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India-United States Cooperation on Science and Technology for Countering Terrorism: Summary of a Workshop (2014)

Chapter:6 Learning and Applying Best Practices to Counter Terrorism

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Suggested Citation:"6 Learning and Applying Best Practices to Counter Terrorism." National Academy of Sciences. 2014. India-United States Cooperation on Science and Technology for Countering Terrorism: Summary of a Workshop. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/18960.
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6

Learning and Applying Best Practices to Counter Terrorism

CASE STUDIES FROM INDIA AND THE UNITED STATES

Screening of Documentary Films

In addition to presentations and discussions, workshop participants also viewed two films: Terror in Mumbai,1 and Manhunt – Boston Bombers.2 The first of the documentaries provided video footage, audio recordings taken as the events unfolded, and subsequent analysis of the November 2008 terrorist attacks in Mumbai that were perpetrated by a group of men who came from Pakistan. The second of the documentaries provided videos and audio reccordings as well as analysis of the events surrounding the detonation of two bombs during the Boston Marathon on April 25, 2013.

On November 26, 2008, the terrorist group Lashkar-e-Taiba, the Army of the Righteous, launched a multiple-site attack on Mumbai that was “to stage a spectacle so terrifying that the world could no longer ignore (the group).” Terror in Mumbai opened with audio recordings of cell phone intercepts of the terrorists and those from whom they were receiving instructions in Pakistan: “You’re very close to heaven. For your mission to end successfully, you must be killed. God willing. … The enemy must fear us. When this is over, there will be much more fear in the world.” As the attack proceeded, a controller in Pakistan asked one of the terrorists, “How many people did you kill?” to which the young man answered, “I don’t know. Kept firing and firing.” According to the film, undercover Indian agents had previously provided 35 SIM cards to the Pakistani terrorist group, and intelligence officers discovered that three of the SIM cards had been activated the night of the attack, which allowed them to listen in on a total of 284 calls.

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1Terror in Mumbai. Transcript. HBO Documentary Films. Aired 25, 2012. Available at: http://transcripts.cnn.com/TRANSCRIPTS/1211/25/se.01.html; accessed September 16, 2014.

2Manhunt-Boston Bombers. Transcript. NOVA video. Aired May 29, 2013 on Public Broadcasting Service. Available at: http://www.pbs.org/wgbh/nova/tech/manhunt-bostonbombers.html; accessed on September 16, 2014.

Suggested Citation:"6 Learning and Applying Best Practices to Counter Terrorism." National Academy of Sciences. 2014. India-United States Cooperation on Science and Technology for Countering Terrorism: Summary of a Workshop. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/18960.
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Most of the calls involved a single controller identified as brother Wasi and the terrorists on the ground. During one such intercepted call, Wasi directed the terrorists to, “Pile up the carpets and mattresses from the room you’ve opened. Douse them in alcohol and set them alight. Get a couple of floors burning. And when we ring, make sure you answer.” The next call was to check on progress: “Have you started the fire yet?” “No, we haven’t started the fire yet.” “You must start the fire now. Nothing is going to happen until you start the fire. When people see the flames, they will start to be afraid.”

Throughout the frightening three days, the Mumbai police force and Indian officials listened to the terrorists’ calls and tried to stop the killing and end the attacks. An unidentified Indian official stated that they were not prepared for the multitude and complexity of the attack: “We are used to a blast occurring. We go to the spot, clear the area, sanitize the area, collect evidence and begin our investigation. … We were prepared for a terrorist strike, but maybe at one location. Four or five locations simultaneously, then going into hotels and taking hotels, all these things contributed to… making the situation a very, very difficult one.” Although the intercepts of the calls were a significant contribution, opportunities remain for science and technology to further strengthen prevention, response, and investigatory capabilities in India.

The Boston Marathon bombings, conversely, were a single-point, daylight attack, staged at the finish line of the annual race where medical personnel and equipment were pre-staged to assist runners who may need help after having run the full 26 miles. These circumstances assisted first responders, police officials, and investigators in treating the injured quickly and in determining the cause of the blasts within a short period of time. Locating the people who set off the bombs, however, proved to be more difficult and required several days of police and detective work coupled with outreach to the public.

Rather than a lack of evidence, investigators had a significant cache of videos, photos, and physical debris to aid their efforts. Sifting through the volume of material available as quickly and thoroughly as possible proved a considerable challenge. Workshop participant Van Romero was interviewed in the film, Manhunt-Boston Bombers: “I started looking for broken windows. That tells me where the pressure rate was and how big the pressure rate was. Is there a crater? All that analytical stuff is going through the brain.” He also observed white smoke, which is a “surefire sign of a gunpowder explosion. It means the devices are likely homemade.”

In addition to large amounts of physical evidence, perhaps the key to identifying and ultimately locating the suspects was access to several videos from surveillance cameras at the scene. Boston Police Department Superintendent Bill Evans, interviewed in the film, knew that there would be good video, but “Detectives must go door to door, hunting for visual evidence, since the cameras are privately owned and individually monitored. Boston only has a limited number of cameras, and there is nothing tying them together. Each video will have to be collected and viewed separately, a laborious and time-consuming process.” In addition to videos from surveillance cameras, officials asked the public to sub-

Suggested Citation:"6 Learning and Applying Best Practices to Counter Terrorism." National Academy of Sciences. 2014. India-United States Cooperation on Science and Technology for Countering Terrorism: Summary of a Workshop. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/18960.
×

mit their personal videos as well, which they did in large numbers, creating another considerable amount of footage to screen. While there is some facial recognition technology available, Evans stated, “in this case, it didn’t help us that (much). The FBI didn’t know who these suspects were.” While investigators were pouring over the videos and pictures, people were releasing their own videos and photos online, which meant that “innocent people were being fingered for a horrible, horrible crime, and that was putting those people at risk.” Given the fact that innocent people were being accused, the FBI then released photos of the actual suspects to the public to seek their assistance.

Ultimately, the technology that helped break the case and led investigators to the suspects was the tracking of a cell phone left in the car that was hijacked by the suspects. The hijacked driver was able to escape and to contact the police and they traced the phone and the car in which the phone was riding and tracked down the suspects. Although one suspect (Tamerlan Tsarneav) was killed in that encounter with the police, the other suspect (Dzhokhar Tsarnaev) fled. Again, a break in the case came from a citizen who identified blood on the boat in her backyard and notified police. Using a helicopter carrying a thermal camera, which “can detect even subtle temperature changes,” investigators confirmed the location of the second suspect and apprehended him. Throughout the initial response, the detailed investigation, and the capture of the surviving suspect, technology aided investigators, but it did not solve the case on its own. Humans watched hours of videos and looked at thousands of pictures, experts walked painstakingly through the crime scene, detectives went door to door, and citizens responded rapidly to key events. Together, people, with the assistance of technology, succeeded in ending the search for the Boston Marathon bombers within days. Much more work needs to be done to improve the technologies that can aid those involved in responses to such complex attacks.

Experiences of Science and Technology to Counter Terrorism: Incidents in India

Keshav Kumar summarized the knowledge he has gained through hands-on experience utilizing forensic science in criminal investigations. He addressed forensic capabilities during response phases, attribution, and prosecution, as well as current capabilities in India and innovative technologies around the world. Finally, he addressed how coordination between the United States and India may be forged.

Kumar noted that an entire investigation is often based on Locard’s principle of exchange, which states that when two objects come into contact, there is a transfer of material between them.3 Through the material transferred, Kumar connects the crime, the criminal, and the victim. He connects the scene of the

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3Department of Emergency Services and Public Protection, State of Connecticut. “Forensic Biology.” Available at ttp://www.ct.gov/despp/cwp/view.asp?a=4154&q=487944; accessed October 20, 2014.

Suggested Citation:"6 Learning and Applying Best Practices to Counter Terrorism." National Academy of Sciences. 2014. India-United States Cooperation on Science and Technology for Countering Terrorism: Summary of a Workshop. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/18960.
×

crime, the physical evidence, and the victim through scientifically-collected forensic evidence.

Forensics is important for prevention, detection, and conviction. Prevention is proactive forensics, which is essential for counterterrorism, and which Kumar feels is perhaps the most important of the three. How might technology help prevent these incidents? What are preventive forensics and proactive forensics? Rather than conducting a retrospective analysis of an incident that has already occurred, the idea of proactive forensics is to look for threats in advance, using known characteristics of terrorist activities to identify intended attacks before they happen. If one can collect forensic intelligence, an incident might be prevented by using analysis and detection to make a forensic databank with a multitude of variables.

Kumar then walked through a classic case of a bomb explosion crime scene and how forensics can play a major role in the postblast investigation. Reconstruction of the incident, establishment of the actual site of the explosion, the collection of various clues, and a search for any live explosive material are critical elements. Kumar asks, what kind of explosive was used? How much explosive was used? How was it detonated? How many people were killed and injured? These are elements of the bomb signature sought by forensic investigators. Photographs are helpful in investigating explosions to identify the type of bomb and the bomb signature. Other evidence from the scene of the crime includes bullets and rivets. With improvised explosive devices (IEDs), forensic experts look for bomb components, initiators, and detonators. Kumar then noted that some terrorists use mobile phones to detonate IEDs. Forensic scientists can examine and analyze batteries and electric wires. India has frequent pipe bomb incidents, such as recent incidents on city buses. Evidence at each site provides a signature of the particular perpetrators. What can one possibly know about the explosive signature? Particular types of containers, wrappings, fuses, or circuits are often specific to a particular group.

Sniffer dogs have a smelling capacity that is 40 times that of human beings. They hear 20 times more than human beings, and their vision is 10 times better than human beings. Given their abilities, sniffer dogs can be helpful at postdetonation blast-scene investigations, particularly in combination with detection technologies.

Other pieces of evidence include blast-caused smoke residue. When explosives burn, they emit some type of colored smoke that can indicate that a particular type of explosive was used. Explosions often leave traces that can be found on hands, clothes, pockets, fingernails, under rings, or in skin creases. Some countries have also been using taggants in certain kinds of explosives. With this evidence, Kumar may be able to identify the explosives manufacturer and/or the batch of the explosive material. This may provide an indication of the people involved.

Kumar then turned to DNA profiling. DNA has recently been given a great deal of credibility in investigations and is possibly a 99.99 percent foolproof type of forensic evidence collected at any incident sites. What evidence

Suggested Citation:"6 Learning and Applying Best Practices to Counter Terrorism." National Academy of Sciences. 2014. India-United States Cooperation on Science and Technology for Countering Terrorism: Summary of a Workshop. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/18960.
×

can we get at the scene of a crime? Biological evidence can be extracted from many sources—fingerprints themselves and trace DNA extracted from fingerprints are sources, as well as the DNA collected from anything that has contact with the body, like a toothbrush. Body fluids on shirts and other clothing can be good sources of evidence, as can documents and disposable cups. In all of Kumar’s investigations, he has used physical evidence and trace DNA. In his experience, the Honorable Court has appreciated the value of the forensic evidence. In one of the investigations in which Kumar participated, the defendants were not released on bail due to the forensic evidence collected against them, including DNA.

New techniques are under development: facial reconstruction based on DNA to identify possible suspects is an area of active research in the United States and elsewhere. These technologies could be coupled with 3-D printers, and this could change the dynamic of counter terrorism. India already conducts facial reconstruction from skulls. Audio-video forensic analysis is a new technique focusing on voice dynamics and voice templates. Kumar suggests having a databank of all the voice samples from intercepts for later comparison. Software can enhance the signal in a low-quality recording, and this has been used for closed-circuit TV surveillance. Kumar also mentioned psychological forensic tools, such as polygraph and other interrogation verification tools, like “brain fingerprinting,” delayed voice analysis, and behavioral profiling of people at airports.

He suggested that development of certain capabilities would be useful, including: non-lethal incapacitation technologies; real-time friend-or-foe identification during incidents; and remote observation of crime scenes by a team of experts (India is already doing this in Gujarat). How, he asked, can we have an international coordination mechanism in the fields of capacity building, research and development, best practices, training of forensic scientists, and gadgetry enhancement? Interpol could be a useful mechanism. Kumar closed by saying that the legal aspects also need to be examined for all of these tools.

The Boston Marathon Attacks

Van Romero, featured in Manhunt-Boston Bombers, opened his remarks by stating that in footage of the Boston Marathon attacks, one can quickly see that there is data everywhere: white smoke, for example, is seen right away. One can also see the second detonation, which is a really important piece of information for trying to understand what happened. Romero knew of no other event that had as much video, as many pictures, and so much evidence to aid the investigation. The problem however, was paralysis by analysis. If one has too much data, it can be overwhelming. The authorities in this case did an outstanding job of digging, drilling down, and using the data that was important for the investigation. They also were lucky, but they knew how to shape their luck as time went on.

Suggested Citation:"6 Learning and Applying Best Practices to Counter Terrorism." National Academy of Sciences. 2014. India-United States Cooperation on Science and Technology for Countering Terrorism: Summary of a Workshop. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/18960.
×

At 2:50 p.m. on April 15, 2013, the devices detonated and three people were killed. Investigators knew right away that there were two devices and that they detonated approximately 10 to 15 seconds apart, which certainly indicates good coordination and some degree of sophistication. The city of Boston in the state of Massachusetts has spent money and a tremendous amount of effort on training and was well prepared to respond to incidents such as this. There were several other aspects that put them in a good position to deal with this incident. Given that the targeted event was an athletic event with many participants, there were a lot of medical staff on hand right at the finish line, so all the people that were needed were pre-positioned to respond. Also, the responders had been trained to respond to these types of explosives incidents, 1,500 people from Boston had been trained at New Mexico Tech to respond to a terrorist event like the one that occurred at the Boston Marathon.

The first element of a response effort like this is to transport a large number of people to hospitals, and as a result, this process may become a secondary target. In these cases, it is important to continue to protect the injured, but the suspect(s) may also be transported with the victims. It may not be clear that one of the injured may also be a perpetrator, so security at the hospital becomes very important. Boston authorities did a good job of establishing security at the trauma centers where people were being treated. An important lesson learned is that the day is not over just because the bombs have detonated. There could be something else happening, and one has to examine the entire situation fully.

After the victims had been transported from the scene of the detonations in Boston, the scene started to calm down, and the investigation began. Everyone wanted data as quickly as possible, and the situation was very dynamic. The entire investigation of the event took place over 5 days. Meanwhile, there were still potential hazards at the crime scene. There could have been secondary devices planted by the terrorists, and there were natural hazards such as falling glass; training on how to deal with crime scenes is important. Romero explained that the second bomb was about 600 feet away from the first bomb. Before the attack, surveillance cameras captured the two suspects coming around the corner, walking onto Boylston Street together. One of them stopped in front of the Forum Restaurant and the other stopped farther down the street. When the first bomb detonated, there were broken windows and victims were hit by debris and shrapnel from the bomb. Thirteen seconds later, the second bomb detonated. It did not hurt as many people because people had already been alerted to the fact that something bad was happening and they started to take cover. After the attack, video footage indicates that the suspects fled and went back the way they came. Investigators had this data and were trying to identify these people.

There was an enormous amount of data, and because there was no automated system for sorting through it (New York City is the only city that has this process automated), the investigators spent a tremendous amount of effort in a very short period of time combing through all the video recordings and isolating where the suspects might be. It was just good, old-fashioned, hard police work.

Suggested Citation:"6 Learning and Applying Best Practices to Counter Terrorism." National Academy of Sciences. 2014. India-United States Cooperation on Science and Technology for Countering Terrorism: Summary of a Workshop. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/18960.
×

Early investigation of the IEDs indicated that they were 6-liter pressure cookers and they were in backpacks carried by the suspects to the site. Based on reports from the scene, the IEDs each likely consisted of a pressure cooker with low-level explosives. The pressure cookers also had been packed with nails and BBs as shrapnel. The white smoke and the gun powder is evidence of the presence of gunpowder ignited by an electrical fuse. The explosive material was taken from commercial fireworks. How were the devices detonated? Based on the evidence quickly recovered at the scene, it is likely that the IEDs had electronic fusing systems. There were transmitters and receivers installed so that they could be triggered, essentially like pulling the trigger on a gun. The suspects used electronic speed controllers, and batteries were found at the scene along with the receiver that was in the device. Some of the circuitry was also recovered at the scene. This evidence can only be recovered through hard work, as people meticulously combing through the evidence. The conclusion is that the suspects used remote controllers for children’s toys, which are used to power cars that race around on the floor. They usually operate in the megahertz range and one can pull the trigger and wirelessly control something at a distance. Typical distances for these types of controllers are between 50 feet for a lower-end toy to about 1,000 feet for a hobby-grade device. A remote controller can easily be hidden on a body or in a backpack. One could walk perhaps 1,000 feet from the device, detonate the first bomb and then pull a trigger to detonate the second bomb. While this is fairly simple, it does indicate some degree of sophistication, and probably some training. Inside the pressure cooker, black gunpowder was surrounded by some sort of shrapnel. An electric match was placed inside the black gunpowder, so when a switch was flipped, it started to glow or burn and that ignited the gunpowder, which blasted the cooker apart and sprayed the shrapnel.

Romero then described how he and his colleagues study pressure-cooker bombs. They lay the pressure cooker on its side so that the lid and the bottom go through what they call “witness plates,” because they want to see the trajectory of the explosion and to be able to measure its velocity. In reality, one of the pressure cookers at the Boston Marathon was probably set up vertically because one lid was found on top of a building, so it was probably launched. During a test of a pressure-cooker bomb set up vertically, the lid went straight up and came straight back down. Romero showed a comparison of a pressure-cooker lid after an experiment and one from the Boston crime scene. There is a striking similarity when one examines the lids of the pressure cookers. After approximately four or five tests, Romero and his colleagues found that the results they obtained were identical.

Other people have used these same types of pressure-cooker bombs. There was an attempted bombing in Times Square in New York City. An alert person saw the vehicle and thwarted that bombing attempt. There was a similar event at Fort Hood in the United States, where there was a plot to use a pressure-cooker bomb against soldiers. Romero tends to see a lot more pipe bombs in the United States than these types of pressure-cooker bombs, but these types of pressure-

Suggested Citation:"6 Learning and Applying Best Practices to Counter Terrorism." National Academy of Sciences. 2014. India-United States Cooperation on Science and Technology for Countering Terrorism: Summary of a Workshop. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/18960.
×

cooker bombs are much more prevalent in South Asia, perhaps because pressure cookers are used more often to cook food, which means they are readily available.

With regard to explosives, the gunpowder used in the Boston bombings was obtained by purchasing fireworks, but fertilizers can also be used for bombs and urine can be used to make urea nitrate. These are all very common items that one can possess legally, and so it is difficult to trace where they come from and that makes part of the forensics job tougher.

The release of the suspects’ photos was a significant turning point in the whole investigation. There was a lot of discussion as to how law enforcement would start to reveal this data to the public. In today’s environment, constant news reporting also creates a great deal of false reporting. There was also social media that lit up with this story, and Romero believes the correct decision was made by law enforcement to share the suspects’ photos with the public because photos were being disseminated anyway, and law enforcement wanted to state explicitly what they were looking for. That led to the chain of events that resulted in the capture of one suspect and the death of another. There was tremendous community participation as well, which was very important to remember. Essentially, one part of Boston was locked down, and the civilian population was amenable. People paid attention and did what they were asked to do. The citizenry in the affected area did a very good job of following the guidance of law enforcement: They sheltered in place, became vigilant, and reported anything out of the ordinary. A citizen report was the final break that led to the use of an infrared camera that identified the second suspect.

One of the messages that Romero emphasized was that when he looks at an integrated systems-level response, one has to consider the human aspect as well. Humans are a very important aspect of making the system work. Just because one has technology does not mean the problems are solved. Training personnel is important. The importance of the collection of information and strategies for analysis cannot be overstated. Terrorists will continue to evolve, and they will interact with the public, and our ability to stop them is paramount.

DISCUSSION

A participant asked how decisions are made concerning tradeoffs between preservation and collection of evidence on the one hand and addressing the immediate needs of the victims on the other. Kumar replied that in each state of India the police force is independent. The National Investigation Agency has the power to take over some investigations. Byron Gardner noted that at a crime scene, in the United States there are other responders—the police, firefighters, and medical response personnel—and it is important for the responders to train together so that, for example, the firefighters do not wash away the evidence.

Another participant raised the issue of the credibility of types of evidence in India. An Indian participating noted that brain mapping or brain fingerprinting is controversial, and not viewed as reliable and is therefore not admissible in

Suggested Citation:"6 Learning and Applying Best Practices to Counter Terrorism." National Academy of Sciences. 2014. India-United States Cooperation on Science and Technology for Countering Terrorism: Summary of a Workshop. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/18960.
×

courts. Kumar noted that all of the aids to investigations he mentioned—polygraphs, for example—are of no evidentiary value, but the courts may interpret them how they choose. All of the judges in Gujarat, for example, are now undergoing training in forensics, which helps.

The same participant also noted that there are many reasons why someone in an airport may be under stress, so stress is a poor indicator of terrorist intent. Kumar agreed and said that this is why there needs to be good coordination between man and machine. The operator needs to evaluate the actual situation.

Kumar noted that as far as capacity building goes, progress is very slow. Of late, the best possible forensic lab in India is in Gujarat, and none of the forensic labs, even the central labs, can compare with the forensic capabilities in Gujarat. This is most likely due to the proactive approach of the director of forensic science there. This laboratory serves as a good model and does analysis for others across the country. However, this analysis is expensive. Payment received for the analysis is split, with 50 percent going to the government and 50 percent going to the laboratory to be spent at the discretion of the director, so at any given point the director of forensics has sufficient financial resources, and whenever new technology is needed he is in a position to acquire it. As an example, software for audio and video authentication and enhancement is available only at Gujarat. None of the state forensic science labs or even the central ones could spend so much money on software. Therefore, while capacity building is taking place, it is on an individual level, and international cooperation on forensics could be especially valuable. Kumar personally feels that India can bring significant expertise to research and development (R&D) collaboration. This type of cooperation would be mutually beneficial to India and the United States.

Romero responded to a question about public acceptance in the United States of data collection via surveillance cameras. Many people have accepted surveillance as consumers when we go into stores, but we do not realize that at some point that store video may be used by the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI). We have grown accustomed to having these cameras in many different locations. However, once an event happens, the public becomes very good about collaborating with law enforcement under a stressful situation. There are people who worry about civil liberties, and it is important for them to do so, but under extreme circumstances, many people are helpful and even volunteer data. Data is also collected by private companies and private businesses. This data belongs to the businesses, but they are often willing to provide it to law enforcement.

With regard to wireless connections, New York City has a tremendously powerful tool for integrating information from many sources, but it was expensive. Real-time collection is important, but terrorists could easily tap into private data collection and corrupt the system. Romero added that exercises are vital for bringing all of the appropriate people together and putting them in the roles that they are supposed to play so that they can understand how everything works in an incident control center. It is important to follow the National Incident Management System (NIMS) hierarchy so that the chain of command is well understood. The United States has a long history of poor coordination between the

Suggested Citation:"6 Learning and Applying Best Practices to Counter Terrorism." National Academy of Sciences. 2014. India-United States Cooperation on Science and Technology for Countering Terrorism: Summary of a Workshop. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/18960.
×

FBI and local law enforcement, but that has largely been overcome. In the United States, the FBI has jurisdiction over cases of terrorism.

Micah Lowenthal contributed two comments. The Boston Marathon case shows how far we have to go in the technology arena. The law enforcement response does not necessarily show what technology enables us to do; it shows how, in some cases, it is not as useful. The most important breakthroughs in the Boston case in terms of catching the suspects came from the hard work that went into finding those photos and releasing them. The person in the community who was carjacked escaped and called the police immediately, and thereby provided a big break. Technology figured into finding the cell phone that was on, and into training the helicopter-mounted infrared cameras on a parked boat to confirm that a person was hiding there. But the infrared cameras did not find the suspect until a resident called in to report blood on her boat. The technologies are totally irrelevant until someone says, “look here,” because they have a tremendous amount of data and no information. Therefore, we have a long way to go.

Romero added that it took a couple of lucky breaks for the capture to have been successful, but he believes that one makes one’s own luck. The law enforcement in this case was doing the hard work of sifting through all that data and had positioned themselves so that when those breaks occurred they could take advantage of them. One cannot just sit back and let the breaks happen.

Lowenthal raised another point, there are many tools out there, but they are not always effective. A recent National Academy of Sciences report, Strengthening Forensic Science in the United States caused the country to reexamine all of the traditional techniques that have been used in forensic science much more closely, because it shows that the scientific basis for these techniques had not been established.4 This does not necessarily mean that they were wrong, but we do not know how reliable they are. These technologies range from tool marks to bite marks to fingerprints, bullet lead composition, and a whole host of methods. There is an effort now in the United States to reexamine them and try to establish a scientific basis. Are there any such efforts in India and other places?

Kumar replied that in India there are a number of circumstances that have caused reconsideration of these techniques, the latest being a Supreme Court judgment that challenged scientific investigations through polygraphs, fingerprinting, and so forth. One cannot subject a person without his or her informed consent to certain techniques, and there is now a limitation on all of them. As far as the reliability of the tests goes, Kumar believes that with the passage of time and with R&D, in approximately 5 years we will again challenge what we are thinking now. With regard to DNA fingerprinting, the number of base pairs that are required to give a proper shape is also questionable. Today we are basing it on 13 pairs, but perhaps tomorrow one can go to 15. With the rapid advance-

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4National Resarch Council. Committee on Identifying the Needs of the Forensic Sciences Community. Strengthening Forensic Science in the United States. Washington, D.C.: The National Academies Press, 2009.

Suggested Citation:"6 Learning and Applying Best Practices to Counter Terrorism." National Academy of Sciences. 2014. India-United States Cooperation on Science and Technology for Countering Terrorism: Summary of a Workshop. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/18960.
×

ments in science and technology, we will surely challenge what was done earlier. The judiciary needs to be made aware of these developments so that there can be coordination between all three branches of government. Only then will they be able to appreciate the forensic evidence in a holistic fashion. Romero noted that in a trial, one has to convince a jury of common people, not a scientist or a forensic investigator, that the data convicts the accused person. That is difficult to do.

John Holmes stated that it is always nice to have incident command, such as the NIMS Incident Command System, but a process is only good if people are comfortable using it. The way that people become comfortable using it is through training and exercises and by establishing the relationships one needs to use it. In Boston, New York City, and other major cities post-September 11, 2001 (9/11), there has been an intensive amount of coordination, cooperation, and attempts to get to know people through various government agencies. It is always helpful to have a structure or an entity that forces people to get together, such as maritime and air security, because once they get together, half of the problem is addressed.

Another workshop participant asked, what has been done to improve the response capabilities in Mumbai, or perhaps more generally in India, should such an attack occur again, and how much would that matter? In other words, no matter how much training one has, the reality is just so chaotic that only with incredibly good luck and good fortune could one hope to do much better than has been done in the past.

Kumar reiterated that after the incident in Mumbai, a new force called the National Investigation Agency was established. All terrorist attacks are generally in their mandate. As far as the investigation goes, and as far as the issue goes with regard to preparedness, India has one elite force called the National Security Guard. They will perhaps have a smaller contingent in Mumbai in addition to New Delhi, because earlier they had to be airlifted from Delhi to Mumbai, which took a great deal of time, and this drew adverse criticism. Also, a new agency is being created in Madras so that all eight states near Maidu Madrassa will be covered.

Thus far, forensics has not received a great deal of emphasis, but after the plethora of incidents in India, Kumar has personally seen that forensic interface increased extensively.

FORENSIC CAPABILITIES DURING THE RESPONSE PHASES, ATTRIBUTION AND PERPETRATOR PROSECUTION

The Development of Forensics Capabilities in India

Rajiv Pratap Sharma began his presentation with the etiology of forensics itself. Criminalistics is a word that is very often used by forensic scientists but not often used by others. It is a German word that basically refers to the use of scientific methods in the criminal investigation system, and it has been adopted into the

Suggested Citation:"6 Learning and Applying Best Practices to Counter Terrorism." National Academy of Sciences. 2014. India-United States Cooperation on Science and Technology for Countering Terrorism: Summary of a Workshop. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/18960.
×

English language. Forensic science, until the middle of the 1950s to 1960s, was used for criminal investigations in most countries. People believed that forensic science is to provide assistance to criminal investigators, and therefore it is synonymous with forensic sciences. However, this is not true. Over time, forensic scientists gradually incorporated other areas into the domain of forensics. Sharma shared his experience at a conference about 3 years ago in Brazil. One of the scientists was talking about bringing gemology to forensics because there are odd cases that have been aided by the ability to exam a gem’s size, structure, and reflection patterns. Gradually, these techniques were added to forensic sciences; they had moved from the general to the specific application. Modern scientists have divided forensics into the subcategories of pathology, nursing, investigation of traumatic death, toxicology, anthropology, taxonomy, fossilization issues, entomology, digital photo imaging, blood and bloodstain patterns, biological fluids, DNA, microanalysis, and fingerprinting. Many of these areas of forensics do exist in India, but unfortunately their growth has not been parallel to the use of forensic science in criminal investigations. That growth has been on a case-by-base basis.

References to forensics in India date back in some form to ancient literature, but in the last two to three decades, the forensic fraternity has become mature and gained importance in the country. Forensics has become more visible, and to some extent, private contributions have joined the forensics network. Currently, the government is in the process of setting accountability standards and standard operating procedures. About two to three decades ago, most of the laboratories of forensic science in India were working either under the jurisdiction of the state government or under the central government of India. There were few standard procedures to be followed, and there was not much independent evaluation of those ethics and procedures that were followed. Gradually, however, we have moved forward, and now there are checks and balances, which has improved accountability when dealing with various forensics issues.

India’s first laboratory for criminal investigations was the Chemical Examiner’s Laboratory, founded in 1849. Subsequently, the Anthropometric Bureau was opened in 1878, and in addition to these examples, there is a long list of labs established in the preindependence era. In 1971, the National Institute of Criminology and Forensic Science was established as an academic institution in New Delhi, which is under the jurisdiction of the Ministry of Home Affairs. The Bureau of Police Research and Development was then opened. This organization also developed a forensic science division. A Scientific Advisory Committee came into existence in the cabinet in 1999. In addition, other facilities were added for DNA typing, fingerprinting, and so forth, at our Central Forensic Science Laboratory (CFSL) in Calcutta. Further, forensic capabilities in India have gradually developed, and over the next 100 years these capabilities will be strengthened. However, despite the rapid spread of forensic services, it has been difficult to provide adequate services to meet the demand. India has a large population, as well as a large number of criminal cases. The ratio of civil to criminal disputes is about 70:30, so there are numerous criminal cases that require sup-

Suggested Citation:"6 Learning and Applying Best Practices to Counter Terrorism." National Academy of Sciences. 2014. India-United States Cooperation on Science and Technology for Countering Terrorism: Summary of a Workshop. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/18960.
×

port and the services of forensic laboratories and forensic sciences, but unfortunately the breadth of expertise is insufficient.

The four pillars of Indian forensic science activity are located in Hyderabad, which is centrally located in India, bordered by Calcutta, Chandigarh, and New Delhi. The CFSL in Calcutta is one of India’s premier institutions, established in 1957, and in addition, 25 states have regional laboratories that provide services primarily to state police organizations. There are certain central bodies, for example, the Central Bureau of Investigation, that assist and support the state police. However, although all of the services of the central laboratories are available to state police organizations, they are rarely used because state labs were used more often.

Two years ago, India had 30 million cases adjudicated by different courts across the country. A lack of forensic capabilities often delays the administration of justice because the evidentiary process of trials is long in India. Approximately 68 to 70 percent of the 30 million cases constitute criminal offenses, and though there is no data on the percentage of those criminal cases requiring forensic science, there is a lot of literature indicating that about 20 to 25 percent of all cases require the expertise of a forensic scientist. If that is the case, one or two laboratories in each of India’s 25 states, together with four central forensic laboratories, are insufficient to provide the essential forensic science capabilities to deal with these criminal cases alone.

Accountability measures for forensic science in India did not develop quickly, and standard procedures were only recently implemented. Forensic scientists have to work in very challenging circumstances. They are expected to be unaffected by circumstances and to have professional thinking, professional growth, and professional expertise. Further, there is a strict division between government and private laboratories. Access to forensic laboratories is primarily only available to those with government support and those who aid investigations; private investigators do not have access to government laboratories. The labs together have 90 handwriting experts, 90 fingerprint experts, and several fingerprint assistants; there are only 9 lie detector experts, 8 failure analysis experts, and 25 DNA experts, who are microbiologists. There are 300 medical legal experts, although this does not include government medical doctors who conduct autopsies. These are the specialists in the field of forensic medicine. India has another 3,000 forensic scientists and other specialties. This is the total number of people who must assist the entire infrastructure that caters to the needs of about 30 million cases of different types that are pending different courts. On average, India adds about 207 million cases per year. The gestation period in deciding cases too often lengthens to almost 9 to 10 years. Sharma said the largest problem in the adjudication of cases is that there will be an increasing demand for forensic experts, and if India does not have enough experts, those from other countries are going to fill that vacuum. There are a few experts from Singapore and the United Kingdom who come and depose in important cases already.

Suggested Citation:"6 Learning and Applying Best Practices to Counter Terrorism." National Academy of Sciences. 2014. India-United States Cooperation on Science and Technology for Countering Terrorism: Summary of a Workshop. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/18960.
×

Forensic science capabilities in India are largely in the public-sector domain (98 percent), 2 percent of the capabilities are in the private sector. The reason that private-sector science laboratories in the field of forensics sciences are relatively few is the lack of acceptance of their results. Experts from private labs have received little acceptance although Section 45 of the Indian Evidence Act grants them the same status as that granted to any other witness whether he or she comes from a private laboratory or from a government-sponsored lab. Because private labs have not been widely accepted, the demand for their services is insufficient to support them on a commercial basis. That is why most private industries have not grown in India, but they are slowly gaining a foothold.

Polygraph tests are widely accepted around the world, and even in a country like New Zealand, which has a very small population, there are about 30 to 40 laboratories working on these tests. Despite the questioned evidentiary value of the tests, the trend in using them is growing. There are currently seven centers in Indian that are aided and supported by the government of India that provide these tests and two polygraph laboratories are available in the private sector.

Forensic capabilities can only be developed through training linked to qualifications because the mere imparting of training does not provide expert witness status to most scientists in India. There are continuing education programs being given in some countries, but India does not have that culture. There is service training at the time of the hiring of an employee, but India has to find a way to have continuing education programs that agree with the standards of training and should be linked to partners around the world. Professional exchange opportunities, mutual professional recognition, and formal networks of mutual assistance, reviews and recognition, and accreditation are needed if India is to keep pace with the growing forensic science capabilities of the other countries.

Sharma concluded by saying that before India adopts new forensics techniques, one should be conservative and examine whether the liberties of any individual, including the accused or the suspect are being violated. Standards have to be linked to proper usage, verification, and standardization of these techniques; only if they are followed will forensic science be given respect in India. Forensic science needs to change soon or it may become irrelevant or redundant.

Overview of Forensics and Capability Needs in the United States

Romero stated that he would look back in history and compare an investigation that took place 20 years ago to the Boston Marathon bombing and examine developments over 20 years, as well as suggest where forensic science may be going. The World Trade Center (WTC) was bombed in 1993 in a coordinated terrorist attack during which 6 people were killed and 1,000 people were in-

Suggested Citation:"6 Learning and Applying Best Practices to Counter Terrorism." National Academy of Sciences. 2014. India-United States Cooperation on Science and Technology for Countering Terrorism: Summary of a Workshop. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/18960.
×

jured.5 A large truck was parked in an underground parking garage at the WTC, where it exploded. Fire and police were the first to respond, and they had to stabilize the scene, save lives, and look for secondary devices. In 1993, there had been few terrorist attacks on U.S. soil and there was certainly less preparation for such events than there is today. The Port Authority, which has jurisdiction over the WTC, responded right away and deemed the location unsafe, and it was even too unsafe to do any forensic collection at the time. Therefore, the first step was to put shoring in place to keep the building from falling down. The intent of the terrorists was to cause one of the towers to crash into the other as eventually happened on 9/11. They were almost successful; the building was unstable, and there was a large concern that even a hefty wind could have toppled one tower over and brought it down into the other tower.

The first step was investigating what type of device caused the explosion. This indicated the magnitude of the explosive, and it was important to know the magnitude of the explosive as a means of determining how it got there. Was it in a backpack, was it in a box, was it in a large vehicle? Obviously a crater of this size was caused by a vehicle-borne bomb. It was concluded that the device was 1,500 pounds of urea nitrate.6

FBI investigators had to sift through tons and tons of rubble very meticulously. Another complicating factor was that a sewage pipe had broken and all of the sewage from the building came down through that section of the garage, so the hole was filled with human sewage as well as debris from the device. It was not a very easy or pleasant place to work.

The big breakthrough in this case was finding the vehicle identification number. A piece of the axle was found and sitting next to it was the left rear frame grill. Once the frame grill was recovered, it was very easy to understand where ground zero was and where the device was actually detonated because of how the debris emanated from the blast site. It was quickly determined which vehicle was carrying the explosive device because the grill bore the vehicle ID number. Once the vehicle was identified, the investigation could turn to determining who owned the vehicle, where it came from, and how it got to where it was in the garage. It was determined that the vehicle was a Ryder rental truck. A vehicle of the same make and model was then obtained by the FBI so that Romero and his colleagues could reenact the detonation. What usually happens

________________________

5Romero gave special thanks to Dave Williams, who was the FBI agent who was in charge of this investigation. Romero and Williams worked very closely together as part of the investigation, and Williams provided photographs to Romero for his presentations.

6Romero recounted that he answered numerous questions from reporters and conspiracy theorists that saw glass on the “wrong side” of the explosion (glass flying into the explosion itself). However, depending on the geometry of any explosion, blast waves can come through and push all the air away, causing a vacuum that contracts, and if it happens quickly enough, the glass that is pushed in is then sucked out and falls on the side that is toward the device as opposed to away from the device. This is very geometry dependent, and device dependent so it is difficult to predict where the debris will go before a detonation.

Suggested Citation:"6 Learning and Applying Best Practices to Counter Terrorism." National Academy of Sciences. 2014. India-United States Cooperation on Science and Technology for Countering Terrorism: Summary of a Workshop. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/18960.
×

in these cases is that law enforcement will put together a scenario of what occurred at the crime scene, based on collection of forensic evidence, and then they complete the investigation and, hopefully, make an arrest. Before they prosecute, they want to make sure that their theory will produce data that matches the crime scene, so the crime is reenacted in some fashion, and similar data is collected. In this case, the reenactment showed that 1,500 pounds of urea nitrate would do the type of damage to the vehicle that was found at the scene of the crime.

Ramzi Yousef was the person ultimately found responsible for the 1993 WTC bombing, but one of his colleagues rented the Ryder truck, and a few days after the detonation he returned to the rental facility to claim his deposit on the vehicle.7 Fortunately, the FBI had already determined where the vehicle had come from and had surveillance at that location and immediately arrested the suspect. He was not the main perpetrator but was part of the team that developed the scheme. Based on the apprehension of one of the team members, they knew the location of the terrorist cell. They went to that apartment complex and talked to people in and around it and obtained several helpful eyewitness testimonies about relevant activity. They then started tracing the activity of the people that lived there and found that a number of chemical purchases were made through the company that Yousef worked for by using the company letterhead to purchase the chemicals and take them home and use them in a bomb factory. Based on eye-witness testimony, the FBI went in and served a search warrant on the location where the suspects lived, and they indeed found a bomb-making factory. Romero and his colleagues use a replica of the bomb-making factory in training programs for responders. He recalled that the responders asked many questions after the training, and when Romero inquired why, they responded: My life depends upon it. It is very important to have programs where responders learn that when they go out into the field, they can recognize a bomb factory and apprehend the perpetrator before a bomb is detonated.8

Urea nitrate was found in the bomb factory in the 1993 WTC case, and it was easy to identify. The only problem was that this event took place in February, and there is a lot of snow and ice in New York City in the winter. The city

________________________

7Yousef, who was the main leader of this terrorist act, was captured in a different country approximately 2 years after the conviction and is now in prison for life in the United States.

8Several firefighters went through the program, and they were given some inspections in New Jersey and they came across an apartment that was very untidy, was not well kept, and had several jugs on the floor. The police commander did not think there was a concern. They moved on to the next part of the inspection, and the firefighter who attended the class had noticed a component of urea nitrate. The FBI was called in, and they uncovered maps in the apartment of the New York—New Jersey tunnel system and with specific locations marked. If the bombs were placed at the locations indicated on the maps, they would have caused tunnels to collapse and fill with water. These people were taken into custody, but one of the concerns is that it is not illegal to own fertilizer, or ammonium nitrate, and these are common chemicals.

Suggested Citation:"6 Learning and Applying Best Practices to Counter Terrorism." National Academy of Sciences. 2014. India-United States Cooperation on Science and Technology for Countering Terrorism: Summary of a Workshop. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/18960.
×

uses natural ice melt on the roads, which contains urea. As part of the initial response to this event, quite a lot of workers and firefighters spread these urea pellets throughout the garage and surrounding areas to melt the ice so that they would have easier access, but that contaminated the entire crime scene, as did the sewage. Unfortunately, while determining the explosive helps the investigation, it does not solve the crime. It is hard to use this as evidence in a court of law. This became important in the case because the data was called into question. The FBI crime map came under investigation when an agent questioned the forensic capabilities of the FBI lab. One of the lessons learned is that having a qualified, reputable, certified lab is paramount. One can collect great data, but if the lab is not certified, the evidence is not going to be credible in a court case.

Fastforward to 20 years later to the day of the Boston Marathon bombing. Romero recounted that there was a very interesting interview with the Boston police asking them what really helped them solve the crime. They said there were five things that were important for their forensic investigation: (1) They used robots extensively when they were investigating the crime scene because they did not know at the time whether there were other secondary devices, (2) The surveillance cameras provided key images leading to the big break, (3) They would not have solved the crime without the cooperation of the public, (4) In the ensuing chase and capture of the suspects, armored vehicles were important because the suspects were throwing grenades and had other pipe bombs and pressure-cooker bombs, (5) The thermal infrared cameras were important because once they knew there was someone in a resident’s boat, they surrounded it and confirmed he was there before the final gunfight and apprehension of the suspect. They waited until it got dark and then used flash-bang grenades, which cause a lot of disruptions and disorientation. They are very loud with a lot of flashing light, and the suspect was not very sure where the attack was coming from, which was important according to the Boston police.

Romero’s conclusions, based on these two cases, is that chemical analysis of explosives helps in an investigation, but not really in a trial. If a jury of people that has to make decisions about whether someone is innocent or guilty, whether he or she has used ammonium nitrate or urea nitrate or TNT, this evidence is not likely to influence their decision. Next, the primary difference between the World Trade Center bombing of 1993 and today is that there is surveillance data everywhere to be used. Media plays a significant role in these cases because they broadcast 24 hours a day, and every move made as an investigator is going to be on TV. In the Boston case, the media was used to the advantage of the investigation. In Boston, the police released information because it was their method of making sure that they controlled the situation rather than the media controlling all the information. Finally, as in both the World Trade Center bombing and the Boston bombing, there was no substitute for hard work or training and making people aware of how they can protect themselves and others.

Romero closed with his philosophy: What we really have to do is educate. If one is trained to respond to a known threat, response will be immediate, without thinking. Unfortunately, terrorists are always changing their tactics, so citi-

Suggested Citation:"6 Learning and Applying Best Practices to Counter Terrorism." National Academy of Sciences. 2014. India-United States Cooperation on Science and Technology for Countering Terrorism: Summary of a Workshop. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/18960.
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zens need to be educated to make critical decisions under tremendous stress. As they collect information they can make the right decision, and that is what education is about, as opposed to training.

DISCUSSION

In answer to a question about separate forensics labs in India, Sharma replied that the independence of the organization or independence of the department does not alter the scientific capabilities of the labs. There have been efforts in India to declare forensic science laboratories separate organizations and in Tamil Nadu, this has already been done. However, in some of the states, the labs work under the overall umbrella of the state government, in particular the police department. This has most likely been done to have a more harmonious approach to dealing with crime investigations, because if the labs work in isolation, team work declines. Currently in India, there are many states, such as Maharashtra and Andhra, that have already entrusted some of their work to private labs. There is one lab called Truth Labs, and in Maharashtra, one lab called Helix. Sharma feels that for an expert opinion to be sufficiently independent, it should not be under the control of the police, because the defense at a trial may raise a question about whether or not their conclusions have been manipulated by the police.

Sharma addressed the question of collaboration on developing protocols, and noted that there have been some exchange programs during which forensic scientists from India have been part of other countries’ education networks, but this has not been done on a large scale. With regard to protocols, Sharma added that an experiment was carried out by the Gujarat Forensic Science Lab to establish an ethics committee to develop the protocols for brain fingerprinting. The ethics committee was headed by a sitting High Court judge.

A third question was directed to Sharma. There is a hybrid approach to forensic science used routinely elsewhere, but not in India: in some cases a government body does some of the work or outsources it on a large scale. This approach may raise the issue of credibility. Further, if people from private forensic labs are called upon to testify as expert witnesses, they may not agree or may not be available for lengthy trials, whereas government bodies have to provide all requested assistance to the courts, so the government expert witnesses may be more duty bound to act on summons, warrants, and mandates of the court. Further, those from private laboratories may require fees. Sharma replied that there may be ways to improve coordination with private labs, but only 2 percent of forensics capabilities are currently in the private sector. Developing a mechanism for greater inclusion may be much more expensive than the utility of the mechanism. However, with the latest developments in technology, there will be many companies that would like to jump into this field.

A workshop participant asked about how to build cadres of forensic scientists. Sharma answered that currently there are only 15 universities that offer forensic courses in university forensics departments, which are only one of the

Suggested Citation:"6 Learning and Applying Best Practices to Counter Terrorism." National Academy of Sciences. 2014. India-United States Cooperation on Science and Technology for Countering Terrorism: Summary of a Workshop. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/18960.
×

many segments of an entire university. However, the lead has been taken again by Gujarat, where the first forensics university has been created. That university, Gujarat Forensic Sciences University, is the only university in India that caters to forensics needs. The placement of students who graduate from that university presently is about 100 percent. This initiative should also be emulated by other states.

Unfortunately, Sharma said candidly, if one goes through the various courses being offered by the National Institute of Criminology and Forensic Science, about 30 percent of the courses are on human rights, and these capabilities are often used in a distorted form. Currently this ratio indicates that streamlining issues is definitely required, and this holds true not only for India. This is a challenge all over the world. India does not have a single forensic entomologist employed by any government organization. So the supply and demand for developing capabilities is a large issue.

Suggested Citation:"6 Learning and Applying Best Practices to Counter Terrorism." National Academy of Sciences. 2014. India-United States Cooperation on Science and Technology for Countering Terrorism: Summary of a Workshop. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/18960.
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Next: Appendix A: India-U.S. Workshop on Science andTechnology for Countering Terrorism--Final Agenda »
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India and the United States are the world's two largest democracies with distinguished scientific traditions and experts in a wide range of scientific-technical fields. Given these strengths and the ability to learn from one another, the U.S. National Academy of Sciences together with the National Institute for Advanced Studies in Bangalore, India, held a joint Indian-U.S. workshop to identify and examine potential areas for substantive scientific and technical cooperation that can support counterterrorism efforts through the Homeland Security Dialogue and through direct cooperation. India-United States Cooperation on Science and Technology for Countering Terrorism is the summary of that workshop. This report examines topics such as biological threats; protection of nuclear facilities; security (physical and cyber) for chemicals, chemical facilities and other critical infrastructure; and monitoring, surveillance, and emergency response. The report also identifies and examines promising areas for further Indian-U.S. cooperation.

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