- The Washington Times - Thursday, November 28, 2002

DOVER, Del. "Fire in the hole. Fire in the hole. Fire in the hole," came the warning. Seconds later, the wooden desk exploded in a cloud of smoke and splinters.
The letter bomb, fashioned by U.S. Air Force experts from a common military explosive called RDX, was part of a recent life-and-death fireworks display for the benefit of state and area law-enforcement officials.
About two dozen police and fire officials from Delaware, Maryland and New Jersey participated in the training session held by the federal Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms (ATF) and the Dover Air Force Base.
Last week's demonstration was part of a weeklong "Post Blast Explosives Investigation School" designed by the ATF to help law-enforcement officials learn how to process a crime scene properly and reconstruct an explosive device in the aftermath of a bombing.
"This helps us better work with one another as a team," said Brian Glynn, resident agent in charge with the agency's Wilmington office.
He also said area officials usually respond to bombing scenes long before the ATF is called to assist, so early evidence collection and crime-scene processing can be critical in helping authorities solve the crime.
To help area investigators better understand what they might face in the aftermath of a bombing, ATF officials detonated a variety of explosives, such as C-4 plastics, black powder and smokeless powder, common ingredients in pipe bombs.
"Some of these guys have never seen explosives in any manner," said John Slover of Dallas, one of three ATF instructors leading the seminar.
He said that pipe bombs account for about 90 percent of explosive devices investigated in the United States, but that the variety of bombs is almost endless.
"The ability of bombers and the types of bombs they build is limited only by their imagination," Mr. Slover said.
Before each explosion, he told students to observe the different characteristics of the bomb materials, such as the amount and color of the smoke, the size and speed of the flames and the intensity of the sound.
One explosion contained a particularly nasty combination of C-4, steel wool and gasoline. While packing the punch of a high explosive, the C-4 also ignited the steel wool and drove it into the container of gasoline, resulting in a significant "thermic event" of flames.
ATF and Air Force officials once detonated three car bombs with three different types of explosives so the next day students could process the crime scene to determine what was used.
"The skills they'll learn here are critical to anti-terrorism efforts," Mr. Glynn said.
The ATF requested use of the base's ordnance range because the agency does not have one in the region. The Air Force complied with the request and offered its own explosives experts to assist with the training.
"This is the way we fight wars nowadays," said Maj. Jon Anderson, a spokesman for the base. "Everybody working together."


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