“Human Terrain Analysis” Helps Commanders Visualize the Battlefield and Analysts Discover Hidden Patterns
As the American military continues to try to adjust to the post- 9/11 realities and transform its force, tactics, techniques, and procedures, a small company based in the Reston, VA technology belt has championed a novel approach to traditional intelligence analysis. Its combination of social science and geospatial technology is at the cornerstone of an analytical method the DoD is increasingly turned to that has been termed “Human Terrain Analysis.” SCIA’s mission is to map culture in areas of limited and sparse information to provide U.S. military commanders actionable intelligence analysis on the local socio-cultural dynamics of an area.
SCIA leverages commercial off-the-shelf geospatial technology and proprietary methods of social scientifically-based analysis to create a variety of maps depicting the geospatial patterns of behavior for groups and individuals of interest for the U.S. military. “Human terrain analysis is essentially the mapping of culture, discovering geospatial patterns of behavior we would not otherwise be aware of. The method enables analytic discoveries and provides the basis for true socio-cultural intelligence analysis of a region,” said Dr. Swen Johnson, who founded SCIA in 2005 to help provide the kind of intelligence product he sought while deployed as a US Army counterintelligence special agent in Kosovo. “Only recently has the government begun institutionalizing this kind of analysis. There were no jobs for ‘Human Terrain Analyst’ back in 2005 and I had to create the company in order to do the work that I saw we needed. It was a classic example how private industry can help the government and military see a way forward.”
The lack of basic knowledge on the geographic distribution and sociological characterization of ethnic, tribal, and religious groups has been identified as one of the U.S. military’s most pressing intelligence gaps. Typically, military intelligence has been narrowly concerned with either manhunts or kinetic strikes, and its intelligence apparatus has been designed for this kind of fight. As the military broadens its approach to include tribal engagement, stability operations, and support to sovereign governments, SCIA is helping transform the way intelligence data is collected and analyzed.
Johnson added: “SCIA’s approach to Human Terrain Analysis is about providing a niche type of intelligence analysis that helps our soldiers when they engage tribes and clans in dangerous locations. We go beyond simple demographics to study the micro-sociological environment from a geospatial perspective.”
The methods that SCIA has helped develop and champion have lead to invitations to teach and train others in both domestic and foreign markets. Foreign military allies of the US, various elements of the U.S. Department of Defense and intelligence community, and the academic community have asked SCIA for assistance. “Currently, we only provide one course open to the public as a community service offering; the other courses we do are on an on-contract basis.” SCIA offers a three-day training seminar on Human Terrain Analysis through George Mason University’s Professional Certificate in Geographic Information Systems (GIS) program once a year. The HTA Seminar introduces analysts to the tools and methods they need for socio-cultural and human terrain analysis, emphasizing social science concepts and methods, geospatial skills specific to human terrain analysis; subject matter expertise of particular cultures of interest; social network analytical software and concepts, and traditional all-source intelligence analytical methods.
While primarily focused on military objectives, SCIA is in the process of developing commercial applications for the strategy and technology. Johnson says the methods developed in the crisis environments Human Terrain Analysis was born in have obvious applications in the commercial world. For more information about how SCIA is changing the dynamic of military intelligence, please visit www.sciasolutions.com.
[Source: SCIA press release]