THE MAGAZINE

Left of the Boom

By Matthew Harwood

Solutions. IED-use by terrorist groups can’t be reduced simply by having the military seek out and eliminate those groups. In fact, governments play into their adversaries’ hands when they take that militaristic approach, says Morris of the Global Campaign Against IEDs. It shows the population that civilian police forces cannot protect them, provoking a crisis in faith in government institutions, and goads the military into alienating the population through repressive tactics, which may lead the people to sympathize with or support the insurgents. A good example of this today, he says, is Boko Haram’s IED attacks in northern Nigeria.

According to Human Rights Watch, Nigeria’s security forces responded with excessive force to Boko Haram’s brutality, “including the burning of villages, arbitrary arrests, and other abuses during some of these raids.”

“To be able to do that with a couple of bags of fertilizer is pretty cheap,” Morris says. IED makers can reprocess enough ammonium nitrate out of a $30 bag of fertilizer to make six to eight bombs.

Multipronged approach. While most IEDs in the United States have nothing to do with terrorism, the military’s desire to combat IEDs used in Iraq and Afghanistan has had a huge impact on how the U.S. government fights both terrorist-related IEDs and nonterrorist domestic IEDs. It began with the military’s desire to have pieces of recovered IEDs forensically examined both to enhance the technical knowledge of how the devices work and to extract evidence that might lead back to the persons who constructed the devices. The Terrorist Explosive Device Analytical Center (TEDAC), located at the FBI Laboratory at Quantico, Virginia, was created in 2003 with the mission of gaining intimate forensic knowledge of IED devices.

IEDs and shrapnel retrieved on the battlefield are now sent to TEDAC. TEDAC has processed more than 71,000 IED submissions since 2003, and since 2005, it has helped identify 432 people within the IED supply chain by extracting latent fingerprints. It has also produced 2,800 intelligence reports related to IED attributes and terrorist tactics, techniques, and procedures for the U.S. intelligence community. That knowledge is used to develop defensive equipment and tactics. Much of TEDAC’s work, however, is classified.

“Publicizing information with regard to TEDAC’s work may be counterproductive, and ultimately does not serve the best interests of the public, potentially compromising the safety of our Armed Forces as well as our domestic law enforcement partners,” FBI Spokeswoman Ann Todd said.

An additional component of the FBI’s anti-IED effort is training. This occurs at the FBI’s Hazardous Devices School in Huntsville, Alabama, which is popularly referred to as the National Academy for Bomb Technicians. The academy also runs the Special Agent Bomb Technician (SABT) Program. The program trains special agents to perform some of the FBI’s most dangerous activities, which include responding to IED events domestically and internationally.

But TEDAC and specialized training are just two pieces of the multipronged effort aimed at the IED threat. Other components include the following.

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