Network of Concerned Anthropologists

The Network of Concerned Anthropologists (NCA) is an independent ad hoc network of anthropologists seeking to promote an ethical anthropology.  For more information, write us at


Review in The Times Higher Education

Review in Z Magazine

Podcast about the Counter-Counterinsurgency Manual

Interview with Former HTS Team Member

NCA Media Contacts

Download the Pledge 

Frequently Asked Questions

Recent Media Coverage 

Background Articles

Reason for Concern: Anthropology Helps "Enable the Entire Kill Chain"

Bibliography: Anthropology and the Military

Read the Neuroscientist Pledge against Violations of Human Rights and International Law 


The founding members of the Network of Concerned Anthropologists include Catherine Besteman, Andrew Bickford, Greg Feldman, Gustaaf Houtman, Roberto Gonzalez, Hugh Gusterson, Jean Jackson, Kanhong Lin, Catherine Lutz, David Price, and David Vine.



We received more than 1,000 signatures. We are no longer collecting signatures for the pledge.

(More than 700 signatures collected!)

Modeled after a well-publicized 2008 statement written by economists to oppose the Bush administration's first TARP program, this statement to Congress aimed to clearly and concisely state the factual grounds for our opposition. Unlike our previous year-long effort to compile signatures for the Network of Concerned Anthropologists' "Pledge of Non- participation in Counterinsurgency," we attempted to collect the signatures of as many professional anthropologists as possible (including students!) as soon as possible so that our voice can be heard in the debate about HTS




To the Speaker of the House of Representatives, the President pro tempore of the Senate, and the Chairs and Ranking Members of the House and Senate Armed Services and Appropriations Committees:


We, the undersigned anthropologists, want to express to Congress our profound opposition to the Human Terrain System (HTS) program and its proposed expansion.  We are heartened and encouraged by the Pentagon’s interest in expanding its cultural knowledge, and we believe that anthropologists have an important role to play in shaping military and foreign policy.  However, we believe that the HTS program is an inappropriate and ineffective use of anthropological and other social science expertise for the following reasons:

1) There is no evidence that HTS is effective.  There is no evidence, as some supporters have claimed, that the program saves lives.  In fact, a special commission of the American Anthropological Association (AAA)—the largest professional anthropology society in the US—concluded in December 2009 that “there exist no publicly available independent evaluations of the effects of HTS's activities, either positive or negative. Whether, or how, HTS might reduce conflict, in short, has yet to be evaluated.”

2) HTS is dangerous and reckless.  To date, three embedded social scientists assigned to Human Terrain Teams have been killed in theaters of war. According to the journal Nature, “some scientists who have joined the program have complained about inadequate training,” while some military personnel reportedly complain that protecting Human Terrain Team members puts the lives of their soldiers at risk.

3) HTS wastes taxpayer money.  In addition to its human costs, HTS has been costly.  According to one report, approximately $250 million has been allocated to HTS since its creation in 2006.

4) HTS is unethical for anthropologists and other social scientists.  In 2007, the Executive Board of the AAA determined HTS to be “an unacceptable application of anthropological expertise.”  Last December, the AAA commission found that HTS “can no longer be considered a legitimate professional exercise of anthropology” given the incompatibility of HTS with disciplinary ethics and practice.  Like medical doctors, anthropologists are ethically bound to do no harm.  Supporting counterinsurgency operations clearly violates this code.  Moreover, the HTS program violates scientific and federal research standards mandating informed consent by research subjects. 

For these reasons, we ask Congress to halt further appropriations to the HTS program, to cancel plans for expansion of the program, and to carefully consider alternative courses of action for securing peace in Afghanistan, Iraq, and beyond.




UPDATESDoonesbury: The Perils of Human Terrain?

NCA Statement on Changes to the AAA Ethics Code   

Concerns about DOD's Minerva Project, including May 28, 2008 AAA Letter

New International Version of the Pledge!

U.S. Army Spies on NCA at AAA Meeting

AAA Executive Board Expresses Disapproval of "Human Terrain System" 

Read and Comment on the AAA Commission Report on Anthropologists and the Military and Intelligence Communities

NCA on Democracy Now!

Human Terrain Teams and NCA on YouTube!

"Human Terrain Team" Named Most Euphemistic Phrase of 2007 (see American Dialect Society, p. 3)


Pledge of Non-participation in Counter-insurgency

We, the undersigned, believe that anthropologists should not engage in research and other activities that contribute to counter-insurgency operations in Iraq or in related theaters in the “war on terror.” Furthermore, we believe that anthropologists should refrain from directly assisting the US military in combat, be it through torture, interrogation, or tactical advice.

US military and intelligence agencies and military contractors have identified “cultural knowledge,” “ethnographic intelligence,” and “human terrain mapping” as essential to US-led military intervention in Iraq and other parts of the Middle East. Consequently, these agencies have mounted a drive to recruit professional anthropologists as employees and consultants. While often presented by its proponents as work that builds a more secure world, protects US soldiers on the battlefield, or promotes cross-cultural understanding, at base it contributes instead to a brutal war of occupation which has entailed massive casualties. By so doing, such work breaches relations of openness and trust with the people anthropologists work with around the world and, directly or indirectly, enables the occupation of one country by another. In addition, much of this work is covert. Anthropological support for such an enterprise is at odds with the humane ideals of our discipline as well as professional standards.

We are not all necessarily opposed to other forms of anthropological consulting for the state, or for the military, especially when such cooperation contributes to generally accepted humanitarian objectives. A variety of views exist among us, and the ethical issues are complex. Some feel that anthropologists can effectively brief diplomats or work with peacekeeping forces without compromising professional values. However, work that is covert, work that breaches relations of openness and trust with studied populations, and work that enables the occupation of one country by another violates professional standards.

Consequently, we pledge not to undertake research or other activities in support of counter-insurgency work in Iraq or in related theaters in the “war on terror,” and we appeal to colleagues everywhere to make the same commitment.


 SPEAK OUT: Tell the American Anthropological Association (AAA) what you think about anthropologists collaborating with the "war on terror" by posting on the AAA's Blog.


 Code of Ethics of the American Anthropological Association