The Human Terrain System had been sold to the Army as a means of providing cultural knowledge to battlefield commanders. But as I watched the trainees interview residents near the Kansas-Missouri border, it became clear that whatever information they would be providing did not stem from any special knowledge of Iraqi or Afghan culture. Instead of offering cultural expertise, the Human Terrain System was training recruits to parachute into places they’d never been, gather information as quickly as possible, and translate it into something that might be useful to a military commander. One of the few Human Terrain social scientists I met with relevant experience, a Ph.D. candidate in anthropology who had done his dissertation fieldwork in Afghanistan, would describe his Human Terrain work as “windshield ethnography.”
Phi Beta Iota: It tracks with our understanding. HTT is a superb concept corruptly managed by idiots. If it were multinational in nature, fielding teams of Muslim academics and civil affairs and religious professionals, it could be a decisive influence. As it is, it is an ambarrassment to the Human Intelligence (HUMINT) profession, edged out only by clandestine intelligence, which is both non-existent and more expensive.