McFate and Co
Montgomery McFate was sitting in a bar in Washington DC with her husband Sean in late 2001, discussing their financial future together. He was an opera-loving, former US parachute officer, soon to turn mercenary, and she the daughter of Sausalito bohemians who lived on a houseboat and were friends with Beat writers, Jack Kerouac and Lawrence Ferlinghetti. As a teenager, she was called 'Satan's Beekeeper' for her black outfits and Gothic taste in veils, but she worked hard and won a scholarship to study anthropology at Berkeley and law at Yale. Her PhD dissertation on the Republican community in Northern Ireland raised eyebrows among anthropologists, but she argued back: 'It seemed to me that how human beings go to war is as much a product of culture as table manners or sexual practices.' Like Dorothy Parker, McFate has a gift for feisty, but mordant, sound-bites. A three-year tour of Germany as an army wife ensued and, and then the couple returned to Washington to work out their next move. 'How do I make anthropology relevant to the military?' she scribbled on a napkin. 
After studying North Korean society at the Rand Corporation, McFate won a fellowship in the Office of Naval Research in 2004 where she was asked to respond to a call for help from the 4th Infantry Division in interpreting Iraqis' cultural behaviour in the Sunni Triangle. She spent 18 months debriefing returning soldiers, before publishing an academic anatomy of why, she believed, the US was failing to defeat the Iraqi insurgency, replete with citations from Thucydides, Sun Tzu and TE Lawrence on the importance of adjusting to local cultures, rather than imposing alien solutions. 'With no central resource for cultural analysis,' she wrote in Joint Forces Quarterly, 'military and policy players who need the information most are left to their own devices. According to a Special Forces colonel assigned to the Under Secretary of Defense for Intelligence, "We literally don't know where to go for information on what makes other societies tick, so we use Google to make policy".' 
She pointed out the cultural barriers to effective communication. 'The American gesture for stop (arm straight, palm out) means welcome in Iraq, while the gesture for go means stop to Iraqis (arm straight, palm down). This and similar misunderstandings have had deadly consequences.' She described how large charts, identifying local leaders, social status, their interrelationships with other stakeholders, and tribal and family ties helped to locate the hiding place of Saddam Hussein. The army had already set in place foreign area officers (FAOs) to brief field commanders on local knowledge and customs, but 'few FAOs are ever subjected to deep cultural immersion totally outside the military structure', she pointed out. A new doctrine of war was being unwrapped for inspection - and another school of mercenary was about to be inducted.
In 2006, McFate was invited to contribute 50 pages of analysis on the use of 'cultural knowledge' and 'intelligence preparation of the battlefield (IPB)' to FM 3-24, the first manual dedicated to counter-insurgency (COIN) in over 20 years. As commander of the Combined Arms Center at Fort Leavenworth, Kansas from 2005, General David Petraeus had overseen the manual's construction and publication in December 2006, prior to taking command in January 2007 of US forces in Iraq, where he would argue for a final putsch against the enemy, known as the 'surge'. She wrote of culture as a 'web of meaning ... [that] influences how people make judgments about what is right or wrong, assess what is important and unimportant, categorise things, and deal with things that do not fit into existing categories'; and of the significance of 'rituals, symbols, ceremonies, myths and narratives'. It was a job description for a necromancer. She drew on her work on Ulster Republicans to outline the familial, social and occupational networks that underpin recruitment to asymmetrical insurgencies and the need to chart them exhaustively before launching any COIN campaign that laid claim to sustainability. 'External experts with local and regional knowledge,' she concluded, 'are critical to effective preparation.'  For the first time since Vietnam, the phrase 'mercenary anthropology' rang through the halls of academia. McFate, meanwhile, was finding a less conventional celebrity as 'Pentagon Diva', author of iluvamaninuniform.blogspot.com, while husband Sean reflected on opera's power to soothe the savage breast as the Musical Mercenary. 
One of her working colleagues on Petraeus' document was another blue-sky thinker on COIN techniques, David Kilcullen, an Australian officer with intelligence connections, who had studied political anthropology for a doctorate, taking as his subject the Darul Islam insurgency among the Muslim villages of Western Java, Indonesia. In 2004, Paul Wolfowitz, Deputy Minister of Defense, invited him to contribute to the Pentagon's 'Quadrennial Defense Review' and he was later seconded to work under Condoleezza Rice at the State Department. 'America is very, very good at big, short conventional wars,' he told a journalist in the typically, up-ended Aussie dialect that suggests a question is being asked. 'It's not very good at small, long wars. But it's even worse at big, long wars.'  Afghanistan was well on its way to becoming a big, long war by then. He shared McFate's vision of anthropology working in service to the military, calling it 'armed social science'.  In a series of pointers to company commanders, he advised: 'Know the people, the topography, economy, history, religion and culture. Know every village, road, field, population group, tribal leader and ancient grievance. Your task is to become the world expert on your district.'
In 2005, the Pentagon took McFate and Kilcullen's ideas on waging COIN and submitted them to further testing in a 'proof-of-concept' programme, entitled Cultural Operational Research Human Terrain System, under the aegis of the Training and Doctrine Command (TRADOC), in Fort Monroe, Virginia. With its focus on intimate, local knowledge, the Human Terrain System (HTS), as it became known, was quickly identified as having a 'left of boom' application that could help to detect the fabricators and placers of roadside bombs if HTS teams could pinpoint the internal, cultural logic that, it was hoped, would endear villagers to the government, and the material and security benefits provided by the US military. HTS' initial funding, as a result, came from the Joint Improvised Explosive Device Defeat Organization (JIEDDO), created in 2003 to pool and prove efforts by the services, private enterprise and academia to develop IED counter-measures and improve intelligence gathering. Steve Fondacaro, the retired army colonel who had commanded JIEDDO for one year, was appointed HTS programme manager, while his deputy, Steve Rokoff, was closely linked with McNeil Technologies, a purveyor of 'intelligence solutions' and interpreters in Afghanistan. BAE Systems was designated lead personnel contractor, without going through a bidding process.  ' We're great at killing people and breaking things,' said Fondacaro of his new mission. 'But if we want to be relevant in the 21st century, we have to adapt. This is a competition for the support of the population. So we've got to understand how the society is hardwired.' 
McFate was appointed HTS' chief scientific advisor at a salary of $200,000, according to John Stanton, a specialist on national security, who has maintained a running watch on HTS since 2008.  At brainstorming sessions in the High Noon Saloon, 1 Choctaw St, Fort Leavenworth, Kansas, where the programme was located, McFate, Fondacaro, Rotkoff and Maxie McFarland, TRADOC's deputy chief of staff for intelligence, laboured to put flesh on the concept they'd worked so hard to envisage. A Human Terrain Team (HTT) consisting of five to nine members, weighted three parts to two between military and civilian personnel, was to be imbedded in each of the 26 US brigades deployed in Iraq and Afghanistan. They were to employ interviews, focus groups and opinion polls to generate complex databases on local leaders, tribes, political disputes, economic issues and social problems, and to advise commanders on nuances of body language, table manners, gift giving and the local art of the quid pro quo. In 2007, Defense Secretary Robert Gates awarded HTS a $40 million budget, increased to $143 million two years later, and Petraeus, a social sciences post-graduate himself, looked benignly on the manoeuvre. 'The HTTs have evolved into important elements in our operations in Iraq,' he said.  HTS had struck pay dirt.
The reaction among anthropologists was horrified dismay that their principles of impartial observation of human groups were about to be sold to the defence sector as a template for intelligence gathering or, more candidly, spying. HTS triggered flashbacks to Chile and the Vietnam War where anthropologists in the 1960s were recruited to provide insight into dissident movements that informed clandestine US campaigns to prop up dictatorship or assassinate enemy sympathisers. 'You pitch a tent... among the people you want to understand,' said Hugh Gusterson, professor of Cultural Studies at George Mason University, 'you live with them, you catch their diseases, you eat their horrible food, you share their joys and pains. The thought that you would cultivate these relationships of trust and intimacy, and then ... go to the Pentagon and say, "these are the people you should kill, these are the people you shouldn't kill." That's extremely problematical for people with that methodology.'  On 31 October 2007, the American Anthropological Association (AAA) warned that HTS jeopardised its code of conduct, which orders practitioners to do no harm to subjects, but fell short of outright condemnation until two years later when, after further study, it ruled that HTS 'can no longer be considered a legitimate professional exercise of anthropology'.  An AAA blog set up to gauge the opinions of its members - mostly Democrats by a wide margin  - vilified McFate for bringing the profession into disrepute; her name, manner and blog, doubtless, lent themselves to easy demonisation. HTS supporters countered that professional researchers would help reduce the need for indiscriminate, lethal force, improve negotiating strategies and yield more appropriate development options, objectives all imbedded in the new COIN strategy, but to no avail. 'I'm frequently accused of militarising anthropology,' she quipped, 'but we're really anthropologising the military.'  But it was a disingenuous remark: HTTs, outfitted with combat uniforms, body armour and weapons, were indistinguishable from soldiers in appearance and no amount of geniality could disguise that first impression.
HST's negative AAA rating discouraged anthropologists in droves, even at salaries upwards of $250,000 a year, leading one HTS graduate, Ben Wintersteen, to criticise the profession for endangering American and Afghan lives in the field.  But there was also a dire shortage of candidates with the appropriate cultural and linguistic skills. 'There are not enough Afghan experts in the United States to staff more than one or two human terrain teams,' said Chris Mason, a former government expert on Afghanistan, 'which has been the Achilles' heel of the programme from the start.'  Fondacaro had budgeted for at least nine teams in Afghanistan. BAE Systems responded to the shortfall by dropping its requirements. On Wintersteen's four-month course in Building 48, the HTS HQ, only 13 out of 50 HTS trainees were social scientists - five with PhDs - while the remainder were retired or serving officers with experience in Afghanistan. The result was a cognitive dissonance between academics, levitated out of the military pay scale for writing PhDs on Native American, Andaman or hip-hop culture, and veterans with multiple tours of duty behind them in the very terrain the scientists intended to study, now sidelined to the role of babysitters and earning a quarter of the salary of the Afghan-American terps the HTTs brought with them. 'Research methodologies are universal,' said Fondacaro, by way of papering over the gulf between his trainees' lack of area expertise and the hazardous environment they were about to enter. Several candidates said they were accepted onto the course after telephone interviews in which their linguistic skills were not tested.  Between the big idea and the soldiers looking out for it in the field, of course, stood the bypassed native terp.
The first HTT in Afghanistan was deployed in February 2007 to Ghazni in Paktia, in support of Operation Khyber, a 15-day sweep of the road to Khost to clear it of some 250 Taliban. The US press corps was not far behind in the rear. In a series of reports designed to flatter the HTS' more user-friendly approach to insurgency, journalists toured the Shabak Valley with Tracy St. Benoit, an anthropologist who had conducted 'hundreds' of interviews with local men and women 'for hours on end', and had a number of deliverables to discuss. The HTT had discovered a high concentration of war widows in one district that placed pressure on their sons to join the insurgency for money. The team recommended a job-training scheme for the women. In another district, the HTT argued that the beheading of a local elder had resulted from a dispute between sections of the Zadran tribe over a forest rich in timber, not a Taliban reprisal as was first supposed. She recommended a shura to resolve the quarrel by persuading the warring sides to agree on where a new school should be built. Col. Martin Schweitzer of the 82nd Airborne attributed a 60% drop in kinetic operations around Camp Salerno to HTS teams since the previous February In the village of Kuz Khadokhel, Tracy advised Capt. Aaron White, a battalion commander of the 508th Parachute Infantry Regiment, on how to identify leaders in a shura through their body language, and how to address them without undermining his own authority. 'I can't tell you how beneficial they are,' gushed White of his new advisors, 'they've got PhDs in this stuff. They know all the cultural idiosyncrasies.' Tracy valiantly presented the HTT's achievements in the field, but there was no disguising the note of forced optimism in the value of its outputs. 'It may be one less trigger that has to be pulled around here,' she said. 'It's how we gain ground, not tangible ground, but cognitive ground. Small things can have a big impact.' 
The picture was less rosy from the inside, and the friction between soldier and civilian quite palpable. 'You aren't one of those HT assholes who want to talk to the locals while I sit in my MRAP for 10 hours?' Lt. Jeremy Jones asked a journalist imbedded with the HTT at Bagram. It consisted of one social scientist with Afghan experience, 20 years past its sell-by date, three research managers, an IT specialist and three Afghan-American interpreters, housed with their laptops, maps and desks in a 5x8m plywood hut. The team had no vehicle, so depended on scheduled patrols for access to the world outside the wire, always accompanied by troops in combat-ready gear. The PRT refused to associate with the HTT because of complaints at their constant questioning of local people for whom consorting with the 'military' was dangerous, as well disagreeable. Military counterparts treated them with contempt because of their privileged status, ignorance of Afghan realities and desperation to gain some purchase to justify their organisational presence. 'Today we have hundreds of researchers here,' said Masood Karokhail, a freelance Afghan human terrain map-maker. 'If the social scientists had been here in 2001, they would have a lot more access. Now everyone is interested in the Pashtuns, and the Pashtuns don't want to talk with the foreigners.' 
Back in the US, John Stanton, a ferocious HTS critic, was using inside sources at Fort Leavenworth and BAE Systems, its main personnel contractor, to build a case against the programme. In a series of posts at zeroanthropology and cryptome.org, he exposed accounting irregularities, failures in oversight and leadership, questionable business practices, sexual abuse, lack of weapons training, plunging morale, and waste. The last included $15 million spent on a HT mapping software programme that did not work, and a $20 million contract to Sensory Technology International and Glevum Associates for 24 opinion surveys in Iraq.  '[Fondacaro] is sending neophytes into theatre,' said one source, 'and they will get killed.' HST suffered its first fatality on 2 May 2008 in Khost when Michael Bhatia, an Oxford-educated doctor in international relations and co-author of Afghanistan, Arms and Conflict (2008), died when a roadside bomb exploded under his Humvee, blowing off the doors and killing two US servicemen.  Bhatia had been based at Camp Salerno the previous November but, denied permission to leave the wire, had devoted himself to a doctoral dissertation, 'The Mujahedin: A Study of Combatant Motives in Afghanistan, 1978-2004', and enquiring of local officials which village elders and religious leaders had been assassinated in the area. 'No one has ever asked me those questions before,' said the district commissioner. 'These questions should have been asked a long time ago.'  Bhatia was on his first trip outside the wire - ironically, to the very same Zadran dispute over timber rights that Tracy claimed to have resolved a year earlier - when he met his death. 'Because of Michael Bhatia's superb contributions to his team's mission,' said Steve Fondacaro in his graveside eulogy, 'significant numbers of American soldiers and Afghan civilians, who would otherwise have been casualties of war, are alive and together with their families today.'
In early November the same year, Paula Loyd, a social researcher in the Kandahar HTT, was interviewing villagers in Chehel Gazi, Maiwand district, about the price of cooking fuel, along with Don Ayala, an army veteran and former bodyguard to President Hamid Karzai, and a group of soldiers. Fluctuations in price could help determine whether insurgents had interdicted the supply line. Loyd held a 15-minute chat with a man called Abdul Salam, who was holding a jug of fuel. Just as her guards motioned it was time to go, Salam doused the young woman with the contents of the jug and set her on fire. She 'was engulfed in a ball of flame large enough to force those who were near to her to involuntarily back away to a distance of 3-5 metres,' according to court documents.  Salam ran off, only to be tackled by Ayala and some soldiers who flexi-cuffed him. After checking on Loyd, who suffered burns over 60% of her body, Ayala returned to Salam, told his interpreter, 'Tell him, I think he's the devil', and shot him through the temple.  Loyd died of her injuries in January 2009 and US prosecutors charged Ayala with second-degree murder, and for acting as 'judge, jury and executioner'.
The episode revealed some interesting details about HTS hiring practices. Loyd was not an anthropologist and, though she could have become one, chose to be a tank mechanic, dropping out of a master's course at Georgetown University when her unit, the 450th Civil Affairs Battalion, was summoned to Afghanistan in 2002. After the 450th was sent home in 2004, she stayed on, working for the International Organization for Migration and later USAID at the PRT in Zabul. In 2006, she had plans to marry, bought a house in North Carolina and told friends she was suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder. When the HTS programme started a year later, she decided to make 'one last tour'.  Though experienced in building roads and wells in Zabul, Loyd was no more a qualified anthropologist than Ayala, a professional mercenary suffering 'prior dormant combat stress injuries' even before the killing. 'Immediately after the incident,' he told the court, 'I was allowed to go see Paula. I will never forget hearing Paula cry "I'm cold", over and over as the medic tried to treat her wounds.' Prosecutor Michael Rich argued: 'Given his background and experience, Ayala not only must have known better than to execute Salam, he should have been able to control himself.'  Of these two positions, the public preferred the interpretation as an act of revenge committed in a righteous passion, to a charge of dereliction of discipline. After Ayala pleaded guilty to manslaughter, he was sentenced to probation and a $12,500 fine in February 2009, a month after Loyd passed away in a San Antonio hospital.
That same month, the US anthropology community delighted in claims by Dr Marilyn Dudley-Flores, a senior HTT member assigned to the 101st Airborne Command at Bagram, that she had been subjected to death threats, sexual harassment and willfully deployed to 'hot areas' infested with Taliban by team leader Dr Milan Sturgis, a Serbian Orthodox priest attached to the US Navy, and an active-duty officer, 1st Lt. José Perez. Dudley-Flores, undoubtedly obese at the time of her assignment, was the first certified combat mountaineer in the Alaska National Guard and collaborated on devising a human terrain-mapping programme at the University of South Carolina. The 'death threat' came as an entry on a white board of things to do that said 'mata la vaca' ('kill The Cow') (the Alaskan had been nicknamed The Cow by her colleagues). Dudley-Flores was terminated for 'non-performance' in December 2008 and Sturgis removed as team leader around the same time. An investigation by the 101st into the allegations found no evidence of 'multiple conspiracies' against Dudley-Flores, seconded Sturgis' removal and disciplined Perez, but reserved its bitterest criticism for the HTS management in Building 48. 
'HTS should also establish or improve procedures for a rigorous review of applicant credentials and claims of pertinent experience prior to hiring team members,' it found. 'In this case, poor and unverified credentials and exaggerations of pertinent experience on the part of team members contributed to a toxic environment where [HTT], rather than being an enabler, actually became a distraction to the CJTF-101 mission. ... [HTS] should implement or improve Prevention of Sexual Harassment training and establish a means of enforcing professional conduct in an environment by people of diverse backgrounds from multiple civilian employers.'
Major Ben Connable, a Marine Corps FAO with three Iraqi tours behind him, spoke for many soldiers when he questioned the value, cost and contribution of HST in a widely circulated paper in Military Review.  While conceding the dearth in military 'cultural capability' from 2001-03, he criticised Petraeus' COIN manual for approving the diversion of intelligence investment away from the 'combat-proven FOA' programme and into 'non-organic' HTTs, and their back-up cultural experts in Fort Leavenworth - effectively a form of privatisation. 'The progenitors of HTS,' he wrote, 'took a requirement for a comprehensive and sustainable solution - train combat units to navigate the cultural terrain - and instead created a costly, quick-fix response to an immediate need. ... In theory, HTS could have addressed the perceived immediate need while the services addressed the long-term programmes.' He pointed out the contradiction of HTS independently hiring officers with FAO, Special Forces or intelligence experience at premium rates, only to assign them to the same staffs they had originally been trained to serve. 'HTS has sapped the attention or financing from nearly every cultural programme in the military and from many within the military intelligence community,' he concluded. '...We have been at war for eight years. When do the "quick fix" solutions give way to long-term, doctrinally sound programmes? It is time for HTS to give way.'
By February 2009, HTS had taken $250 million in Pentagon funds, and trained and dispatched six teams of two social scientists each to Afghanistan. 
1 Matthew B. Stannard, 'Montgomery McFate's Mission', San Francisco Chronicle, 29 April 2007; George Packer, 'Knowing the Enemy', New Yorker, 18 December 2006; Noah Shachtman, 'Montgomery McFate: Use anthropology in Military Planning', Wired, 22 September 2008. [Back]
2 Montgomery McFate, 'The Military Utility of Understanding Adversary Culture', Joint Forces Quarterly, Summer 2005. [Back]
3 'Counterinsurgency' June 2006, Department of the Army, www.fas.org/irp/doddir/army/fm3-24fd.pdf; Roberto J. Gonzalez, 'Towards mercenary anthropology?' Ánthropology Today, June 2007, Vol. 23, No. 3. [Back]
4 'Of joking relationships', In Harmonium, marctyrrell.com/2008/06/21/of-joking-relationships/; musicalmerc.blogspot.com. [Back]
5 George Packer, 'Knowing the Enemy'. [Back]
6 Ibid. [Back]
7 Dan Ephron and Silvia Spring, 'A Gun in One Hand, A Pen in the Other', Newsweek, 21 April 2008. [Back]
8 Matthew B. Stannard, 'Montgomery McFate's Mission'. [Back]
9 John Stanton, 'Millions of Dollars Wasted, Two Lives Sacrificed', zeroanthropology.net. [Back]
10 Noah Shachtman, 'Montgomery McFate: Use Anthropology in Military Planning'. [Back]
11 Matthew B. Stannard, 'Montgomery McFate's Mission'. [Back]
12 Christopher Shay, 'Should Anthropologists Go to War?', Time, 13 December 2009. [Back]
13 Matthew B. Stannard, 'Montgomery McFate's Mission'. [Back]
14 David Rohde, 'Army Enlists Anthropology in War Zones', New York Times, 5 October 2007. [Back]
15 Dan Ephron and Silvia Spring, 'A Gun in One Hand, A Pen in the Other'; Christopher Shay, 'Should Anthropologists Go to War?' [Back]
16 Farah Stockman and Bryan Bender, 'Afghan plan adds 4,000 troops', Boston Globe, 27 March 2009. [Back]
17 Dan Ephron and Silvia Spring, 'A Gun in One Hand, a Pen in the Other'. [Back]
18 Monte Morin, 'Cultural advisors give US teams an edge', Stars and Stripes, 22 April 2010; Scott Peterson, 'US Army's strategy in Afghanistan: better anthropology', Christian Science Monitor, 7 September 2007; David Rohde, 'Army Enlists Anthropology in War Zones'. [Back]
19 Robert Pelton, 'Afghanistan: The New War for Hearts and Minds', Men's Journal, 21 January 2009. [Back]
20 John Stanton, 'US Army Promotes Waste, Fraud and Abuse at TRADOC Human Terrain Program', zeroanthropology.net, 11 December 2008. [Back]
21 Adam Geller, 'Professor pays ultimate price in country he loved', Arizona Republic, 9 March 2009. [Back]
22 Ibid. [Back]
23.John Stanton, 'USA v Don Ayala: HTS Management, Army Leadership on Trial Too', Zeroanthropology.net, 6 May 2009. [Back]
24 Tim Reid, 'Freedom for US contractor Don Ayala who shot dead Taliban killer', The Times, 9 May 2009. [Back]
25 Farah Stockman, 'Anthropologist's war death reverberates', Boston Globe, 12 February 2009. [Back]
26 Tim Reid, 'Freedom for US contractor Don Ayala who shot dead Taliban killer'. [Back]
27 John Stanton, 'Death Threat Tarnishes US Army Human Terrain System, Zeroanthropology.net, 26 February 2009; John Stanton, 'Toxic at Headquarters and in Bagram', Zeroanthropology.net, 2 April 2009. [Back]
28 Major Ben Connable, 'All Our Eggs in a Broken Basket', Military Review, March-April 2009. [Back]
29 Farah Stockman, 'Anthropologist's war death reverberates'. [Back]