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Taggants in Explosives

NCJ Number
Date Published
269 pages
This study assesses the technology for tagging explosives to assist Congress in evaluating legislation (Senate Bill 333) allowing the addition of taggants to explosives and gunpowder when manufactured.
Two different taggants are being developed for incorporation in chemical explosives: (1) identification taggants, designed to survive detonation and be retrieved from debris and (2) detection taggants, sensed by a detection device when contained in a package (suitable for use at airports). The assessment considers the safety of adding taggants to explosives, the ability of taggants to survive a detonation and to be recovered for identification purposes, the manufacturers' and users' costs of a taggant program, the utility to law enforcement, and the effects on cost and utility of excluding certain explosive materials from the taggant program. The study also examines the ease of removing them from tagged explosives and explores alternatives to a taggant program. The study's first stage involved analyzing the safety and technical efficacy of taggants at the current state of development, while the second stage, assuming that taggants work safely, made a parametric anlysis of costs and utility. The study concluded that both identification and detection taggants would be useful law enforcement tools against most terrorist and other criminal bombers (assuming that taggant stability is achieved and that technical development is successfully completed), but that their utility against the most sophisticated terrorists and professional criminals is questionable. Identification taggants would facilitate the investigation of almost all significant criminal bombings using commercial explosives, and detection taggants would be effective in protecting those high-value targets where such protection is feasible. Although adding taggants to blasting agents would have some utility, the incremental utility would be small compared to tagging cap-sensitive high explosives, gunpowders, and detonators. However, the utility of taggants would always be decreased if the taggants could easily be removed or otherwise altered by bombers. Depending on the nature of the program, the cost would vary enormously. Further development and investigation are necessary. The study also discusses taggant controversies and congressional options. Tables, photographs, a glossary, the study questionnaire, and technical data are provided. (Author summary modified)