The Demarest Factor: The Ethics of U.S. Department of Defense Funding for Academic Research in Mexico

by Simon Sedillo
March 25th, 2009

On October 23, 2006 the Lawrence Journal World or LJ World published an article which silently uncovered a funding scandal within Kansas University, in Lawrence, Kansas. In 2005, the university’s department of geography received at least $500,000 in Department of Defense funds to map communally held indigenous land in the states of San Luis Potosi, and in Oaxaca, Mexico.

As a result of this original story, on November 26th, of 2007 published a feature follow up story on the funding scandal titled “The Road to Hell”, which elaborates on the the potential dangers of this type of militarily funded mapping project. Since the publication of this 2007 article, myself and a growing number of community members and students from both sides of the U.S. Mexico border, have engaged in several extensive investigations into the details of this particular research project. Our growing concern has revolved around, academic ethics violations due to improper transparency with communities about the research funding, and serious U.S. Army violations of Mexican sovereignty, and of indigenous autonomy. Our collective research over the last year has resulted in several key pieces of irrefutable evidence, demonstrating both academic ethics violations, and serious violations of Mexican sovereignty and indigenous autonomy.

The Scandal:

Kansas University Geography professors, Peter Herlihy and Jerome Dobson received the funding for their mapping project, named the Bowman Expeditions, from the Foreign Military Studies Office (FMSO) located at the Fort Leavenworth U.S. Army base in Leavenworth, Kansas. The Mexican incarnation of the project is named “Mexico Indigena” and began mapping in 2005 in an indigenous region known as “La Husteca”, which is partially located in the state of San Luis Potosi, and then moved their operation to the state of Oaxaca amidst the statewide popular uprising of the APPO – Oaxacan Peoples’ Popular Assembly, in 2006.

On the 14th of January, 2009, UNOSJO, the Union of Organizations of the Sierra Juárez of Oaxaca, released a communique in which the organization expresses concerns of BioPiracy in the Mexico Indigena mapping project, and claims that communities were deceived, having no idea that a primary funder of the project was the FMSO. UNOSJO cites a clear lack of transparency and additional suspicions of implications related to the US Army’s controversial Human Terrain Mapping System. Indeed there is very compelling evidence that the FMSO is engaging in what they themselves define as “Civil Information Management in Support of Counterinsurgency Operations.”

The Official Responses:

After the initial article was published, the Mexico Indigena team released an official response to concerns raised by the military funding. Since then the scandal has ballooned, and several Oaxacan indigenous communities and organizers are demanding answers. Why were they not told about the military funding? What will the maps be used for by the military?
And is any of this ethical at all?

In the face of these very serious international concerns, The Mexico Indigena Team, KU Geography professor Jerome Dobson, and the American Geographical Society (AGS), of which Dobson is the president, have all three released separate statements about the situation. All the statements claim transparency, ethical standards, and the best of intentions for the indigenous populations being mapped. The AGS takes it a step further and denies any involvement in the US Army’s Human Terrain Mapping System.

The Contradictions:

First off, the Bowman Expeditions are aptly named after the father of American imperial geographic exploration and imposition, Isaiah Bowman. A new biography about Bowman by Neil Smith, “American Empire: Roosevelt’s Geographer and the Prelude to Globalization”, provides us with a closer look at a very racist, and arrogant academic who used his science and the academy to advance imperial political and economic impositions around the world. Smith cites that Bowman captured several indigenous Quechua, and used them as pack animals during his explorations in Peru, which lead to the “discovery” of Machu Pichu. This is just one example of many in Smith’s book about Bowman, which illustrate the geographer’s arrogant nature.

UNOSJO cites that neither they, nor the communities they represent, were ever made aware of FMSO funding behind the Mexico Indigena mapping project. At a second UNOSJO press conference on February 19th, 2009, Aldo Gonzalez added that originally several Oaxacan communities had denied the Mexico Indigena mapping project in their territory because someone noticed a FMSO logo on some of the sample maps that were displayed to promote the project to communities. Aldo goes on to show that in UNOSJO communities, the maps that were shown to promote the project no longer had the FMSO logo, and at no point was this funding source ever mentioned to them.

On The Mexico Indigena project summary reports published in 2008, project coordinators clearly express time and time again, “We (the Mexico Indigena Team) continue to explore how best to display the complex geospatial data needed for understanding the “cultural landscape” or “human terrain” in a web-accessible, easy–to-use format.” Also on KU geography professor Peter Herlihy’s web page, it clearly states, “Our multi-scale GIS database aims at crafting the digital cultural landscape (so-called “human terrain”) of indigenous Mexico.”

Mexico Indigena team members have traveled to Colombia with FMSO agents. In Colombia, the counter insurgency and strategic military uses of this type of mapping project can not be disguised as altruistic, or otherwise intended. No one can possibly imagine happy little mapping in Colombia by the hands of the US Army. Either the Mexico Indigena team is lying or they are playing dumb, but the implications and intentions of the mapping project could not be any more self evident.

The Demarest Factor:

The Bowman Expeditions received their grant from the FMSO at Fort Leavenworth. The official assigned to the Bowman expeditions is Lieutenant Colonel Geoffrey B. Demarest. Demarest is the IberoAmerica researcher at the FMSO. During a 23-year military career, Dr. Demarest served in multiple assignments in Latin America and is also a graduate of the U.S. Army School of the Americas, the Defense Attaché Course, Foreign Area Officer’s Course, Defense Strategy Course, Defense Language Institute, and others. He has written numerous articles dealing with internal conflict including “The Overlap of Military and Police Responsibilities in Latin America.” Dr. Demarest’s first book, Geoproperty, considers property ownership as an issue of national security and strategy. His areas of academic interest include emerging threats and responses, new strategic alignments, military history, and international law. Dr. Demarest holds a Ph.D. in International Studies from the Denver University Graduate School of International Studies, a J.D., has practiced as a civil attorney and lectures on the legality of espionage.

The Army’s Foreign Military Studies Office (FMSO), is a research and analysis center under the U.S. Army’s Training and Doctrine Command, Deputy Chief of Staff G-2 (Intelligence). FMSO manages and operates the Ft. Leavenworth Joint Reserve Intelligence Center (JRIC) and conducts analytical programs focused on emerging and asymmetric threats, regional military and security developments, and other issues that define evolving operational environments around the world. Asymmetric threats are defined as terrorist organizations and guerrilla insurgent army’s, while emerging threats are being defined as social phenomenon and in particular, social movements.

Six declassified essays published by Lieutenant Colonel Demarest of the FMSO are the best evidence of sinister intentions for the Bowman Expeditions. Demarest’s essays, “Expeditionary Police Service” [1], “Tactical Intelligence and Low Intensity Conflict” [2], “The Strategic Implications of International Law” [3], “Mapping Colombia: The Correlation Between Land Data and Strategy” [4], “Geopolitics and Urban Armed Conflict in Latin America” [5] and “The Overlap of Military and Police in Latin America” [6] directly contradict any of the primary intentions made public, or ever expressed by the Mexico Indigena team, the Bowman Expeditions, or the American Geographical Society. Demarest also published an entire text book titled: “Geoproperty: Foreign Affairs, National Security and Property Rights”, which is available for anyone to purchase for around $150. It is this text that thoroughly expresses Demarest’s attitude toward the military uses of the Bowman Expedition’s Mexico Indigena project. A seventh essay by the FMSO’s Major José M. Madera, United States Army Reserve titled “Civil Information Management in Support of Counterinsurgency Operations: A Case for the Use of Geospatial Information Systems in Colombia” describes with utmost specificity, the counterinsurgency and intelligence uses of open source GIS information, land data, for what the FMSO calls “Civil Information Management.” It is important to note that the bulk of the information provided by these texts, is in reference to the use of geographic data for ongoing US Military operations in Colombia. This military operation is financed by U.S. taxpayers through a funding packet known as Plan Colombia. Recently the U.S. government has voted to fund a similar operation in Mexico, known as the Merida Initiative. Communities and organizers in Mexico have dubbed the Merida Initiative, “Plan Mexico.” Both of these funding packets use the excuse of narco-terrorism, to further militarize communities. Plan Colombia has shown little to no results in the last ten years.

These FMSO essays, and Demarest’s text book on the matter, expose a very particular and sinister military ethic, attitude and strategy with regards to the control of large populations of poor people, indigenous people, and the disenfranchised in general. These specific attitudes include the systematic devaluation of any forms of indigenous self governance and self determination. Cultural identity as a whole is regarded as an impediment to prosperity. In particular, traditional forms of communal land usage and rights, or in Demarest’s words “informal land use”, is specifically cited as the primary impediment to progress, and security. In particular, the Demarest essays cite that informal property ownership in either rural or urban settings is the breeding ground for criminal or insurrectionary activity.

The solutions provided by Demarest to the security dilemma of “Informal Land Use” and poverty in urban or rural settings, is the systematic devaluation, segregation, and criminalization of these communities. Such communities include everything from “shanty towns” on the edges of an urban metropolis, to communally held indigenous farmland, or even urban ghettos with rows of rental property. In this worldview of the dispossessed, Demarest assesses poor communities as deserving of a systematic segregation because of their propensity towards criminal activity and self organizing. He specifically cites concerns about the criminality of large areas of the dispossessed, as they become separately governed autonomous zones. Demarest even admits that though this perception, attitude or strategy may not be as openly acceptable any longer in the US, it makes absolute sense to employ it heavily upon the people of Latin America. However, it is painfully obvious that the attitudes and strategies expressed by Demarest relate directly to systems of urban displacement, or gentrification, within the United States as well.

Demarest asserts that the privatization of property is the key to stability, prosperity, progress, and security in Latin America, and that formal land titling leads to effective government control of the land and its inhabitants. In Demarest’s approach to property and security, existing private property of real value, must be made secure from nearby and potentially unsettled poor communities, through a phenomenon he describes as the “architecture of control.” He concludes that unregulated and informally used land must be privatized, and titled for security and prosperity to take place. Through Demarest’s strategic analysis of private property, the communally held lands of indigenous farmworkers in Oaxaca, Mexico, and the rented property of the working poor in Los Angeles are impediments to progress, development, and security. Demarest cites the 1992 LA riots, as a success story of “the architecture of control”, wherein the financial district was effectively able to seal itself off from the rioting masses, and suffer minimal high value property damage.

From the protection of existing valuable real estate to the systematic displacement of poor communities in order to gain formal ownership and titling of their “informally” owned territory, Demarest places the Bowman Expeditions, the Mexico Indigena Project, the KU Geography professors, and the American Geographical Society in a very uncomfortable ethical pickle. Furthermore, Lieutenant Colonel Geoffrey B. Demarest, and the FMSO, put the entirety of U.S. Academia in an ethical quagmire requiring immediate resolution.

A question about ethics for everyone, not just soldiers and academics:

Today, under a new and historical presidential era, US citizens are in a very unique position to reflect upon the immediate past and identify a series of great American mistakes. However easy it may be to point at the arrogance and volatility of the Bush administration, it is always challenging to ascertain the culpability of average everyday citizens, ranging from apathy, to arrogance, and everything in between. Some Americans protested lightly, and symbolically resisted the global atrocities and national defamation caused by the Bush presidency. Many more US Citizens hid behind the embarrassment of a federal government willing to engage in clearly unethical and unintelligent political, economic, and military strategies that have ultimately proven to be absolute failures for the American people. These failures have disproportionately affected the poor, while profiting and benefiting tycoons and their corrupt institutions. The entire world, with varying levels of access to education and information, recognizes that it is not OK to disregard national sovereignty, it is not OK to impose a single worldview or political economy, it is not OK to engage in preemptive military activity, and it is not OK to gather intelligence in violation of basic human and community rights. No matter how glaring George Bush’s excesses and crimes may be, the American people, more so than just their new president, still hold a serious responsibility to themselves and the world to be accountable for what has happened, for what is to happen next, and for how they are never going to allow these things to happen again. Americans owe it to themselves to save their own face.

The ethics of military funding for academic research may seem blatantly obvious to anyone with any sense of territory, sovereignty, autonomy, communality or self determination. Unfortunately after generations of constant war and fear mongering, it is clear that it has become more difficult for the American people to grasp this simple contradiction. No matter where one may lean on the subject, this particular case is a clear violation of some very basic ethical research standards for any educational institution. US Citizens, and academics in particular, should be very alarmed at the perception this incident, and incidents like it, will give the world about American researchers, and citizens in general. Can the American people afford any more global disdain for their country?

I normally would not be inclined to discuss or debate the ethics of any sort of military activity in which the United States of America is engaged in. My particular concern is the way in which, this fighting force has become less defensive and increasingly preemptive and offensive. For me personally this is a source of great national embarrassment. But for arguments sake, and just for a hypothetical moment, allow me to defend a nation’s right to defend itself. Shouldn’t the right of all nations, and more importantly of all communities, to defend themselves, be guided by a strict adherence to a set of norms, accords, and ethical standards which do not infringe on basic rights such as sovereignty, autonomy, self determination, self governance, cultural identity, and of course territory?

The Bowman Expeditions, the Mexico Indigena mapping project, and the American Geographical Society are directly aiding the FMSO in the gathering of preemptive military intelligence, in violation of Mexico’s national sovereignty and indigenous autonomy. More importantly, this type of intelligence gathering is a direct threat to the Mexican peoples’ personal and collective right to self determination. It is no coincidence whatsoever, that the Mexico Indigena team and the FMSO chose Oaxaca, Mexico as a “prototype” location for their Bowman Expeditions in the summer of 2006. They chose to map “informally owned” indigenous territories in a state amidst a popular social uprising with a very strong indigenous base.

The attitudes expressed in the seven FMSO essays attached to this article, and in Demarest’s book “GeoProperty”, clearly demonstrate a systematic devaluation of indigenous culture and identity, with a particular disdain demonstrated for indigenous or popular self determination, self sufficiency, self reliance, and more specifically self governance. Furthermore, the FMSO shows a deliberate intention to segregate, marginalize, and criminalize large portions of human society simply because they are poor. To the FMSO, it is imperative that territory and space occupied informally by the poor, be privatized and regulated in order for progress and security to be harvested. In the face of this military, political and economic strategy, it is no wonder that millions of indigenous and peasant farm workers, students, housewives, mothers, children, workers, and communities all over the world, are beginning to organize and train in a variety of different strategies for the self defense of their sovereignty, autonomy, territory, identity, and self determination.

End Notes:

The following articles are in PDF

1. Expeditionary Police Sevice
2. Tactical Intelligence and Low Intensity Conflict
3. The Strategic Implications of International Law
4. Mapping Colombia: The Correlation Between Land Data and Strategy
5. Geopolitics and Urban Armed Conflict in Latin America
6. The Overlap of Military and Police in Latin America

Other FMSO essays related to Mexico:

7. Law Enforcement and the Mexican Armed Forces: New Internal Security Missions Challenge the Military
8. US-Mexican Border Security: Civil-Military Cooperation
9. Mexican Security
10. Insurrection: An Analysis Of The Chiapas Uprising
11. Mexico’s Other Insurgents
12. Mexico’s Evolving Security Posture
13. Mexico’s Multimission Force for Internal Security
14. The Death Cult of the Drug Lords Mexico’s Patron Saint of Crime, Criminals, and the Dispossessed


• México Indígena page at

• Dr. Zoltán Grossman’s website on the Geographic Controversy over the Bowman Expeditions / México Indígena:

The World Was Not Enough – Christian Parenti’s review of Neil Smith’s book on Isaiah Bowman, American Empire: Roosevelt’s Geographer and the Prelude to Globalization

Letter to the Association of American Geographers (AAG) from members Joel Wainwright and Joe Bryan:

[W]e ask that the AAG investigate (1) the evidence that [Professor] Herlihy revealed his funding source at the time of obtaining consent; (2) the extent that the FMSO shaped the design of the research itself; and (3) the extent to which [Professor] Herlihy has made the results from the research available to FMSO personnel.


  1. Wow. I hope the schools where these people are associated, besides the military people, will review their positions/tenure and funding.

  2. The Association of American Geographers (AAG) Had its annual conference in Las Vegas, Nevada this past weekend. KU Professor Jerome Dobson of the Bowman Expeditions, was attempting to get, elected the President of the AAG, and was voted down. The following is a transcript of a public conversation held between an AAG memeber and Jerome Dobson, at a presentation at this years conference by Dobson.

    GROSSMAN: Yeah, I have a question of Dr. Dobson, as you know, there’s been alot of ah back and forth over whether particular communities in Oaxaca were informed of the Army funding and participation in your research team by the Foreign Military Studies Office, and in the Indigenous People’s Specialty Group, we’ve gathered documents and posted documents from both sides of the debate, including many of yours, and um we received a letter from the um Municipal Authority of San Miguel Tiltepec on March 17th in which they say, this is the police chief, the commissioner of communal goods that say that they weren’t adequately informed and are asking for cease and desist and return of the data, just wondering if you want to comment on that specific..

    DOBSON: I was, in some of the villages, I was not in Tiltapec, there’s no question in my mind that people knew where the funding was coming from, now, that was clearly communicated to key people do they want to say that now, apparently not. Uh, my reading of what happened is this: some very courageous people in those villages took a step forward, they used this opportunity to advance their villages, to improve their technical skill, to get the data they wanted and then when it became a controversy, that put pressure on them to deny that they knew where the money came from. And, I I know Peter Herlihey is one of the finest people in our discipline. I know he did what he was supposed to do when I was there I saw him, a-and here, I saw him bend over backward to do what was right and to inform people. We had conferences there, we carried people with us from all from DOD and from the department of state with us when we were in the field there was no attempt to hide and I think there was an active attempt to tell them who we were and what we were there for. Uh, I know that in Colombia for example, I went there and presented the case why we were there, what we were interes– what the Bowman expeditions were all about, and both sides accepted that there. So I’m I’m just befuddled by why this has reached this point, Uh I know that the initial charges by Aldo (SP) Gonzales were false, I know that , uh but the uh later subsequent events are, yes

    GROSSMAN: Have you seen this particular letter, and there was a press conference on Youtube, I have copies of it for people

    DOBSON: I’ve seen the video of the press conference


    DOBSON: of the presence of the discussion by the commissario oh uh you know, ah Tultepec, ah, but I also know what was happening when we were there and Peter was there, not not in that village, but I saw what happened in other villages I know Peter is to be trusted, so if he said it, I believe it.

  3. I wonder if the good old English Commons are classified as dangerous informal breeding grounds by Demarest.

  4. Lo que resulta increible es que el gobierno y el pueblo mexicano las actividades de quienes son en principoio un enemigo potencial y no que
    yo lo digo , hace poco el gobierno norteamericano especulaba con la intencion de invadir el territorio mexicano, entonces les estan permitiendo
    colectar informacion sobre el terreno con un evidente proposito militar, no se puede confiar ni en Universidades ni en tipos que se digan son
    o parecen ser cientificos, en el pais del norte todo el universo profesional trabaja para las agencias militares y de inteligencia. Los mexicanos
    se han dejado embaucar sobre algo que es mas que sabido en todo el mundo. Quien puede pensar en buenas intenciones de parte de estas
    gentes que provienen de un pais extremadamente racista, que interes pueden tener estas personas por los indigenas mexicanos sino para
    buscar su exterminio preocupados por su elevado numero ante una eventual ocup[acion de su territorio. Pensar otra cosa es de tontos.

  5. I personally know several KU people, both Mexican and American, involved in this project, including Peter Herlihy, who is a current professor and advisor of mine. To state that he, or the other KU researchers, would engage in a years-long project to conspiratorially strip indigenous Mexicans of their land and rights is an outrageous claim. Many KU personnel associated with this project have lived in Mexico on and off for years and decades, with the campesinos, in the mountains, in villages, in cities, and in the jungle. They have the utmost respect for Mexican culture and indigenous cultures. Some have actively promoted the maintenance of traditional indigenous culture in the face of neo-liberal reforms.

    Broadly painting these academics as part of a North American conspiracy is easy, alarmist, and attracts readers; it is also irresponsible. Additionally, the claim that this project was timed to coincide with APPO activities is a bit of a stretch. Sedillo fails to mention that the research was being done in Oaxaca state, but not in Oaxaca de Juarez. In any case, Sedillo states that they intentionally moved their operations in order to be closer to APPO activities. So, what were they doing with APPO? Sabotaging the movement? Funneling US funds to anti-APPO paramilitary? Sedillo should not just make an ominous implication without providing a little bit of evidence. These academics are simply conducting fieldwork, not seeking to emulate Kermit Roosevelt.

    Fundamentally, whose responsibility is it to inform and be informed of the source of funding? The researchers or the researched? Herlihy personally told me how the village leaders were aware of Department of Defense funding. Why did they wait until the end of the mapping to be offended by it? Why didn’t they ask more questions sooner (or decline permission) if it was so offensive? If the DOD funding was so secretive, why was the information simply made available on the Lawrence Journal World’s website and the Bowman Expedition’s website? A simple Google search would have revealed any suspicious relationship.

    I conducted research on business development in Oaxaca in the summer of 2008. Was it my responsibility to inform all of my research participants of every facet of my funding, such as who funded my grant and who donates money to the University of Kansas? Should my research be suspect because I was studying commercial business development at the exact time that the Guelaguetza was being commercialized? (Actually I eschewed the commercial Guelaguetza and went to the Guelaguetza Popular).

    Yes, it is true that the US government has historically been irresponsible, unethical, and immoral in achieving its goals (which have frequently been based on arrogance, greed, and racism). Should we be skeptical of US military activities in foreign countries? Yes. Is it possible that sometimes in connecting certain clues and evidence together to uncover a grand conspiracy we are simply wrong, no matter how much we would love to believe in the conspiracy? Yes. Is it appropriate to broadly stroke all those involved as “culeros”? No.

    By the way, many people at the University of Kansas (including some associated with the Bowman Expedition), KU’s Center of Latin American Studies (of which Peter Herlihy is a faculty member), and KU’s Latin American Solidarity have sincerely enjoyed Simon Sedillo’s presentations and “Un poquito de tanta verdad.” I am sure that the University will continue to invite him to present his ideas and work, as they have frequently done in the past.

  6. Z Magazine:
    U.S. Military Funded Mapping Project in Oaxaca
    Geographers used to gather intelligence?
    April 2009
    By Cyril Mychalejko
    and Ramor Ryan

    Upside Down World:
    Proyecto de Mapeo Financiado por el Ejército de los EE.UU. en Oaxaca

  7. by SOAW.ORG

    SOA graduate Geoffrey Demarest’s time as Military Attaché at the U.S. Embassy in Guatemala was 1988 to 1991! This covers the time of heavy U.S. backed military repression against indigenous communitis in Guatemala and several high-profile cases of murder and torture (e.g. the Myrna Mack assassination in 1990. In 1989, Sister Diana Ortiz, the founder of the Torture Abolition Survivor Support Coalition here in DC was raped and tortured in Guatemala. During her torture, a man called Allejandro appeared to be in charge. He spoke colloquial English and spoke of contacts with the US Embassy. It also covers the time of the murder of Michael Devine. Allegations have been made that Guatemalan colonel, Julio Roberto Alpirez on CIA payroll, was involved. A review in 1996 showed that Alpirez was on the CIA payroll from 1988-1992 and that he was involved in the cover-up of the murder of Devine and had participated in the interrogation and likely torture of Efraim Bamaca, a captured Guatemalan guerrilla married to an American lawyer (Jennifer Harbury).

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