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Disrupting Improvised Explosive Device Terror Campaigns: Basic Research Opportunities, A Workshop Report 1 INTRODUCTION The term improvised explosive device (IED) has become synonymous with the current bombings in Iraq and Afghanistan, but use of the devices predates these conflicts by decades. 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 the IED threat chain. Improving the technical ability to detect the device can be part of the solution, but to impede or halting the use of IEDs it may also be necessary to understand the goals of the adversary; its source 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. 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-network theory could help to reduce a population’s support for an IED organization, understanding how money 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 algorithms for filtering and analyzing data from persistent surveillance systems. On February 14-15 and March 17-18, 2008, the National Research Council held two workshops to consider basic-research questions in a few of the IED-related technical and social sciences and at their interfaces. The workshops brought together experts in the physical and social sciences, defense, law enforcement, and other fields. The next sections provide some context for the discussions and the potential impact of the basic research. It should be noted that while the organizing committee is responsible for the overall quality and accuracy of the report as a record of what transpired at the workshop, the views presented here are not necessarily those of the committee. 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. IEDs always contain explosive materials, detonators, and triggering mechanisms (National Research Council 2007). They may be cased and include shrapnel. Explosive devices designed to disperse chemical, biologic, or radiologic material are generally not classified as IEDs and were not considered. 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
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Disrupting Improvised Explosive Device Terror Campaigns: Basic Research Opportunities, A Workshop Report campaign is influenced by operational objectives, ideologic factors, organizational factors, and environmental and contextual factors (Bale 2007). Three key characteristics of an IED campaign are its asymmetry, its idiosyncrasy, and its dynamic nature (Meigs 2003). IED campaigns have traditionally not been used in conflicts between two opposing sides of roughly equal strength (symmetric warfare). Rather, IEDs 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 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 countermeasures (National Research Council 2007). 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 1.1 depicts 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, evading countermeasures after the attacks, 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 the IED campaign. For example, a campaign requires communication not only between people directly engaged in such activities as building and emplacing devices but with external sources of support and a public interface for recruitment and publicity. Similarly, a campaign needs people, materiel, money, information, facilities, and access to social networks. The operational aspects of an IED campaign—making and storing the devices, planning, attacking, and evading—also present opportunities for detection or disruption. A critical issue in countering the threat is the identification or creation of weak links in the IED threat chain.
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Disrupting Improvised Explosive Device Terror Campaigns: Basic Research Opportunities, A Workshop Report Figure 1.1 The IED threat chain (National Research Council, 2007). WORKSHOP 1: FINDING THE WEAK LINKS An IED campaign does not take place in a vacuum but within the local political, social, cultural, and economic environment, which has been called the human terrain. The human terrain provides the context of all counter-IED efforts. That 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). The first workshop focused on the human dimension of IED campaigns and asked five questions: What are the pillars of insurgent or terrorist organizations? Some of the pillars are Personnel—for example, motivation (the “cause”), leadership, recruiting, and training. Resources—for example, money, material, communication, and mass-media access. Popular support to at least some degree (or indifference or intimidation). Environment—for example, 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 does the use of IEDs in particular, and terror tactics more generally, depend on the pillars?
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Disrupting Improvised Explosive Device Terror Campaigns: Basic Research Opportunities, A Workshop Report How can governments disrupt the processes that facilitate IED campaigns? How does one measure the effect of such disruption on IED campaigns? WORKSHOP 2: PREDICTING IED ACTIVITIES Improved prediction, prevention, or detection of the activities that precede IED emplacements may have a larger payoff then the capacity to detect an IED once it has been emplaced. That presents an opportunity, but many people and activities are generally associated with IED deployment, so prediction of IED-related activities on the basis of intelligence data—including visual, electronic, transactional, and narrative—has been identified as a key element in countering the IED threat. Effective collection, integration, and interpretation of data are crucial, and expansion of current analytic capabilities is required. The second workshop focused asked four questions: What data are relevant to or desired for the prediction of IED activities? What basic research can help to develop novel approaches and methods to the management, priority-setting, and delivery of 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, and uncertain data? THE ROLE OF BASIC RESEARCH Basic research is likely to have long-term payoffs. That is, basic research conducted in the near-term may not have a substantial effect in the near term on the conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan. However, the IED threat is likely also to be a long-term phenomenon. Basic research has the potential to provide new insights and understanding to enhance our capability to counter IED campaigns at home or abroad. For example, a group’s decision to engage in violent actions can be influenced by presenting disincentives (deterrence) or incentives (attractive alternatives) to members of the organization—from the leader, financier, and bomb-maker through low-level laborers—and by influencing the general population. How can one deter members? Provide attractive alternatives? It is extremely difficult (or impossible) to conduct an IED campaign successfully without public acceptance or at least tolerance. How can one influence public opinion? Those questions suggest some ways in which basic research, particularly in the social sciences, might help to counter an IED campaign. Similarly, basic research in areas such as data fusion, operations research, and statistics might also lead to improved counter-IED capabilities. The workshops described in this report were convened with the potential benefits of basic research in mind. The summary that follows describes the presentations and
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Disrupting Improvised Explosive Device Terror Campaigns: Basic Research Opportunities, A Workshop Report discussions that took place as the participants considered basic research that would address the challenges of identifying the weak links in an organization and predicting IED activities.