Author Biography

Dr. Gary A. Ackerman is the Director of the Unconventional Weapons and Technology Division at the National Consortium for the Study of Terrorism and Responses to Terrorism (START). Prior to taking up his current position, he was Research and Special Projects Director at START and before that the Director of the Weapons of Mass Destruction Terrorism Research Program at the Center for Nonproliferation Studies in Monterey, California. His research encompasses various areas relating to terrorism and counterterrorism, including terrorist threat assessment, radicalization, terrorist technologies and motivations for using chemical, biological, radiological, and nuclear (CBRN) weapons, and the modeling and simulation of terrorist behavior. He is the co-editor of Jihadists and Weapons of Mass Destruction (CRC Press, 2009), author of several articles on CBRN terrorism and has testified on terrorist motivations for using nuclear weapons before the Senate Committee on Homeland Security. He completed his PhD in War Studies at King’s College London, dealing with the impact of emerging technologies on terrorist decisions relating to weapons adoption.


Subject Area Keywords

Asymmetric warfare, Complex operations, Counterterrorism, Methodology, Nonstate actors, Science and technology & security, Terrorism / counterterrorism, Weapons of mass destruction


The case studies undertaken in this special issue demonstrate unequivocally that, despite being forced to operate clandestinely and facing the pressures of security forces seeking to hunt them down and neutralize them, at least a subset of violent non-state actors (VNSAs) are capable of some genuinely impressive feats of engineering. At the same time, success in such endeavours is not guaranteed and VNSAs will undoubtedly face a number of obstacles along the way. A comparative analysis of the cases also reveals new insights about the factors influencing the decision to pursue complex engineering efforts, the implementation of such decisions and the determinants of the ultimate outcome. These result in a set of hypotheses and indicators that, if confirmed by future research, can contribute to both operational and strategic intelligence assessments. Overall, the current study enriches our understanding of how and why VNSAs might engage in complex engineering efforts.


This work was supported by Sandia National Laboratories, Contract #1525332. Any opinions, findings, conclusions and recommendations in this issue are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect views of Sandia National Laboratories or the U.S. Department of Energy.


Editor’s Note: This article forms part of a series of related case studies collected in this Special Issue and should be viewed in the context of the broader phenomenon of complex engineering by violent non-state actors. Readers are advised to consult the introductory and concluding papers for a full explanation and comparative analysis of the cases.

Recommended Citation

Ackerman, Gary A.. “Comparative Analysis of VNSA Complex Engineering Efforts.” Journal of Strategic Security 9, no. 1 (2016): 119-133.
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Journal of Strategic Security