Plagiarism and the Counter Insurgency Manual

Following on Strong’s investigations into the suspect ethical issues surrounding the human subjects protection, a new article by David Price posted at Counterpunch adds fuel to our ever growing bonfire of the venalities here at Savage Minds. Price’s jauntily written expose reveals the extensive plagiarism of the Petraus’ Counterinsurgency Manual.
CounterInsurgency Manual
The piece has a rather long list of compared passages that demonstrate more or less word for word cutting and pasting of a sort that makes even my most dim-witted undergraduate plagiarists look crafty. The implication drawn by Price is that McFate and Kilcullen are also at fault given their contributions, as well as the University of Chicago Press whose rapid publication of the Counter-Insurgency manual as a kind of coffee-table-cum-9/11 report offering was accomplished in about 6 months, a “blitzkrieg requiring a serious focus of will.”

A feature of the article that bears more discussion here, is the way in which Price points to the Counter-insurgency manual as a piece of PR designed to calm growing domestic concern about the disastrous course of the Iraq war. To my mind, if it is true that all this focus on anthropology is primarily a PR game, then the accusations of unethical research and scholarship hold less weight. If it is PR, then it seems we should not be taking it seriously, and holding it to standards designed for real scholarly research seems pedantic. However if the accusations of unethical research practices and scholarship are to stick, than are we not being asked to give the whole HTS circus more credit than it deserves? How can we have this cake and eat it too, wonders me.


Christopher M. Kelty is a professor at the University of California, Los Angeles. He has a joint appointment in the Institute for Society and Genetics, the department of Information Studies and the Department of Anthropology. His research focuses on the cultural significance of information technology, especially in science and engineering. He is the author most recently of Two Bits: The Cultural Significance of Free Software (Duke University Press, 2008), as well as numerous articles on open source and free software, including its impact on education, nanotechnology, the life sciences, and issues of peer review and research process in the sciences and in the humanities.

40 thoughts on “Plagiarism and the Counter Insurgency Manual

  1. This is a nice passage from the article:

    The military and intelligence community loves McFate and her programs not because her thinking is innovative — but because, beyond information on specific manners and customs of lands they are occupying, the simplistic views of culture she provides tell them what they already know. This has long been a problem faced by anthropologists working in such confined military settings. My research examining the frustrations and contributions of World War II era anthropologists identifies a recurrent pattern in which anthropologists with knowledge flowing against the bureaucratic precepts of military and intelligence agencies faced often impossible institutional barriers. They faced the choice of either coalescing with ingrained institutional views and advancing within these bureaucracies, or enduring increasing frustrations and marginalized status. Such wartime frustrations led Alexander Leighton to conclude in despair that “the administrator uses social science the way a drunk uses a lamppost, for support rather than illumination.” In this sense, Montgomery McFate’s selective use of anthropology — which ignores anthropological critiques of colonialism, power, militarization, hegemony, warfare, cultural domination and globalization — provides the military with just the sort of support, rather than illumination, that they seek. In large part, what the military wants from anthropology is to offer basic courses in local manners so that they can get on with the job of conquest. The fact that military anthropologists appear disengaged from questioning conquest exposes the fundamental problem with military anthropology.

  2. Price’s article to me seems to be largely a case of ships passing in the night. Price accuses McFate of plagiarism, McFate says that plagiarism is acceptable in documents of this genre. Price responds that McFate does footnote some sources, and so he is only holding her to her own standards. But honestly I think this is a dialogue-stopper — they are simply working from different presuppositions.

    If anything, I think the accusations that have more potential to stick are those made against UC press. Although even here, it may be that UC Press and Price have such different conceptions of how the publication process ought to have been handled that they simply may disagree and that’s that.

    You know I have seen the ‘PR argument’ made several times both on and off this blog, but if someone would like to sort of spell it out I’d be interested in seeing exactly how it works.

  3. This really does seem like an example of a beat-the-dog-with-any-stick-that’s-handy argument. The handbook makes no claims to originality, its a compendium of what anthropologists know that might be relevant to soldiers–and footnotes seem besides the point, though an acknowledgments/further reading section might be nice–as for the accusations against the press, those are just silly: the main reason to publish it is as a document, what are they going to do, get reviews and ask the military to rewrite it? That would make it of no interest to anyone: “Here is the _Chicago Manual of Counterinsurgency_–some armies prefer this to the Pentagon’s while other’s use APA.”

    On a more serious note, does anyone really believe that David Price’s objection to the manual is that is is “plagiarized”?

  4. To me, the PR argument is primarily that the military is using anthropology as a PR strategy to bolster the image that it is doing something novel and positive to correct the errors of the Iraq occupation. As a result I think neither Petreaus, nor the DoD, nor the Pentagon nor the Administration really cares whether it “works” in an instrumental sense on the ground, only whether it works in terms of public opinion at home. It would be a nice positive externality if it actually helped the troops, but that is not why it is being hyped here. A nice counter-argument here would be if anyone could provide any proof that there is any discussion at all in the Arab public sphere about anthropology and the counter-insurgency manuel… i don’t know if there is.

    Obviously the two are not mutually exclusive, but the implication is that if the counter-insurgency strategy failed on the ground in iraq, but convinced Americans that we were doing a good job, unruly insurgents notwithstanding, it would not be abandoned as a strategy.

    From this perspective, claiming that the CI manual is plagiarized is like accusing Coke of not coming up with original advertising ideas. It may be true, but Coke probably couldn’t care less.

  5. If you don’t understand the PR argument, look on youtube and watch Nagl on the Daily Show and all the other programs where he told America that now have “smart people” running Bush’s stupid war. The book review cited in the piece claiming it was the result of an ‘”honest and open peer review” process’ goes to this point. The troops in Iraq are still doing the same stuff they’ve been doing for years, but now the pentagon is pretending that one anthropologists per 8,000 troops will make everything ok.

    University of Chicago Press has some serious egg on their face as does McFate.

  6. Obviously David Price’s main concern with the counterinsurgency manual is not with plagiarism.

    That said, his discovery that passages in the manual seem to have been plagiarized do matter. Here’s why:

    1) Plagiarism is seen (except by some on this list, apparently) as a serious offense. Ward Churchill was just fired from a tenured professorship for plagiarism. Joe Biden’s last Presidential campaign collapsed because of plagiarism. Doris Kearns Goodwin had to resign from the Harvard trustees because of plagiarism (even though she swore blind she was innocent). The last student I caught plagiarizing a term paper (which surely matters a lot less than a counterinsurgency manual) got an F and is now doing community service in a hospice. Plagiarism is generally thought to call into question the good character of the person who committed it, showing them to be untrustworthy. Call me old-fashioned, but I think that matters.

    2) The argument that military manuals don’t need footnotes is beside the point. Sometimes I quote people in articles (media columns for example) where I’m not allowed footnotes. I still put quotation marks around their words and say who I got the words from. And every editor I’ve worked with expects me to. It’s not about notes, it’s about not stealing other people’s words. (And, by the way, why were 100 other sources cited for the counterinsurgency chapter but not the ones that were plagiarized?)

    3) Media coverage of Montgomery McFate usually stresses that she has a doctorate. I presume that’s part of a PR strategy to lend academic legitimacy to her views. And she has argued that she is creating a new subfield of anthropology that should have academic legitimacy. This is part of the reason University of Chicago Press was asked to publish the counterinsurgency manual — to give it academic legitimacy. If you want academic legitimacy, rule number 1 is don’t plagiarize. There seems to be a move-the-goalposts game here where McFate is presented as a serious intellectual in some instances, but is not to be held to academic standards when they become inconvenient.

  7. Funny that ckelty asks about whether there is any discussion in the Arab public sphere about anthropology and the counter-insurgency manual. I just posted over at Culture Matters ( about the first instance I’ve found where anthropologists and the HTS is being reported on, in English, on an Islamic website. I scoured the site carefully for a version of this story in Arabic, but so far I haven’t found one.

  8. McFate’s work on the manual proves that military scholarship is an oxymoron.

    Heads will roll at the University of Chicago Press for rushing this to press. I don’t think McFate can show her face at academic conferences any more. I hope some of the violated authors sue the Army, McFate or Chicago for republishing their work without attribution. Did McFate get paid for taking the work of others?

    I have flunked students and had them expelled from my university for doing far less than this.

  9. That was fast — David emailed me this article this morning and I was going to have something up on it tomorrow. You have to get up pretty early in the week t beat ckelty to the punch, apparently.

    Anyway, in addition to some of the good points made above, one of the things that strikes me about these plagiarised passages and their context of mostly warmed-over and dumbed-down introductory anthro is how *old* most of the sources are. Almost all the sources dated in my lifetime are introductory textbooks; is there really nothing anthropology has to offer from the last 4 decades? Was Victor Turner the last anthro with anything useful to say about culture and the world we live in? And really — TE Lawrence?! I mean, what about Abu-Lughod and Hirschkind and Caton and Ahmed and Mamdani?

    The other thing that strike me is McFate’s assertion that “doctrine doesn’t need footnotes”, not because she’s wrong but because doctrine isn’t research — it’s the opposite of research. She and the other authors of the counter-insurgency manual are looking to anthropology for answers, when they (and we) would be best served by looking to it for *questions*, for processes. And what about the actual antros working with HTS? Are they there to do research (as folks like Griffin keep insisting) or are they there to impose and manage doctrine?

  10. I would like Rex to explain what he doesn’t get about the propaganda argument, since I’ve been at some pains to explain my thoughts on this over several SM posts and comments …

  11. oneman asks why use such old sources.

    my roommate says that when he used to plagiarize papers at his fraternity, he used to get really old textbooks and copy passages from them so that his professors couldn’t look up where he got them in easily available books.

    old books can make it more difficult to find sources.

  12. You know, I still think that the objections raised here are not enough to overturn the ‘genre differences’ argument.

    _Education_ is supposed to be the process of developing one’s capacities through learning and synthesizing new information. Plagiarism is wrong because it represents a fundamental betrayal of that process. Academic _research _ is the process of developing new and valuable knowledge — a process in which people deserve to know and be known for their contribution to this process. The right to know and be known is key here.

    I really do think that McFate could respond that this volume is simply a different sort of exercise. I don’t think McFate claims that this is original work for which she deserves promotion and tenure, does she? One key aspect of plagiarism is that it involves passing off the work of others as your own, and yet this manual (afaik) is pretty well unattributed. A brief glance indicates that this volume does not claim to be original work (key in faculty and student plagiarism charges) or even to be authored by anyone.

    The real story of this manual is — wait for it — OPEN ACCESS. Afaik this volume is available for free over the web, and yet UC Press is selling it and I imagine it is a profitable title for them. So much for ‘open access destroys commercial publishing’.

    Arguments about ‘stealing’ other people’s words are appropriate when authors are denied the right to be known, but they also are in danger of slipping into a position on intellectual property that is traditionally associated with Big Content’s control of media — ‘authors’ have exclusive control of their ‘creations’ that denies the rights of others to remix their work. So… I’d be careful.

    I do think Hugh is right on one thing: she is being treated as an intellectual, not an academic. This is only a problem if one assumes that the two categories must or should completely overlap. She would respond that she is doing non-academic anthropology with intellectual content. At first glance this seems to be a coherent position to me. Or am I missing something?

  13. 1. If you consider that the manual is intended for people who have been trained, and are expected, to kill people, somehow I doubt that plagiarism is really an offense on their radar.

    2. Old books were probably used because that’s what she had available on her bookshelf.

    3. Price hits the nail squarely on the head when he says, “In large part, what the military wants from anthropology is to offer basic courses in local manners so that they can get on with the job of conquest.”

    4. It’s a shame nobody is writing an anthropological manual on how to construct a society. That might be valuable and slightly ahead of the curve.

  14. An important point here, emphasized by Hugh in his third point and at other times throughout these comments, is that part of the current perception of the war is framed by this Manual as an academic, or at least intellectual document (and Petraeus as an intellectual soldier who enlists other academics or intellectuals like McFate–who is, as Hugh says, always listed as having a Yale PhD). Just take a look at the Armed Forces Press Service release,, which talks about the need to “learn” and “adapt,” about “asymmetric warfare,” about how the Manual writers tried to learn from history and to be more analytically rigorous. The war is presented and perceived these days as–and David Price puts it this way–a “thinking man’s war.” Thus, it *does* matter that the authors of this Manual cannot come up with their own definitions for social scientific concepts like “race” or “society” or “values.” Moreover, instead of presenting these notions couched in some degree of complexity, they simplify other scholars’ conceptions in order to operationalize them (the point made by Price in the quote in Kerim’s reply). My point is that the shoddy citations indicate shoddy intellectual work. It may not matter morally or legally; but it certainly matters intellectually and analytically.

  15. I think Rex and Jon Marks are correct in the plagiarism being a relatively minor issue given the sort of exercise the CI manual is. There is little evidence that McFate, as otherwise awful as she may be, is responsible for the plagiarism of these particular passages, since the entire manual is a group effort and mostly unattributed. David Price has his own reasons to have jumped on this element of the manual (see the “Mean Plagiarism FAQ” on his website, in which he tells students that he will take all the normal steps, like notifying the Dean of Students and failing the student, but will also track down and notify the original author, who can then take independent action).

    McFate’s statement that “Doctrine doesn’t have footnotes” (not that it doesn’t “need” footnotes) is one of the most interesting things about this. The statement was made in response to Roberto Gonzales’ criticism of the CI manual in Anthropology Today. Gonzales wrote that the manual is unoriginal (now we know just how unoriginal), unsophisticated, and contributed nothing new to anthropology: “In anthropological terms, the chapter is not innovative. It is essentially a primer on cultural relativism and social structure. At times it resembles a simplified introductory anthropology textbook–though with few examples and no illustrations. Much of the material is numbingly banal. Some concepts are incomplete or outdated. . .” (“Towards Mercenary Anthropology?” Anthropology Today June 2007, p. 15) McFate’s “footnotes” quip responded to Gonzales’s question about whether the manual was really “anthropology at all”. “The answer should be obvious,” she replied in the same issue, “this is military doctrine, not an academic treatise. Doctrine does not have footnotes” (p. 21).

    The statement is not really about whether or not, in fact, the CI manual footnoted the statements of generals but not of anthropologists. It is about the difference between the two sorts of texts and the institutional complexes in which they’re created, circulated, and used. We can be upset by the differences, or we can think seriously about what it means that Doctrine Does Not Have Footnotes. It’s a powerful statement about both bureaucracy and power, and if anthropologists want–as Gonzales does–to complicate the picture for “the military,” then he needs to think about how this might be accomplished within the military’s institutional machinery. (How many of our university policy documents have footnotes?) I would argue that the issue is not the bad, text-thieving practices of “the military” at all, which probably would have been happier not entering this war. The problem is the civilian policymakers that started it and the rest of the country that let it happen. What are we going to do about teaching them about the world (in a way that doesn’t rely on our continuing to whine about how no one listens to us)?

    Back to plagiarism, an anthropologist I know who works for the State Department told me about a practice they call “happy plagiarism,” in which one’s writing is incorporated anonymously into documents produced by higher administrative levels. This is a good thing, because it means that one’s “language” has been adopted by players higher up in the chain. The difference here, of course, is that the lifelong practicing Catholic and legendary symbolic anthropologist Victor Turner didn’t intend for his ideas to be used in the US Marine Corps Counterinsurgency Field Manual, and might or might not be happy about it. But the appearance of “borrowed” text in the manual does have parallels in the textual practices of this and other bureaucracies.

    As for Jon’s question about writing manuals on building (rather than destroying) societies, the military’s Civilian Administration Corps (now called something else, I think) does just this. A really fascinating job for some anthropology grad student looking for a thesis topic would be to look at their coursework on building and administering populations, and tease out the theoretical underpinnings of the practical work they train their units to do.

  16. McFate claims she’s a scholar. This article demonstrates that she isn’t. Fine, let her slither around the Pentagon selling her wares, but she has no credibility as a scholar and no standing outside the Pentagon’s walls. She can’t be used by the Pentagon to sell their war to the public any more. Her worth as a public brand has crashed. I can’t imagine that the Pentagon is thrilled with her poor work on the manual, so I don’t buy the ‘genre differences’ argument.

  17. First thoughts: this is a FIELD manual, not a theoretical study or a dissertation, or an ethnography. It’s supposed to be a “how to” guide, so the plaigiarism issue is not as troubling to me as the second problem: it’s not based on ethnographically sound, contemporary, fine-grained data. There is obviously, as noted above, a problematic lack of any perspectives and references to studies by anthropologists like Abu-Lughod and Mamdani, but there’s also no references (unless I missed them) from Arab or Afghan scholars. Further adventures in “they cannot represent themselves; they must be represented.” All the focus on tribes is maddening, and even hilarious. When I did field work, a friend in Nazareth (the largest all-Arab city inside Israel), came back from a business trip to the U.S. and was quite peeved that as he came through Israeli customs, with his Israeli passport, he was taken aside and asked the usual questions, but then the security asked him “What is your tribe and clan?” My friend did not know whether to laugh or punch him, so he said “What’s YOUR tribe?” As I noted elsewhere in this cyber forum, tribal affiliation was not legally smiled upon in Iraq from the 1950s until the sanctions on Iraq enabled Saddam to resurrect the tribal framework and discourses to suit his own needs. Tribes are more processes than things. There is a whole ethnographic literature on this conundrum of geneologies (EE Evans-Pritchard, Emrys Peters, Smith, Rosen, Caton, Shryock, etc. which fascinated me endlessly in social theory classes, but when I got to my field site in the Middle East, or when I lived in Lebanon for five years, tribal affiliations were never an operative framework. In Nazareth it was all about “are you in the Communist Party or the Islamic Movement?” For the CP, tribal stuff was besides the point. One brother in a family could be a Muslim brother, the next a CP activist. The second major issue was not political, but religious. I guess we can say “Oh, religions are just tribes in the Middle East,” but I’d argue that this is an insipid response to the actual socioeconomic, political, and administrative realities on the ground. Administrative frameworks are key, folks. And the administrative framework in Iraq today is rotten. Discovering how and why that is so requires doing a Foucault-like geneology of US institutions, not TE Lawrence geneologies of the Bani Dujayl. I don’t know why this was published by UoC rather than the Army’s own Military Studies U. in Ft. Leavenworth. I gave a presentation to Army Colonels once at Ft. Leavenworth. I was amazed at how savvy, cynical, and sharp those guys were. I think that THEY’D laugh at this manual if they have had any experience on the ground in Iraq. So yeah, we are back to the PR issue. On that note, what happened to Jon Stewart? He’s like the new Dennis Miller in his increasingly reactionary views about Muslims and the Middle East. Thank Allah for Steven Colbert, who still skewers the sorts of discourses that someone like Nagl makes.

  18. Echoing Greg Starrett, I think the idea of society building and what Anthropology can contribute is a worthy topic of discsussion, and we can start right here in the USA on that one. It’s really arrogant of us to suppose we should be involved in society building abroad when all indications are that we are living in a very toxic society here. And exacerbating the ills we have right here in our own country will be the long term impact of the PTSD the returning troops have. When I finish my current project on International Humanitarian Law, I’d love to do a project on cross-cultural studies of PTSD in Arab societies and among returning US troops. If that project involved working with the military, I would not turn it down. Being embedded in an illegal and immoral war, though, is not the way any anthropologist should be engaging with the military. Advising from the outside, according to our theoretical and ethical grounding, is not a problem for me. The military exists within dynamic context, and figuring out how all of that plays out is a very fascinating anthropological question, and probably key to rebuilding an overly-militarized US society.

  19. Thanks to all for great remarks. Rex, I am wondering if you think there is *no* PR aspect to the way HTS is being positioned vis-a-vis the war(s), and the way anthropologists are positioned vis-a-vis HTS and counterinsurgency more generally? You seem skeptical of this angle…

    Does anyone have information (or a ballpark guess) on how much Drs. McFate, Griffin, and others are getting paid?

  20. According to the Human Terrain Team recruitment ad “The base salary for a social scientist with a PhD is $110,000, plus multipliers for hazard pay and overtime.” Evidently the multipliers are powerful: I have been talking to a whistleblower in the Human Terrain Team system who tells me Marcus Griffin earns $300,000 with overtime and hazard pay.

  21. I think have made progress in this discussion, but may risk going around in circles. It seems pretty clear that:

    1. Some people are going to insist that McFate’s work is a failure and wrong because it does not look and feel like an academic article and does not 1) innovate 2) demonstrate originality 3) cite its sources etc.

    2. Pretty much everyone agrees the main issue is the fact that McFate is producing work which furthers the military’s prosecution of the war in Iraq. From this point of view the plagiarism charge is really not particularly relevant.

    I think one of biggest dangers with #1 is that one of the reasons people might be motivated to make this claim is because of a narrow chauvinism that emphasizes that there is only one right way to be an intellectual, and that is to be a professor.

    I have zero interest in defending McFate, but I do think we should understand that condemning her on the grounds of #1 has some implications that might not all be happy with.

  22. That McFate et al rip off Weber, Turner, and some textbooks in the social sciences is a little disturbing. More disturbing, I think, is that I am fairly sure they did not READ any of those sources to rip them off. When I read Price I was struck by HOW FAMILIAR those passages were, and then I remembered that they had shown up in plagiarized papers submitted to me! About a year ago! I think they were word for word! So, in that special ticked off mood I reserve for investigated plagiarized writing, I spent the afternoon on Google.

    Price notes that some of the passages are cited on the internet as standard definitions on, for example, and wikipedia. A few hours of intensive Googling (while checking out Hollywood gossip sites and airline tickets, of course), however, and one can find almost all of these passages, pre-plagiarized as it were. That proves one thing and suggests another. It proves that the passages selected to appear in the CM are standard quotations of Weber, Turner, et. A sort of greatest hits, the quotations are everywhere. Just like you don’t have to know anything about classical music to recognize the theme from StarWars, you don’t need to read Weber to know (or to cite!) those passages. They’re all over! Nothing new and “zen-like” here. It suggests, also, that the greats are not the proximate source of this textual lifting. Plagiarism always puts me in a sort of suspicious mood, so I offer you the following in that state of mind.

    Some of these pre-ripped-off examples are actually much closer to the passages which appeared in the Counterinsurgency Manual!
    For an especially delightful example, see
    which looks to be a more likely proximate source of the Counterinsurgency Manual, section 3-37: “Culture” than is the Anthropology textbook Price sites.

    As Price shows, the source passages were modified from the original “greats” be they Weber, Turner, or some random widely-assigned intro textbook. Search for the CM passages on the internet, however, and you will find that many of these modified passages were possibly not modified by the CM authors/compilers, either. Which is to say, that it is possible that the original source text was quoted in a second text, but with ellipses or pieces of text added between two parts of the source passage (as is extremely common in academic writing), and that it was this second text which served as a source for the authors/editors/compliers of the Counterinsurgency Manual. Obviously some of these intermediary sources properly cite the original source text, while others do not. Of course, this kind of thing is hard to prove. But, trust me, look and you’ll find the evidence. I won’t bore you with links to endless websites, nor with citations to articles on JStor (from at least one odd, second-rate journal, in which a CM passage appears, word-for-word).

    I always look on the internet first in cases of student plagiarism, because the internet allows for the unique opportunity to copy and paste text. JStor (and then other lesser-know full text DBs) is where I look second, since it’s kind of more of a pain, and you can’t always copy and paste real well, because some of the articles are image PDFs.

    In my experience the sources of student plagiarism are often hidden in plain sight, as it were. Fascinated with my student’s copy and paste techniques, I’ve done some cross-referencing, looking for the search that led them to their search document. Sadly, it’s often pretty easy to figure out how they did it. Often one of the first webpages in a Google search for the keyword or one of the first articles with the relevant keyword in the title also happens to be the page/article that contains your “suspicious passage.” As we all know, students lie, cheat, and steal because it is easier. They want the easy passing grade. It’s not that they have a love of evil deep in their little all-nighter soul.

    Anyhow, when I find the internet source of the questionable passages (and there is always one, though sometimes it’s very odd) I just highlight the passage and note the URL in the margin. It’s nice to do this and show the student that not only is it not OK to stick passages from the assigned Weber in without citing them, it’s like triple not ok to go and rip something off from some second-rate website. I give them a mean talk, I tell them to stop being a lame-ass, and I fail the assignment.

    Plagiarism is not pretty, it’s true, but I would be a little happier about this plagiarism if I thought it was a sign that someone cracked open Weber at some point in his/her preparations of this document. I am, as SM readers know, no fan of HTS, but I have no problem with people reading Weber, Turner, or even a few widely assigned and out-of-date sociology textbooks (doesn’t that support the hypothesis?).
    I mean, it’s GOOD for people to know about Weber’s three kinds of authority, right? Even if they use that knowledge for military purposes? One way or another, you can just buy the book on Amazon with a corporate credit card and have it delivered.

    Sadly, these lifted passages, and their apparent sources suggest to me that this manual is not only not a decent piece of scholarship, it’s also not a reflection of ANY scholarship. Nor does it necessarily appear to be the result of discussions that involved doing the (or any!) reading. I mean, the passages might not be cited not because people opened Weber and furtively typed in passages, but because they copied a definition from their handy bookmarked page of definitions at, or that helpful page at

    Well, as my Grandfather, a WWII Purple Heart loved to say any time he said anything about the military, then or now, “military intelligence: contradiction in terms.”

  23. I agree with General Rex here… I have to, or he’ll yank my Savage Minds hazard pay. I think the implication that the Manual is a scholarly endeavor and that it therefore should be held to the standards of plagiarism familiar to intellectuals (and not only academics) is a dangerously slippery argument, and not only because it forces us to give more credit than we should to this stuff.

    I like the example of “happy plagiarism” very much– and I think that a very, very large amount of material written in policy and government participates in this, whether the sources like it or not. Federal regulations and legislation, for instance, do not cite sources, because it is unsigned. Supreme Court decisions do, because they are signed. A how-to manual doesn’t cite sources, because it is unsigned. A scholarly whitepaper by a think tank does, because it is signed. You don’t need an advanced degree in Rhetoric to make these distinctions. And in the instances where sources should be cited, calling plagiarism is an appropriate response.

    What’s troubling here is that we are talking about the CI Manual as if it is signed. And not only by Petraeus and Nagl, but also by McFate and Kilcullen. On the one hand, I’m not sure that’s a very honest thing to do– it claims to be a field manual, and what kind of field manual says “As Victor Turner argues, a social structure is …” rather than just saying it? On the other hand the assumption that this manual is signed is not unwarranted (and I think this is the strength of Price’s argument) and is not unrelated to the Manual’s primary use as a PR vehicle, and not actually as a manual. So the DoD is prentending that it is a manual when it is not, in order to affect public opinion, but should we pretend that it is not a manual when it says that it is, in order to affect public opinion? Sounds fishy to me.

    An interesting question would be, how many troops on the ground have a copy, want a copy, or god forbid, are actually reading a copy. I suspect it is far less than the number that U Chicago Press is selling at elite bookstores across the street from Universities all over our great nation. It may be that every one will remember Petraeus as the “author” of this text (if not as the plagiarist), even though I will bet my farm he never set pen to paper. I’m not even sure I believe that McFate did either, if she’s being paid 100K plus to do whatever it is she does. more likely it was a bunch of 23 year old recent graduates in their first days at the DoD pulling that uncracked copy of Victor Turner off the shelf and quoting it like it were scripture. Reading it probably for the first time.

  24. Chris’ post above made me realize something really interesting: Price’s Counterpunch article had to *create* a conventional academic authorship first in order to accuse it of plagiarism. That is, he first notes that it’s unsigned, then says the author of chapter 3 is *really* mcFate plus whoever else. Then, after there is a source to assign responsibility to, he says they plagiarized.

    Anonymous, collective official texts usually belong to different genres and speak in different voices than academic work: the voice of The Military or the President (thus Bush’s speeches are both ‘by’ him and ‘not by’ him; on this see esp. Irvine’s wonderful “Read my Lips” in the Kroskrity Regimes of Language volume), does play by different rules. I wonder, though, if those rules are healthy for reasoned inquiry.

  25. I’m afraid to say that I think Rex has it exactly back-to-front here.

    1) It does not matter that the counter-insurgency chapter was unsigned. Here in Washington DC the mayor’s office recently released its new education plan. The document was not signed. An enterprising journalist soon noticed that parts of it were plagiarized from another school district’s plan. The press did not say, who cares, this is an unsigned non-academic document. (Maybe journalists need to read more Barthes so that they can become indifferent to scandal?) They investigated until they found out who had committed the plagiarism and they made his life hell, day after day.

    2) David Price did not exactly have to dig hard to trace the authorship to McFate since the authorship was ballyhooed in some circles — until about when the Counterpunch article came out.

    3) I’ve been reflecting on why the plagiarism in the chapter bothers me. Here are my thoughts. It seems to me that in academia we rely on trust in each other’s basic honesty, even when we disagree with each other, in order to keep the whole enterprise going. When I read a colleague’s work, I have no way of verifying that they did not make up things in their fieldnotes, so I have to trust them.

    I think we take plagiarism so seriously because it corrodes that trust. (Remember: Ward Churchill engaged in hate speech about the victims of 9/11, but did not get fired; his writings flourished conclusions that most colleagues saw as excessive or skewed, but he did not get fired; his classroom was a carnival of political correctness, but he did not get fired. But once he was caught plagiarizing, despite his tenure, he was fired. We censure or expel plagiarists from our community because we can no longer trust them).

    I am still reserving judgment about Montgomery McFate. She has posted a message on another listserv saying that she will give her side of the story about the Counterpunch allegations, and I’m waiting to see that before reaching a final conclusion, but this is what bothers me: last week (at my suggestion) my department invited McFate to speak in our department. I wanted to hear what she had to say because she has complained that the critics of Human Terrain Teams have mischaracterized the way they work — in reference to informed consent, covert research etc. The problem is that I have no way of verifying the claims McFate made about the teams. I have to trust her. If (and I emphasise if) she has committed plagiarism, then she has forfeited her colleagues’ trust. That is why this matters.

    It seems to me that some of the earlier postings here have come up with some very clever ways of missing the point. The point is that whoever wrote that chapter decided not to paraphrase other people’s writings, not to put quotation marks around them (no footnotes needed, just quotation marks), but to claim others’ words as their own. The fact that they also omitted the sources in an extensive bibliography is strongly suggestive of an attempt to hide what they had done. This is not “happy plagiarism.” Victor Turner isn’t a bureaucrat glad to have contributed his subordinate clause to a President’s speech. He would be appalled to see his words stolen in the service of a cause he’d oppose.

  26. Thanks Hugh for your many helpful remarks on this thread. Somewhere up there (in this thread), I asked about salaries. Sorry to be so, like, bourgeois or whatever it is that one is being when one worries about the money issue, but the reason I asked this question about salaries has to do with my sense that McFate & Co are _selling_ expertise. Following Peanut’s sleuthing, that apparently pretty high priced expertise may simply involve knowing how to use a really cool thing called a search engine in conjunction with a cool feature of word processers called cut and paste.

    The arguments about plagiarism have to do with principles and some here have contrived a situation in which stealing others’ work is not a bad thing or even suspicious, and in fact might be _happy_. I am not convinced yet that this is not a problem for reasons that many have already identified. But again, as before, I am wondering about the messy real world of practice. If I’m McFate’s manager, would I be upset to know that she had simply ripped off, literally cut-and-pasted, her pithy little phrases and analyses of culture given how much I am paying her? Even if Rex and others do not think it is plagiarism, does he think it might perhaps be lazy?

  27. Are we sure that previous field manuals–and it is a field manual, whatever else it might be–have not been “plagiarized,” happily or otherwise? Are we upset at the thought that the military’s doctrine, previously the culmination of generations of reflection on Sun Tzu and von Clausewitz, has now merely been ripped from the web? Treating this as only a PR exercise because of its publication by a “trusted” press, or only a work of scholarship because some of its authors have Ph.D.s from fancy places like Yale and get invited to squawk on the Diane Rehm show, would be a mistake. It’s a field manual, too, and was written for a specific purpose, at a particular level of sophistication and generality, for a particular audience. What it has become since then says less about its origin or purpose than about the uses to which we and an increasingly desperate military have since decided to put it, for good or ill. Anyone for returning to the question of whether its “anthropological” content is likely to make anything very different on the ground for either Afghans and Iraqis or soldiers?

  28. To the contrary. Treating this only as a ‘field manual’ because it might be used in the field would be a mistake. It is part of how the war(s) are being sold to U.S. and global publics, and has been marketed to diverse audiences with different levels of interest and expertise. What it has become through that marketing says a lot about why this is not simply a ‘military’ question but also a political one. Anyone for keeping in mind the social, cultural, and political context of this use of anthropology?

    Some commentators in this thread and elsewhere, through the question of ‘efficacy,’ seem to want to bracket the political context in which this is all occurring and turn it into a technical problem to do with the applicability of anthropological knowledge. But anthropological knowledge includes accounts of culturally coded behaviors *and* critiques of power and conquest–Price does a nice job of pointing out that this manual occludes the later in favor of the former–and anthropologists are typically good at drawing connections between disparate institutional settings. Why do we have to choose?

    I think it is BOTH an interesting technical or practical question _and_ a political question about how the U.S. invasions of Afghanistan and Iraq are ideologically framed. Indeed, I actually think the reduction of this discussion to a technical problem is itself an ideological trick that masks politics. Can’t we continue to discuss BOTH the issues of how this may or may not help folks on the ground AND how this may or may not assist U.S. powers-that-be in re-branding the war? I don’t see Price disallowing such a discussion. Indeed, I see him contributing to a more refined understanding of the _limits_ of anthropological efficacy in particular institutional contexts (e.g., the U.S. Army and the Department of Defense), especially those institutional contexts that are recruited into misguided and culturally misinformed political projects, as for example the so-called global war on terror.

  29. Rex complains that people are seeing this work as a “failure”; I agree with him re:the field manual, though again, I wonder why if they were going to plagiarize they couldn’t find anything more current than the early ’70s. But I think the point is, i’s a failure as an academic work, which wouldn’t matter if the Army weren’t touting the HTS as an academically-based program. And, I suppose, if an academic press hadn’t published it. I don’t think we can argue that it’s a failure as a field manual, since we have no idea how or if it’s being used on the ground — if peace breaks out in Iraq and a brave new society of peace and sisterly love emerges, I uess we’ll know the manual was a success, or at least an irrelevant failure.

    Meanwhile, I was in Barnes and Noble yesterday and saw the manual in the “Bargain Books” section for $7.99!

    I did not buy one.

  30. Seth: Price didn’t “create” the manual as an academic work. Price opens with book reviews and article stressing that the manual is a work of great scholars and peer reviewed scrutiny. I buy his argument that, “To highlight the Manual’s scholarly failures is not to hold it to some over-demanding, external standard of academic integrity. However, claims of academic integrity are the very foundation of the Manual’s promotional strategy. Somewhere along the line, Petraeus’ doctorate became more important than his general’s stars, touted by Petraeus’ claque in the media as tokening a shift from Bush’s “bring ’em on” cowboy shoot-out to a nuanced thinking-man’s war.”

  31. Strong, you’re correct; there’s no argument that it should be treated as “only” a field manual. My point is that neither should we lose sight of the fact that it is being so used in order to inform the conduct of a sick and pointless war. The identification of complex webs of influence and broader contexts is important, but we academics too often catch ourselves up in discussions of our own process and technique until we lose sight of events in what Laurie has so appetizingly labelled “meat space” (which has quite a different sense when applied to Iraq than when applied to the AAA meetings).

    We know little about efficacy, and what we do know is tainted by the undermining of trust caused by the field manual’s composition, the question of profiteering, the anthropological tendency to suspect Power generally, and so on.

    Add to this the quick labelling of particular voices on this blog as “conservative,” or Sahlins’ statement about Shwedergate that “Whatever Rick’s tropic intent, then, the actual effect is simile: we should practice a culturally considerate mode of domination like the Ottomens [sic] did. This helps explain why anthropologists in the English-reading world from northern Europe to Australia are filling the ether with emails of disbelief and criticism of Rick’s politics,” and we’ve got the perfect storm of mutual recrimination, self-loathing, and potential paralysis as we turn on each other. Does chatter in the ether define Shweder’s politics in a meaningful way? Should it?

    If we can criticize anthropology for helping the US “practice a culturally considerate mode of domination,” is this a bad thing because it is domination, or because it is “culturally considerate”? One might read from this critique that domination is made worse by the possibility of its local amelioration, which might prolong or deepen the violent asymmetry on the broader scale. But is the solution to withdraw cultural considerations from play? Is the solution to ensure that the domination is as transparently brutal as possible so that “we” will get even more sick of it and work harder to end it, or so that local forces will fight harder on their part to end it? Isn’t this the strategy that Clinton pursued in Iraq through the 1990s, trying to ensure that Iraqis were so miserable as a result of sanctions that they might eventually overthrow Saddam on their own? (My own heart is warmed by considering Bill as a Maoist theoretician).

    All I’m saying is that our professional concerns with investigating and theorizing and working against scholarly prostitution should be balanced by a regular return to the work of the text in the meat space where working-class Americans in armor–for most of whom, in fact, the material in the field manual IS new and innovative–are confronting Afghans and Iraqis. Quite frankly, I’m not opposed to some attempt at cultural consideration in that very immediate relationship of domination, if the only other choice is to have even more heads blown off.

  32. Hi Drake,

    Surely the manual already “is” an academic work–but it didn’t begin that way, it only became that because of the way it was sold. You are surely not saying that at the level of genre the manual is not, in fact, a manual but actually a scholarly study? With massive footnotes, perhaps a complex cover design with a photo implicating multiple agencies, and a goofy/provocative title like “Counter/insurgencies” (at least if it had come out in 1987).

    Of course you’re not saying that–you’re showing how the text has been dressed up in genre drag. We all agree (I think) that the _genre_ organizing it, the body of the words of the text itself, is “manual.” It transmits techniques and doctrine through brisk statements. It does not “problematize” or “further complicate” or give extensive fieldnotes in an appendix. What happened, with the PR Blitz, emphasis on PhD involvement, and publication by UChicago press, is that it got _re-genred_ as at once a rough-and-ready field manual _and_ a piece of enlightened intellectual discourse.

    And now that we are yanking on the genre drag in which the manual was hastily dressed, the academic tuxedo awkwardly pulled over the military floral dress is disintegrating, revealing the body of the text: a loose, work-by-committee common in business and government.

    This is exactly the type of thing that happened to another piece of collectively authored Government discourse: Bush I’s tough-guy claim, “Read my lips: no new taxes.” We know who was writing his speeches at the time, and Bush didn’t come up with it. It started out as a piece of theater–a potent, ‘ethnic’-sounding thing that would be good image voodoo for the wimpy New England president to grandstand with. And it was originally evaluated as such. As Judith Irvine points out in her article on the affair, after Bush raised taxes the speech was revisited, and this time he was assigned authorial responsibility for it: he didn’t “mean it” and was thus not a reliable speaker. It was now evaluated according to a discourse of truth rather than a discourse of theater. His speech got regenred as a factual policy claim, rather than a piece of political rhetoric.

    Or is this a genre reassignment surgery? Will the piece now be “stuck” as an academic work, to be critiqued that way? Either way it’s interesting and significant.

  33. This “genre difference” argument seems problematic in light of the fact that the manual did make use of quotation marks, footnotes, and bibliographic referencing. By adopting these conventions, I think it’s fair to suggest that the authors, anonymous or not, are making a claim that they distinguish between their words and the words of others. As Price points out in the article, there are varying levels of citation. The authors could have used a casual, journalistic style. Prefacing a sentence with “Anthropologist Victor Turner explains that ritual is ‘….'” would hardly have catapulted the document from manual to scholarly study, but it would have been consistent with the distinctions they make elsewhere in the text.

  34. But of course you’d agree that not any text that distinguishes different voices should be treated as scholarship. The “authors” made significant choices about whom to _be seen_ quoting. Thus Price:

    “One measure of the Manual’s status as an extrusion of political ideology rather than scholarly labor is that when quotes and attributions are used, they are frequently deployed in the context of quoting the apparently sacred words of generals and other military figures – thereby, denoting not only differential levels of respect but different treatment of who may and may not be quoted without attribution.”

    If attribution is authorizing, and the book does indeed belong to the genre “Military manual,” consider the book’s authorities and audience that it is intended to persuade. Soldiers can be expected to consider generals more authoritative than anthropologists: in quoting, the preference is for sources that are good at killing people. Mao is extensively cited (though never footnoted) and characterized in the annotated bibliography as “the world’s most successful insurgent.” “The enemy” can also be authorized, and authorizing, as long as he has military authority.

    The Iraq war is one of the worst foreign policy moves in all of US history and I will cry no tears if the book is torn apart in the public arena–even if it is through a shift in genre designation.

  35. Is it your argument that only scholarship can be criticized for plagiarism? If so, I disagree. If not, we’re talking past each other.

  36. I have watched this argument waged for some time now and resisted responding but I think now is as good a time as any. I will state my conflict of interest up front, I am both a veteran of the US Army and an Anthropology PhD student. First of all, a field manual is just that and yes, they do have a specific audience: soldiers in the field, soldiers who often have to throw it in their ruck with a million other things and carry it around with them. (Shame on those elitist allusions some of you made to a specific audience being a less intelligent one.) There are no references or footnotes, it is supposed to be as light as possible. I am surprised that the pentagon even allowed the verbose chapters written by these anthropologists to be published in that state. And yes, plagiarism happens all the time in field manuals and it will continue to happen. As far at the UC version of the manual, I can’t even imagine what they were thinking when they decided to publish the manual.
    The military is far more complex than most of you seem to recognize. There is the admin level with the generals and pentagon officials etc, and then there are those on the ground doing the work. Those on the ground work hard and are very adept at taking the guidelines they are given and using them in such a way that is beneficial to them while at the same time creating the illusion they are following the protocol closely. Their number one job is to keep themselves and their soldiers alive.
    I personally feel that I do not have enough information to condemn or condone this military program or the anthropologists associated with it. The reason is this- no matter what you read in that manual, no matter what the pentagon or the generals or anyone doing PR on NPR tells you, until you talk to the soldiers who are actually out there with the anthropologist on a daily basis, you will never know what is really being done or not done. As far as this program goes that could be a very good thing or a very bad thing.
    I know from experience that the army used to train with a doctrine of hate under the belief that you have to hate the “other” in order to go and kill them without developing PTSD after. So no mater what else happens, knowing that form of viewing the enemy is on the way is out is a relief to me.

  37. “until you talk to the soldiers who are actually out there with the anthropologist on a daily basis, you will never know what is really being done or not done.”

    Of course, that’s the problem. We don’t know what’s being done or not done, which is what makes the Army’s claim to academic/intellectual legitimacy ring hollow. The anthropologists involved with HTS claim to be doing real applied anthropology, but are they? It’s secret research, as far as anyone in the anthropological community outside of HTS is concerned. Nagl and Petraeus and McFate are making HTS and counter-insurgency out to be scientific knowledge, yet science is above everything else about evidence and facts, which the military nature of the project essentially precludes.

    So we have to ask, why bother? Why publish this, why go on the freaking Daily Show to talk up the manual, why sit down with the NY Times, why make such a big deal about all this? And if they’re serious, if this is the real academically-informed program they’re talking up in so many forums, why is it so damned out of date? Why are they going about this like it’s 1953? They have the pick of the Library of Congress to draw on, why can’t they come up with something better to tell our troops about the Ay-Rabs than the musings of TE Lawrence?!

  38. Jennifer says about the counterinsurgency manual “There are no references or footnotes, it is supposed to be as light as possible.” But this is untrue. There are some footnotes and references and some passages in the manual are edged with quote marks and attributed to authors. It is just the plagiarized passages that are not attributed or footnoted. This is precisely what is so damning, and why this whole argument that manuals don’t have footnotes is a red herring.

    I noted here a few days ago that Montgomery McFate had posted a message to the Mil_Ant_Net group saying she would respond in a few days to the allegations, and I said I was witholding judgment until I heard her side of the story. I note that McFate has now posted a number of messages about other matters to the Mil-Ant-Net group, but has not given her response to Price’s allegations. I’m curious to know if anyone else knows of a place where she has publicly responded. There comes a point where, if you don’t hear the other side of the story, you conclude that there is no other side of the story.

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