A consortium of researchers dedicated to improving the understanding of the human causes and consequences of terrorism

START interns witness explosive FBI demonstration

START spends afternoon at Quantico

START interns recently spent an afternoon with the FBI in Quantico, Virginia at a demonstration by the FBI Terrorist Explosive Device Analytical Center in July.

“The explosive demonstration shows the visual and physical effects of explosives,” said Matthew Bertron, a spokesperson for the FBI. The demonstrations are conducted to provide law enforcement officers and forensic personnel with practice conducting post-blast crime scene investigations for routine bombings. She said they also give participants a chance to learn the safety and evidence handling issues related to searching bomb sites.

Interns witnessed a variety of detonations, from explosives used in military operations, to improvised explosives commonly used by terrorists, to explosives used for visual effects in Hollywood. Throughout each test attendees were given explanations as to the utility, effectiveness and reliability of each explosive.

Megan Rutter, an intern for the Unconventional Weapons and Technology(UWT) team at START, said the experience was not something she would be given at any other internship.

“Sure, we were shown demonstrations of chemicals burning and bombs exploding, which is always cool,” Rutter said, “but we were also taught the basic chemistry behind the explosions, which was more interesting to me.”

Rutter has spent her summer working on projects in which she studied bombings by terrorists using improvised or conventional explosives. Rutter was able to connect the theory and knowledge she has acquired through research to the reality of high explosive devices witnessed on the field trip.

“The demonstration gave me a new context for projects we are working on, such as the evolution of high explosives between terrorist organizations and the security implications of such advancing technologies,” she said.

Rutter’s major takeaway from the event came from a moment when a bomb did not explode due to the humidity and temperature affecting the chemical reaction.

“Explosives are relatively easy to improvise for those who know how, but there is also a lot of chance involved in their being able to perform as intended,” Rutter said

Following the demonstration, attendees were given the opportunity to walk down range and examine the effects of the explosives. Those who took the hike also used this opportunity to ask questions of the experts behind the demonstration.

Steve Hoodjer, a research assistant with START’s UWT team, found this part especially enlightening. Hoodjer’s work at START and on his master’s thesis have centered on unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs).

“The folks at Quantico have the chance to examine some of the explosives that ISIL is deploying from their UAVs,” Hoodjer said. “I got to ask one of the instructors a few questions about that, but I could have sat there and picked his brain for the whole day if I had the chance.”

Hoodjer said he is appreciative of how START introduces interns to different agencies and opportunities within the national security community.