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VMASC to Host Adaptive Adversary Workshop on Oct. 21

It's been an issue that has vexed national security experts for generations - trying to get into the mind of an adversary, attempting to figure out where he might attack next, and why.

Traditionally, that type of research has involved military models, predictions of where armies will march and what targets will have strategic significance. But what if your adversary has a different mindset? What if his goal is to plan something so diabolical, so horrific, it will hit at the very heart of what Americans hold dear?

Leading researchers from across the country who have been wrestling with these issues will gather Thursday, Oct. 21, at Old Dominion University's Virginia Modeling, Analysis and Simulation Center for the Adaptive Adversary Workshop.

"Trying to determine what your adversary will do is a problem that the intelligence community has wrestled with for decades," said Barry Ezell, associate professor of research at VMASC, who said this workshop is the first of its kind.

"In order to predict the future behavior of an adaptive adversary, you need to model conceptually, and use that information to build mathematical models."

This type of modeling and simulation requires an all-hands-on-deck approach. Input is sought from social scientists, geopolitical experts, security researchers and health personnel.

The end result is an effort at trying to "get inside someone's head" and determine what makes the person a terrorist, and what makes him decide which actions to take, said Ezell, who is responsible for the Homeland Security and Military Defense Applied Research Area at VMASC.

The list of featured speakers at the workshop includes many of the brightest minds in this cutting-edge field. The list includes:

  • Jessica Stern of the Hoover Institution's Task Force on National Security and Law, who also served on President Bill Clinton's National Security Council staff in 1994-95;
  • Ian Lustick, professor of political science at the University of Pennsylvania, who has written and edited more than 20 books on terrorism-related issues;
  • John Lathrop of the group Strategic Insights, whose research focuses on counterterrorism risk management accounting for the adaptive adversary; and
  • George Gabriel, manager for security, preparedness and emergency management for Whitney Bradley and Brown Inc., who recently authored the terrorism response plan for the city of Newport News.

"These are truly among the world's leaders in this emerging, vitally important field," said Ezell, who added that he's thrilled that local experts such as Mike Goldsmith of the Norfolk Police Department will appear at the workshop, along with a large contingent of researchers from VMASC.

The event begins with a breakfast at 7:30 a.m., and after opening remarks from VMASC Director John Sokolowski, the workshop will move on to presentations by the experts. In addition, two sessions will be conducted - factors influencing weapons of mass destruction (WMD) terrorism decisions, and factors influencing WMD terrorism targets.

The day will conclude with a roundtable discussion of the second issue, prevailing taxonomies of terrorism target choice.

The nation's first Bioterrorism Risk Assessment in 2006 exposed, graphically, the need for this kind of cohesive thinking among the various agencies tasked with keeping the nation safe.

"There's a constant challenge of observing and being prepared for, and keeping your strategies able to adapt to, what your opponent is doing," Ezell said.

He said experts in the United States are very good at modeling consequences, "if you drop a chemical weapon, using physics-based models and simulation to determine what the affected area will be."

What researchers struggle with is incorporating the human element of a smart, motivated adaptive adversary, Ezell added. "Whether it's a home-grown terrorist who puts a bomb in a building, or some kind of external threat that sprays a chemical or biological agent, there are things that help push a person in a certain direction.

"This is more of a game theoretic framework. You have a thinking, adaptive enemy."

The conference is being co-sponsored by the Battelle National Biodefense Institution, but it has been opened up to consider the full range of threats the United States faces - chemical, biological, radiation, nuclear and high-explosive terrorism.

For more information about the workshop, contact Ezell at bezel@odu.edu, or workshop coordinator Kaleen Lawsure, project scientist at VMASC, at klawsure@odu.edu.

This article was posted on: October 19, 2010

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