YOU ARE HERE: LAT HomeCollections


Mapping the Minds in Iraq's Regime

Social scientists take aim at Saddam Hussein

September 01, 2002|WILLIAM M. ARKIN | William M. Arkin is a military affairs analyst who writes regularly for Opinion. E-mail:

WASHINGTON — When Vice President Dick Cheney said last week that the United States would "consider all possible options" in defeating Iraq, few knew one of the options was a team of social scientists and mathematicians busily trying to get inside the mind of Saddam Hussein in order to topple him from power.

At the core of this secret U.S. effort is "influence net" modeling. In essence, influence nets consist of psychological profiles of political actors and graphic depictions of their relationships. They suggest how decisions are made and implemented. In short, the nets are diagrams of who influences whom, how that influence is exerted and why. In the last decade, intelligence and military analysts have increasingly relied on such tools to support planning, targeting and operations.

The problem, says one military proponent of this approach, called "effects-based" warfare, is that "not everything that counts can be counted, and not everything that can be counted counts." On the other hand, the scale of the U.S. effort since Sept. 11 to understand and influence the behavior of its adversaries, in particular Saddam Hussein, should give some solace to those who believe that war planning for Iraq is driven by a mindless cabal.

U.S. analysts and war planners have used influence-net modeling to assist in their decision-making since 1994. The seed was planted during the Persian Gulf War, when analysts used the concept to "map" the central points in Iraq's air defense, communications and electrical infrastructures. Today, this "nodal" planning is being applied to human behavior.

Computerization and the availability of vast amounts of news-media material have facilitated the development of software, called "natural language processors," that can extract relevant data on a country's political actors. From this information, their psychological profiles are constructed and their relationships with other political figures charted. Armed with this psychological knowledge, analysts try to determine how several possible U.S. actions might affect the subjects' behavior.

This approach works something like this. The Republican Guards are often said to be Saddam Hussein's last-stand protectors. But analysts, monitoring communications and the interactions of the guards, have constructed influence-net models that identify certain special presidential guard units and secret police organizations as the only parties with direct access to Hussein. Hence, they are better prospective targets than other concentrations of Republican Guards if the military goal is to poke holes in the Iraqi leader's protective screen.

Lee Wagenhals and Alexander Levis of George Mason University employ a software suite called CAESAR to tease out the beliefs and reasoning underlying military operations. CAESAR incorporates two influence-net applications: the Situational Influence Assessment Module, developed at Science Applications International Corp.; and the Campaign Assessment Tool, developed by the Air Force.

In these influence nets, "node" represents a political actor's statement or belief. The probability that the belief or statement will play a role in a decision is given a value. Various weblike diagrams and color schemes represent the links and strengths of the actors' relationships. If one "parental" actor (say, a very close Saddam Hussein advisor) is influenced in some way (he learns about an assassination plot targeting his boss), a "network" of cascading effects on the "children" (lesser advisors) is drawn. The network of relationships and reactions, called "branches" and "sequels" by the military, represents the behavioral implications of different U.S. actions.

CAESAR was used in 2000 and 2001 at the Naval War College during its "global" war game series. Analysts from the Office of Naval Intelligence and the Defense Intelligence Agency provided real-world intelligence about the beliefs and reasoning processes of an Iraq-like adversary, from which an influence-net model was created. A team using influence-net models tested destructive, electronic warfare and psychological actions to see if any was especially decisive in bringing about the commander's goals. One question posed was how to force one side to back down without resorting to the use of weapons of mass destruction.

Today, the institution responsible for pulling influence-net modeling together for real-world operations is the Joint Warfare Analysis Center (JWAC), a Defense Department organization. After the Gulf War, many inside the military recognized the need to upgrade targeting science to match weaponry's new precision. With 200 engineers, scientists and analysts, the Pentagon unit was initially assigned responsibility for targeting enemy electrical, communications, transportation and petroleum networks for precision attack. In the late 1990s, however, it was given the expanded mission of assessing the broader political, economic and social effects of alternate courses of military action.

Los Angeles Times Articles