Security Forces Always Need to Stay Ahead of the Perpetrators
An interview with Michael Cardash, Retired Deputy Head of the Israeli Police’s Bomb Disposal Division, and an Expert Analyst of Terrorist Attacks Worldwide.
Published first in INTERSEC magazine, 2012 By Vidisco CEO Ari Diamond and Rachel Lieberman
While the Internet is a fantastic tool for research and the acquisition of knowledge, in the past 5-7 years it has also become a reliable source of information for terrorists, providing explicit instructions on how to build a wide range of homemade bombs (Improvised Explosive Devices or IED's for short). Anders Behring Breivik, the man behind the terror attacks in Norway last summer, admitted that he had built the bomb which perpetrated mayhem and murder, on the basis of instructions that he had downloaded from the Internet.
In a personal interview, Michael Cardash, Retired Deputy Head of the Israeli Police’s Bomb Disposal Division and an expert analyst of terrorist attacks worldwide, talks about today’s terrorists and typical attack methods.
IED's with home-made explosives are still the bomb of choice for most terrorists all over the world, from Afghanistan and Iraq to Indonesia or Norway, despite the fact that the typical IED is generally weaker than military grade explosives. This is due to the easiness of making home-made explosives, and the difficulty in getting military grade hardware. The determined terrorist can compensate for poorer quality by using greater quantities of home-made explosive materials in order to achieve his desired effect. In Iraq and Afghanistan, UXOs (Unexploded Ordnance) are often adapted by terrorists and used as IED’s, thus solving this problem for them. However, these devices are generally easily identified, as the alterations are external and clearly visible without using any technologies other than the human eye.
Suspicious object examined in small shop with
Suspicious object - Dual Energy X-ray results
According to Michael Cardash, in recent years, 3 main externally activated modi operandi have become widespread
• Wireless detonation of an explosive device – using a mechanism such as a cell phone or walkie-talkie
• Suicide bombers who detonate themselves, or are remotely detonated by the planners
• Car bombs - either remotely detonated or detonated by the driver
When it comes to detection, no method is foolproof and no technology can give us the ultimate answer for all scenarios. The most widespread detection tools used today for searching out bombs are metal detectors, X-ray, electronic sniffers and dogs. While dogs are often able to sniff out explosives, they can easily tire, and sometimes the communications between the dog and his trainer fails, which can cause a fatal combination of canine and human error. Additionally, dogs are trained to sniff out only the most widely used explosives, so if the terrorist chooses to use a different material, it may well go undetected. It also takes a long time to adequately train sniffing dogs and their operators; hence, there is a lack of both trained personnel and dogs worldwide. Nevertheless, it should be noted that this is one of the main tools in the war against terror, and will probably continue to be so.
It is very clear that every explosive detection system has its blind spots. When preparing explosive charges, one of the world’s most wanted terrorists Ibrahim Al-Asiri (of the AQAP – Al Qaeda of the Arab Peninsula) carefully studied security blind spots. In one instance, he created a “body bomb” which was inserted in the rectum of a suicide terrorist (who happened to be Ibrahim’s younger brother, Abdullah.) The terrorist successfully passed a number of security checks prior to meeting with Saudi security chief Prince Muhammad bin Nayef bin Abdul Aziz Al-Saud. When the terrorist was in position, the bomb was detonated but it caused only minor injuries due to a number of miscalculations by the terrorist and the bomb’s maker.
Al-Asiri was also the mastermind behind the "printer bombs" found on one of the commercial flights destined for the USA from the Middle East. Here, too, he took advantage of weaknesses in the detection systems used for commerce and the printers were loaded on the aircraft undetected. In this case, good intelligence work fortunately prevented the detonations. In both of these cases metal detectors were of no use in detecting this type of threat.
Printer with explosive simulation X-ray with Dual Energy (bottom)
compared to original cartridge (top)
Lastly, electronic sniffing technology is at the forefront of chemically detecting explosives. However, this technology is not generally used for portable applications and it has its own Achilles Heel; false alarms occur frequently due to the fact that some items contain chemical elements similar to those in explosives, although they are harmless day-to-day items. As with the other technologies, electronic sniffers fill another gap in the detection puzzle; nevertheless, they cannot show us what is inside a suspect item and can only give us an indication of chemical composition. In order to have the complete picture, a combination of all the technologies must be used. However, the only way to really "see inside any device" today is through the use of X-ray technology. Furthermore, should the device be "dirty" (meaning that it contains chemical or biological elements), there is even a greater need for the bomb technician to have a clear "picture" of what he is up against. In the event of the explosion of a “dirty” device, considerable damage may be caused to human life and the environment.
Michael Cardash points out an interesting and not very well-known fact pertaining to bomb detection in Israel as compared to the rest of the world: Israel’s Property Tax Department is obligated by law to pay out any damages caused to civilian property due to detonation or mutilation of a suspicious object possibly containing an explosive charge planted by terrorists. Thus, Israeli sappers generally have the green light to disrupt any suspicious object, secure in the knowledge that there is no fear of law suits (except in criminal cases for which there is no automatic compensation). But in most countries worldwide where no official entity covers the cost of destruction or mutilation of a suspicious object - a major consideration is to avoid causing damage to a suspicious object (a suspect civilian vehicle, for example) in order to prevent costly law suits. Hence, a "look before you shoot" approach has been universally adopted, with the utilization of X-ray technology serving as the main tool for finding out what is inside the suspect item.
It should also be noted that the contrary is true for military IED or EOD work, where due to a war scenario sappers can easily explode an item in situ without having to X-ray it or even be sure that it is an explosive device. Of course, this modus operandi changes drastically when the suspect device is located amongst civilians or at strategic locations.
Digital Radiography plays a very important role in many parts of the world when it comes to the handling of IED’s. Digital X-ray can determine if a suspicious object is actually a bomb as well as delineate its exact contents. Portable Digital Radiography systems can be set up in a matter of minutes and produce high-quality X-ray images within seconds after set up. Only one approach is necessary, ensuring the operator’s safety. When robots are used, no human approach is required at all. Informed decisions can be made in situ regarding how to handle the suspicious object (including precision disruption).
Vidisco RayzorX flat panel on TALON - no human approach necessary
Digital X-ray is often used in Israel in the following circumstances:
• When dismantling the bomb is extremely urgent due to its proximity to a sensitive location (gas station, chemical factory, etc).
• To acquire hard evidence in lawsuits when the device was planted by criminals.
• X-ray is almost always used to examine parcel and letter bombs.
• To examine special devices.
• To examine devices discovered in hiding places (e.g., checking for booby traps)
• To gain intelligence about the bomb (studying the components including powders, liquids and gels; the bomb’s structure and type of detonator; and various other factors in order to determine the bomb’s origin, how it was made, the profile of its maker and more.)
• When there is no urgency to neutralize the charge and no damage can be caused to civilians; in such cases, the bomb tech has plenty of time to X-ray and use other tools as well.
Vidisco's BlazeX portable Digital X-ray system is used
to X-ray an abandoned bag at a mall
Is there any way to keep ahead of terrorists and avert future terror attacks? Michael Cardash states that one of the best ways to fight terrorism is to share know-how and intelligence worldwide. It is vital to stay abreast and know what is developing and happening in other parts of the world, as the technology rapidly spreads from terrorist to terrorist due to the Internet and easy access to information. Sharing information save lives – today, digital X-ray is actually a computer file, allowing the security officer to quickly use the Internet as well in order to update his colleagues around the world in the war against terrorism.
Digital X-ray has a vital role to play when it comes to sharing crucial knowledge and data. Image enhancement software enables sappers to save and easily retrieve external and X-ray (internal) images as well as important information and even videotapes of incidents. This data is carried by the bomb tech into the field, enabling him to carry out comparisons with any device that he may encounter. He can add to this growing global database from his own experiences; this data can immediately be shared with other sappers and intelligence agencies worldwide. This kind of cooperation enables operators in the field to know what to look for and avert terror attacks in real time. Or in other words, to stay one step ahead.