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Annotated bibliography on HTS, Minerva, and PRISP

21 August, 2008

I’ve been working on an article on the relationship between anthropology and the military, and Nikki Kuper, an honours student in our department, has been thinking about doing her honours thesis project on the Human Terrain System. So together, Nikki and I decided to put together an annotated bibliography of sources on the Human Terrain System, Minerva, and PRISP and post them here to Culture Matters so that others can benefit from them.

If you know of any resources or links that aren’t listed below (or if you spot any mistakes), please send me an e-mail (lisa.wynn[at] and we’ll add them to our list and credit you with the contribution.

–L.L. Wynn and Nikki Kuper

Coverage of HTS, Minerva, and PRISP in the media and in academic publications

Supplied Abstract: The article presents multiple quotes and opinions discussing the subject of embedded anthropologists in the United States military, particularly concerning the Iraq and Afghanistan wars. The validity of the practice is questioned and responses are given both for and against the research method. The moral and ethical aspects of such research is discussed, citing concerns over the possible corrupt use of personal information by the supporting military, the physical danger to anthropologists in combat zones, and the presence or absence of political agendas in the researchers.

* Note: available as a download on the SSI website. It’s pretty amazing how military publications are all open access, available for free. The rest of us academics have a lot to learn about open access. All the Chronicle of Higher Education articles listed here, for example, require a subscription.

Supplied Abstract: This article reports on U.S. military presence in Iraq and its efforts to understand Iraqi society and insurgency. The Human Terrain System is supposed to consist of specialists who could provide insight for counterinsurgency efforts, but recruitment and funding are too low to develop a strong, Arabic-speaking team. The article discusses the training for the Human Terrain experts, their balance between academic and military skills, and the members’ attitudes towards the program.

Supplied Abstract: The article discusses the alleged internal challenges facing the U.S. Army’s Human Terrain System, which places social scientists in Afghanistan and Iraq to serve with military units. Former trainee Zenia Helbig of the University of Virginia was let go from the program in August 2007 because of a comment she made about Iran that brought her U.S. loyalty into question and she has since lost her security clearance. Helbig criticizes the effort for being poorly organized and overlooking the culture of the areas. Academics critical of the program claim that military anthropologists cannot collect reliable data from informants.

Supplied Abstract: The author reports on the debate regarding the involvement of anthropologists in a war zone. The Human Terrain System which places anthropologists in war zones to help military leaders understand the local customs is discussed. The involvement of anthropologist Britt Damon in the program is mentioned. Criticisms which have been raised against the program are discussed. According to the article, associate professor David H. Price feels that the program may assist the governments of Iraq and Afghanistan in conducting counterinsurgency campaigns.

Supplied Abstract: The article discusses the relationship between the academe and the armed forces exemplified by the entry of Marcus Griffin, professor of anthropology at Christopher Newport University in Newport News, Virginia into military service through the U.S. Department of Defense’s Human Terrain System. The system embeds social scientists with brigade in Afghanistan and Iraq, where they serve as cultural advisers to brigade commanders. The initiative was led by General David H. Petraeus, commander of the multinational forces in Iraq.

Supplied Abstract: The article focuses on the Human Terrain teams (HTTs) as part of the new Human Terrain System (HTS) in Great Britain. It stated that the U.S. Department of Defense has distributed six HTTs to Iraq and Afghanistan for counterinsurgency work including anthropologists and other social scientists with graduate degrees. The goal of HTTs is to provide commanders with knowledge bout the local societies so that the commanders can make better decisions and better plans to get the effects on the population they want. According to CACI, a company that recruits social scientists for HTTs, the HTS project is designed to improve the gathering, understanding, operational application, and sharing of local population knowledge at different levels of the military.

Supplied Abstract: The article reports on the new US Army counterinsurgency manual FM3-24 and the military-anthropology complex. This manual was released on December 15, 2006, and it was the first US Army manual solely formulated to counterinsurgency in more than 20 years. Anthropologists Montgomery McFate and David Kilcullen contributed their contentions on the use of cultural knowledge to battle insurgency.

  • R. J. Gonzalez, 2008 Human terrain, Anthropology Today. 24: 1. 21-26.

Supplied Abstract: Between July 2005 and August 2006, the US Army put together an experimental counterinsurgency programme called “Human Terrain System” (HTS). The programme’s building blocks are five-person teams (“Human Terrain Teams” or HTTs) assigned to brigade combat team headquarters in Iraq and Afghanistan, comprising regional studies experts and social scientists, some of whom are armed. This article looks at the roots of the human terrain concept, which appears to have originated in domestic counterinsurgency efforts connected with US government efforts to suppress political dissent in the 1960s. Of special concern were militant groups such as the Black Panthers. The article then explores the genesis and development of HTS, as it moved from concept to reality. As the programme was being implemented, some of those involved with its creation referred to it as a “CORDS for the 21st Century”, in reference to a Vietnam War-era initiative that gave birth to the infamous Phoenix Program. The latter was “neutralization” campaign that led to the assassination of some 26,000 Vietnamese. The article also reviews the potential future uses of the data collected by HTTs, which has been of great interest to several research groups involved in creating “modelling and simulation” computer programmes designed to provide insight into the motivations of terrorists and their networks. The article concludes with a discussion of the ethical dilemmas surrounding human terrain for anthropologists and other social scientists.

  • Roberto J. González 2007. “We Must Fight the Militarization of Anthropology.” Chronicle of Higher Education, February 2.
  • Roberto J. González and David H. Price 2007. “When Anthropologists Become Counter-Insurgents.” CounterPunch, September 28.

A. Goodman, 2008 Expanding and Engaging Anthropologies, Anthropology News. 49: 1. 21-22.

Supplied Abstract: The article focuses on the practices of human terrain system anthropology and its application by the United States Armed Forces in the Iraq War. The author describes his experiences as an imbedded social scientist in Baghdad, Iraq, outlining several duties within his unit, including cultural advisory work, social reconstruction throughout Iraq, and miscommunication arbitration. The author asserts that his academic knowledge is being used to help defend lives and bring about a more efficient reconstruction process to the Iraq War.

Supplied Abstract: The article provides information on the Human Terrain System (HTS) being managed by the Foreign Military Studies Office, a U.S. Army Training and Doctrine Command organization. The HTS aims to address cultural awareness shortcomings at the operational and tactical levels. It discusses the specific roles and functions of Human Terrain Team members. The elements of human terrain include social, ethnographic, cultural, economic and political elements of the people.

Supplied Abstract: The author reflects on Roberto J. Gonzalez’s views on the Human Terrain System (HTS). He argues that HTS is not an espionage programme, on the contrary of what Gonzalez’s believe. Information about HTS and the Human Terrain Team (HTT) are presented. The author concludes that Gonzalez failed to recognize the reasons why the HTS was created.

Supplied Abstract: The article focuses on building a second-half team aimed to secure cultural expertise for the battle space in the U.S. According to the author, the U.S. and its allies have necessarily adapted to a new form of urban and asymmetric warfare preferred by the enemy. He stresses that to remain effective, U.S. needs nonkinetic solutions informed by cultural expertise to meet its national security objectives in present and future conflicts.

Supplied Abstract: The article focuses on the role of anthropologists within the continuing efforts and reconstruction of the Iraq War. The author describes his experiences as an embedded social scientist within Iraq, highlighting the complexity of the social systems within the region and their impact on both military and civil actions of the region. The coalition’s mission to establish stable social structures is asserted, pointing out the positive contribution of anthropologists to the prevention of miscommunications and the sensitivity education of soldiers to the nuances of Iraqi culture.

Supplied Abstract: The article provides a look at anthropologists’ research in Baghdad, Iraq. These anthropologists act as advisers and assist the military in understanding the social connections in Iraq to help create alliances, assess intelligence and avoid potentially harmful situations. It is reported that some critics believe that the research in Iraq is actually a covert intelligence operation.

Supplied Abstract: The article discusses the military application of anthropology by United States forces within the terrorism wars of Iraq and Afghanistan. The author cites the increases in applications of anthropological research methods such as human terrain mapping for ethnographic intelligence and condemns them. The code of ethics held by the anthropology field is discussed and its incompatibility with military actions is stressed. Possible dangers to the entire field of study are also suggested, pointing out that military association could lead to less access to cultural resources in future research.

Blog coverage

  • Blog postings by Maximilian Forte on Open Anthropology blog (the below are just a couple of representative postings; examine the Open Anthropology blog site for a lot more that Forte has written on HTS and Montgomery McFate:
    on Laurie Adler, PR person for HTS
    long article with some useful links

From the Pentagon

17 Comments leave one →
  1. 21 August, 2008 10:59 am

    Hi Lisa,

    There’s a feature article on the Human Terrain Teams in Afghanistan in the September issue of Harper’s. Unfortunately you need a subscription to view the article; I haven’t read it, but it looks promising:
    Human quicksand for the U.S. Army, a crash course in cultural studies
    By Steve Featherstone


  2. 21 August, 2008 12:37 pm

    Hi Eugene,

    Thanks for that — it’s up there, alphabetically listed under Featherstone (but not linked so thanks for providing that). Keep sending anything else you find on the topic.

    And actually I see now that WordPress has automatically changed my 8s and end parentheses into weird emoticons, how annoying. Have to go fix that…


  3. 22 August, 2008 9:48 am

    I have a question that has been nagging me about the 2 parter in Pravda. Specifically, why should I take an article in Pravda, poorly sourced (actually not sourced at all), and full of nothing but RUMINT, seriously? Many of the HTS critics seem top treat it as gospel, which in my mind puts all of their criticism into question simply for swallowing the garbage from Stalin’s favorite news rag.

  4. 22 August, 2008 10:08 am

    ds, what’s RUMINT?

  5. 22 August, 2008 11:54 am

    I’ve updated the above to include some links from the DoD including photos of HTTs, the Pentagon budget justification that mentions the HTT-MAP software, and a couple of speeches by Robert Gates that talk about academic collaboration with the military and HTS.

  6. 22 August, 2008 9:38 pm

    RUMINT = rumors intelligence, just like SIGINT = signals intelligence, ELINT = electronics intelligence, etc.

    The point I was trying to make is that the Pravda stories are full of nothing but rumors, unsourced, unsubstantiated piles of garbage, the very definition of RUMINT.

  7. 23 August, 2008 3:36 am


    Interesting observations on Pravda. However, Pravda is actually not full of RUMINT.

    What Pravda does is called “propaganda.”

    Russian communists perfected the techniques of political propaganda.

    Post-communist, imperialist Russia continues their mastery of this intelligence specialty. Denigration ops are one of their fortes.

    Wonder how they make use of anthropology in South Osettia?


  8. 24 August, 2008 9:58 am

    Hi there. We’ve covered the human terrain system and related issues quite a bit. If you use the search function (top right in the banner), you should be able to pull up all the entries dealing with it. We’ve also got a reading list entitled, for lack of a better term, “Ethnographic Intelligence”, that deals primarily with HTS related readings. You can find that in the right hand navigation bar about mid-way down the page.

  9. 24 August, 2008 6:45 pm

    Thanks, Michael, looks good.

  10. Rike permalink
    27 August, 2008 6:25 am

    Hey, thank you so much for this list! It sure helped me to save a lot of work looking for this stuff myself. When I’m further along my own research I hope I will contribute something in return. 🙂

  11. 2 September, 2008 7:40 pm

    […]Lisa Wynn from Australia ( and her student Nikki Kuper have put together a nice “bibliography” on Human Terrain Sytem, Minerva, PRISP and further elated topics:[…]

  12. Chris MacDonald permalink
    18 November, 2008 10:25 am


    Thought you might be interested in this blog posting, about a recent item in
    the Chronicle of Higher Education on ethics in Anthropology.


    Chris MacDonald, Ph.D.
    Department of Philosophy
    Saint Mary’s University
    Halifax, Canada

    Visiting Fellow, Kenan Institute for Ethics
    Duke University

  13. 10 February, 2012 7:13 am

    Wow, this is a great article full of resources on the HTS. Did you come up with any conclusions on this debate?


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