US combatant commanders beware: US Army program cancerous, contagious

By John Stanton

A spokesman, and a high ranking official, at the Office of the Inspector General, Department of Defense, Defense Criminal Investigative Service (DCIS), could not "confirm or deny" that the Human Terrain System (HTS) is the subject of an ongoing investigation by the DCIS and the Federal Bureau of Investigation. Sources are adamant that an investigation is underway and that many in the program are aware of the activity. Whatever the case, one thing is for certain: the effect of that information traveling from soul to soul within the HTS program is damaging to the performance and morale of employees in HTS.

"The US Army Human Terrain System program is in a profound state of organizational decay. Everything within the Human Terrain System is decaying. It is as if it is at the stage-4 level of cancer. It is pathetic. I don't believe HTS should continue" said an observer. Others report that nothing has changed within the program and that Colonel Sharon Hamilton, USA, was unable, or unwilling, to clear out the "dead wood" from the Social Science and Training directorates of HTS.

"HTS is a place for people who do not want to be accountable," said a source.

HTS manages to "irritate people downrange" in Afghanistan. Program management and contractors are more concerned about "what comes after Afghanistan" rather than focusing on the immediate needs commanders have there. Growing the program, rather than serving current constituents fully has been the pathology of HTS program managers and contractors since the program started. The US Army has encouraged this activity at the expense of their personnel.

Further, there are ongoing administrative brushfires within the HTS bureaucracy with procedures and processes being constantly altered, diffusing personnel issues, and more. This effort takes up time that should be spent on assisting teams and commanders downrange. "It's really sad the so much intellectual capital is spent on such tasks," said an observer.

Dead Bodies

Human Terrain Team (HTT) leadership is the major problem in Iraq and Afghanistan. "They leave dead bodies wherever they go," noted one observer using a colorful metaphor. "The interviewing process for team leaders is as bad as their performance." But no one in charge seems to care about that.

The response from HTS leadership to organizational dysfunction is mercenary, according an observer. When learning of disruptive activity in the field, the typical response is this: "Well, have they [team leaders] committed a crime or done anything immoral. If not, it is ok." There is no "moral code" within the program. This is a message that sanctions mediocrity and invites trouble.

Patronage and politics still dominate within HTS. Subprime contractors have allegedly shared information on everything from proposals to MAP HT design. Some think that their relationships are too cozy. And funding streams from the US Army to the prime contractor and then down to subprime contractors have been described as "weird."

The program directorate at HTS (to include Training and Doctrine Command and elements of the Office of the Secretary of Defense) are pushing HTS to other COCOMS in hopes of expanding the crippled program. AFRICOM is a particularly noteworthy target as that continent is a zone of fierce economic warfare between the USA and China, Russia, Brazil, India, and Europe. Africa's cultural landscape is nearly alien to American leadership (and the American people) as are its many troubles.

US Army HTS to the rescue? Not so fast! It would be a "huge mistake for the US Combatant Commanders (COCOMS) to accept HTS expertise, precisely because there is no expertise," according to one source. "Why accept something with such a poor track record."

"There is a dangerous ethnocentric attitude at work," said one source. With little or no Africa experience in the HTS house, and demonstrably poor design and research skills, the leap to deploy HTS to a COCOM like AFRICA makes no sense. Indeed, an internal HTS report from 2010 stated that there was a "lack of necessary knowledge & skills" within the program.

Three of the deficiencies listed in the 2010 report include: "Lack of Social Science Skills: failure to present correct information obtained during interviews, social science products not supported by evidence and not vetted against the Intelligence stream, and lack of training. Lack of Requisite Knowledge: failure to understand the specific region to be worked, and how to use knowledge management tools. Lack of Knowledge of Operational Environment: failure to understand deployment stressors, and OPTEMPO."

False Advertising

It takes a lot of moxie to sell a COCOM, or anyone, a skill set that is known to be absent. More galling is that the HTS program directorate knows this to be the case. In the end, lives/careers are at stake; or rather, lives/careers end up on the stake.

HTS leaders have been saying for years that the MAP HT program has been a success. That is incorrect according to sources. As one said, "The GIS component of MAP HT does not interface with the Link Analysis portion of the system. How efficient is that? It is unusable. The MAP HT cell is a failure. I have never known such a waste of taxpayer money."

On the subject of money, HTS managers authorized the purchase of a software license for Palintir, a data analysis program. The cost for that license was $1 million (US). The computers on which the Palintir program operates sit idle in an office somewhere in Virginia. Observers are not quite sure what the purpose of the purchase was. The program has never been used. Some think that software engineers in HTS were studying the Palintir program, learning from it, or even pilfering it for MAP HT.

So what to do with HTS? One observer said that the plug should be pulled once the US vacates much of its armed forces from Iraq and Afghanistan. "HTS was designed for two wars: Iraq and Afghanistan. It should stay focused on those two theaters."

Another solution perhaps preferred by HTS program management is to go ahead and classify it all. Recent advertisements for HTS senior level positions show that Top Secret clearances are required. Perhaps HTS will become a highly classified program. "Some would like it to be mysterious and hidden," said an observer.

John Stanton

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Author`s name John Stanton