Michael Tay Ming Kiong*, Lim Chin Chin
First International CBRE Ops Conference. 28 Nov – 1 Dec 2006, Singapore. (oral presentation)
In the wake of the 911 attack and the escalating global terrorist threat, the demands on investigative capabilities and response have escalated. This paper examines the challenges faced by a national forensic laboratory performing analysis for the identification of energetic and hazardous chemical materials in pre- and post-incident situations.
Pre-blast or pre-incident situations require the rapid laboratory confirmation of explosives or hazardous materials screened and flagged for closer examination by trained but usually non-scientific personnel. A forensic laboratory is expected to respond quickly and provide reliable, sensitive and specific analyses, so as to clear potentially dangerous situations, limit inconveniences, contain public alarm, quickly end disruptions, and restore normalcy. Detection of energetic and hazardous materials can provide useful intelligence to Police investigators on terrorist activities and likely plans.
The pressure for quick, reliable results is even greater in post-incident situations where public alarm, panic and outrage are heightened, coupled with intense media interest and political attention. The forensic lab must provide quick investigative leads to police investigators to pinpoint the possible source of the chemicals, pursue perpetrators and collaborators, and suppress related terrorist attacks. The forensic lab must have the capability to reliably detect unknown energetic and/or hazardous residues, often dispersed, chemically transformed, degraded and diluted in complex post-blast scenes. Lab examinations are made complicated by the trace amounts of residues available, the wide range of analyses that need to be performed, difficult sample matrices, and interferences by background materials. Forensic scientists labour under intense scrutiny, working against time to identify the energetic or hazardous chemical, knowing that fast results are expected but analytical errors are difficult to retract and can seriously damage the lab’s reputation. Despite the pressure, stringent evidence control and quality assurance measures must be followed throughout, in order to ensure the validity of scientific evidence when perpetrators are eventually brought to justice.
The forensic laboratory must have adequate funding and resources to examine post-incident evidence, and authorities must understand that the continuing maintenance of lab capabilities is essential even if these capabilities are (thankfully) seldom utilised.
This paper will also present several case studies to illustrate the Singapore experience.