A microcosm of America’s decline: Killer Pentagon program runs amok

“Unless changes are made, continued waste and fraud will undercut the effectiveness of money spent in future operations, whether they involve hostile threats overseas or national emergencies here at home requiring military participation and interagency response. Responsibility for this state of affairs lies with Congress, the White House, federal departments, the military services, agency leadership, contractors, and individuals who abuse the system. Contract waste, fraud, and abuse take many forms: An ill-conceived project, no matter how well-managed, is wasteful if it does not fit the cultural, political, and economic norms of the society it is meant to serve, or if it cannot be supported and maintained. Poor planning and oversight by the U.S. government, as well as poor performance on the part of contractors, have costly outcomes: time and money misspent are not available for other purposes, missions are not achieved, and lives are lost.Commission on Wartime Contracting

Lives lost, damaged

Michael Bhatia, a former member of the US Army Human Terrain System (HTS), was said to have exercised “bad judgment” on the day of his death, knowing that he was piggy-backing with US soldiers who were high value targets for the insurgents. Advised not to travel on that day by colleagues, he did so anyway.

Nicole Suveges used her academic skill sets to not so indiscreetly assist the US military in rigging and changing the outcome of a local election involving the Sadrists. The Sadrists found out and retaliated. They found, fixed, tracked, targeted, engaged and killed her.

Paula Loyd’s death was, at core, the result of letting her guard down whilst talking with an Afghani man who happened to be holding an open container of flammable liquid. He doused her with the fluid and lit her on fire. A murder/manslaughter immediately followed, as did an arrest and punishment. The suffering continues for the two American families and one Afghanistan family involved.

These three individuals were lionized in the US press. The HTS program directorate led by Dr. Steve Fondacaro (program manager), Dr. Montgomery McFate (senior social scientist and “creator”)—with oversight of Maxie McFarland of TRADOC G-2—used their deaths to advance HTS program growth/funding, and browbeat “liberal” academia for not embracing the new non-kinetic counterinsurgency program cobbled together with bits and pieces of doctrine dating back to Sun Tzu. They were supported in this effort by former Secretary of Defense Robert Gates (who just signed lucrative book deals with Knopf Doubleday) and former US Army General David Petraeus, now CIA director.

The reality, of course, was that US political and military leaders did not prepare their soldiers, contractors or the American people for these long wars on terror or the cultures in which the wars would be conducted. As Zbigniew Brezezinski correctly pointed out, the American people and their leaders are stunningly ignorant of the world around them. The US Army Human Terrain System program has only made matters worse.

Meanwhile, no one paid much attention to the US soldiers who were damaged in Iraq and Afghanistan, having the had the misfortune to be in close proximity to HTS: Lt Brian Brennan—both legs amputated) Wesley Cureton—wounded, partially blinded; Scott Wilson—wounded, status unknown; name unknown—shot in chest; name unknown—wounded in vehicle rollover.

Then there was the unfortunate incident of a suicide: a US Army sergeant killed himself while employed at HTS. While there is no firm linkage to suggest the HTS environment and management personnel triggered the incident, the tragic event added more darkness to the already dismal program. Sources now report that some HTS personnel returning from overseas are suffering from PTSD.

As two observers put it, “The soldiers are too much trouble for this civilian program [HTS]. The people who run this shit do not care about the training or the candidates. This is about contractors and others making money and that is the bottom line. HTS is a money making scam run by a shit load of retired officers and contractors . . . What he told us over a few beers is downright disgusting. Human Terrain Team member’s double dipping their per diem meals and claiming false time worked . . .”

“The truth of the matter is that where there is widespread, systemic damage in an organization like HTS, liability gets spread around, but Steve Fondacaro and Montgomery McFate were ultimately responsible during the years they were at the helm. From the beginning, they kept talking about expansion and ‘doing’ other Combatant Commands. They devoted resources in the rear to that effort, which by default detracted from much-needed attention to immediate programmatic problems. Then they scapegoated various employees who blew the whistle on corruption and the American Anthropological Association whenever things went wrong, which was often,” said an observer.

Stressed out

“The inability of HTS management to recognize that it has a psychological relationship with its employees, whether they go down range or not, is by now legendary,” said a person familiar with the program. “Such a volatile environment is also against Army values. The Army teaches its people to watch out for each other on a psychological basis. HTS does not.”

In 2008 and 2009 the HTS Training Directorate in Fort Leavenworth had an employee who was interviewing members of each HTS training cycle to get a sense of how students scored the training (volunteers granted interviews). He gained permission from trainees in the HTS training cycle to tape the post-training sessions. He asked them at the end of every training cycle to rate the training. Observers say that most trainees ranked aspects of the curriculum no higher than a 2 on a scale on 1 to 10 (1 being lowest, 10 being highest). According to observers, “He was truly committed to making things better but despite his great efforts, nothing changed except that the Iraq and Afghanistan studies parts of the program were discontinued and a “real world” Fort Polk component added.

“The Fort Polk component began several months ago and the results have been abysmal. The retention rates are the worst ever,” said a source. After each HTS training cycle, the results were the same yet program management ignored the data that might have been used to take corrective action.

As a result, many HTS trainees finished their training disgusted and embittered. The dysfunctions encountered during training led many to carry excess psychological baggage into their assignments whether in or out of the USA. According to one source, this “illustrates the terrible indifference of HTS management to its people, to the program itself, to the Army, and to the American taxpayer.”

“This is not a good way to begin one’s deployment into a war zone,” said an observer. “The stress the HTS training directorate caused was so severe that in one training exercise some former uniformed military personnel mentioned how they were taught to observe others for signs of operational stress that might lead to suicidal behavior. The retired uniformed personnel went on to speculate that it was only a matter of time until HTS would experience a suicide.”

There are good people in the HTS program who “try and try and try on a regular basis to make the system work and believe in the HTS concept,” said an observer. “They want to make the program do what it was intended to do. But their attempts to promote the best of the American work ethic and Army values into HTS are stymied by management at every turn.”

After enough time in the HTS program these “idealists” often describe themselves as disillusioned or depressed. “These are high-quality, competent people whose contributions are often overlooked and dismissed by their supervisors or others in managerial positions. Their depression is the result of working in an environment that is sometimes hostile, sometimes hindering, and in either case limits people to such an extent that they are left feeling ineffective and blameworthy—when in fact they are not. These well-meaning people take things too personally when the reality is that it’s the management of the program that is at fault,” said one who wished to remain anonymous.

Haiti, a hostage and prostitution ring

In December 2009, amid timesheet screw ups (and one case of documented fraud) that led to dozens of employees in Iraq not getting paid properly, and others getting paid too much, Fondacaro and McFate came up with the idea to send a Human Terrain Team to check out the action in earthquake stricken Haiti. Fondacaro and McFate figured it would be a great marketing ploy and so contacted the then program manager-forward, to ask him for volunteers to send a team to Haiti. This idea was floated as the program was going up in flames in Iraq and Afghanistan due primarily to a dearth of qualified personnel and poor management skills at the top.

The people who did volunteer did not have appropriate language skills for Haiti, said a source. Many in the HTS program felt that program management’s sole focus should have been Iraq and Afghanistan, particularly given salary issues and a case of fraud. “The fact that Fondacaro wanted to devote resources to conduct a Haitian venture was an insult to those of us who had already been working forward for some months and had yet to receive danger pay.”

Issa Salomi was taken hostage by insurgents in Iraq in 2010 and was ultimately returned. As it happens, Salomi was taken while he and his brother-in-law were cruising Sadr City’s version of a “red light” district. Prior to joining HTS, he was indicted by the US government for violating export laws. Many in HTS think Salomi used the program to develop lucrative business contacts and deals in Iraq. Somehow, Salomi managed to obtain a security clearance from the US government.

And speaking of red light districts and the American entrepreneurial spirit, an enterprising employee of the US Army’s HTS was fired because she was allegedly running a prostitution ring in Diyala Province, Iraq.

It is all good stuff for a movie or play. In fact, the play has been staged already. “A satirical examination of the US policy of making the War on Terror more culturally sensitive, ANTHROPOLOGY: Or How To Win Friends and Influence Afghans features a poor Afghan family struggling to survive as an overpaid private contractor, with a predilection for opium, a drug dealing warlord, an earnest academic and bawdy shadow puppets battle it out for who controls the story and the land. Rick Mitchell, the play’s author, said, “Due to the absurdities of the current occupation of Afghanistan, the play contains a significant amount of comedy, along with live music, out-of-control private contractors, and violent puppets. And the performance features a great, multi-ethnic cast.”

But where’s the story? So asks government and big media

Charges of fraud, waste, and abuse in HTS remain ignored and uninvestigated. Allegations of time card fraud, discrimination—by race, creed and sex—in the workplace remain unresolved. Crooked funding streams from the US Army/Pentagon to prime contractor to subcontractors; incestuous contractor relationships; good old “retired-boy” network nepotism; expensive junkets (one to Paris, France); drunken revelry (at taxpayer expense at a bar in Kansas); whistleblower retaliation and cover-ups, are some of the many allegations that have been made consistently over a three year period (2008–2011). The pattern is clear and consistent.

The US Congress’ Office of Special Counsel apparently has a combined HTS case pending or underway, one of which alleges a cover-up by the current program manager Colonel Sharon Hamilton. Hamilton is alleged to have deep-sixed a report on a team leader in order to avoid embarrassment that might threaten funding for HTS (the team leader referenced here/subject was discussed in a prior article). It is not known one way or the other if the Defense Criminal Investigative Service and the FBI are investigating the program.

Under Hamilton’s watch, the Center for Naval Analyses’ (CNA) analysts were apparently setup for interviews with people who were briefed or who were watched by program management personnel as interviews were conducted. Many involved with the HTS matter denigrated the CNA report. But in the hostile environment they had to work in at HTS/TRADOC, they did the best they could.

The US Army Human Terrain System is a program in a state of anarchy. For all intent and purposes, it remains a leaderless, ad hoc program. That has been the reality for the last few years.

Hamilton has picked up where Fondacaro, McFate and McFarland left off, which is disheartening to many in and out of HTS. Desperate to find new business opportunities, the marketing goes on with Combatant Commands and Allies (UK, Australia, and Canada) on the receiving end of the HTS sales pitch.

Microcosm

The “buck” has nowhere to stop in HTS. The principles that American children are taught to live by—teamwork, responsibility, accountability, consequences for bad judgment—are turned on their head in HTS. Witness the recent piece by Fondacaro and McFate in Prism, a publication of the National Defense University. Program troubles are largely blamed on other institutions or personnel. Mangled word usage like “Catastrophic Success,” George W. Bush’s description of his invasion of Iraq, is used to describe the HTS program. They “enjoyed” their run at HTS.

But TRADOC, McFate, Fondacaro, McFarland, Hamilton—and their HTS program—are merely symptomatic of some of the systemic macro-level troubles in the USA.

Public servants do not exist in America any longer. The standard for that was set by General George C. Marshall, arguably the finest public servant America has ever produced. Not a man of means by any stretch, he refused lucrative publishing offers that would have made him a wealthy man. “My service to the country is not for sale,” he once said. He was “a great man, a human being” according to the legendary actor Orson Welles. Marshall deeply cared about each and every soldier under his command and made sure that Franklin D. Roosevelt and everyone else knew it.

Witness today’s US civilian and military leaders. To them, American lives simply do not matter whether they are destroyed in battle in Iraq or Afghanistan, fired or laid off by states that are forced to cut budgets, jettisoned by businesses crushed by foreign competition, privatized in the mythical quest to save money, or cast-off as technology reduces the need for human labor.

What becomes of those Americans? When pensions, Social Security and Medicaid are cut, what becomes of those no longer considered productive, or in assisted living? Can Logan’s Run be far behind for all Americans?

HTS mirrors the erosion of American society and governance. The covenant between the leaders and the led has vanished. People really are fungible, as Donald Rumsfeld once said. The country is ideologically polarized, the two-party system is one body with two heads, elections and voting are theater. The nation’s wealth is in the pockets of the rich as never before.

According to the CIA, “Long-term problems include inadequate investment in deteriorating infrastructure, rapidly rising medical and pension costs of an aging population, sizable trade and budget deficits, and stagnation of wages in lower-income families . . . Since 1975, practically all the gains in household income have gone to the top 20% of households.” War rages on and the civil-military divide has increased. “The war in March-April 2003 between a US-led coalition and Iraq, and the subsequent occupation of Iraq, required major shifts in national resources to the military,” says the CIA. Some argue that the USA is becoming a national security state.

911 was remembered and celebrated with great fanfare this year. Many used the occasion to promote increases in military spending, global SWAT kill-capture operations and more domestic surveillance. Forgotten in the national frenzy over 911 are two events that reflect far more deeply the dysfunction and danger in the state of the union: The non-response as Hurricane Katrina pummeled New Orleans—and the subsequent fall out—and the demise of Detroit, Michigan (it lost 25 percent of its population).

Where do displaced Americans go? A trillion dollars (US) goes for Iraq and Afghanistan reconstruction and training. Why not a trillion dollars (US) for reconstruction, education, vet benefits and training here at home?

Americans do not take care of their Homeland or themselves. There is a big difference in securing the homeland and caring for it.

As the Commission for Wartime Contracting put it, “The responsibility for this state of affairs lies with Congress, the White House, federal departments, the military services, agency leadership, contractors, and individuals who abuse the system.” To that, add the American people.

John Stanton is a Virginia based writer specializing in national security matters. Reach him at cioran123@yahoo.com.

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