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LUCAS lab director joins START


LUCAS lab director joins START

Rivera brings expertise in computational modeling, strategic influence

January 24, 2018Zane Moses

Dr. Tony Rivera, Director of START Strategic Influence Initiative Dr. Tony Rivera, the Director of the Laboratory for Unconventional Conflict Analysis and Simulation (LUCAS), which is dedicated to aiding the Special Operations and Intelligence Communities combat terrorism through computational modeling of “influence,” is moving to START headquarters.

At the forefront of Computational Security Studies, Rivera’s influence-themed portfolio uses historical qualitative and quantitative research for advanced computational modeling to address the complex, ill-structured problems of the contemporary security environment.

“The integration of technology, computational power, history theory, and social science will make for not only a smarter Special Operator, but a Special Operator that is smarter where smartness can have the biggest dynamical, non-linear, leveraged payoff,” Rivera said.

Rivera and his team created their portfolio to fill the need for advanced complex analytical thinking through the use of research analysis. He believes that the key to smarter special operations is the use of technology, and a synthesis of computational power, history, theory and social science.

Rivera strives to serve the operational community with analysis and modeling support while training the next generation of analysts in vital critical and analytical thinking skills. His team has recently worked with about 50 students a year and provided numerous training sessions to share knowledge of how computational techniques and subject matter research can support each other.

Established at Fort Bragg, while Rivera was teaching at the National Defense University, and Duke University’s Social Science Research Institute, LUCAS’s recent and current projects include studies of the sister city relationship between Liepāja, Latvia and Bellevue, Washington; a social network analysis of the Shi’a Marja’iyya to forecast the successor of Grand Ayatollah Ali Al-Sistani of Iraq; an analysis of the Iranian Al Quds Force and Hizb’allah in Northern Africa and Latin America, and a study on the impact of drought on civil wars.

Under Rivera’s leadership, the team has won significant awards to further its work, including a $1.6 million, three-year award from the Minerva Initiative to produce an agent-based modeling and simulation platform prototype, and a grant from the Army Research Office to explore algorithm development. The team has also briefed Special Operations Forces in Psychological Operations, Civil Affairs, Intelligence and Special Forces.  

Rivera will make the transition to START headquarters this semester, building his capacity to support interagency national and international security, connecting to D.C.-area schools and supporting undergraduate and graduate students.  

“Tony came highly recommended to us for his passion for counterterrorism focused research that can inform policy and practice, as well as for mentorship,” said William Braniff, START executive director. “Given START’s suite of high caliber datasets on terrorism, having an agent-based modeling capability in-house that can take advantage of these data to enhance our counterterrorism research agenda is a natural fit.”

Rivera is excited to utilize the experience START has to offer those dedicated to the study of terrorism.

Rivera said, “Being at START connects our computational security studies software suite with rich data, but more, it connects us to a community of scholars that are working the same to counter terrorism – and other threats to our national security – from various disciplinary, methodological, and subject matter areas. That rich diversity will expand our modeling capability and directly inform our national security partners.”

Rivera is the principal investigator for a Minerva Initiative grant that examines the resilience of influence communities. He is also the architect and designer of Project Hermes 2.0, a computational security studies toolkit that combines social network, natural language, and geospatial analysis to model and experiment with strategic influence.

Rivera is an expert on Iran’s grand strategy and decision-making. His theoretical foundation in complex adaptive systems and phenomenology provide a robust framework for analyzing influence communities and measuring the influence of state and non-state actors on these communities, which speaks directly to such vital issues as recruitment and radicalization by violent extremist organizations, state-sponsored misinformation campaigns, and influence campaigns as grand strategy.

Prior to coming to START, Rivera was a visiting assistant professor at Duke University’s Social Science Research Institute, a Strategic Advisor to the U.S. Army Special Operations Command, and a Core Research Fellow with the Triangle Institute for Security Studies. He is the founder and director of the Laboratory for Unconventional Conflict Analysis and Simulation.

Rivera received his degree in Political Science and International Relations from the University of Delaware. His dissertation, “The Complexity of Iranian Foreign Policy: the politics of fear, interest, and honor” utilizes complex adaptive systems and phenomenological theoretical approaches along with computational and interpretive methodologies. From 2010 to 2015, Rivera was a researcher at the University of Chicago’s Computation Institute, where he provided subject matter expertise on Iranian grand strategy and security policy for agent-based modeling. His work at the Computation Institute also included modeling the sovereignty disputes in the South and East China Seas. From the fall of 2009 until spring of 2012, Rivera served as managing editor of the International Studies Association’s Compendium project.

He is available to give talks on Iran’s nuclear program, strategic decision-making, and the future of Iran’s role after the JCPOA (the nuclear deal). He also has talks prepared on Iranian-US relations, Iranian-Saudi relations, and more general topics on the Middle East, including the Future of Kurdistan. He can give talks and tutorials on computational methods such as agent-based modeling, social network analysis, and the essential tasks of combining qualitative and computational methods.