A new US Department of Defense (DoD) research program admits that the Pentagon has long been concerned about widespread social break down. Even more striking of an admission is the fact that they have been funding universities to create models of the dynamics, risks and tipping points that would all be part of large-scale civil unrest in the United States.
The DoD program was funded under the overarching authority of a number of US military agencies.
This program, costing millions of dollars, has been designed for the purposes of immediate and long-term “warfighter-relevant insights” development. The Pentagon explains that the purpose is for senior officials and decision makers in “the defense policy community” to form a contingency plan in the event of wide scale social unrest.
The recently revealed documents add that the purpose is further to inform policy implemented by “combatant commands.”
The DoD then decided to partner with universities in order “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.”
One of the products of this was a Cornell University-led study which was managed by the US Air Force Office of Scientific Research. It aimed to develop a model “of the dynamics of social movement mobilization and contagions.”
The Pentagon and Cornell hoped that this would determine “the critical mass (tipping point)” of social contagions by studying “digital traces” for instance “the 2011 Egyptian revolution, the 2011 Russian Duma elections, the 2012 Nigerian fuel subsidy crisis and the 2013 Gazi park protests in Turkey.”
The study and program looks at Twitter and Facebook posts and conversations in order “to identify individuals mobilized in a social contagion and when they become mobilized.”
A related project at University of Washington, formed this year, “seeks to uncover the conditions under which political movements aimed at large-scale political and economic change originate,” along with their “characteristics and consequences.”
This project is being managed by the US Army Research Office, and focuses on “large-scale movements involving more than 1,000 participants in enduring activity.” It will cover 58 countries in total.
The DoD’s Minerva Initiative funded a project last year as well, in order to determine “Who Does Not Become a Terrorist, and Why?”
It’s worth noting that this study conflates what seems to simply be peaceful activists with “supporters of political violence”. We read the following in the study:
“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.”
Last year, in 2013, Minerva funded a University of Maryland project that was formed in collaboration with the US Department of Energy’s Pacific Northwest National Laboratory. It’s purpose too was to gauge the risk of civil unrest due to climate change. This three-year $1.9 million project was formed to develop models to “anticipate what could happen to societies under a range of potential climate changescenarios.”
According to Professor 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.”
Price has previously exposed the Pentagon’s Human Terrain Systems (HTS) program. That program was designed for the purposes of embedding social scientists within military field operations. Once embedded, though would routinely conduct training scenarios set in regions “within the United States” according to what Price said.
Price explained further that the HTS training scenarios “adapted COIN [counterinsurgency] for Afghanistan/Iraq” to fit within the context of 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.”
What do you think the Pentagon is so worried about? Could it be all of the incidences of police brutality and murder which are leading to mass protest and unrest like we saw in Ferguson and Baltimore?