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Homeland Security

Press Release Number:  ECL200302181 18-Feb-03


NAVAIR China Lake Weapons Division
By Carolanne Sacry Feiste

"No matter the amount of explosives used, there is always something to pick up and piece together-that's where we get evidence. That's how we'll catch the perpetrator," explained Kevin Miles, FBI special agent in charge of the Los Angeles Task Force on Terrorism.

Recently, NAVAIR China Lake paused momentarily when sounds from a thundersous explosion rolled across the Indian Wells Valley.

Over 1000 pounds of deadly explosives detonated aboard a passenger bus-replicating the horrific Bali terrorist attack causing a reverbating echo at the SNORT (Supersonic Naval Ordnance Research Track).

The exercise was part of a simulated crime scene for the FBI's large vehicle bomb post blast crime scene school, co-founded by Miles.

Students were police officers, including members of the New York City Bomb Squad; fire fighters; ATF (Alcohol, Tobacco, and Firearms) agents; FBI personnel; and military explosives experts from across the country.

"The military and HazMat units supporting security efforts for the Salt Lake City Olympics realized they needed training in this area-so they sponsored a class in Utah. We've also gone into Nevada and soon we'll go to Wyoming," added explosive expert Sergeant George Gomez from the LA County Sheriff's Department.

This training begin in 1997, when Miles, Gomez, and Sergeant Howard Rechtschaffe (retired) LA County Sheriff Department, organized a training class for bomb and crime scene investigators, to hone their skills and increase their knowledge on a larger, more advanced scale. It is now an FBI sanctioned school, sponsoring investigators from across the nation. Miles and Gomez lead the school.

Some of the topics were explosive physics, post blast injuries, evidence collection, contamination avoidance, residue analysis, aircraft bombings, and forensics case studies.

Other expert instructors join Miles and Gomez with wide-ranging experience in bomb scene investigation.

Senior FBI Supervisory Special Agent/Forensic Sciences Instructor Robert Heckman brings a wealth of experience to the classroom. He's investigated such notable incidents as Oklahoma City, the World Trade Center truck bomb, Waco, and the Unabomber case. Heckman teaches organizational management-structuring a crime scene that may encompass half a city-the stages, functions, tasks, preparation and development of SOP's and protocols. "I teach how to prepare and organize well in advance of the incident."

Heckman often takes a plane to the class location one day, instructs the students the following day, then jets back in time to teach the Forensic Sciences class for FBI agents in Quantico, Virginia, the next day.

When asked about his grueling schedule, he said, "This is all about one thing-getting the bad guy off the streets. A proper investigation will allow us to catch him and provide good evidence for his prosecution. It's the way to make him stop doing these horrible things to innocent people. I want to help do that in every way I can."

"This school is as close to reality as it gets," explained Jim Norman, FBI Special Agent (ret.).

Norman was the lead investigator in the Oklahoma City bombing and is now an instructor for this rigorous 4-day class.

He shares professional and personal experiences from 3 intense years spent on the Oklahoma City investigation (including 2 years living in a hotel room away from his family). Students learn critical details for crisis management of a large-bomb crime scene from Norman. "I lecture about dealing with things that can go wrong in an investigation. I also cover how crime scene recovery efforts combine with the investigative effort, then how it all dovetails into requests for laboratory analysis of various components recovered from the scene-always mindful to retain it all for trial."

Heckman and Norman both stressed the importance of relating how cases have impacted their personal lives. Working on these devastating scenes deeply affects bomb scene investigators. "These new investigators need to be aware of the situations they'll face working on a case like this," Norman said.

While students get classroom instruction, Sergeant Gomez and Special Agent Miles are "in the field" constructing and then detonating a bomb. The one for this class was the largest yet (over 1000 pounds)-creating the crime scene students will investigate to complete the course.

Los Angeles County Deputy District Attorney Ronald Smalstig has been an instructor with the school since 1989. He reminds students that they are not here, simply to learn how to pick things up at the crime scene. "The goal is to get into the courtroom with evidence that will convict the perpetrators making these bombs."

Smalstig accentuates the value of proper evidence collection, documentation, and analysis, "because this is what will be attacked in the courtroom." The task is daunting-this crime scene covered 75 acres.

He said it typically takes three years for this type of case to reach trail. The time span from crime scene to courtroom underlines the importance of good documentation. Ultimately, investigators' testimony must create a true representation of the crime scene, as it was found-accurate documentation is mandatory.

"In real life, investigating a scene like this would take a minimum of two weeks with a larger team. These 30 students get a little over half a day," Kevin Miles.

After bomb scene investigation, students present their findings in a mock courtroom, with Smalstig acting as judge. Smalstig highlights areas in evidence presentation that could be improved on in a real-life scenario.


Miles explained, "These students have completed a Basic Crime Scene School, are full-time law enforcement, fire, or military, and are in a position where they will actually work bomb scenes. If there's a major bombing in their jurisdiction, they're going to be out there in the dirt and the weeds and the rubble-pulling out pieces."

Captain Tom Israel of Georgia's Clayton County Police Department was the class Incident Commander. Speaking in a smooth Southern drawl Israel said, "This class gave me a new perspective. The most significant thing I'm taking from this class is from a command standpoint-such as chain of command and crime scene management. I've also learned about some tools that will prove valuable to us back home."

Israel said he had gained startling insights from Sergeant Gomez and laughed, "I'm glad he's on our side!" Then, "In all seriousness, this training will benefit the entire nation. Even if Ridgecrest and China Lake never experience this type of bomb, they are doing a great deed here with hosting this class."

If a bombing incident occurs, these investigators are called. When asked how he felt about that call, Israel responded, "Let's go! I'm ready."

Although young, Officer Paul Perricone has 15 years service with New York's Police Department. He said he benefited from investigating an actual blast of this magnitude. He noted, "We sure can't do something like this [blow up a bus with 1000 lbs. of explosives] in New York City."

One of 33 assigned to New York City's Bomb Squad, Perricone said this class taught him how a team can function quickly.

With a distinct New York accent and no-nonsense attitude, he said, "The staff at this school is outstanding. No other class offers such experience and expertise. From investigating through prosecuting a case, I am prepared for things that I hope will never happen. But if they do, I'm ready to do my job."

Perricone made a special point to comment on the kindness and hospitality of the Ridgecrest and China Lake people he had met.

On the final day of school Miles called each graduate forward for a certificate and a handshake. At Pericone's name, class members warmly called out " Hey, Paulie!" to the smiling young Italian-American as he accepted his certificate.


This is the 40th class and the 11th held at China Lake. Miles said, "We have a good rapport with the people at China Lake. We can do larger detonations here. The relatively pristine range allows students to identify parts of the vehicle and the TPU [the time power unit that initiates the bomb in a real terrorist setup] after the explosion. Our school benefits from the experience of Jess [Fortney, Head Track Operations, SNORT] and his crew in handling large amounts of explosives. They help us all around. Whatever we need, they make it happen. It's very easy for us to get business done here."

Miles said less than 100 people in the United States have had hands-on experience in reconstructing such a large vehicle bomb. He applauded the excellent investigation techniques of the class members and stated, "I would be proud to serve with each of you men and women. Well done!"

CUT LINE: Passenger Bus Perishes for the Good of All
A passenger bus was blown to bits with over 1000 pounds of deadly explosives on the SNORT range. This reenactment of a terrorist attack created a realistic mock crime scene for students attending the FBI Large Vehicle Bomb Post Blast Crime School to investigate.

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