bombings...9/11 terrorist attacks...U.S.S. Cole bombing...African
embassy bombings...Anthrax attacks...Kosovo evidence recovery...Oklahoma
City bombing. These are just a very few of the thousands
of crime scenes sifted by the FBI's Evidence Response Teams,
or ERTs, to bring criminals and terrorists to justice.
Holmes may have popularized the idea of using hard evidence
to prove a criminal's guilt beyond a shadow of a doubt, but
the FBI has truly made a science and specialized practice
of it. Why? Because we live in an age of massive or extremely
complex crime scenes, of cases that involve more than one
crime scene, and of cases that cover more than one jurisdiction.
While FBI investigators are interviewing witnesses and beginning
to build a case, ERTs are focusing on the crime scene itself.
FBI field offices who originally came up with the idea, then
the FBI Lab helped develop the ERT concept in 1993: to create
a specialized unit to focus exclusively on recovering physical
evidence and executing search warrants for major field investigations.
Then, on August 11, 1995, it expanded the concept by creating
a team of these specialists in each of the FBI's 56 field
offices. Today 135 teams of some 1,080 Agents and forensic
specialists are in place, ready to respond at a moment's notice
to a major case anywhere in the world. In Fiscal Year 2002,
these 8-person teams responded to over 2,000 calls--including
the protracted operation at Freshkills landfill, Staten Island,
where 52 teams--over 400 ERT members--worked solidly for 9
months on evidence recovery from the Twin Towers following
the 9/11 attacks.
an ERT member?
Agents and support employees. They all have forensic specialties...and
they bring other specialists on board as needed: photographers,
sketch artists, evidence collectors/processors, bomb technicians,
computer specialists, engineers, surveyors, forensic anthropologists,
botanists, odontologists, entomologists, medical specialists,
arson investigators, you name it. A specialized "Technology"
ERT uses thermal imaging and fiber scopes; it uses underground-penetrating
radar to locate evidence underground; and it uses side-scan
sonar to locate evidence underwater. This year, two new Underwater
Search and Evidence Response Teams have been formed to support
the longstanding New York team of scuba divers--the team that
performed so intrepidly in freezing Long Island waters after
the 1997 crash of TWA Flight 800.
to be a team member is rigorous: a basic 80-hour training
block followed by required special courses. What kinds of
courses? Bullet (Ballistic) Trajectory Analysis, Blood Stain
Pattern Analysis, Advanced Latent Fingerprints, Post Blast
Investigations, Advanced Sketching, Digital Diagramming, Arson
Investigations, and Forensic Anthropology.
the ERT procedure?
It can vary, but basically it's a 10-step program with the
watchwords: "take time to do a thorough job" and
1. Approach the scene safely.
2. Secure and protect the scene.
3. Start a preliminary survey.
4. Evaluate all the physical evidence and decide the order
of collecting it.
5. Make a narrative descripition--written, audio, video, or
6. Exhaustively photograph the area.
7. Draw diagrams and sketches of the scene that puts the evidence
in a specific perimeter.
8. Now you can collect the evidence! This is the heart of
the operation and it is delicate, time consuming, precise,
9. Conduct a final survey.
10. Release the crime scene.
all about teamwork...and caring
and women of the FBI's Evidence Response Teams feel a special
calling for their job--and they take pride in the convictions
their work has secured. It's not just acts of terrorism or
mass disasters, though. Their work also brings closure to
people who have lost loved ones and suffered losses that have
ruined their lives: ERT members are there in cases of major
child abductions and homicides, air disasters, even war crimes.
the 65 ERT members who went as part of a forensic team to
Kosovo in 1999 to examine suspected massacre sites as part
of the United Nations' International Criminal Tribunal for
the Former Yugoslavia. They worked 11 sites, recovering evidence,
exhuming bodies, and performing autopsies--then returning
the bodies they could in Muslim coffins for proper burial.
A woman there who received back the bodies of her husband,
father, and two uncles said this: "This country has suffered
so much that it is easy to overlook the personal tragedy.
The American FBI has helped us show the world what happened,
so it won't forget. They also face us our husbands and fathers
and brothers so we can bury them in marked graves and remember.
For that we are very thankful."