[Marxism] Pentagon preparing for mass civil breakdown - The Guardian

Ralph Johansen mdriscollrj at charter.net
Sat Jun 14 14:54:52 MDT 2014

[Astounding, on its face, but not in context]


The Guardian
Pentagon preparing for mass civil breakdown
Social science is being militarised to develop 'operational tools' to 
target peaceful activists and protest movements
Nafeez Ahmed

Pentagon Building in Washington The Pentagon is funding social science 
research to model risks of "social contagions" that could damage US 
strategic interests. Photograph: Jason Reed/REUTERS

A US Department of Defense (DoD) research programme is funding 
universities to model the dynamics, risks and tipping points for 
large-scale civil unrest across the world, under the supervision of 
various US military agencies. The multi-million dollar programme is 
designed to develop immediate and long-term "warfighter-relevant 
insights" for senior officials and decision makers in "the defense 
policy community," and to inform policy implemented by "combatant 

Launched in 2008 -- the year of the global banking crisis -- the DoD 
'Minerva Research Initiative' partners with universities "to improve 
DoD's basic understanding of the social, cultural, behavioral, and 
political forces that shape regions of the world of strategic importance 
to the US."

Among the projects awarded for the period 2014-2017 is a Cornell 
University-led study managed by the US Air Force Office of Scientific 
Research which aims to develop an empirical model "of the dynamics of 
social movement mobilisation and contagions." The project will determine 
"the critical mass (tipping point)" of social contagians by studying 
their "digital traces" in the cases of "the 2011 Egyptian revolution, 
the 2011 Russian Duma elections, the 2012 Nigerian fuel subsidy crisis 
and the 2013 Gazi park protests in Turkey."

Twitter posts and conversations will be examined "to identify 
individuals mobilised in a social contagion and when they become 

Another project awarded this year to the University of Washington "seeks 
to uncover the conditions under which political movements aimed at 
large-scale political and economic change originate," along with their 
"characteristics and consequences." The project, managed by the US Army 
Research Office, focuses on "large-scale movements involving more than 
1,000 participants in enduring activity," and will cover 58 countries in 

Last year, the DoD's Minerva Initiative funded a project to determine 
'Who Does Not Become a Terrorist, and Why?' which, however, conflates 
peaceful activists with "supporters of political violence" who are 
different from terrorists only in that they do not embark on "armed 
militancy" themselves. The project explicitly sets out to study 
non-violent activists:

"In every context we find many individuals who share the demographic, 
family, cultural, and/or socioeconomic background of those who decided 
to engage in terrorism, and yet refrained themselves from taking up 
armed militancy, even though they were sympathetic to the end goals of 
armed groups. The field of terrorism studies has not, until recently, 
attempted to look at this control group. This project is not about 
terrorists, but about supporters of political violence."

The project's 14 case studies each "involve extensive interviews with 
ten or more activists and militants in parties and NGOs who, though 
sympathetic to radical causes, have chosen a path of non-violence."

I contacted the project's principal investigator, Prof Maria Rasmussen 
of the US Naval Postgraduate School, asking why non-violent activists 
working for NGOs should be equated to supporters of political violence 
-- and which "parties and NGOs" were being investigated -- but received 
no response.

Similarly, Minerva programme staff refused to answer a series of similar 
questions I put to them, including asking how "radical causes" promoted 
by peaceful NGOs constituted a potential national security threat of 
interest to the DoD.

Among my questions, I asked:

    "Does the US Department of Defense see protest movements and social
    activism in different parts of the world as a threat to US national
    security? If so, why? Does the US Department of Defense consider
    political movements aiming for large scale political and economic
    change as a national security matter? If so, why? Activism, protest,
    'political movements' and of course NGOs are a vital element of a
    healthy civil society and democracy - why is it that the DoD is
    funding research to investigate such issues?"

Minerva's programme director Dr Erin Fitzgerald said "I appreciate your 
concerns and am glad that you reached out to give us the opportunity to 
clarify" before promising a more detailed response. Instead, I received 
the following bland statement from the DoD's press office:

    "The Department of Defense takes seriously its role in the security
    of the United States, its citizens, and US allies and partners.
    While every security challenge does not cause conflict, and every
    conflict does not involve the US military, Minerva helps fund basic
    social science research that helps increase the Department of
    Defense's understanding of what causes instability and insecurity
    around the world. By better understanding these conflicts and their
    causes beforehand, the Department of Defense can better prepare for
    the dynamic future security environment."

In 2013, Minerva funded a University of Maryland project in 
collaboration with the US Department of Energy's Pacific Northwest 
National Laboratory to gauge the risk of civil unrest due to climate 
change. The three-year $1.9 million project is developing models to 
anticipate what could happen to societies under a range of potential 
climate change scenarios.

 From the outset, the Minerva programme was slated to provide over $75 
million over five years for social and behavioural science research. 
This year alone it has been allocated a total budget of $17.8 million by 
US Congress.

An internal Minerva staff email communication referenced in a 2012 
Masters dissertation reveals that the programme is geared toward 
producing quick results that are directly applicable to field 
operations. The dissertation was part of a Minerva-funded project on 
"counter-radical Muslim discourse" at Arizona State University.

The internal email from Prof Steve Corman, a principal investigator for 
the project, describes a meeting hosted by the DoD's Human Social 
Cultural and Behavioural Modeling (HSCB) programme in which senior 
Pentagon officials said their priority was "to develop capabilities that 
are deliverable quickly" in the form of "models and tools that can be 
integrated with operations."

Although Office of Naval Research supervisor Dr Harold Hawkins had 
assured the university researchers at the outset that the project was 
merely "a basic research effort, so we shouldn't be concerned about 
doing applied stuff", the meeting in fact showed that DoD is looking to 
"feed results" into "applications," Corman said in the email. He advised 
his researchers to "think about shaping results, reports, etc., so they 
[DoD] can clearly see their application for tools that can be taken to 
the field."

Many independent scholars are critical of what they see as the US 
government's efforts to militarise social science in the service of war. 
In May 2008, the American Anthropological Association (AAA) wrote to the 
US government noting that the Pentagon lacks "the kind of infrastructure 
for evaluating anthropological [and other social science] research" in a 
way that involves "rigorous, balanced and objective peer review", 
calling for such research to be managed instead by civilian agencies 
like the National Science Foundation (NSF).

The following month, the DoD signed a memorandum of understanding (MoU) 
with the NSF to cooperate on the management of Minerva. In response, the 
AAA cautioned that although research proposals would now be evaluated by 
NSF's merit-review panels. "Pentagon officials will have decision-making 
power in deciding who sits on the panels":

    "... there remain concerns within the discipline that research will
    only be funded when it supports the Pentagon's agenda. Other critics
    of the programme, including the Network of Concerned
    Anthropologists, have raised concerns that the programme would
    discourage research in other important areas and undermine the role
    of the university as a place for independent discussion and critique
    of the military."

According to Prof David Price, a cultural anthropologist at St Martin's 
University in Washington DC and author of Weaponizing Anthropology: 
Social Science in Service of the Militarized State, "when you looked at 
the individual bits of many of these projects they sort of looked like 
normal social science, textual analysis, historical research, and so on, 
but when you added these bits up they all shared themes of legibility 
with all the distortions of over-simplification. Minerva is farming out 
the piece-work of empire in ways that can allow individuals to 
disassociate their individual contributions from the larger project."

Prof Price has previously exposed how the Pentagon's Human Terrain 
Systems (HTS) programme - designed to embed social scientists in 
military field operations - routinely conducted training scenarios set 
in regions "within the United States."

Citing a summary critique of the programme sent to HTS directors by a 
former employee, Price reported that the HTS training scenarios "adapted 
COIN [counterinsurgency] for Afghanistan/Iraq" to domestic situations 
"in the USA where the local population was seen from the military 
perspective as threatening the established balance of power and 
influence, and challenging law and order."

One war-game, said Price, involved environmental activists protesting 
pollution from a coal-fired plant near Missouri, some of whom were 
members of the well-known environmental NGO Sierra Club. Participants 
were tasked to "identify those who were 'problem-solvers' and those who 
were 'problem-causers,' and the rest of the population whom would be the 
target of the information operations to move their Center of Gravity 
toward that set of viewpoints and values which was the 'desired 
end-state' of the military's strategy."

Such war-games are consistent with a raft of Pentagon planning documents 
which suggest that National Security Agency (NSA) mass surveillance is 
partially motivated to prepare for the destabilising impact of coming 
environmental, energy and economic shocks.

James Petras, Bartle Professor of Sociology at Binghamton University in 
New York, concurs with Price's concerns. Minerva-funded social 
scientists tied to Pentagon counterinsurgency operations are involved in 
the "study of emotions in stoking or quelling ideologically driven 
movements," he said, including how "to counteract grassroots movements."

Minerva is a prime example of the deeply narrow-minded and 
self-defeating nature of military ideology. Worse still, the 
unwillingness of DoD officials to answer the most basic questions is 
symptomatic of a simple fact -- in their unswerving mission to defend an 
increasingly unpopular global system serving the interests of a tiny 
minority, security agencies have no qualms about painting the rest of us 
as potential terrorists.

Dr. Nafeez Ahmed is an international security journalist and academic. 
He is the author of A User's Guide to the Crisis of Civilization: And 
How to Save It, and the forthcoming science fiction thriller, ZERO 
POINT. Follow him on Facebook and Twitter @nafeezahmed.

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