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- 05-04-2012, 05:55 AM #1
Que Curioso! U.S. Army Cultural Advisers Now Eyeing Mexico
Que Curioso! U.S. Army Cultural Advisers Now Eyeing Mexico
By Noah Shachtman
Latino studies specialist Anna Maria Cardinalli was part of a Human Terrain Terrain in Afghanistan. Photo: U.S. Army
Back in 2006, the U.S. Army began a controversial program to send cultural specialists to unfamiliar warzones. Now the Human Terrain System is investigating the idea of sending social scientists to a place that’s neither alien nor a declared battlefield for U.S. troops: Mexico.
Earlier this month, two HTS advisers were dispatched to the Colorado headquarters of U.S. Northern Command (NORTHCOM), which oversees the military’s actions in this hemisphere. It’s a pilot program, to explore whether there are gaps in cultural knowledge “that might warrant sending human terrain experts to Mexico,” Defense News reports.
It would be an odd choice if they did. Not only has the $100 million-per-year program been wracked by allegations of mismanagement and the unfortunate deaths of three of its social scientists. But there are deep questions about whether the Human Terrain model could work in Mexico. Today, Human Terrain Teams walk through Afghan villages, interviewing anyone who’s willing to speak with them. Team members often have no background in the region, nor can they speak the local language. Some commanders nevertheless find the analysts valuable, simply because Afghanistan is such a foreign place to most Americans.
Mexico, on the other hand, is right next door.
The HTS effort — part of Northern Command’s “Mexican Cultural Analysis Program” — is in its earliest stages “and it would be inappropriate to comment on what the pilot program may determine,” John Cornelio, a Northern Command spokesman, tells Danger Room. There are currently no plans to send HTS personnel to Mexico, he adds. And “any decision to provide support to Mexico would be at the request of the Government of Mexico and only with approval by the U.S. Embassy Mexico.”
Dispatching those Human Terrain experts could be, in a sense, a fulfillment of HTS’ earliest goals. From the start, the program’s co-founders talked about sending in the social scientists in order to better understand local cultures — and, in so doing, lower the temperature of simmering conflicts before they became shooting wars. (In Pentagon jargon, these are known as “phase zero” operations.)
“If we raise the level of understanding [among U.S. troops], we establish a context baseline of beliefs, values, dreams and aspirations, needs, requirements, security — if we can do all of that in Phase Zero, we might not be talking about being somewhere else for 10 years,” HTS director Col. Sharon Hamilton told Defense News in March.
She added that Human Terrain Teams could be valuable “in Africa, in the Pacific, in Mexico — wherever the requirement is.”
A few members of the program has served as liaisons to the Pentagon’s Pacific and Africa Commands. So far, however, the military has assigned Human Terrain Teams to study only the social and cultural landscapes of active warzones. All of the active teams are currently in Afghanistan — with about 100 social scientists from 25 disciplines split into 31 different units. Their presence on these battlefields has long been fraught with problems.
One Human Terrain employee shot and killed an Afghan man after he set a team member on fire. She was one of three team members who died during their deployments. Several teams were reshuffled during their deployment for a variety of competence concerns. There was at least one mass exodus of HTS staffers – and many of those employees, management was only too happy to let go. In December of 2010, former program Another manager Steve Fondacaro told Danger Room that “30 to 40 percent of the people” hired by HTS “were not qualified.” Many of the social scientists dispatched to Afghanistan and Iraq were anything expert in the region.
For instance, Anna Maria Cardinalli (pictured above) has a Ph.D. in theology “with an emphasis in Latino Studies,” and worked as an intelligence analyst in Iraq. She then was recruited to be the Senior Social Scientist on a Human Terrain Team in Helmand Province, Afghanistan. (She’s currently running her own protective services firm, which probably means she’s unavailable for any potential Human Terrain assignments in Mexico.)
As the U.S. war effort winds down in Afghanistan, there’s an open question in military circles about whether maintaining the HTS effort is worth all the heartburn.
“There is a real need for the HTS to show some ‘wins’ after Iraq and Afghanistan. In some ways, working in Mexico may be viewed as a PR opportunity for them,” says Marc Tyrrell, a Senior Research Fellow at the Canadian Centre of Intelligence and Security Studies — and one of the closest observers of HTS effort.
“At present, I wouldn’t trust the HTS to be able to provide a good cultural analysis of Mexico or any other country for a Phase Zero operation,” he adds. “They have no background in doing this.”
Not to worry, Hamilton answers. Before sending experts to Mexico, “we will conduct thorough secondary research using all available sources to try to fill those gaps.” In other words, they’ll read reports on Mexican culture.
Hopefully, they pick up the phone, too. Mexico already has an army that knows the country rather well. Plus, there are several million Americans deeply familiar with Mexican culture — either they or their parents were born there. In other words, this human terrain is not exactly terra incognita.
“I guess the argument would be something like getting a fresh perspective by looking at the problem through a different lens,” e-mails Matt Tompkins, who served on a Human Terrain Team in Iraq. “But that’s a tenuous argument given (1) the close cooperation with capable local forces who probably have much greater ‘local knowledge’; (2) the preponderance of U.S. military and civilian elements in the region who are no strangers to local culture and social dynamics.”
While the U.S. government has been slowly increasing its assistance to Mexico’s cartel-fighters, Mexicans remain deeply ambivalent about that help. Yes, unarmed U.S. drones are operating inside the country under Mexican supervision. And yes, the Mexican government has also launched counter-drug operations from within U.S. territory. But Mexican authorities won’t allow U.S. law enforcement to piggyback on their operations, let alone carry personal arms.
And when Hillary Clinton likened Mexico’s plight to a Colombia-style narco-insurgency, Mexican officials were quick to swat back the comparison. It’s not hard to imagine what the Mexican government might say about military anthropologists coming south of the border to study their oh-so-foreign folkways.
Last edited by HAPPY2BME; 05-04-2012 at 05:57 AM.U.S. Constitution - Article IV, Section 4: GUARANTEES AMERICA FROM INVASION!