In Macapaca world, the HTS reigns supreme- 13 January 2012

First a word on torture, and the news story yesterday. I’m not sure I’m in anything other than the smallest minority on this (certainly in the academic world) but my reading of yesterday’s news stories about our main agencies and their alleged role in torture (and the future investigation into rendition and Libya) was firstly ‘insufficient evidence? No shit!’ would be poor practitioners who left enough. But secondly that the period from 1998 to 2010 will mark a distinct period. The courts, and the old and new media have done, in a patchy way,  an effective job of bringing these episodes to light and holding the government to enough of an account to see this end as a distinct period. Whilst I am personally opposed to the use of acts recognised internationally as torture, and prefer the methods that were successful in the past, I can see – from a purely pragmatic and empathetic stance – that officers placed in particular structures, networks of contacts and relationships with other agencies who were able to produce information quickly… might have felt the need to, er, cut a corner, if that cut was offered to them. A few years ago it was suggested that the 70% of the CT intel provided into the European area was provided by the US. Such a relationship of dependence (and by God the Americans must be fed up of providing us with endless security blankets.. coming up for a century now!) will of course require some kind of reciprocity. If we want to criticise the methods that have helped keep us safe, then we really need to step up to the plate (as a European area). Only when have sufficient capacity can we start suggesting terms.  In an obviously uneven relationship, there will inevitably be a price for cooperation, that price Is usually accepting the terms of the stronger party.

But the main plot.. Macapaca and HTS. The world of the Macapaca is a simple one. He or she categorises objects in two ways. Things to be cleaned. Things that have been cleaned. There’s a great deal of squeaking and guffawing surrounding this process, but that appears to be to pad out the scene, and to encourage the young viewers to expand their own attempts at squeaking and guffawing.


Things in Afghanistan seem more Sweevo’s world than Macapaca world. Things are endlessly complicated. If only us mere mortals understood just how complicated it all was, we’d probably repose to the nearest toilet to read War and Peace for some light relief. Breaking a state (well, a uneven system of governance at best), policing it, and then trying to encourage enough of a local effort to rebuild it to make people believe in it is clearly not desperately simple, but I think we’re making a meal of it. The good people at International Affairs were kind enough to send me a copy of Frank Ledwidge’s book ‘Losing small wars’. I don’t agree with it all, but I still have it as a must read. His account of the absence of strategy is damning. But we might embrace that absence of strategy with a drop-dead simple approach. What do we want for Afghanistan in 2016 (when we should have all left)?

We want no return of terrorist training camps keen on transporting nightmares to our shores, or those of our European and American friends.

We want the pipelines across the country to still be piping things without trouble or interruption. It might also be a good earner for all of us.

And we’d prefer it if large amounts of white powder didn’t arrive in Europe to addle the brains of the morons who insist on sticking it up their noses. Go and buy a Playstation, chill out, and drink a cup of tea.

And that is it.

There are objects waiting to be cleaned, there are objects which have been cleaned.

What? No mention of democracy? No, don’t care. If the locals want it they’ll find a way. They’ve had ten years to think about it.

What? No mention of thriving education systems or economic prosperity? No, again, the locals will need to mobilise, and find a way. You can’t save everyone. We’ve given it ten years.

But why the mention of the Human Terrain System (HTS). Well, it’s been years since the storm erupted over this programme, and having had now years to think about it, I still think it was – in theory – a well thought out programme. It was a way of utilising area-specialism, and academic specialism but without having to agonise over whether the specialist was on side or not. The classic tools of working out who the expert really wants to win, or who they are carrying messages for were almost entirely eradicated by the HTS. The programme also had the potential to add needed knowledge lubricant to the entire command chain – from the company commander with the specialist in team, to the reporting chain ‘back at base’ , to the returning expert walking into the high towers of power. This is infinitely preferable than sitting back in the high towers receiving various streams of information and trying to discriminate between and amongst them. The potential to over-read the fortuitously acquired, must be all too real, particularly in combat theatres where the micro-nuance of individuals ascendant and descendent in the influence stakes looks all too important.

No harbouring problematic people.

Nice pipelines, unmolested.

No white powder.

Objects waiting to be cleaned, objects that have been cleaned.


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