human Terrain System (HTS), a United States Army counterinsurgency strategy designed by FMSO and applied within indigenous communities, among others. Since 2006 the Human Terrain System (HTS} has been employed with military purposes in both Afghanistan and Iraq and according to what we have been able to determine Bowman Expeditions are underway in Mexico, the Antilles, Colombia and Jordan.
In November 2008, the México Indígena Project completed the maps corresponding to Zapotec communities San Miguel Tiltepec and San Juan Yagila. Contrary to the often-mentioned promise of transparency, México Indígena created an English-only web page, a language that the participating communities do not understand. Before the communities received the work, said maps had already been published on the Internet. Furthermore, the communities were never informed that reports detailing the project would be handed over to the FMSO. In addition to publishing the maps, the México Indígena team created a database into which pertinent information was entered: community member names and the associated geographic location of their plot(s) of land, formal and informal use of the land, and other data that cannot be accessed via the Internet.
According to statements made by those heading the México Indígena research team, this type of map can be used in multiple ways. They did not specify, however, whether they would be employed for commercial, military or other purposes. Furthermore, as the maps are compatible with Google Earth, practically anyone can gain access to the information. Yet only community members can decipher information expressed in Zapotec (toponyms), unless, of course, one has the capacity to translate them, as in the case of FMSO linguistic specialists.”
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While UNOSJO's claim of direct linkages between the Bowman Expeditions/Mexican Indigena (BEMI) and the HTS remain unsubstantiated at this time and may, indeed, be incorrect (a call to Lt. George Mace, PAO, of the HTS program could not returned in time for release), the fact is that US Army TRADOC owns the troubled HTS and a $500,000 chunk of the controversial BEMI--and the data that goes with both. As reported in prior pieces on the HTS, sources state that data from Human Terrain Mapping (HTM) for HTS does not remain compartmentalized but is shared with other US Army intelligence related databases. There is no reason to expect the BEMI data has been treated any differently. Furthermore, the BEMI appears to have accomplished what the HTS program promised but could not produce: a useful deliverable in the form of a user friendly geographic information system (GIS).
As one source put it, “Where HTS really dropped the ball was in successfully integrating the MAP-HT, which includes ArcGIS. HTT trainees are not even learning MAP-HT any more. It's a total free-for-all in the field for HTS social scientists working on their dissertations or post doctoral research. AFRICOM teams will include geo-spacial analysts. Someone, or a software company is really pushing for geospacial intelligence. This is what the Mexico project is about. It all makes sense now.”
According to an October 2006 article by Sophia Maines of the Lawrence Kansas Journal, The Bowman Expeditions are the brainchild of Jerome Dobson. Dobson believes that the BEMI and related efforts are good for national security, K-16 geography education, and business in Kansas (visit website).