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Proposal for Examination of the Human Terrain System

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As part of the work of the AAA’s Ad Hoc Commission on Anthropology’s Engagement with the Security and Intelligence Communities (CEAUSSIC), the AAA Executive Board has requested that we gather information regarding the Human Terrain System. Initially, CEAUSSIC was convened in 2006 to provide the Executive Board with information and recommendations regarding how to handle requests for the placement of CIA job ads on the AAA online job site. Our eventual Report to the Executive Board, forwarded in 2007, addressed this, while also expanding our consideration to address some implications for a broader engagement with the military, security and intelligence arenas. Despite the fact that HTS has continued to command significant attention among journalists and as part of anthropology’s ongoing disciplinary conversation about these matters, CEAUSSIC’s own initial report did not address HTS, nor did we as a group either solicit information from or approach managers and members of the HTS program at that time. At the time we had been asked to address other outstanding issues.

However, HTS continues to be an important point of reference among anthropologists in the discussion of what the discipline’s, and the American Anthropological Association’s, position should be with respect to our professional engagement with the military and with military priorities. In the fall of 2007 the AAA’s Executive Board issued a statement on HTS that raised some ethical concerns about the program. During the annual meetings of the AAA in 2007 and 2008 respectively, HTS was a center of controversy. At the same time journalists continue to report on HTS as a litmus test for the broader question of the engagement of the social sciences, and the academy, with the military. However, even as these debates continue, the AAA as of yet does not have adequate or detailed information directly from the program itself. In the absence of information, an otherwise constructive discussion about the role of anthropology in such efforts is hampered by speculation and a scant basis in fact.

For these reasons, phase two of CEAUSSIC’s work will include a more comprehensive report on HTS, which we hope can serve the constructive purpose of a point of reference in ongoing discussion about it. To this end, we are currently in the process of information gathering. In providing a summary of findings, and in making these available to the AAA membership, we hope to provide a more detailed awareness of how the program works and what its goals are, as well as consider the wider implications of programs like this, among anthropologists and non-anthropologists, including for colleagues in the military and elsewhere.

The Commission understands that at present HTS trains its team members that they are not to participate in targeting or intelligence activities, but also has acknowledged that it cannot prevent its reports from being used in unintended ways. We believe that a public discussion of HTS would benefit from some examples of how HTT members navigate these tensions in the field. We recognize that it may be complex to provide these accounts for security reasons. However, we are hoping to include as part of our eventual report information that moves beyond the usual “success vignettes” while helping outside social scientists to understand field practices would be welcome.

The Commission recognizes that the Human Terrain System is a program in development and that information may change rapidly. We will do our best to convey both the fluidity of the program and its ongoing evolution, as well as encourage HTS personnel to provide updates to the AAA as the program changes. We also recognize that the obligation of HTS and its contracting companies to provide these data to the AAA, or to any such requesting citizen, is unclear, given the status of the program.

CEAUSSIC interprets the request from the AAA’s Executive Board to be a request for the following categories of information, which it is currently in the process of gathering and with which we hope to have the collaboration of the HTS program in helping us to accurately establish:

  1. Description of the current and planned scope of activities, including Human Terrain Teams (HTT’s), other deployed teams, and related activities conducted by HTS or plans to be carried forward by HTS
  2. Description of the current and anticipated funding sources, in particular the status of funding (i.e. whether or not funding will be coming from intelligence or other sources)
  3. Current demographics of HTS employees in teams and other positions, in particular, their disciplinary background, degree levels, and pertinent sources of experience, among those filling out social scientist roles
  4. Current recruiting practices and any anticipated changes in these
  5. Current training programs for team members as well as planned changes
  6. Description of the goals and process of the ongoing development of an HTS statement of ethical guidelines
  7. Current and past efforts of HTS designers and managers to consult and comply with the ethical guidelines of social science professional associations, including but not limited to the American Anthropological Association
  8. Current and planned means of assessing team effectiveness as well as any data that have been generated in past assessments
  9. Contractual and normative practices relating to academic freedom and disclosure of program activities
  10. Contractual situation with regard to ownership of data and the ability to protect informant confidentiality
  11. The program position concerning human subject review status of HTS research, specifically compliance with DoD directive 3216.2
  12. HTS’s position regarding non-HTS personnel’s access to HTS data and reports
  13. Past, current, and planned instances of using HTS personnel to identify whether or not specific individuals or groups are aligned with enemy populations

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