By Russell ShimookaAugust 13, 2012
Naval Base Guam-- At first it was like trying to find a needle in a haystack, but with the help of bomb technicians from the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) it became more of recognizing the pink elephant in the room.
Explosive ordnance disposal (EOD) experts from all the services, counter IED trainers, and a member of the New Zealand Special Air Services came together August 7 -- 9 for a FBI post blast conference.
The class was funded by the Asia Pacific Counter IED Fusion Center based at Fort Shafter, Hawaii, and hosted by Navy EOD Mobile Unit Five stationed on Guam.
"There is no such thing as vaporization," FBI bomb technician Kevin Miles told the training audience during the classroom portion of the course. He said with every blast occurrence, there is evidence to be found; you just have to go find it.
"It might be in tiny pieces where it's not recognizable, but most of the time even with larger devices there is something out there and that's what we're here to teach; looking for that micro fragmentation that could be the key to solving what happened," said Miles a veteran investigator of bombing incidents at Oklahoma City, World Trade Center, TWA Flight 800, and U.S. Embassies abroad.
Miles told his students that the site of an explosion is like any other crime scene, and must be processed as such. What you do, and more importantly what not to do can make the difference in whether the incident is solved, he said.
After a day of classroom work, Miles and his team of FBI instructors set off a number of explosive devices on the naval munitions range spreading debris across its landscape. It was the job of the EOD specialists to scour the blast field meticulously looking for clues as to what type of device was used and what exploitable intelligence can be found.
"When you first get on scene it's like we're not finding anything, but now I know what to look for so the pieces of evidence, even the most minute, become much more recognizable," said Staff Sgt. Kevin Hunsinger, a Marine EOD tech based on Okinawa.
According to agent Miles, the purpose of bringing together EOD specialists from the various services was to assist them in determining the types of weapons used, countermeasures, and the development of exploitable intelligence information; the "detective type work" needed to collective evidence to prosecute as is the case with the FBI, or to gather intelligence on the military side.
Master Sgt. Brandon Jackson, senior trainer at the Asia Pacific Counter IED Fusion Center and one of the organizers of the conference said while there are differences how the military and FBI process a blast scene, in today's environment it's important to have a good understanding of both "because the military might be first on site and having a base knowledge of how both sides work is crucial for interoperability."
Jackson said the same exploitation principles learned from the FBI can be applied in combat situations for all the services, and what he will incorporate into the training the Army counter IED center provides.
"What we're learning is an understanding of what EOD techs do during a post blast. This way we can better facilitate the training packages that we provide to U.S. Army Pacific forces in a way that they don't contaminate a scene, and not disturb the evidence before it can be collected."
Staff Sgt. Casey Brantner, a trainer at the C-IED center agrees saying "knowing what EOD is looking for I can stress to Soldiers the need for better security at a bomb site and the reasons for cordoning off the area until the techs arrive."
On the final day of the training, the FBI detonated an explosive charge on a derelict vehicle sending tiny fragments in all direction. The students, separated in teams with specific responsibilities, sifted through the site using the techniques learned in the course, collecting as much evidence the human eye can possibly see. When the search was over, several plastic bags of potential evidence was collected and would be turned over to a forensic laboratory had this been a real situation.
"The stuff we found went from car parts to tiny pieces of the explosive device, and that starts the process of answering the question; who did this," said Staff Sgt. Christopher Kidd, a counter IED trainer in Hawaii.
Miles said, "good fragment analysis can determine whether the blast was a crime or accident, and what is collected is an integral part of the end state."