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Containing the Threat from Illegal Bombings

NCJ Number
Date Published
382 pages
This book provides a description of the technical options that exist to contain the threat from illegal bombings.
The Committee on Marking, Rendering Inert, and Licensing of Explosive Materials was charged with considering the advisability of physically altering explosive materials and of controlling access to them for the purpose of suppressing illicit use of explosives. The committee was asked to evaluate the technical feasibility and practicality of using markers for detection, taggants for identification, and inertants for desensitization of explosives; and assess the implications of imposing regulatory controls on a prioritized set of precursor chemicals. Black and smokeless powders, among the explosives used most often for illegal purposes, were specifically excluded from this study. The committee quickly became aware of two currently relevant factors that must be taken into account in this assessment: insufficiency of data on bombings; and the need for ongoing rigorous testing of additives proposed for use with explosives. It was concluded that the potential presence in terrorist hands of unmarked explosives from a variety of noncommercial sources was a flaw in any marking approach where no provisions were made to detect the unmarked explosive as well. Among the recommendations was that strategic national investment focus on the detection of unmarked explosives. Another conclusion was that it was technically feasible to tag some explosives for identification. It was recommended that a research program should be carried out to identify, evaluate, and develop a taggant system that meets several technical criteria. Another conclusion was that, although a number of common chemicals could be used in illegal bombings, the common explosive chemical likely to be of greatest threat was ammonium nitrate. It was recommended that standard test protocols for evaluating the detonability of bulk ammonium nitrate-based fertilizers should be developed by the Federal Government. It was concluded that, compared with some countries, the United States has relatively lax Federal controls on the purchase of explosives. It was recommended that criminal access to explosives be made more difficult by creating uniform national regulations for the purchase of commercial high explosives. Bibliography and appendices


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