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It's a Friday afternoon and the nation's news organizations are just beginning to report on a terrorist plot to simultaneously attack the Port of New York and the Louvre in Paris within the next 24 hours.

The president of the United States has convened a meeting with seven of his top advisers to decide how to confront this threat, debating the legality and policy implications of various measures, such as boarding ships, harsh interrogations, detaining people of Arab descent, and snubbing the new French prime minister's inaugural ball.

"OK, I don't have time for any bull," the president tells Cabinet members around a U-shaped table. "What are our options for targeted killings? What are our options regarding state sovereignty? . . . The goals here are to alleviated the threat with the smallest impact, the least collateral damage."

No, this isn't an actual emergency, or even a lost episode of "24." The "president" is Pete Lattin, a lanky University of Utah law student, and the place is a conference room at the Quinney College of Law.

Lattin is engaged in a simulation conducted by law professor Amos Guiora, an expert in counterterrorism who served 19 years in the Israeli Defense Forces as a judge advocate general.

"It's for understanding the dilemmas of the decision makers," Guiora says. "Pete needs to get answers from his Cabinet to make a decision predicated on law and policy. He has to meld all these perspectives.

Operational counter-terrorism is all about balancing legitimate national security considerations against equally legitimate rights of the individual. The word balance is critical to understanding operational counterterrorism."

Prior to joining the U. faculty last summer, Guiora, a native of Israel who grew up in the U.S., taught law at Case Western University in Ohio. His textbook Global Perspectives on Counterterrorism was released last week. Like his course, the book compares responses to terrorism in the United States, Israel, India, Spain and Russia, covering four areas: intelligence, law, policy and operational decisions.

Once each semester, Guiora conducts the seven-hour simulation, which begins with newscasts detailing a terrorist scenario.

"The students had no idea what the scenario would be. They saw it unfold on the newscast for the first time," Guiora says. "Each student gets a confidential briefing regarding their role and knows nothing of the roles played by the other students. It really is experiential learning. It's chaotic. That's what counter-terrorism operations is."

The class's 19 students each role-play a key government official, from the president to the New York City police commissioner, and are divided into three rooms, each representing a specific locale: the White House, the U.S. Embassy in Paris and New York City. The three locations are linked through teleconferencing projections. The Nov. 2 simulation gets under way with each presidential adviser offering 30-second briefings.

"As soon as we identify the threat, we can target it for elimination," says the secretary of defense, played by student Chris Salcido with a level of pushiness that would make Donald Rumsfeld blush. "We can put a missile in some guy's head if we need to."

"How do we know they're Middle Eastern? I need to know if we can stop, detain, question people from the Middle East. What about boarding ships outside territorial waters?" the president says, directing the last question to the Port Authority's safety chief. "Can you get that for me in two minutes? I needed it two minutes ago."

Better to use Coast Guard to board ships to stay on the correct side of international law, and just use the Navy as backup, comes the reply.

"Can we legally board any ship in the harbor?"

As the discussion continues, the port authority official mishears the president's inquiry regarding U.S. ports and pursues a fruitless discussion regarding courts.

"I said 'ports,' not 'courts.' Get is straight, Tasha," Lattin fumes. "We don't have time for this kind of bull right now."

Guiora turns to a reporter and says, "See? This is how it is in real life!"

The president and his advisers then insist on exploring the legality of questioning those of Arab descent in the streets of New York.

"Arab-Americans make up a large portion of New York's population," the police commissioner says. "That's not going to contribute to an effective policy. We need to declare a state of emergency under state law."

As the afternoon wears on, discussion turns to delicate questions surrounding U.S. relations with France, whose landmark art museum, the scene of tomorrow's inaugural ball, is targeted by the terrorists.

"Are you willing to volunteer our forces under French direction?" asks the military commander responsible for Europe.

"Joint direction," the defense secretary interrupts. "We don't want our troops under French control."

The real flash point is not use of force on French soil, but attendance by U.S. officials at the prime minister's inaugural ball, a question that pits diplomatic and security considerations. The ambassador argues that an American presence at a major political ceremony is crucial to rebuilding a strained relationship with an aligned nation.

The defense secretary is incredulous. How can attendance at a ball outweigh the personal safety of U.S. officials?

That evening, CNN reports that the ambassador herself, as well as the French president and prime minister, are targeted for assassination in the planned attack on the Louvre, and yet the French have promised to recall its diplomatic mission if the U.S. ambassador fails to attend the ball.

Balance may be crucial to effectively counter terrorism, but apparently another way of looking at it is, "damned if you do and damned if you don't."


* BRIAN MAFFLYcan be reached at 801-257-2089 or