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Strengthening Forensic Science in the United States: A Path Forward 11 Homeland Security and the Forensic Science Disciplines In its charge to the committee, Congress raised the question of the role of forensic science in homeland security. The committee recognized that, to address this issue thoroughly, it would need additional expertise and more time to fully undertake an analysis of the role that forensic science currently plays and could possibly play in the future. Such an analysis would require serious study of the current configuration of the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) and its relationships with the forensic science community, law enforcement, and national security. Indeed, as the committee began to explore this issue it became clear that the question of the role of forensic science in homeland security is a study unto itself. Not wanting to ignore this issue, the committee limited its analysis to the presentations made to the committee and the expertise of its membership. Consequently, this chapter should be viewed as a first step in addressing the role of forensic science in homeland security. The development and application of the forensic science disciplines to support intelligence, investigations, and operations aimed at the prevention, interdiction, disruption, attribution, and prosecution of terrorism has been an important component of what is now termed “homeland security” for at least two decades. Major terrorist bombings in the United States and abroad in the 1980s and 1990s influenced the U.S. government to enhance federal investigative and forensic science entities to be able to respond more effectively. For example, forensic science played an important role in investigating the bombing of Pan Am Flight 103 (1988), the first bombing of the World Trade Center in New York City (1993), the Oklahoma City bombing (1995), the suspected attack or sabotage of Trans World Airline
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Strengthening Forensic Science in the United States: A Path Forward Flight 800 (1996), the bombing of the USS Cole (2000), and the bombings of the U.S. Embassies in Kenya and Tanzania (1998). And even though the identification of the Unabomber (1996) occurred as a result of the cooperation of his brother with the authorities, the forensic evidence against Theodore Kaczynski was substantial and crucial to the case. The nature of homeland security requires the integration of forensic science into the investigative process much earlier than is the case for criminal justice. That is, for homeland security, forensic science plays not only its traditional role of inferring what happened at a crime scene and who was involved, but also contributes more intensively to generating investigative leads and testing, directing, or redirecting lines of investigation. In this role, forensic science contributes to the gathering of effective and timely intelligence and investigative information on terrorists and terrorist groups. This requires both traditional forensic science tools and enhanced and specialized forensic analysis and information sharing—new tools that are being developed primarily by the intelligence and defense communities in the United States, with each community tailoring the new tools to its specialized needs and missions. The intelligence and investigative capabilities thus build on a foundation of traditional forensic science expertise that exists in the military and the FBI. The Department of Defense (DOD), for example, includes the U.S. Army Criminal Investigation Laboratory, which, with its 137-member staff, carries out criminal investigations. It also conducts research activities to develop specialized techniques needed by the military. Some of the nontraditional forensic science capabilities available within that laboratory include methods suited to intelligence gathering and counter-intelligence and the ability to make inferences about foreign language documents. Plans for the future include developing capabilities such as increased integration of biometrics (used for security) and forensic science and improved accident investigation and reconstruction.1 Other DOD forensic science capabilities are found in the Armed Forces Institute of Pathology (with a staff of 25), the Cyber Crime Center (with a staff of approximately 190), the Joint POW/MIA Accounting Command Central Identification Laboratory (more than 46 staff members), and the Armed Forces DNA Identification Laboratory (with staff of approximately 138).2 The Joint POW/MIA Accounting Command Central Identification Laboratory bills itself as the largest forensic anthropology laboratory in the world.3 Also contributing to DOD’s forensic science capabilities is its 1 L.C. Chelko, Director, U.S. Army Criminal Investigation Laboratory. “Department of Defense Forensic Capabilities.” Presentation to the committee. September 21, 2007. 2 Ibid. 3 Ibid.
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Strengthening Forensic Science in the United States: A Path Forward Biometrics Task Force, which leads in the development and implementation of biometric technologies for combatant commands, military services, and other DOD agencies.4 The DOD forensic science capabilities are not centrally managed.5 DOD has a particular interest in DNA identification, both of its own people and of enemies. The department has a repository of five million DNA samples, primarily from military service members, intended mostly for casualty identification. DOD also pools data with intelligence and law enforcement programs to build and maintain the Joint Federal Agencies Intelligence DNA Database, a searchable database of DNA profiles from detainees and known or suspected terrorists.6 The DOD forensic science laboratories are relatively well resourced, according to the Director of the U.S. Army Criminal Investigation Laboratory, and DOD personnel are active in professional forensic science organizations, national certification/accreditation bodies, and national scientific working groups. Of particular note is that all of DOD’s institutional laboratories are nationally accredited,7 unlike many civilian law enforcement laboratories. An example of federal efforts to develop forensic science methods of importance to homeland security is the relatively new National Biodefense Forensic Analysis Center, established by DHS in 2004. The center’s mission is to provide a national capability to conduct and coordinate forensic analyses of evidence from biocrime and bioterror investigations. It is supported by DHS research to fill short- and long-term capabilities gaps, but the center itself is devoted to actual casework. Before its establishment, the Nation had no dedicated biocontainment laboratories, staff, or equipment to conduct bioforensic analysis. It had no methods to enable the handling of biothreat agent powders, no methods to support traditional forensic analyses of evidence contaminated with a biothreat agent, and no place in which to receive large quantities or large pieces of evidence contaminated with a biothreat agent. There were no established methods for handling evidence and conducting analysis, no quality guidelines or peer review of methodologies, and no central coordination for bioforensic analyses. These gaps became very apparent during the Nation’s response to the anthrax attacks of 2001.8 4 T. Cantwell, Senior Forensic Analyst, Biometric Task Force and Leader, Forensic Integrated Product Team, Department of Defense, “Latent Print Analysis.” Presentation to the committee. December 6, 2007. 5 Chelko, op. cit. 6 Ibid. 7 Ibid. 8 J. Burans, Director, National Bioforensics Analysis Center. “The National Biodefense Analysis and Countermeasures Center.” Presentation to the Committee. September 21, 2007.
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Strengthening Forensic Science in the United States: A Path Forward Bioforensics, which is sometimes referred to as microbial forensics, or as forensic microbiology, is a developing interdisciplinary field of microbiology devoted to the development, assessment, and validation of methods for fully characterizing microbial samples for the ultimate purpose of high-confidence comparative analyses. It supports attribution investigations involving pathogens or toxins of biological origin used in a biological attack. The bioforensics toolkit includes diagnostic assay systems that can identify infectious agents rapidly, as well as organic and inorganic analytical chemistry, electron microscopy, and genetic engineering. Much of the work must be conducted according to stringent safety and containment protocols, and dedicated laboratories are now under construction. The center’s capabilities enable the identification and/or characterization of biological threats, physical and chemical analyses, and the generation of data that can help in investigations and ultimate attribution. In addition to conducting casework, the center aims to develop and evaluate assays for high-consequence biological agents that threaten humans, animals, and plants, achieve accreditation for bioforensic casework and then continue to expand the scope of accreditation for newly established capabilities, and establish and maintain reference collections of biological agents for comparative forensic identifications.9 Another component of forensic science for homeland security is found in the Office of the Director of National Intelligence, which coordinates the various elements of the intelligence community. Within that office is a National Counterproliferation Center that also carries out work in bioforensics.10 The considerable threat of the acquisition, development, and use of weapons of mass destruction (WMD; chemical, biological, radiological, and nuclear weapons) has led U.S. government agencies to develop new forensic science capabilities. In 1996, this development was begun with the establishment of a specialized forensic hazardous materials unit in the FBI Laboratory, which came at a time of greater awareness of and concern over WMD in the hands of terrorists and in preparing for the 1996 Olympic Games in Atlanta. Interest and investment in this type of capability has diversified and expanded since that time in the FBI as well as in DOD, the Department of Energy, the Intelligence Community, and DHS. The programs described above are visible evidence of the government’s commitment to forensic science and infrastructure as integral components of homeland security. At the time of this writing, the importance of forensic science and its potential for improving the attribution of WMD are also active topics in discussions internationally. 9 Ibid. 10 C.L. Cooke Jr., Office of the Deputy Director for Strategy & Evaluation, National Counterproliferation Center. “Microbial Forensics: Gaps, Opportunities and Issues.” Presentation to the committee. September 21, 2007.
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Strengthening Forensic Science in the United States: A Path Forward The traditional U.S. forensic science community generally has not been included directly in planning, preparedness, resourcing, response, training, and the exercising of large-scale or specialized forensic science capabilities for terrorism and homeland security, although the FBI Laboratory provides a link between homeland security applications of forensic science and traditional uses in criminal justice. One reason for this segmentation is that the traditional community has heavy commitments to day-to-day law enforcement requirements, timelines, and backlogs. Also, many of the homeland security applications of forensic science require specialized expertise and infrastructure that are not widespread, and they might require access to information that is protected by security classification. Although major metropolitan law enforcement agencies and forensic laboratories, such as those in New York City and Los Angeles, have developed some specialized tactical capacities of these types, most of the U.S. forensic science enterprise does not and will not legitimately invest in such capacities and will rely instead on agencies such as the FBI and those who are part of the FBI-led Joint Terrorism Task Forces11 in some 100 U.S. cities. For the most part, the specialized capacities and capabilities needed for homeland security are not warranted for most civilian forensic science laboratories and medical examiner offices, although there are exceptions, and some of the skills embodied in these new forensic efforts may have direct applicability to traditional forensic science disciplines. However, the skills embodied within the traditional forensic science and medical examiners communities are potentially an important asset for assisting in homeland security. The geographic dispersion of those communities is an additional asset, because a security event or natural disaster can occur anywhere, beyond the quick reach of specialized federal capabilities. In addition, to the extent that members of the forensic science and medical examiners communities might respond to WMD attacks before specialized experts can, it is important to train those local responders sufficiently so that they can properly preserve critical evidence while protecting themselves from harmful exposure. More generally, there would be value in strengthening the links between civil forensic scientists and those affiliated with DOD and DHS, so that all sectors can pool their knowledge. The medical examiner community, in particular, could be viewed as a geographically distributed and rapidly deployable “corps” that can augment federal experts in efforts to monitor emerging public health threats or respond to catastrophes. When a catastrophic event takes place, whether it is the result of nature or terrorism, a large contingent of medical examin- 11 Protecting America Against Terrorist Attack: A Closer Look at the FBI’s Joint Terrorism Task Forces. Federal Bureau of Investigation. December 2004. Available at www.fbi.gov/page2/dec04/jttf120114.htm.
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Strengthening Forensic Science in the United States: A Path Forward ers is sometimes needed on short notice. Yet medical examiners have not been appropriately funded or trained in the management of mass fatality incidents. (See Chapter 9 for a more complete discussion of the medical examiner’s role in homeland security.) Plans and policies must be developed that enable this contingent use of medical examiners. In written input to the committee, Barry A.J. Fisher, Director of the Scientific Services Bureau of the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department, stated the needs and opportunities as follows: … [C]onsider a situation where there are multiple events in the US and aboard occurring simultaneously. Resources could be stretched to the breaking point, not to mention the concept of surge capacity. There is not an unlimited supply of forensic scientists available to the FBI. But there are probably 5,000+ public forensic scientists at State and local crime labs who could be enlisted to help. Some jurisdictions have plans in place to use local talent. Others do not. It varies from region to region. Forensic scientists are often called to crime scenes to assist in the collection of evidence. Yet few would recognize that they were looking at a potential improvised explosive lab. There is little training available at the national level. Much of the information is classified. State and local forensic scientists have no need for security clearances but often go through law enforcement background checks. This creates a classic ‘Catch 22’ situation. State and local forensic personnel can’t be given classified information to recognize terrorist devices which they might be able to disable before they and others are injured. The identification of victims in mass casualties is another area where State and local forensic labs could play a part. (They could, for example, provide fingerprint identification services.) While few labs have the capacity to mount a major DNA testing effort, personnel are knowledgeable in evidence collection and can assist in such efforts. Again there are no consistent plans for using local or regional resources. Medical examiners and coroners use a system of volunteers called D-MORT (Disaster Mortuary Operational Response Team) to assist in mass casualty events whether natural or caused by terrorist incidents. A similar program could be considered to enlist State and local forensic scientist to assist in major incident situations. 12 This chapter illustrates the overlap between the capabilities of forensic science and the needs of homeland security, but ideally, the forensic science community and homeland security communities should be more integrated with better communication. However, the committee limited its recom- 12 B.A.J. Fisher. June 12, 2007. “Contemporary Issues in Forensic Science,” unpublished paper submitted to the committee.
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Strengthening Forensic Science in the United States: A Path Forward mendations on this matter because it recognized two critical factors: (1) the forensic science system is in need of a major overhaul (see Chapters 2 through 8), and until these issues are addressed it makes little sense to expand the efforts of state and local forensic scientists into homeland security operations and (2) many issues that would arise from such integration (e.g., federal jurisdiction, national security issues, restrictions on sharing of information) go beyond the charge and principal focus of the committee.13 CONCLUSIONS AND RECOMMENDATION Good forensic science and medical examiner practices are of clear value from a homeland security perspective because of their roles in bringing criminals to justice and in dealing with the effects of natural and human-made mass disasters. Forensic science techniques (e.g., the evaluation of DNA fragments) enable the thorough investigations of crime scenes. Routine and trustworthy collection of digital evidence, and improved techniques and timeliness for its analysis, can be of great potential value in identifying terrorist activity. Therefore, a strong and reliable forensic science community is needed to maintain homeland security. However, to capitalize on this potential, the forensic science and medical examiner communities must be well interfaced with homeland security efforts, so that they can contribute when needed. To be successful, this interface will require: (1) the establishment of good working relationships among federal, state, and local jurisdictions; (2) the creation of strong security programs to protect data transmittals across jurisdictions; (3) the development of additional training for forensic scientists and crime scene investigators; and (4) the promulgation of contingency plans that will promote efficient team efforts on demand. Although policy issues relating to the enforcement of homeland security are beyond the scope of this report, it is clear that improvements in the forensic science community and the medical examiner system could greatly enhance the capabilities of homeland security. Recommendation 13: Congress should provide funding to the National Institute of Forensic Science (NIFS) to prepare, in conjunction with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the Federal Bureau of Investigation, forensic scientists and crime scene investigators for their potential roles in managing and analyzing evidence from 13 See Institute of Medicine. 2008. Research Priorities in Emergency Preparedness and Response for Public Health Systems and workshop summaries of the Disasters Roundtable, dels.nas.edu/dr/
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Strengthening Forensic Science in the United States: A Path Forward events that affect homeland security, so that maximum evidentiary value is preserved from these unusual circumstances and the safety of these personnel is guarded. This preparation also should include planning and preparedness (to include exercises) for the interoperability of local forensic personnel with federal counterterrorism organizations.