1999 demonstration in Port Harcourt welcoming home Owens Wiwa, the brother of Ken Saro-Wiwa (faces intentionally blurred by the photographer)

1999 demonstration in Port Harcourt welcoming home Owens Wiwa, the brother of Ken Saro-Wiwa (faces intentionally blurred by the photographer)

The people of the Niger Delta are a principal target of AFRICOM and the Human Terrain System, HTS. The people in the picture above are targets. We know this because in the same month AFRICOM was announced, contractors for the US Marines were looking for academics to “study” ethnic groups in the Niger Delta. The Delta is considered a prime candidate for “stability operations” because of the social unrest generated by 50 years of ruthless exploitation by oil companies complicit with successive Nigerian governments. People in the Delta want a share of their own wealth. It is not just Nigeria that is a target. Most of the countries in Africa are targets for “stability operations”, “nation building”, and “humanitarian” assistance because of their enormous natural resources, especially oil. Somalia is a case in point. This week I read:

in ecoterra int’l’s jan 25th update : Major oil companies who declared force majeure on their Somali assets in the 1990s are reviving their claims to blocks in the unrecognized but relatively peaceful Republic of Somaliland.

Roberto González wrote the book American Counterinsurgency: Human Science and the Human Terrain, and was interviewed by David Price for CounterPunch.

González is a founding member of the Network of Concerned Anthropologists and has been at the forefront of debates on Human Terrain within the American Anthropological Association (AAA).

González: … For more than two years, a group of military planners has been involved in a scheme to whitewash counterinsurgency-to clean up the image of anti-revolutionary warfare, which is always a dirty business. Even though the US military has more than a century of experience in counterinsurgency warfare (going back to the “Indian Wars” of the 1800s and the cruel campaign against Filipino revolutionaries in the early 1900s), General David Petraeus and other battlefield technicians have portrayed the method as a “gentler” means of fighting, while recruiting political scientists, anthropologists, and other social scientists to create the tools to do this. The Human Terrain System, which embeds social scientists in combat brigades in Iraq and Afghanistan, is among the most visible new counterinsurgency programs, and this became the focus of my work.

HTS personnel tend to use outdated anthropological concepts, theories, and methods, mostly from the 1930s and 1940s. For example, Montgomery McFate (the Pentagon’s senior social science advisor for HTS) has recently published articles and given presentations in which she relies heavily upon the concept of “tribalism,” functionalist theory, and data collection methods developed for the Human Relations Area Files. Others have sought to incorporate social network analysis as a research method. Each of these elements was either created or elaborated at a time when many anthropologists were employed by colonial governments to more effectively control indigenous populations. It’s no accident that these are precisely the tools advocated by HTS’s architects.

In the past, when military planners and colonial administrators sought the counsel of anthropologists, they looked for a social science stripped of ambiguity, meaning, and context. They wanted simple analytical tools that might help them accomplish short-term objectives: to put down an uprising, to manufacture propaganda, to conduct psychological warfare, to divide one ethnic group or religious sect against another. Today, anthropologists commissioned by the Pentagon as counterinsurgency consultants use the same tools as instruments for manipulation and social control-not as a means of humanizing other people. Some of this work is published in army journals with titles like, “The Military Utility of Understanding Adversary Culture” and “Operational Culture for the Warfighter.” These kinds of articles tell us a great deal about a principal aim of militarized social science: transforming culture into a weapon.

Recently, a military contract firm called Archimedes Global posted a recruitment ad for “socio-cultural cell” members within the newly-established AFRICOM (US African Command). The ad calls for specialists with “human terrain” expertise, among others. It’s a clear example of how human terrain has become a much broader phenomenon, now embraced by the military, industries, and research universities. Beyond the army’s HTS program, human terrain has become a growth industry.

After Robert Gates replaced Donald Rumsfeld as Defense Secretary, there was a boom in funding for projects focused on human terrain research and “culture-centric” warfare, and this attracted dozens of companies from the military-industrial complex-BAE Systems, Aptima Corporation, MITRE, the RAND Corporation, Wexford Group, MTC Technologies, NEK Advanced Securities Group, and Alpha Ten to name a few. Unfortunately, President Obama has asked Gates-a staunch supporter of HTS-to continue serving as Defense Secretary

Despite this overwhelming evidence pointing to a program run amok, the US Congress has not shown much interest in investigating HTS. … It will be left to citizens of conscience to demand the abolition of human terrain teams-and the imperial wars that employ them.