Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives
Public Affairs Division – Washington, DC
Contact: Public Affairs Division
Expertise on Improvised Explosives Devices (IEDs)
Since 1968, the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF) has identified and adapted to emerging threats that involve explosives, including the criminal use of improvised explosive devices (IEDs), which are customized explosive weapons or homemade bombs. ATF has the training, experience and ability to detect, prevent, protect against and respond to explosives incidents involving IEDs.
ATF is charged with enforcing the federal explosives and arson laws, which include the National Firearms Act (codified at Title 26, United States Code, Chapter 53), the Organized Crime Control Act of 1970, Title XI, and the Safe Explosives Act of 2002 (codified at Title 18, United States Code, Chapter 40), and the implementing regulations (codified at Title 27, Code of Federal Regulations, Parts 479 and 555).
It is ATF’s unique mission to both regulate the explosives industry and investigate criminal acts involving explosives and fire. ATF is the only agency with authority to inspect the storage of explosives by federal explosives licensees and to track thefts, losses and recoveries of explosives. ATF’s industry operations investigators regularly interact with nearly 12,000 federal explosives licensees who manufacture, import, sell or store explosives in the United States. This regulatory responsibility, combined with ATF’s criminal enforcement mission, gives ATF an unmatched perspective on activity involving explosives in the United States.
Since 1978, ATF has investigated more than 32,000 bombings and attempted bombings, more than 1,500 accidental explosions and more than 23,500 incidents involving recovered explosives or explosive devices. The majority of these criminal bombings involved the use of IEDs.
The Explosives Technology Branch is ATF’s primary point of technical assistance and support in all matters involving IEDs. ATF has a cadre of special agent certified explosives specialists (CESs) who conduct criminal investigations concerning the misuse of explosives and IEDs, and explosives enforcement officers (EEOs) who provide technical expertise in those investigations, as well as expert testimony in judicial proceedings.
EEOs have extensive experience in explosives and bomb disposal and are experts in all aspects of IEDs and destructive devices. CESs and EEOs provide training to law enforcement and military personnel on post-blast investigations, IED recognition, disposal of explosives and command-and-control of investigative scenes. As part of their intensive training on explosives investigations, handling, and disposal, these specialized professionals receive hundreds of hours of instruction on IEDs.
ATF’s National Center for Explosives Training and Research (NCETR), located at the U.S. Army’s Redstone Arsenal in Alabama, provides explosives training to students from federal, state and local law enforcement agencies, the U.S. military, and foreign governments. NCETR offers training in post-blast investigations, IED and explosives recognition, safe explosives handling and disposal methods, and clandestine/homemade explosives laboratories.
ATF also conducts outreach and partnership activities with members of the explosives and chemical industries, as well as those industries’ organizations. Generally speaking, no person may obtain, transfer, transport or cause explosives to be transported without an ATF license or permit. All explosives must be stored in a secure and safe manner as required by ATF regulations. Licensees have specific recordkeeping and conduct of business requirements that ensure security, accountability and traceability of explosive materials used in IEDs. Outreach efforts with explosives industry members allow ATF to provide information and raise awareness of explosives vulnerabilities and physical security mitigation efforts, which enhances national security.
ATF’s technical experts also assess sensitive public venues, such as state government buildings and courthouses, to determine their vulnerability to attack by IEDs and other threats.
ATF gathers intelligence data and shares information through the U.S. Bomb Data Center (USBDC). The USBDC has the largest collection of explosives and fire incident-based information in the world, with more than 185,000 arson and explosives incident reports obtained from federal, state and local fire and law enforcement agencies. The USBDC shares this information with federal, state and local partners through the Bomb Arson Tracking System (BATS), providing real-time incident-based information. The USBDC has used BATS to successfully link several devices used in multi-state serial bombings and help solve cases.
ATF has trained, certified and deployed more than 1,500 canines that can detect explosives in IEDs for state, local, other federal and international law enforcement agencies. ATF also conducts research involving explosives, ammonium nitrate and other potentially dangerous chemicals.
ATF’s National Response Team (NRT) consists of highly trained and experienced special agents, forensic chemists, EEOs, electrical engineers, fire protection engineers and canine handlers. Since 1978, the NRT has responded to more than 700 significant incidents throughout the United States.