Scientific Support to Terrorism Investigations
Murch, Randall S., Forensic Science Communications
In recent years, events such as the bombings of Pan Am Flight 103 over Scotland, the World Trade Center in New York City, the Murrah Building in Oklahoma City, Centennial Park in Atlanta, and two U.S. Embassies in East Africa have riveted increasing political, media, and public attention on the threat and impact of terrorism to our society and economy. We as Americans have learned that we are not invincible or untouchable. The release of the nerve agent sarin in the Tokyo subway system by Aum Shinrikyo in 1995 and the availability of knowledge and materials, coupled with discoveries of vast development infrastructures and stockpiles of biological and chemical weapons by such nations as Iraq, have revived and focused attention on the vulnerability of our society and what to do about the use of these tools as instruments of terror. Even cyberspace is actively being viewed as a potential conduit for and victim of terrorism.
Science and, increasingly, medicine and engineering, especially in situations involving chemical, biological, and nuclear weapons of mass destruction (WMD), necessarily play critical roles in issues of detection, identification, response, resolution, investigation, attribution, and prosecution of acts of terrorism. Terrorism is often executed by what I term the drop-and-run method. An improvised weapon--meant to cause death, damage, or injury or to gain attention--is covertly deployed by the perpetrator and unleashed when the responsible individual or group is separated by time and space from the event (and, those responsible hope, from both witnesses and the authorities). In such a likely scenario, a wide range of scientific disciplines, including forensic science, are critical in both the field and laboratory to help develop or corroborate the who, what, when, why, where, and how of the act of terrorism. Crisis and consequence processes for WMD events are heavily dependent upon the application of the proper science (and its aforementioned siblings, medicine and engineering) in the right manner and order. Because of the highly informative and probative, yet transient, nature of physical evidence associated with the site, methods, instruments, and victims of terrorism, thorough and exploitative forensic science must be applied as early as possible and extend throughout the prosecution or attribution phases.
Counterterrorism (CT) is a first priority investigative program of the FBI. The FBI Laboratory is an integral part of the FBI's corporate response to terrorism, both at home and abroad. Although we have responded to such events for many years, within the past three we have increased our capabilities to do so even more swiftly and effectively. Specific …
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Publication information: Article title: Scientific Support to Terrorism Investigations. Contributors: Murch, Randall S. - Author. Journal title: Forensic Science Communications. Volume: 1. Issue: 2 Publication date: July 1999. Page number: Not available. © 2008 Federal Bureau of Investigation at www.fbi.gov. COPYRIGHT 1999 Gale Group.
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