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Disrupting Improvised Explosive Device Terror Campaigns: Basic Research Opportunities, A Workshop Report SUMMARY The term improvised explosive device (IED) has become synonymous with the current bombings in Iraq and Afghanistan, but use of the devices predates those conflicts. IEDs have been and probably will continue to be used in insurgencies and terrorist attacks throughout the world. Other recent examples of attacks involving IEDs are bombings in Bali, Delhi, Moscow, Cairo, London, Madrid, and Oklahoma City. Countering the threat of IEDs is a challenging, multilayered problem. The IED itself is just the most publicly visible part of an underlying campaign of violence, the IED threat chain. Improving the technical ability to detect the device is a primary objective, but understanding of the goals of the adversary; its sources of materiel, personnel, and money; the sociopolitical environment in which it operates; and other factors, such as the cultural mores that it must observe or override for support, may also be critical for impeding or halting the effective use of IEDs. Answering some basic-research questions in the physical and social sciences could enhance disruption of IED campaigns. For example, a more complete understanding of social networks and social network theory could help to reduce a population’s support for an IED organization; studying the interactions between gangs and law enforcement personnel could result in improved counter-terrorist operations; understanding how money, or other forms of barter or trade, moves through communities along informal routes could help to reduce an adversary’s ability to obtain funds; and research in neuroscience, cognition, and decision theory could improve human interaction with data and improve algorithms for filtering and analyzing data that result from persistent surveillance systems. The National Research Council recently convened a committee to write a report investigating basic research opportunities for countering the threat of IEDs (National Research Council 2007). As a follow-on to that report, it organized two unclassified workshops to allow two challenging research subjects to be explored in additional depth with a broad cross-section of the research community. The first, held in Irvine, CA, on February 14-15, 2008, focused on the human dimension of IED campaigns. The second, held in Washington, DC, on March 17-18, 2008, focused on predicting IED activities. The workshops brought together experts in the physical and social sciences, the defense community, law enforcement, and other fields. Some context for the discussions is provided below and followed by a summary of the workshop themes. The views expressed in this document are those of the workshop participants and are not necessarily those of the committee.
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Disrupting Improvised Explosive Device Terror Campaigns: Basic Research Opportunities, A Workshop Report THE IMPROVISED EXPLOSIVE DEVICE THREAT For the purposes of this report, an IED is defined as an explosive device that is placed or fabricated in an improvised manner; incorporates destructive, lethal, noxious, pyrotechnic, or incendiary chemicals; and is designed to destroy, incapacitate, harass, or distract (National Research Council 2007). IEDs always contain explosive materials, detonators, and triggering mechanisms. They may be encased and include shrapnel. Explosive devices designed to disperse chemical, biologic, or radiologic material are generally not classified as IEDs and were not considered, although they often contain an explosive dispersal component. Two characteristics of IEDs that make them attractive to insurgents and terrorists are that they can be assembled relatively easily and cheaply. The concerted use of IEDs to achieve strategic or tactical goals is referred to as an IED campaign (National Research Council 2007). The decision to engage in such a campaign is influenced by operational objectives, ideologic factors, organizational factors, and environmental and contextual factors. Three key characteristics of an IED campaign are its asymmetry, idiosyncrasy, and dynamic nature. IED campaigns have traditionally not been used in warfare between opposing sides of roughly equal strength (that is, symmetric warfare). Rather, they often have been used by terrorists to strike soft targets and by insurgents as weapons against a stronger enemy. Idiosyncrasy in the context of an IED campaign connotes use of an unconventional approach to achieving an objective, such as hiding a bomb in the carcass of road-kill or using a washing-machine timer to set off an explosive. The dynamic nature of IED campaigns is reflected in the measure-countermeasure cycle that is played out between the adversary and counter-IED forces. One characteristic of IED campaigns that makes them so hard to defeat is that the time that the adversary needs to adapt to a countermeasure is typically shorter than the time needed by counter-IED forces to deploy and implement IED countermeasures (National Research Council 2007). Moreover, it is often more expensive for counter-IED forces to adapt than for the adversary to adapt. Counter-IED and counterinsurgency efforts are inexorably linked, and counterinsurgency concepts can be used as tools to defeat an IED campaign (National Research Council 2007). Those who engage in an IED campaign must develop an array of capabilities to be successful. Figure S.1 depicts one model of an IED threat chain, which includes obtaining funding and bomb materials, recruiting people, constructing the IEDs, selecting targets, delivering the devices to their targets, carrying out the attacks, observing and assessing the attacks, postattack evasion, and disseminating information about the attacks for training, propaganda, recruitment, or other purposes (National Research Council 2007). Each of those components presents opportunities to disrupt an IED campaign.
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Disrupting Improvised Explosive Device Terror Campaigns: Basic Research Opportunities, A Workshop Report Figure S.1 The IED threat chain (National Research Council, 2007). WORKSHOP 1: FINDING THE WEAK LINKS An IED campaign takes place in a local political, social, cultural, and economic environment, which has been called the human terrain. The human terrain provides the context for all counter-IED efforts. This context is a critical element in an IED campaign, but it is also the most complex and probably the least well understood (National Research Council 2007). Five questions framed the first workshop, which focused on the human dimension of IED campaigns: What are the pillars of insurgent or terrorist organizations? For example, Personnel—motivation (the “cause”), leadership, recruiting, and training. Resources—money, material, communication, and media access. Popular support—at least to some degree (or indifference or intimidation). Environment—political, economic, cultural, government, and security. How do the pillars originate and evolve? How can they be affected? What opportunities and constraints do they present? How do the use of IEDs in particular and terror tactics more generally depend on the pillars? How can governments disrupt the processes that facilitate IED campaigns? How does one measure the effect of such disruption on IED campaigns? Five speakers gave presentations to workshop attendees to set the context for the breakout sessions that followed:
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Disrupting Improvised Explosive Device Terror Campaigns: Basic Research Opportunities, A Workshop Report Jeffrey M. Bale, Monterey Institute of International Studies, “Some Preliminary Observations on Jihadist Operations in Europe and IED Use”. Louise Richardson, Harvard University, “IEDs and the Troubles: Lessons from Northern Ireland”. Michael Kenney, Pennsylvania State University, “Counterterrorism Lessons from Colombia’s War on Drugs: Competitive Adaptation: Narcs vs Narcos”. Thomas Johnson, Naval Postgraduate School, “Lessons Learned from Afghanistan”. Brian Shellum, Joint Improvised Explosive Device Defeat Organization, “Insurgency in Iraq". The breakout sessions gave participants a chance to consider basic-research questions related to disruption of personnel, resources, and community support of IED organizations. WORKSHOP 2: PREDICTING IED ACTIVITIES The development of capabilities that allow the prediction, prevention, or detection of the activities that precede IED emplacements would have a substantial payoff in a campaign to counter IEDs. It is believed that intelligence data—including visual, electronic, material, transactional, narrative, and other forms of data—can assist in the prediction of IED-related activities, and development of methods to enable collection and analysis of these data has been identified as a key element in countering the IED threat. Effective collection, integration, and interpretation of these data are challenging and require expansion of analytic capabilities. Four questions framed the second workshop: What data are relevant or desired to predict IED activities in an actionable manner? What basic research can help to develop novel approaches and methods to manage, set priorities among, and deliver data, which may include observational and reduced data (such as analyst opinions and outputs of statistical models)? What basic research is needed to allow leveraging or support of human expertise in data interpretation? What basic research can lead to the development of methods that will permit more efficient analysis of large datasets that may contain diverse, incomplete, or uncertain data? Six speakers gave presentations to workshop attendees to set the context for the breakout sessions that followed: Kathleen Kiernan, The Kiernan Group, “Threat Detection: Through the Eyes of Practitioners”. Daryl Pregibon, Google, Inc., “Overview of Toll-Fraud Detection”. Alexander Szalay, Johns Hopkins University, “Deploying Wireless Sensor Networks for Environmental Sensing”.
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Disrupting Improvised Explosive Device Terror Campaigns: Basic Research Opportunities, A Workshop Report Pramod Varshney, Syracuse University, “Data Fusion: An Enabler for Improved IED Prediction”. Jonathan Farley, California Institute of Technology, “Vladimir Lefebvre’s Reflexive-Control Theory and IEDs”. Alfred Hero, University of Michigan, “Statistical Signal Processing for IED Discovery”. The breakout sessions gave participants a chance to consider basic-research questions related to the data that are needed and how such data could be handled, how human experience could be leveraged, and how to mixed, complex, noisy, or incomplete data can be analyzed. WORKSHOP THEMES Some key themes were evident in each workshop and in both. Themes from Workshop 1 Data and Approaches Available for Analysis Participants discussed the need for data and for approaches to analyze data. Workshop participants observed that although a large amount of data may be collected in theater, they are rarely available to researchers. Researchers need data to test models and hypotheses. The dearth of data appears to be an entrance barrier for researchers. Similarly, a lack of knowledge of the types of data that are available constrains researchers in developing new methods of analysis. Contextual Factors Influencing a Group’s Behavioral Choices A second theme was the importance of contextual issues and the influence of various factors on behavior. Examples include the role of religion in the decision of the Provisional Irish Republican Army not to use suicide bombings and the use of violent means other than bomb attacks. Cultural, religious, and historical factors are also critical to a community’s response to IED and counter-IED groups. For example, by understanding the cultural values of the Pashtuns, the Taliban has been able to increase the acceptability of suicide bombings within the community. Research that furthers our understanding of such issues and factors will further the development of effective counter-IED strategies. In addition, studying groups that choose not to use IEDs, both violent and non-violent, could be studied in order to better understand the cultural, ideological, environmental, and operational factors affecting that choice.
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Disrupting Improvised Explosive Device Terror Campaigns: Basic Research Opportunities, A Workshop Report Public Support or Tolerance A third theme was the vital role of public support or tolerance in an insurgency or in terrorist activities. The importance of supporting research that leads to better metrics and methods for gauging public opinion and support was stressed at the workshop. Moreover, a better understanding of the factors that shape public opinion can lead decision-makers to counter-IED measures that further the goal of “winning the hearts and minds” of the local population in a culturally appropriate manner. Advances in a broad variety of fields—such as political communication, viral marketing,1 and marketing science—can contribute to the research. Network and Threat Dynamics The National Research Council’s 2007 report on IEDs noted that the adversary’s ability to learn and adapt has been an important characteristic of IED campaigns (National Research Council 2007). The dynamic nature of IED campaigns—which encompasses the network, threat, and context—was underscored throughout discussions at the workshop. It is a fundamental challenge to current counter-IED efforts. Research that leads to the development of methods and approaches for addressing dynamic problems will be particularly helpful. A theme that was highlighted in the workshop was the learning and adaptability of not just the adversary but the counter-IED forces. The importance of recognizing that learning occurs on both sides of an IED conflict is reflected in proposed approaches, questions, and issues raised by workshop participants. For example, how can the adaptive environment be categorized? How can statistical analyses of adaptive process be developed to evaluate the effectiveness of countermeasures? How can counter-IED forces be best supported to influence, negotiate with, and collaborate with the local population? Similarly, one suggestion from a workshop participant was that corporate knowledge bases could be a useful model for developing technologies and methods to facilitate experimentation and the use of best practices among counter-IED forces. Actions and Behaviors of the Blue Forces A number of kinds of study can improve the effectiveness of blue2 forces in their counterinsurgency efforts. For example, it would be helpful if the plans for an IED-based insurgency could be assessed before initiation of counterinsurgency operations. One question is whether there is a way to measure the likelihood of insurgency, and studies of civil wars might provide insight. An area’s stability could be worth monitoring, but first the factors that affect stability, their applicability among cultures, and their sensitivity to military intervention must be identified. 1 Viral marketing uses pre-existing social networks to spread a marketing message by encouraging recipients to pass on the information. 2 Counter-IED forces are commonly referred to as blue, civilians as green, and the adversary as red.
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Disrupting Improvised Explosive Device Terror Campaigns: Basic Research Opportunities, A Workshop Report There are also practical concerns for blue forces. The development of technologies that could facilitate research and sharing of best practices engagement of blue forces in the human terrain could help to smooth the interactions between them and the local community. It could also improve the tactics used by blue forces in their direct counter-IED and counterinsurgency efforts. Themes from Workshop 2 As in the first workshop, participants in the second noted the primacy of data. The broad variety of data types, the validity of data, the completeness of data, and the ubiquity of noise in data all challenge our ability to anticipate IED activities. Research that develops methods to address those challenges will be particularly helpful. Collection, Handling, and Preprocessing of Data Many participants felt that research in data collection, handling, and preprocessing has the potential to lead to substantial improvements in our ability to predict IED activities. The need for research that furthers data analysis, including automated filtering methods and the development of tools for analysis, was also emphasized. Research in a broad variety of fields—including electrical engineering, computer science, and statistics—can contribute to advances. One research subject of particular importance is methods for drawing inferences from data; research in statistics, risk management, and decision theory could contribute. Another theme that was evident in discussions was network modeling, especially modeling efforts that are able to capture the dynamic nature of networks in the face of partial or uncertain data. Availability of Data for Researchers As was the case in the first workshop, discussions throughout the second dealt with the need for publicly available databases that would allow expedient tests of models, methods, and hypotheses. Such datasets may be synthetic, be from different contexts, or be “sanitized” (so that they do not reveal specific vulnerabilities and capabilities). Making such databases available will encourage the participation of a broad variety of researchers. In particular, readily available (unclassified) databases are likely to encourage the participation of researchers who have traditionally not been involved in research sponsored by the Department of Defense (DOD) but who may bring a new perspective to research efforts. Improvement in and Automation of Data Analysis One of the best tools for detecting anomalies in a dataset is a human being. It is important to understand and quantify the processes used by people in making high-risk
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Disrupting Improvised Explosive Device Terror Campaigns: Basic Research Opportunities, A Workshop Report decisions on the basis of incomplete or inconsistent information. Data peculiar to the IED problem may be classified or otherwise unavailable to researchers, but other contexts can be examined fruitfully, such as the decision processes of air-traffic controllers, stock traders, and meteorologists. Research in decision theory could also focus on adversarial learning and adversarial modeling. Research in cognitive psychology will also be useful. Some people are skilled at picking out objects or detecting changes or anomalies. Similarly, some law-enforcement personnel are able to discriminate quickly between normal and criminal behavior. Research that helps to identify behavioral attributes or metrics that enhance that ability would be useful in expanding our understanding of human information-processing capabilities and could help to improve training and data-filtration methods. In addition, research in human perception, visualization of data, and presentation of results in a user-friendly manner to aid in a decision-making is important. Such research could include neuroscience and investigate techniques for enhancing cognition. Research to enhance human-computer (mixed-initiative) decision-making will also be valuable. Characterization of Electronic and Social Networks IED campaigns are generally conducted by groups, and the groups form networks. Research that enhances our ability to model networks while taking into account uncertainty and the fact that the networks are dynamic could be valuable because it could further our understanding of how to influence the structure and behavior of networks. Many participants noted that the methods of modeling telecommunication activity, genetic networks, reflexive theory, and others demonstrate the variety of ways that similar problems have been addressed in different fields. A multifaceted, multidisciplinary effort in network modeling, perhaps incorporating game theory and efforts in sociology, could be useful. Addressing the Types, Validity, and Completeness of and Noise in Datasets The reliance of effective analysis on complete, accurate data was highlighted many times during the workshop. Data on IED activities are generally collected in adversarial, civilian environments. That can lead to incomplete datasets because of the difficulty of collecting data consistently and collecting data with large, highly variable background signals and noise. In addition, data may be acquired in any number of forms—including audio, video, handwritten notes, and measurements from wireless sensors—and may need to be fused to provide a complete picture of a situation. For such data to be used effectively in developing predictive models, they must be accurate. However, verification of data acquired in the field, such as data from human intelligence, may be difficult. Basic research in signal processing, data fusion, and system modeling could provide tools for addressing those issues.
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Disrupting Improvised Explosive Device Terror Campaigns: Basic Research Opportunities, A Workshop Report Common Themes from Workshops 1 and 2 Need for Public Datasets The need for public datasets to enable the participation of a broad variety of researchers was emphasized by participants in both workshops. Many academic participants expressed the belief that the lack of available data constituted a barrier to research. Although participants expressed a clear need for datasets, it was also recognized that there is a tension between research needs and national-security concerns and that constrain the Office of Naval Research and other DOD entities in making data publicly available. DOD could take a number of creative approaches to making datasets available to researchers. Data from other conflicts, such as the Troubles in Northern Ireland and the Algerian War of Independence, or other contexts, such as counternarcotics operations and efforts to detect and counter insider trading, could provide alternative datasets for researchers to test models, methods, and hypotheses. When specific data characteristics prevent such an approach, it may be possible to create artificial (synthetic) datasets that do not reveal specific capabilities or vulnerabilities. Medical researchers and the U. S. Census Bureau have ample experience in creating databases that have been sanitized to preserve privacy, and such databases may provide a useful model. Similarly, law-enforcement agencies have made an anonymous fingerprint database available to researchers through the National Institute of Standards and Technology. That database is used by researchers to test algorithms, and competitions can be held by withholding a portion of it. DOD could use that type of model to make data available and spur interest in research in countering IEDs. Datasets to be used that way should be interactive and compatible with different needs. Decision Theory A second theme that was evident in both workshops was the importance of decision-making and decision theory. For example, understanding the factors that lead a group to decide to engage in violent actions and use IEDs could improve the ability to predict and prevent IED use, and understanding the factors that affect a group’s decision to use particular tactics, techniques, and procedures could assist in the selection of more effective IED countermeasures. Research efforts oriented to achieving an improved understanding of the decision-making of counter-IED forces will also be valuable. For example, research to understand and quantify the processes used by people in making high-risk decisions on the basis of incomplete or inconsistent information can lead to improved decision-making in the IED context, where data are incomplete, inconsistent, or noisy. Lessons may be learned by examining the decision processes used, for example, by stock traders and in weather prediction. Similarly, better understanding of why some people are better able to than others to detect anomalies, such as the ability of former law-enforcement personnel stationed in theater to detect suspicious behavior, can lead to improved training.
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Disrupting Improvised Explosive Device Terror Campaigns: Basic Research Opportunities, A Workshop Report Understanding Networks Research that enhances our ability to characterize networks is another theme that was common to the two workshops. That characterization would include modeling, analysis, and the factors that influence a network. For example, how can we characterize the network of operations of an insurgent group, and what are the vulnerabilities and the dynamics of the network? Research that helps to answer such questions will enhance counter-IED capabilities. A challenge that was identified in both workshops was the difficulty of combining quantitative and qualitative data. Analytic methods that allow such data to be combined in a single framework will also be valuable. Interdisciplinary Research Given the broad scope of the IED problem, participants in both workshops emphasized that multidisciplinary research that integrates different disciplines should be encouraged. For example, research to develop methods for detecting telephone fraud benefited from interactions between computer scientists, statisticians, and members of the law-enforcement community. Similarly, research on insurgencies and other armed conflicts can benefit from the integration of the research of, among others, physicists, mathematicians, cultural anthropologists, operations researchers, and decision theorists. Bringing together such different research perspectives often yields the most innovative research.