Sociocultural Intelligence- What is it?

Sociocultural Intelligence.  Kerry Patton.  New York:  Contiuum, 2010.  ISBN 978-1-4411-2848-5.  Illustrations.  Notes & References.  Bibliography.  Index.  Pp. 204.  $35.95.

Sociocultural intelligence or human terrain analysis is a very hot topic today in the military and intelligence communities today.  Being the Grouchy Historian, I figured I'd better find a book or two and read up to see exactly what this new "SOCINT" was all about.  Kerry Patton, an instructor at Henley Putnam University, has written a primer on the subject that answered many of my questions, but did not quite meet my complete expectations.

Mr. Patton starts off well enough, and the case study he presents on Afghanistan was fascinating and very indicative of the challenges intelligence officers face when coming to grips with a completely alien society in a faraway land, where traditional forms of governance, economics, and society do not conform to Western concepts.  However, Mr. Patton doesn't seem to be able to decide if he is writing a narrative history, how to manual, or lessons learned manual and it is occasionally hard to follow the flow of the book.

Where the book did well was explaining the components of SOCINT and how it contrasted and complimented other traditional forms of intelligence in the new security environment dominated by counter terrorism and counter-insurgency.  This is what I was really looking for--sort of a checklist of SOCINT and what it was, and I didn't really get it from this book.

The other place the book shined was the case study.  I would have really preferred that the case study was greatly expanded to offer some actual lessons learned from Afghanistan, where Mr. Patton has obviously spent a great deal of time.  I am a big fan of case studies and I felt this volume missed a tremendous opportunity to use "been there, done that" examples to show the potential for SOCINT in a real world setting, including both the good and bad efforts by Coalition Forces, and even a comparison of SOCINT efforts in Iraq and Afghanistan.

The one place the book really confused me and let me down was the extended discussion on ethics and SOCINT.  By its very nature, intelligence gathering may be considered a hostile act, so worrying about the ethics of interviewing and talking to tribal leaders in a more concerted, logical manner seems like a stretch.  That could just be my own inexperience, but I think this could have been a short paragraph or two instead of an extended chapter.

Mr. Patton has hopefully set the stage for more volumes to follow on this topic as more officers and civilian participants begin to document the history of military operations in Iraq and Afghanistan over the last 10 years.  SOCINT is here to stay, and how well the U.S. military and intelligence communities master this difficult art of not only knowing your opponent, but where your opponent lives and works, may spell the difference in conducting successful military operations in the 21st century.  This book is recommended, but with reservations.

For additional information on this topic, I recommend: 
Operational Culture for the Warfighter: Principles and Applications

This textbook is a collaboration between the United States Marine Corps Center for Advanced Operational Culture Learning and the Marine Corps University. Originally published in May 2009 in limited numbers this book studies the role of cultural awareness in securing operational success in the battlespace. This book is designed to help link concepts of culture to the realities of planning and and executing military operations around the world.