Attorney General Alberto Gonzales wanted to see first hand why ATF is the primary source of explosives investigation and training throughout the world, and he got his wish Oct. 19 during a visit to ATF’s training facilities at Ft. A.P Hill in Bowling Green, Va.
Gonzales, accompanied by ATF Acting Director Michael Sullivan, spent the first few minutes of his visit engaged in briefings with ATF leadership and subject matter experts such as Steven Beggs, chief of ATF’s Explosives Training Branch, and Terry Bohan, chief of the bureau’s Canine Operations Branch.
ATF initiates and supports more criminal investigations involving the unlawful use, possession and theft of explosives, as well as the manufacture and possession of improvised explosives devices (IEDs), than any other federal law enforcement agency.
The bureau is also the premier source of specially trained explosives detection canine teams, which are assigned to local, state and other federal law enforcement agencies. ATF canine teams are now located in 17 foreign countries, including Iraq.
“I’m glad we have ATF here to protect our neighborhoods,” Gonzales said. “ATF is doing a lot of good work.”
Gonzales was soon whisked from the briefing room to the explosives range, where he was joined by reporters from the Associated Press, CNN, Fox News, ABC News, Reuters and Bloomberg as he prepared to witness a series of explosions.
“Wow,” Gonzales remarked as blast after deafening blast sent palpable heat and shock waves through the crowd of spectators. One of the more dramatic fireballs obliterated a Ford Taurus that ATF certified explosives had rigged with dynamite. Pieces of the car lay scattered 100 yards in every direction following the detonation, which involved a mere 10 pounds of explosives.
But the show was not over. Gonzales smiled as he watched a couple of friendly, tail-wagging ATF-trained Labrador retrievers at work, demonstrating their ability to detect or “alert” on different kinds of explosives hidden in various locations in the vicinity. One of the Labs who successfully completed her mission received an affectionate pat on the head from the country’s chief law enforcement officer.
Reporters, informed that ATF has been teaching its bomb investigation techniques to the military, asked Gonzales and Sullivan a number of questions concerning the bureau’s activities in Iraq.
ATF provides explosives training to the new Iraqi Police Service and participates in the Combined Explosives Exploitation Cell (CEXC) with military and other law enforcement agencies from the United States and Britain. CEXC’s role is to provide immediate, in-theater technical and operational analysis of the IEDs that insurgents have used to such effect against multinational forces, and develop measures to counter the insurgent bombing campaign.
“We have a commitment of ATF resources in Iraq,” Gonzales said, noting that the mission of ATF personnel in Iraq is to investigate bomb scenes, gather intelligence about the kinds of devices being used by the insurgents and how they are deploying them, and safely detonate unexploded ordinance so that it no longer represents a threat.
Sullivan added that ATF explosives experts working in Iraq share the results of their investigations with coalition forces operating throughout the country. In this way, soldiers are continually updated regarding the devices and tactics being employed against them.
Sullivan also observed that ATF adheres to the same philosophy here at home, assisting local bomb squads when asked to do so and disseminating all of the bomb investigation data it accumulates to other federal, state and local law enforcement agencies.
“We’re sharing the experience we’ve gathered over decades,” Sullivan said.
When asked about domestic terrorism and the public’s relatively easy access to certain types of explosive material, the Attorney General said that a big part of ATF’s job is to investigate any theft involving explosives, apprehend those responsible and recover any and all dangerous material stolen to ensure that innocent lives are not placed at risk.
To prevent explosives from falling into the wrong hands, ATF industry investigators annually inspect hundreds of facilities that are federally licensed to manufacture or store explosives.