Surveillance, Less-Lethal and Countermeasures

By Siuru, Bill | Law & Order, April 2006 | Go to article overview

Surveillance, Less-Lethal and Countermeasures

Siuru, Bill, Law & Order

Fighting the war on terrorism, like fighting crime, requires a balance between the rights of Americans guaranteed by the Constitution and the means that can be used to protect them. The Special Operations session at the Technologies for Critical Incident

Preparedness Conference and Exposition 2005 pointed out how challenging maintaining this balance will be as more high-tech devices are used against low-tech terrorist threats.

There is a huge amount of surveillance technologies that can root out terrorists, but its use can violate the right to move about on public streets and thoroughfares freely and without police intrusions. There are countermeasure technologies that can defeat the terrorists' weapons of choice, the suicide bomber and the remotely controlled improvised explosive device, or R/C IED. However, many of these require electronic jamming technologies, and that raises legal questions.

Stanley Borek (stanley.borek@, an electrical engineer from the Air Force Research, covered a large array of new surveillance technologies under development and in actual use. These technologies vividly show the merging of military-oriented and law enforcement-oriented technologies. Examples included terahertz imaging, electronic systems for concealed weapons detection; magnetic signature analysis, through-the-wall surveillance, and low-cost sensors for location and tracking individuals within buildings.

While these technologies are very effective in the "almost anything goes" military environment, their civilian use could be severely limited by the Fourth Amendment, as was covered in a subsequent presentation.

Andrew Munro, Med-Eng, Inc. (, gave a rather chilling overview on remotely controlled IEDs that he obtained from open sources including the Internet and from viewing middle-Eastern TV programs. R/C IEDs can be as simple as amateur-built ones triggered by a garage door opener, door bell transmitter or automobile remote key fob. More sophisticated IEDs can be controlled via a cell phone, walky-talky or hand-held radio. Model airplane or car R/C systems can also be used.

There are many challenges to defeating R/C IEDs. Foremost, it is vital that the countermeasure used prevents triggering the bomb, but does not actually set it off, accomplishing the terrorist's objective. Electronic techniques require determining the operating radio frequency. For simple devices like garage doors and key fobs, this usually means only a single, known frequency. The more sophisticated IEDs can transmit on multiple frequencies, making the task more difficult.

Terrorists favor IEDs because they can choose the target, change targets rapidly as more valuable ones appear, and they can choose the time to do the evil deed. They can easily change tactics without changing the technology. For example, now they will set off a small device inside a building, then detonate a larger one outside as people exit the building. The latter also can injure or kill first responders. These factors further complicate the problem.

R/C IEDs could represent a threat not only from the terrorist, but also your ordinary criminal and the mentally deranged. The technology is readily available anywhere in the world. While wartom countries might have more ordnance easily at hand, developed nations have more choices in the electronic portion, and the availability of more sophisticated electronics.

How to manufacture an IED is also easily found on the Internet. Munro showed a portion of an Arabic video that provided details on building circuit boards and other components of an R/C IED. Good intelligence is the best way to determine frequencies used as well as understanding of tactics that might be used by terrorist groups.

Julie Raffish (jraffis@atty.lacity. org) and Carlos De La Guerra, from the Los Angeles City Attorney's Office presented an overview of the legal issues associated with using the new surveillance and less-lethal technologies. …

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