September 9th, 2013
11:24 PM ET

EXCLUSIVE: A look inside America's bomb library

In an undisclosed location outside Washington is a fingerprinting lab - thought to be the largest in the world - where the remnants of improvised explosive devices, better known as IEDs, are analyzed under sophisticated microscopes, in hopes of recovering latent prints from the insurgent bomb makers who crafted them.

The collection of bomb parts makes up the "nation's bomb library." Greg Carl, the director of the Terrorist Explosive Device Analytical Center (TEDAC), runs the operation from Quantico, Virginia. He says it is the only interagency government organization to analyze and fully exploit bomb-related materials, creating a comprehensive database of known terrorists for all law enforcement, the U.S. intelligence community and the military to share.

Bombs from Boston to the attempted underwear bombing of an airliner to IED attacks in Iraq and Afghanistan are analyzed here.The burnt underwear of Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab, infamously known as the "Underwear bomber," who tried to bring down Northwest Airlines flight 253 on Christmas Day in 2009, was brought to the center. Analysis showed the materials used were not easily detected by airport security, details that were sent swiftly to Homeland Security officials.

"We ostensibly have all of the bombs of interest to the United States government here, since 2003," Carl said.

Before TEDAC's inception 10 years ago, no coordinated effort existed, a criticism that has often been levied after failures of national security. IEDs such as those the lab analyzes each day have killed nearly 2,000 and wounded nearly 20,000 troops in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Within hours of the attack on the Boston Marathon, components of the bombs arrived at the FBI lab. Leads detected from the explosive residue were quickly passed to investigators, who apprehended the alleged bombers within days of the attack.

CNN was given an exclusive look at the various stages of processing evidence, which comes from bombings in as many as 25 countries from as far as the Horn of Africa and Southeast Asia, in addition to the United States.

Carl won't comment on individual countries, but he said if there are threats by Syria and Iran in retaliation for a U.S. strike on the regime of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, the lab is ready to respond with analysis.

More than 100,000 boxes of evidence have been collected so far. They contain more than a million fragments fashioned from ordinary objects, which are barcoded and labeled before going through a wide array of forensic examinations, including toolmark identification, which allows matches of fragments to be made. Every scrap is searched for clues to a bomber’s identity.

"Whether it's gripping, scraping, impression, cutting - we can identify a tool as having produced a toolmark such as cutting this particular saw blade," said Carlo Rosati, a veteran FBI senior toolmarks examiner.

"There are obviously people teaching other people to make devices and that is seen because there are different designs," Rosati said, pointing out that each insurgent bomb maker has a signature style. “They’re using what they have available to them to make a particular switch or bomb. Although there may be many people out there, every time we stop one that's one less we have to worry about."

By many estimations, analyzing explosives, fingerprints and bomb making techniques has paid off. According to Mary Kathryn Book, a physical scientist with the lab, "Approximately 60% of the time, we are able to recover prints from these items through fingerprint processing. And then later these prints are searched in our database and we attempt to identify the individuals who left them."

The lab is going back through its inventory of IED material from Iraq that had been considered low priority. The purpose is to see if any Iraqi refugees relocated in the United States may be tied to IED attacks, as was the case with two Iraqi refugees based in Kentucky.

Outgoing FBI Director Robert Mueller was concerned about sequestration affecting operations like the lab, whose operating budget comes from multiple agencies, although the total budget is undisclosed.

Just as the threat of al Qaeda bombs appears to be rising, the lab’s budget is being cut. Carl said he hopes he and his team will be there to investigate the boxes, which are certain to keep coming.

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  38. Alinge George

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  39. DarthVaderMentor

    USMC Combat Engineer,

    It's an adjunct to that area, not connected to the same physical building. They were moving it to Fort Lee to be closer to the EOD school, but I don't know how sequester affects this.

    September 10, 2013 at 10:29 am | Reply
    • U.S.M.C. 1371

      My unit did the A.P.O.B.S. testing on a demo range at Ft.Lee nice facilities.

      September 10, 2013 at 4:06 pm | Reply
  40. BIG SHIZ

    I wonder if that's where they keep the remains of the bombs they brought the towers down with?

    September 10, 2013 at 10:00 am | Reply
    • U.S.M.C. 1371

      Show me a demo system that will withstand being hit with a plane and survive that type of fire and still detonate. I will wear that tinfoil hat for you.

      September 10, 2013 at 4:09 pm | Reply
      • BIG SHIZ

        They where built to with stand a pane crash. The columns where burned through into molten mettle. And jet fuel does not burn hot enough to do that. But you know what would

        September 11, 2013 at 12:19 pm |
      • BIG SHIZ

        Any plastic will work. You know that

        September 11, 2013 at 12:21 pm |
      • U.S.M.C. 1371

        The explosives would work yes but the detonation device wouldn't. I don't buy it was planted I spent way too many days disarming misfires from systems that were handled softly much less hit with with a jet loaded with fuel.

        September 11, 2013 at 6:18 pm |
  41. George patton

    I close my eyes and I see Bomb Library full of cheap Chinese circuit boards, timers, remotes, cell phones.

    September 10, 2013 at 8:08 am | Reply
  42. john smith

    America is the root of all terror. America has invaded sixty countries since world war 2.
    In 1953 America overthrow Iran's democratic government Mohammad Mosaddegh and installed a brutal dictator Shah. America helped Shah of Iran to establish secret police and killed thousands of Iranian people.
    During Iran-Iraq war evil America supported Suddam Hossain and killed millions of Iranian people. In 1989, America, is the only country ever, shot down Iran's civilian air plane, killing 290 people.
    In 2003,America invaded Iraq and killed 1,000,000+ innocent Iraqi people and 4,000,000+ Iraqi people were displaced.
    Now America is a failed state with huge debt. Its debt will be 22 trillion by 2015.

    September 10, 2013 at 2:07 am | Reply
  43. Random

    Id love a tour of this place. Would be interesting to see what they are doing. I probably know more than their best bomb makers about electronics. Call it a morbid curiosity, I've always figured they were not the sharpest tools in the shed and I could do better blindfolded and also could probably dream up some countermeasures given a nice sample pool. We have a huge untapped resource of hackers that could potentially negate most ied's. The problem being you need to study what they do to work on it.

    September 10, 2013 at 12:23 am | Reply
    • U.S.M.C. 1371

      If it is the same lab/defusing area I got to visit when I was stationed in Quantico it is very nice.

      September 10, 2013 at 7:03 am | Reply
      • George patton

        I was just wondering on how they grouped the bombs like middle eastern section, Pakistan, Afghanistan !!! or they use religions store them like muslim bombs, christian bombs, hindu bombs !!!

        September 10, 2013 at 8:11 am |
  44. saeed

    you should see the new space luanching center iran has built now thats a huge contruction.

    September 9, 2013 at 11:38 pm | Reply
    • George patton

      what are the visiting hours for the launching center?

      September 10, 2013 at 8:50 am | Reply
      • U.S.M.C. 1371

        24/7 the desert never closes. Just make sure to bring safety glasses those hobby Lobby rockets spray sand when they take off.

        September 10, 2013 at 4:20 pm |
      • George patton

        @USMC lol !! that was funny.

        September 10, 2013 at 5:41 pm |

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