Pentagon's Phase Zero Intelligence Human Terrain Program

Foreign Internal Defense, Diversion or Drug War?

by John Stanton

The follow-on to the first US Army Human Terrain System program is loosely referred to as HTS: A Phase Zero Intelligence Program. Unfortunately, leadership seems to be reinforcing the caricatures on display in the movie Doctor Strangelove (more below).  The responsibility for that is not solely the HTS director's, Colonel Sharon Hamilton. It goes up the chain of command within the US Army and, perhaps, the Office of Secretary of Defense/Intelligence. Throwing $227 million dollars (US) at a damaged program at time when budgets are being squeezed makes little surface sense.

The similarities between the characters in Doctor Strangelove and the personnel in HTS Phase Zero aside, the matter is of the utmost seriousness.  On the plus side the word is that CGI, based in Canada and the replacement contractor for BAE Systems, based in the UK, is screening and scrutinizing recruits more thoroughly using established psychological testing protocols and telephone interviews. And there are diligent, hard-working individuals throughout HTS Phase Zero that understand the importance of their mission and produce fine work in spite of the odds.

But various sources have painted a picture of second rate program management and an atmosphere that is polluted secrecy shunning internal or independent auditors. It is cult like in some sense, unaccountable in major respects.  The flimsy nature of much of the program's intellectual output has led to speculation that part of the $227 million is being funneled to classified programs elsewhere in the mammoth American national security apparatus. There was even speculation that the Pentagon's new Defense Clandestine Service would use HTS Phase Zero to insert DCS personnel, ostensibly as social scientists, for the purpose of infiltrating into various foreign populations to gather intelligence. But professional intelligence operatives require years of training and that is not HTS Phase Zero's specialty. On the other hand, sticking an operative in an HTS Phase Zero gig for AFRICOM or some other US combatant command may be a probability. These theories arise because no one outside of HTS Phase Zero can figure out what it is and what it is meant to do?

So is it some sort of placeholder program? Are the Pentagon and US Army leadership just plain incompetent or, perhaps, corrupt? Is the $227 million a gift to Canada, to a Canada-based company, for supporting the US war effort? Was it a gift to the British? Will it be to Australia when CGI is done with it?

At any rate, HTS Phase Zero, at least as far as anyone in the USA can tell, has not changed much from its predecessor. Poor decision making remains. For example, the HTS Phase Zero Pilot Program for NORTHCOM saw Teams visit local towns to experiment/question American citizens. Only later did someone apparently inform the program director that the practice might be highly controversial: the apparent extraction of intelligence from private citizens.

A number of sources have provided insights into HTS Phase Zero. Those are listed immediately below.

"There is nothing new to learn about indigenous cultures with respect to why they participate in the drug trade, and attempts to identify key drug operatives or even to engage them, would bring negative publicity from local governments, put those teams in extreme danger, and invite closer scrutiny from congressional oversight committees, not to mention serious ethical and legal implications.

"There is not a single credible academic organization or institution that approves of the Human Terrain System Phase Zero research methodologies. There is not a single [US] Brigade commander who provides any evidence of the effectiveness or use of the research provided by HTS teams. At any one time, at least half of all deployed HTS personnel are on leave, reducing the overall efficiency of each team by 20-50 percent. Not one HTS research product has been subjected to peer-review. They would do better with more linguists and regional or local Subject Matter Experts and HTS provides neither.

Hamilton got spooked last summer when she was informed that the interview training students were conducting in surrounding towns [in the USA] might be interpreted as collecting intelligence on American citizens. Hamilton pulled the plug on that part of training. The quick fix was to use contractors, volunteers, and HTS faculty to role-play people to give the students practice at conducting interviews. This was a disaster in too many ways to cite, but it was subsequently written into the CGI contract to provide up to nine part-time employees who would role-play Brigade staff officers (wearing ACU uniforms in violation of AR 670-1) and local citizens. Can you say "sampling error?" Of course this added to the cost of the contract, and there is no reliable evidence that the training conducted was effective or useful.

An internal report by HTS itself revealed that seven teams are generating about 90% of all the accepted reports....Hamilton directed that a slew of articles be generated for a Military Intelligence Bulletin [available at the Federation of American Scientists Secrecy News site], so that it would appear, that HTS is actually doing something.

A social scientist was reclassified as a team leader and received about a week or so of training at Fort Leavenworth and is going to NORTHCOM in Colorado Springs, Colorado. There is no conceivable purpose for this other than an attempt to recover from what appeared to be an abysmal failure of the two-person team that was sent to Vicenza, Italy.

HTS is a cash cow for CGI [contractor based in Quebec, Canada] and it seemed ordained by senior leadership that HTS would distance itself from BAE no matter what the cost. Most of the BAE contractors were hired by CGI thanks to a recent federal law allows the hiring of people who previously worked on the contract at significantly reduced salaries. CGI cuts corners by recruiting lower ranked enlisted men and officers, most of whom have little military experience; bringing back former HTS members who either resigned before completing training; taking away individual rental cars, and moving the students around by van or bus; and cutting all the salaries for all the former BAE contractors.

There are allegations/suspicions that CGI got insider information from the senior leadership at US Army HTS. There seem to be too many coincidences connected with CGI winning the contract. Oberon, a company started by a retired female senior US Army officer, was purchased by CGI. Second, CGI seemed to know the position descriptions, salaries of BAE employees, work requirements and salaries of all HTS employees. Why does this matter? Because downgrading requirements from GS 15 to GS 14 results in a significant cost savings for the Army for which CGI can claim credit.  There may some type of incentive tied into this contract. CGI circulates lists of prospective candidates to the HTS leadership (remember, these are prospective private contractors). HTS approves or disapproves and this improves the probability of acceptance and graduation rates for CGI. This may be a prohibited personnel practice."

HTS Phase Zero: Peace is their Profession?

Peace is Our Profession was the marketing phrase for the US Air Force's Strategic Air Command (SAC).  It was coined by Brigadier General Edward Martin for use in USAF recruitment campaigns. According to the Official Website of the USAF, "General Martin next was assigned to Headquarters Strategic Air Command at Offutt Air Force Base, Neb., where he assumed duties as chief of the Airmen Retention Branch and then deputy chief, Plans and Programs Division, in the Directorate of Personnel. While in this assignment, he authored the phrase Peace is our Profession which was subsequently adopted as Strategic Air Command motto and [he] managed a retention program which produced the highest reenlistment rates known to the Air Force."

The ironic motto would gain national and international attention thanks to one of Stanley Kubrick's classic movies Doctor Strangelove or How I Stopped Worrying and Leaned to Love the Bomb. Legendary lines from the movie include: "Gentlemen, you can't fight in here, this is the War Room...Mr. President, I am not saying we wouldn't get our hair mussed. But I do say no more than ten to twenty million killed, tops. Uh, depending on the breaks...

We were afraid of a doomsday gap... Mr. President, we must not allow a mineshaft gap!

Mr. President, it is not only possible, it is essential. That is the whole idea of this [doomsday] machine, you know. Deterrence is the art of producing in the mind of the enemy the FEAR to attack. And so, because of the automated and irrevocable decision-making process which rules out human meddling, the Doomsday machine is terrifying and simple to understand and completely credible and convincing..."

We Must Not Allow a Cultural Knowledge Gap!

A Defense News report titled U.S. Army's Human Terrain Experts May Help Defuse Future Conflicts dated March 2012 features material from the US Army Human Terrain website and an interview with Colonel Sharon Hamilton, USA, director of HTS 2.0.

"If we raise the level of understanding [among U.S. troops], we establish a context baseline of beliefs, values, dreams and aspirations, needs, requirements, security - if we can do all of that in Phase Zero, we might not be talking about being somewhere else for 10 years...The Phase Zero concept calls for sending human terrain teams to regions as part of theater-engagement and security-cooperation plans, and to exercises and humanitarian assistance missions - anything involving the military in an area in which it needs socio-cultural information," said Hamilton.

The sequel to the Defense News March of 2012 story was April 2012's New Tool Eyed for Anti-Drug War.

In this article Colonel Hamilton is reported to have been "working on a plan to expand HTS to other regions such as Africa and Latin America. The teams would participate in phase zero operations, which refer to collaborating with local authorities to try to prevent wars or insurgencies. The U.S. Army could send a team of socio-cultural experts to Mexico to aid in counter-narcotics work...The move would be in keeping with the broader role the U.S. Defense Department has assigned to the U.S. Army's Human Terrain System...HTS members were sent to Northern Command's headquarters at Peterson Air Force Base, Colorado., about two weeks ago to explore whether there are gaps in cultural knowledge that might warrant sending human terrain experts to Mexico said Hamilton. They sit down with the staff and help identify gaps in their plans; their engagements, and their training. What don't you know about the populations? If Northern Command gives the order, the experts could be sent to Mexico sometime after the September conclusion of a six-month pilot effort in Colorado Springs. Before sending experts to Mexico, 'we will conduct thorough secondary research using all available sources to try to fill those gaps,' Hamilton added by email.

John Stanton

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Author`s name John Stanton