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Review: Red Teams and Counterterrorism Training

Having discussed red-teaming with RTJ Advisory Board member Robert Bunker and his colleague (and my frequent co-author) John P. Sullivan frequently, I was very interested in seeing Bunker’s new book with Stephen Sloan, Red Teams and Counterterrorism Training. While Red Teams and Counterterrorism Training is a heavily technical book, it is not a simple ‘how-to’ guide about simulation. It’s also a work of theory about challenges of the present and future.
      Sloan and Bunker’s point of departure is Sloan’s late Cold War terrorism classic, Simulating Terrorism, which set the research–and practice–agenda for simulating terrorist incidents. While the basic logic of terrorism remains the same, the grammar has shifted towards a much more tactically violent style of enemy whose goal is, to flip the 1970s maxim, to kill a lot of people rather than gain their attention. As such, simulation need to shift towards a different model rooted around everything from the low end of the “active shooter” to the high-end of small-unit operations and multiple attackers. As the title indicates, the book concerns both simulation and red-teaming. A major challenge–especially in a time of declining budgets–is creating a realistic and valid simulation on the law enforcement level. Bunker and Sloan are mindful of this, and trend towards pragmatic training measures. The sections on red-teaming draw on innovations from theater (Roberta Sloan, a professor of theater, contributes a chapter on role-playing in red-teaming).
      A common theme that runs through the book is the tradeoff between realism (characterized, at the farthest end–by free-play) and real-world constraints involved in managing simulations and navigating the ultimately complicated bureaucratic and community politics involved in law enforcement simulations. These constraints function as a kind of gravitational force that drags on the realism of the simulation. The use of red-teaming injects a measure of contingency and nonlinearity into the simulation that is often lacking. Hence the importance of Roberta Sloan’s emphasis on improvisation while remaining within the overall framework of the scenario.
      Also interesting is Bunker’s speculations on future terrorism and low-intensity challenges (much of which are familiar to those who have followed his writings over the last two decades) and his concrete definition of the Terrorist Attack Cycle. The book is targeted towards law-enforcement, but the principles are scalable to any DOD group concerned with counterterrorrism. Perhaps most interesting for the reader is Sloan and Bunker’s writings about the “emotional divide’ involved in mirror-image training. Truly “becoming the enemy” is a draining and often emotionally challenging process. Sloan and Bunker write about the necessity for immersion, but also stress that while the unorthodox often make the best red-team members, they also must be credible and posses useful skills. The book is mainly targeted towards the tactical level–which is suitable for its intended audience–although there is some operational-level coverage. Given that the complexity of such simulations dwarfs the need for most law enforcement, such a focus is appropriate.
      Red-teaming is uniquely suited to CT challenges. While red-teaming is a useful tool in all forms of conflict, terrorists operate from worldviews and combat frameworks that are largely foreign to the professional soldier or police officer. Bunker and Sloan’s book skillfully updates Simulating Terrorism for a new era.