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April 17, 2013


Photo: ATF special agents working inside the blast scene of the 1993 World Trade Center bombings.
ATF special agents working inside the blast scene of the 1993 World Trade Center bombings.
Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives

Combing The Debris - After The Bombing

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On the afternoon of Feb. 26, 1993, Malcolm Brady led a team from the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives into broken concrete in New York City. Their assignment: find out what had blown up four levels of parking garages - and more than 400 vehicles - below the World Trade Center.

Within a day, they found some crucial evidence: a piece of metal that helped identify the van that carried the explosives into the building. During his conversation with Dick Gordon, Malcolm Brady explains how he and his team were able to unearth pieces of the van, and how that led them directly to the person who rented the vehicle.

"Every little piece that you find is extremely important to the final culmination of the case," Brady says.

In the following excerpts from the interview, Brady, who retired in 2003 as assistant director of the ATF, explains to Dick the task at hand for the investigators of Monday’s bombing of the Boston Marathon.

How much time do you have to work on a scene, and gather the evidence to figure out what the bomb was and where it may have come from?

You want to be very proactive during the first 24 hours. You have to be extremely alert for the weather. If the weather’s going to change, and you’re going to have rain or snow in the area, you have to work real fast, or you have to protect the area. You have to literally tent it. If you don’t, the rain will wash everything away, every little piece of wire, every little piece of metal. When the explosion happens, you’re going to lose all the evidence the explosives contain in them, whether it may be a pipe bomb or whatever it may be. It all blows apart, though it doesn’t necessarily destroy everything. So what you’re looking for is all the pieces and parts of that puzzle, so you can put it back together. Then you can identify it. You may also have a clock, you may have a piece of metal, or you may have whatever it was carried in, or a knapsack that you can take and trace it back to see where it came from.

What kind of tools might investigators now have that they did not have 10 years ago?

The biggest thing in explosive investigations is the ability to take a swab of explosive residue, and put it into examination at the lab and determine what it was within a few minutes. The laboratory people are extraordinary as to what they can do.

What are the investigators on Boylston Street, where the marathon ended, looking at right now?

Well, right now, they’re in the collection mode, so they’ll be collecting every little bit of piece of evidence they can. Of course, they’re talking about it possibly being in a trash can, so they’ll check all that. They’ll be collecting, if it was a pipe bomb, which it may have been, they’ll be looking for pieces of pipe blown apart. You know, if it’s an actual terrorist group, then there’s a signature that will go into the device. The people that make these things - the terrorists - they all make it one way because they’ve done it before, and they’ve been successful, and they still have all their fingers. If they’ve been successful, they keep building them the same way, so you’re looking for signatures.


"Lookout for Hope" by Bill Frisell

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