Home News Speeches Hearts of Soldiers, Hands of Surgeons: A Salute to Bomb Technicians and Investigators
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  • Robert S. Mueller, III
  • Director
  • Federal Bureau of Investigation
  • International Association of Bomb Technicians & Investigators Annual Conference
  • Phoenix, Arizona
  • August 01, 2007

It’s great to be here. When Kevin Miles asked if I would speak tonight, I said, “Who wouldn’t want to go to Phoenix in August?” For mere mortals, this heat is excruciating—but considering that all of you spend a good deal of time zipped into 80-pound Kevlar suits, this is probably downright balmy.

I’m honored to be with you tonight. I want to start by thanking those of you who are not bomb technicians and investigators—the families who are here tonight. You keep them going every day, and you wait up for them every night. Thank you for your sacrifices and your support.

I particularly want to thank our international counterparts for traveling from far corners of the world to be here this week. And I also want to thank the men and women in the military for joining us and for all you do, every day, to protect our nations and to defend our freedoms.

Let me spend a few minutes talking about the role you play in protecting our communities, the emerging threats we face, and the importance of facing them as a team.

When I meet with state, local, or international counterparts, I usually talk about the importance of sharing information and working together. We cannot afford to meet each other for the first time at another Ground Zero. Our personal safety—and that of all those we are sworn to protect—depends upon our personal relationships.

Often, I know I am preaching to the choir, because we have all witnessed the consequences of turf battles and information stove-piping. What sets the IABTI apart is that this message of cooperation across ranks, departments, and nations is one that the bomb tech community preached first.

Over the past six years, the FBI has gone through a sea change, overhauling the way we collect, analyze, and share intelligence. And the larger law enforcement community has made immeasurable progress in working as a united front. But in many ways, we were just catching up to where the bomb tech community had already been for many years.

Take, for example, the Columbine High School shooting back in 1999. On top of the tragic loss of life, dozens of improvised explosive devices—IEDs—were found at the scene. The Jefferson County Sheriff’s Department bomb squad did not have the resources to handle it alone. But they could — and did — turn immediately to their trusted partners.

In the midst of that chaos, bomb technicians from the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives, the FBI, the Denver Police Department and the Arapahoe and Douglas County Sheriff’s departments worked as one team. They checked their patches at the door and rendered safe every single device.

This did not require any formal memorandums of understanding. The bomb technicians and investigators relied on a network that was already in place. And it was in place because you have seen up close that sharing information may mean the difference between life and death.

You are always anticipating the possibility that a device used in Tikrit could show up one day in Tucson, or Toronto, or Tbilisi. And you are dedicated to making sure that if that day comes, the officers who respond will have the information they need to make it home that night.

For the bomb tech community, it has never been a question of turf, but of survival. That question is getting more complicated every year, as threats become more diverse and our adversaries become more dangerous.

I won’t spend a lot of time talking about emerging technical threats; you know them better than I do. And in many cases you have already seen and survived them.

From the FBI’s perspective, one major concern is globalization, which has impacted not just travel, commerce, and communications, but also terrorism and crime. The dark side of today’s flat world is that terrorists can study tactics used in other countries—and can apply those lessons when planning their own attacks.

For example, the Madrid bombers killed 191 people by placing bombs in backpacks on trains and detonating them using cell phone alarms. Many news reports expressed relief that the bombs exploded at the train stations, so that rescuers could assist at the scene.

A little over a year later, terrorists detonated bombs on the London Underground. This time, the bombs exploded not at the stations, but deep in the tunnels of the Tube. Fifty-two people were killed. Hundreds were injured. And rescuers and survivors were severely hampered by fire and fumes.

Last summer’s plot to bomb airplanes bound from London to the United States is another example. After the September 11 attacks, airline security was substantially tightened. Instead of trying to get traditional weapons or bombs through security, the suspects in that case devised a way to smuggle explosives on board in liquid form. They modified everyday carry-on items, such as cameras, batteries, and sports drinks, to avoid detection.

It is clear that terrorists are studying each other’s methods—as well as our responses. And they are adjusting their tactics accordingly. They are determined to make each successive attack more disquieting and more deadly.

We are concerned that terrorists will import more of the tactics that are used in places such as Iraq and Afghanistan—tactics such as suicide bombers, remote-controlled explosives, and incendiary devices. As we saw in London and Glasgow, Scotland, in June, this trend has already begun.

And we are also concerned about an increase in homemade explosives, particularly TATP and HMTD. As you all know, peroxide-based explosives are widely used by terrorists overseas. “Millennium Bomber” Ahmed Ressam had HMTD in the trunk of his car. Richard Reid used TATP to initiate the bomb in his shoe. And the July 7 London bombers also used peroxide-based explosives.

And less than three months after the London subway bombings, TATP showed up in America’s heartland. In October 2005, an explosion was heard outside a packed football stadium at the University of Oklahoma. The Norman Police Department’s bomb squad and the university police found a student’s body, with a backpack lying nearby. The circumstances caused them to suspect this explosion might have national implications, so they called the FBI.

This is another example of the excellent relationships already in place, because the officers actually called the special agent bomb tech at home. Officers from the Norman Police Department, the Oklahoma Highway Patrol, the university police, the ATF, and the FBI then worked as a team. They conducted over 200 interviews, investigated several locations, and neutralized an estimated half pound of TATP during a search of the student’s apartment.

The team worked around the clock to determine the extent of the threat. Was this just an unhappy kid experimenting? Or was he part of a larger conspiracy? Ultimately, they determined it was an isolated incident, but it was unsettling to see such a large quantity of such a highly unstable explosive inside a student apartment.

Given the scope of the threats we face, working together is not just the best option, it is the only option.

We in the FBI have worked beside you for decades, investigating bombings and developing technologies to help all of us do our jobs in the safest way possible. And we are still committed to supporting every bomb technician and investigator working in the field.

The primary way we do that is through training. Many of you, and 20,000 other bomb technicians, have trained at the Hazardous Devices School in Alabama. Over 2,800 HDS graduates are currently protecting the United States from the next terrorist attack.

And because the threats you face are changing every day, the HDS is constantly updating its curriculum. For example, the University of Oklahoma bombing case was used to create a new scenario for the Practical Problem Village at the HDS, as was the attempted attack in London this past June.

We also offer post-blast investigation courses across the United States and across the world. Many of you are graduates of Kevin Miles’ large vehicle bomb school, which, incidentally, is also held in the desert. Kevin tells me his first order of business, once he gets that gavel, is to start planning next year’s convention in Death Valley.

With Kevin reminding you to drink lots of fluids, you sifted through the ruins of trucks and school buses. You searched for scraps of evidence ranging from license plates to that elusive and crispy “Jack in the Box” head.

By the way, if any of you have Winnebagos, I hope you didn’t drive them here. Budgets are tight—and Kevin will try to appropriate them for educational purposes.

We—along with the ATF—also support you through the Terrorist Explosive Device Analytical Center, or TEDAC. More than 80 FBI employees work alongside the military in Iraq and Afghanistan. They have sent over 17,000 submissions to TEDAC for exploitation—everything from wires to electrical tape.

The TEDAC team has helped identify distinct bomb-makers by developing over 2,500 latent fingerprints from these fragments of evidence. So far, they have made over 60 fingerprint identifications and more than 1,000 forensic matches between IEDs.

The threats we face are mutating and migrating as soon as we master them. That is why this organization is so vital.

It is imperative that we continue to talk, work, and train together so that everyone has the most current intelligence possible at the moment of truth. One tiny scrap of information could break a case or save a life.

I remember working on the Pan Am 103 investigation in Lockerbie, Scotland. The break in that case came from a fragment of a circuit board no larger than a fingernail. That fragment was found in a ground search covering more than 845 square miles.

That experience gave me a tremendous appreciation for the work you do. It is painstaking at its best and lethal at its worst.

It takes unlimited patience, unerring precision, and an uncommon willingness to walk directly into danger. Yet you take those risks day in and day out, with the hearts of soldiers and the hands of surgeons.

For over 100 years, members of bomb squads have knelt beside live explosives—in the early days, armed only with a pocketknife and a prayer. You have thwarted countless extortionists, extremists, anarchists, and terrorists. The technology and training you need have developed. But the danger you face has not diminished. Nor has your courage.

There is a popular T-shirt out there—and I would bet that some of you own it—that says, “I am a bomb technician. If you see me running, try to keep up.” But the reality is that when everyone else is sprinting away from danger, you are walking deliberately toward it.

In the book “Bomb Squad,” two ABC News reporters recount the year they spent shadowing the New York City Police Department Bomb Squad. They describe bomb technicians not as first responders, but as “last responders—the last line of defense before an explosion occurs.”

When the authors asked each member of the bomb squad why they willingly stood over live devices, each gave the same answer: “Somebody has to do it.” I want to thank each of you for your willingness to be that somebody.

All of us in law enforcement and the military are on the front lines. All of us are on the other side of the yellow tape. But beyond the yellow tape is the red tape. And only you make the long walk, alone, downrange—beyond the colored tape and beyond the safety barricades. You make the long walk toward the unknown.

And for that, you have the FBI’s gratitude, support, and partnership. We face determined and committed adversaries, and they are not going away. So we must—and will—continue to work together, to train together, and to share information as one community.

Thank you for all that you do, and may God protect you as you protect our nations.

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