CIM To HNA: Just Enough To Be Dangerous

Updated: Jul 28

Whitney Waldsmith



Soldiers assigned to the U.S. Army John F. Kennedy Special Warfare Center and School participating in the Civil Affairs Course use maps to chart movements and plan engagements during Sluss-Tiller, the culmination exercise for Civil Affairs students, at Camp Mackall, North Carolina June 15, 2020. (U.S. Army photo by K. Kassens)



During my medical training, it was common for students to hear references to the Dunning-Kruger effect while working in the hospital. The phrase “know enough to be dangerous,” most exemplified this idea. When learning something complex, like medicine, once you start to recognize patterns, inevitably you will start drawing connections between them. In some situations, the conclusions you draw will be correct, but you’re also at risk of conflating correlation with causation if you don’t develop a more in-depth understanding. Making these incorrect logical leaps can lead to injury or death in a patient. I see the same type of risk in Civil Affairs operations. While deployed teams work to collect as much relevant data as possible and support personnel process them, limited numbers and context put everyone at risk for faulty analysis.

In 2018, Active Component Civil Affairs leadership made a shift from the familiar concept (and pronounceable acronym) of Civil Information Management (CIM)[1] to a newer, expanded idea: Human Network Analysis (HNA).[2] While some see this as a sematic shift, it has promise to establish Civil Affairs processes in a scientific, data-driven foundation, rather than subjective assessments of limited windows into a complex society or operational environment.


Unfortunately, personnel turnover in support of career management makes it difficult to maintain a trained HNA force. Creating an Additional Skill Identifier (ASI)[3] for HNA will pave the way to staffing companies and battalions with enthusiastic and well-trained Soldiers. An ASI will also direct a career path, allowing HNA to be the focus of professional development, rather than a career diversion.


Increasingly, SOF personnel recognize that concepts included in HNA are of central importance in the Special Operations mission set, whether that mission is counter-terrorism or multi-domain operations. When executed well, HNA integrates all components of Irregular Warfare, especially Unconventional Warfare, as well as Information Operations. Despite this, battalion-level HNA sections are chronically understaffed, undertrained, and transient. This prevents those sections from conducting a range of CONUS and deployed operations. The fifteen performance steps within the 95th CA BDE HNA Mission Essential Task (MET) at the battalion level includes intensive cognitive and technical tasks that require training and depth currently unavailable in most battalions.


Under the current paradigm, most Civil Affairs personnel assigned to 95th spend a short stint on staff at the battalion level, which is potentially the only time they will focus on HNA. That said, only a few individuals are assigned to battalion HNA, as there are many staff positions available. This also means that the personnel who are part of the HNA staff are not specifically trained for the position, despite the technical and specialized skill set required. Most 38-series staff will spend a year or less in the HNA position, and by the time they leave, most have only acquired a few of the requisite skills to do the job well. Given the increasing complexity of the operational environment and the Civil Affairs mission set, this problem is likely to compound in the near-term.


Further challenges reside at the company level, including three major operational foci and competing career-management requirements. While battalion-level staff usually has some HNA training, company-level personnel have often received no training in HNA beyond the CAQC. The 95th BDE HNA MET (company-level) is extensive and requires nearly as much technical expertise as the battalion.


As indicated in the MET, company/team personnel should be the ones conducting quality Civil Reconnaissance (CR) and basic analysis. The Civil-Military Operations Center (CMOC) is required to do theatre-wide analysis, product creation, and targeting integration of all Civil Information. Too often, a lack of training leads to poor CR conduct and analysis, hobbling the CA enterprise at the lowest level. CMOC personnel are also at a disadvantage, as they must function as subject-matter experts at the Theatre Special Operations Command (TSOC) and represent CA to Unified Action Partners (UAPs).[4] Placing increased importance on the HNA mission will address core CA competencies, and this increased focus must scale from the team-level CR reporting to the company, CMOC and TSOC to support the theater information management structure.

Creating an HNA ASI with a specific training pipeline would mitigate several problems, and allow personnel interested in HNA methodologies to become true subject matter experts. The HNA mission is multifaceted and is constantly growing more complex.[5]

While ATP 5-0.6 defines the elements of HNA, in practice, the four primary competencies that compose the skill set are network analysis, PAI research, irregular warfare, and civil reconnaissance. A working knowledge of targeting is also very useful. It is impractical to expect anyone to master these fields during a short assignment to staff, or learn them on their own accord while assigned to a team or CMOC. Given the competing demands on Civil Affairs at all echelons, it is even less realistic to think that those in the HNA sections will have any operational impact without the appropriate training.


Currently, a deviation to the HNA section does not support an NCO completing their Team Sergeant time. This is the primary reason personnel often spend a short period in the HNA section; to stay longer is damaging to their careers. This is no reason why those who carry an HNA ASI could not also be a Team Sergeant, potentially improving the functionality of the team with both leadership and a relevant skill. The career progression for a 38-series NCO with the HNA ASI could include positions within the battalion or brigade level HNA sections, and operational positions at the CAT, CMOC, or TSOC with potential broadening to SWCS. This would allow both operational and staff time but, more importantly, enable the Soldier to focus on and develop their specialized skill.

Maintaining the current model of staffing HNA sections with transient and untrained Soldiers will perpetuate the problems of poor organization, inconsistent products, and lack of relevance in the Special Operations community. To return to the medical analogy, this puts our organizations and UAPs at risk for dangerous diagnoses and, even worse, incorrect treatment plans. To be dangerous in a hospital is bad for the patient; to be dangerous on a battlefield can be catastrophic for a society. Civil Affairs must act to develop HNA skills within the formation immediately; failure to do so will be to concede a critical facet of Great Power Competition. Developing HNA as an ASI is beneficial for both the mission and the Soldiers; this is an opportunity to develop quiet professionals to bring further legitimacy to Civil Affairs and ensure that relevant data gathered during today’s missions will be available and useful in the future fight.



End Notes

[1] FM 3-57: Civil Information Management (CIM) is the process whereby data relating to the civil component of the operational environment is gathered, collated, processed, analyzed, produced into information products, and disseminated.

JP 3-57: The CIM process is continuous, occurs across the range of military operations, and develops timely and accurate civil component information critical to the commander’s understanding and planning. CIM is a core task of Civil Affairs, the primary responsibility of the […] CIM cell, and an essential task for all CA in coordination with the J2.

[2] ATP 5-0.6:

Human Network Analysis analyzes groups of humans and depicts them from a networked perspective. A human network is a depiction of the relationships of a broad group that enables understanding of that group. Commanders make decisions on which human networks to engage and how to engage them based on a comprehensive understanding of an operational environment (OE), the results of human network analysis, and an understanding of the second and third order potential effects their actions may have upon each human network present within an OE.

[3] AR 611-1: An ASI identifies specialized skills, qualifications, and requirements that are closely related to and are in addition to those inherent to the MOS.

ASIs are primarily used to identify skills requiring formal school training or civilian certification.

[4] ADRP 3-0:

Unified Action Partners (UAPs) are those military forces, governmental and nongovernmental organizations, and elements of the private sector with whom Army forces plan, coordinate, synchronize, and integrate during the conduct of operations.

In Civil Affairs Operations, examples of UAPs include NATO, nongovernmental organizations aid organizations like Red Cross/Red Crescent, and international arms of US government.

[5] ATP 5-0.6: Six elements of Human Network Analysis: (1) Understand the mission; (2) Understand the OE; (3) Understand the networks; (4) Organize for network engagement; (5) Engage the networks; (6) Assess effects on networks



About the Author


Whitney Waldsmith is currently the Human Network Analysis Section Officer In Charge (OIC), for the 97th Civil Affairs Battalion (Special Operations) (Airborne) at Fort Bragg, NC.


The views expressed are the authors and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of U.S. Army, the Department of Defense, or the U.S. Government.





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