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AAA Commission Releases Final Report on Army Human Terrain System

The AAA’s Commission on the Engagement of Anthropology with the US Security and Intelligence Communities (CEAUSSIC) released its Final Report on the Army’s Human Terrain System Proof of Concept Program [pdf]. CEAUSSIC held a press conference on the report during the 2009 Annual Meeting in Philadelphia. Media links and the executive summary are copied below:

Executive Summary

In December of 2008, the Executive Board of the American Anthropological Association asked the Commission on the Engagement of Anthropology with the U.S. Security and Intelligence Communities (CEAUSSIC) to thoroughly review the Human Terrain System (HTS) program, so that the AAA might then formulate an official position on members’ participation in HTS activities. This report details CEAUSSIC’s primary findings, which are summarized in the following key points:

  1. HTS and similar programs are moving to become a greater fixture within the U.S. military. Given still outstanding questions about HTS, such developments should be a source of concern for the AAA but also for any social science organization or federal agency that expects its members or its employees to adhere to established disciplinary and federal standards for the treatment of human subjects.
  2. The current arrangement of HTS includes potentially irreconcilable goals which, in turn, lead to irreducible tensions with respect to the program’s basic identity. These include HTS at once: fulfilling a research function, as a data source, as a source of intelligence, and as performing a tactical function in counterinsurgency warfare. Given this confusion, any anthropologist considering employment with HTS will have difficulty determining whether or not s/he will be able to follow the disciplinary Code of Ethics.
  3. HTS managers insist the program is not an intelligence asset. However, we note that the program is housed within a DoD intelligence asset, that it has reportedly been briefed as such an asset, and that a variety of circumstances of the work of Human Terrain Teams (HTTs) “on the ground” in Iraq and Afghanistan create a significant likelihood that HTS data will in some way be used as part of military intelligence, advertently or inadvertently.
  4. HTTs collect sensitive socio-cultural data in a high-risk environment and while working for one combatant in ongoing conflicts. Given the lack of a well-defined ethical framework of conduct for the program and inability of HTT researchers to maintain reliable control over data once collected, the program places researchers and their counterparts in the field in harm’s way.
  5. When ethnographic investigation is determined by military missions, not subject to external review, where data collection occurs in the context of war, integrated into the goals of counterinsurgency, and in a potentially coercive environment – all characteristic factors of the HTS concept and its application – it can no longer be considered a legitimate professional exercise of anthropology.

In summary, while we stress that constructive engagement between anthropology and the military is possible, CEAUSSIC suggests that the AAA emphasize the incompatibility of HTS with disciplinary ethics and practice for job seekers and that it further recognize the problem of allowing HTS to define the meaning of “anthropology” within DoD.

Media Coverage

CEAUSSIC Blog Series on Anthropology and the Military

13 Responses

  1. [...] Overview of  the Final Report by the AAA’s CEAUSSIC  on the Human Terrain System [AAA Blog] [...]

  2. Did anyone really think an anthropologist could work with the Army and not be compromised? It smells of psychologists in torture chambers.

  3. [...] appreciate the ethical concerns, but from what little I’ve followed on this, it seems that the profession’s leading body isn’t interested in working with the military to address those concerns. (There are also [...]

  4. [...] American Anthropological Association. (2009). AAA Commission Releases Final Report on Army Human Terrain System. Blog of the American Anthropological Association, December 8. http://blog.aaanet.org/2009/12/08/aaa-commission-releases-final-report-on-army-human-terrain-system/ [...]

  5. [...] Commission of the American Anthropological Association Releases Final Report on Army Human Terrain S…, 8 December 2009 [...]

  6. [...] HTS at the end of October of 2007. Two years later, the AAA’s CEAUSSIC released its final report. That is a little more than three years since news of HTS was first [...]

  7. [...] on the Engagement of Anthropology with the U.S. Security and Intelligence Communities (CEAUSSIC) released its “Final Report on the Army’s Human Terrain System Proof of Concept Program,” in early [...]

  8. [...] the Engagement of Anthropology with the U.S. Security and Intelligence Communities (CEAUSSIC) which released its “Final Report on the Army’s Human Terrain System Proof of Concept Program,” in early [...]

  9. [...] has had the most extensive ongoing discussion on this topic. Both Zero Anthropology and the American Anthropological Association have condemned the actions of anthropologists engaged in current human terrain work. Criticisms [...]

  10. [...] Glevum’s contribution to counterinsurgency efforts is a trademarked program called “Face-to-face Research Analysis” that combines intelligence collection with polls and interviews, primarily for the Army’s Human Terrain System—a system that some American social scientists have described as unethical because information gleaned from anthropological researchers ultimately can be used to kill people. [...]

  11. [...] Glevum’s contribution to counterinsurgency efforts is a trademarked program called “Face-to-face Research Analysis” that combines intelligence collection with polls and interviews, primarily for the Army’s Human Terrain System—a system that some American social scientists have described as unethical because information gleaned from anthropological researchers ultimately can be used to kill people. [...]

  12. [...] Glevum’s contribution to counterinsurgency efforts is a trademarked program called “Face-to-face Research Analysis” that combines intelligence collection with polls and interviews, primarily for the Army’s Human Terrain System—a system that some American social scientists have described as unethical because information gleaned from anthropological researchers ultimately can be used to kill people. [...]

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