FBI blasts provide lessons on bombings Investigators instructed on gathering evidence

August 19, 1998|By Cheryl Lu-Lien Tan | Cheryl Lu-Lien Tan,SUN STAFF

First, they blew up some tires, shooting them about 30 feet into the air in a fiery blast. Then they did a sturdy, steel desk, a maroon Oldsmobile Cutlass Ciera and achicken carcass stuffed with a detonator.

About 30 uniformed men at Fort Meade's firearms range had interesting toys to play with -- and explode -- all in the name of education.

The three-hour explosives demonstration yesterday was part of a five-day course the Federal Bureau of Investigation's Baltimore office is holding this week for 23 federal and local law-enforcement officials on investigating bombings and gathering evidence after terrorist attacks.

"The key is good-quality and well-preserved evidence," said David R. Williams, the FBI bomb technician who organized and led the course. "That's what we're trying to teach. In any bombing situation, [local law enforcement officials] will be the first to respond."

Williams' students came from 17 Maryland and Delaware agencies, including Dover Air Force Base, Aberdeen Proving Ground and police and fire departments in Ocean City, Baltimore, and Montgomery, Prince George's and Baltimore counties.

Peter A. Gulotta Jr., FBI spokesman, said the courses -- which the bureau organizes about 45 times a year around the country -- are essential to teach local officials how to help agents in the aftermath of bombings.

"In any investigation, if you taint the evidence because you handle it improperly, it's useless," Gulotta said. "It could affect the prosecution."

Flanked by hoses, a full water tank and assistants with firefighting equipment, Williams began the demonstration at 1 p.m. by distributing earplugs. Then he detonated a dramatic "pillar of fire" -- a line of gasoline jugs strung on a clothesline that created a bright, orange wall of flames.

After the initial crowd-pleaser, Williams' students and a handful of spectators from the FBI and National Security Agency watched as he and his assistants mixed liquid and powdered chemicals and explained how bombs get made and what effects they have.

Williams also walked his students through the blast debris, pointing out telltale substances, craters and dime-sized holes that can help investigators piece together a bomb's origin.

Pub Date: 8/19/98

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