By far the most dangerous emerging threat to our homeland defense is the criminal and terrorist use of improvised explosive devices (IEDs).
Cheap, lethal, and low-tech, the IED has been the weapon of choice for foreign terrorists since the first World Trade Center attack in 1993 and for domestic terrorists since the Oklahoma City bombing in 1995. From Madrid to London, Bali to Mumbai, and Baghdad to Kabul, the IED is a global tactical and strategic threat to Americans and our allies.
Looking for an Answer
"We are in an era of persistent conflict and anyone who thinks an IED is just a military problem overseas is being naive," says Lt. Gen. Thomas Metz, director of the Joint Improvised Explosive Device Defeat Organization (JIEDDO). "IEDs are the weapon of choice for terrorists for the next two to three decades."
Created in 2006 in response to the unprecedented rise in IED use at the peak of the Iraq insurgency, JIEDDO is the Pentagon's lead for all efforts to combat IEDs in support of the Army, Navy, Air Force, and Marine Corps. As the Department of Defense (DOD) continues to partner with the Department of Homeland Security (DHS), JIEDDO's expertise also extends its support to law enforcement professionals across the United States.
This unified approach is critical to defeating the long-term, strategic threat posed by IEDs explains Metz, a 33-year Army veteran.
"It is the intent of our enemy to wear down our will with IEDs, attempting to kill us with a thousand cuts. A couple of IED deaths can't defeat us tactically, but cumulatively the losses reach serious impact. Without the loss of life and limb, the enemy cannot achieve its strategic purpose for the IED."
Metz continues, "IEDs will not be eliminated from the tactical battlefield, but their use as weapons of strategic influence must be successfully countered, or else we will witness IEDs detonating on the 14th Street Bridge in Washington, DC."
Weapon of Mass Influence
IEDs have an enormous potential for influencing public perception and for creating an atmosphere of fear and uncertainty. A car bomb exploding in the middle of a busy thoroughfare can quickly undermine law enforcement efforts to protect the public.
Consider the 2004 Madrid bombing. It killed more than 250 people, but its real impact was that it led to a change in government for the people of Spain and accelerated the withdrawal of Spanish forces from the Middle East.
"That explosion occurred on a Thursday and affected the course of a government. An election took place on Sunday, and a new government was in place on Monday," Metz says.
The IED threat is not isolated to Iraq and Afghanistan, though they account for more than 70 percent of the casualties in those theaters and are the most effective weapon employed against coalition forces. Since 2006, IED attacks have been escalating around the world with more than 300 IED attacks outside of Iraq and Afghanistan recorded each month.
Lines of Operation
Since its establishment, JIEDDO has invested vast amounts of money and effort to mitigate IED effectiveness and assist in targeting networks and individuals responsible for its use. To execute this mission, JIEDDO uses three lines of operation:
- Attack the Network-going after the threat, mainly by targeting the networks that build and deploy the IEDs.
- Defeat the Device-developing technologies to detect IEDs through ground penetrating radar, robots, ground sensors, and other systems.
- Train the Force-bringing these technologies and programs together so that our men and women in uniform, including law enforcement officers, are trained to maximize the potential of JIEDDO's network attack and device defeat efforts.
Within these three lines of operation, JIEDDO assists the U.S. law enforcement and homeland security community in being better prepared to prevent, respond to, investigate, and prosecute IED-related crimes.
One example of this assistance comes in the form of JIEDDO's Explosives Ordnance Disposal (EOD) teams. Their knowledge can greatly enhance the training of other domestic first responder agencies that could disarm or destroy IEDs. If legally authorized and formally requested through the Department of Defense, JIEDDO also has significant intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance assets that could assist other agencies in their mission to defeat a domestic IED campaign.
The global nature of the IED threat also informs the mission of JIEDDO's operational elements such as the Joint Expeditionary Team (JET). JET personnel have extensive military experience and first-hand knowledge of the IED threat. They serve as one of JIEDDO's main collectors for enemy tactics, techniques, and procedures as well as lessons learned and best practices used by the U.S. military to mitigate the worldwide IED threat.
Attached to military units from pre-deployment training through embedded operations in Iraq and Afghanistan, JET personnel rapidly report on how the enemy is employing the IED back to JIEDDO. JIEDDO then uses this information to more effectively train and inform military elements and to better assist American law enforcement entities in preparing policies, training, and response models to counter possible IED threats within the United States.
DOD's current hands-on experience in detecting, countering, and responding to IEDs is an invaluable resource that law enforcement agencies can exploit. To confront and counter the IED threat, JIEDDO is reaching out to other government agencies to increase coordination of IED prevention efforts across lines of operation and between disparate branches of the government.
A memorandum of agreement was recently signed by JIEDDO and the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF) to establish operational and technical support between JIEDDO and ATF personnel.
ATF will provide a JIEDDO-funded mobile training team to support a weapons technical intelligence post-blast investigative techniques course of instruction for deployed DOD personnel. The two organizations will collaborate on joint projects and areas of mutual interest. In addition, two ATF liaison officers will be detailed to work at JIEDDO headquarters in Arlington, Va., and at JIEDDO's Joint Center of Excellence at Fort Irwin, Calif.
"We look forward to leveraging the resources of ATF and JIEDDO to support our mutual objective of defeating IEDs globally and aiding U.S. servicemen and women," says Mark Logan, ATF's assistant director.
On the Homefront
To confront and counter all spectrums of the IED threat, law enforcement and homeland security elements must leverage all available resources. JIEDDO can assist law enforcement and homeland security personnel by helping them understand the threat via historical and current information and by constructing an operational fused architecture that will meet the current and emerging dangers created by the IED threat. This is accomplished by the Attack the Network line of operation.
"By targeting the networks that fund and build IEDs, we can attack the enemy before they take action," explains Metz. To do this JIEDDO established its Counter-IED Operation Integrations Center in 2006 to bring information to bear in the fight against IEDs.
The Center combines multi-source data with a robust set of analytical technologies to create a common operational picture of world-wide IED systems. Synthesizing seeming unrelated information and data sources, the Center creates a detailed operational picture in support of offensive operations against IED networks. It also serves as a conduit for strategic feedback and collaborative analysis. "We recognize that information is an element of combat power, but that power is only realized when information is shared, fused into knowledge and its content exploited," says Metz.
JIEDDO's Counter-IED Operation Integrations Center can draw from more than 70 data sources, mine the data at extraordinary speed, and analyze it to produce actionable knowledge on IED networks. Responding to more than 3,000 requests for support from commanders at every echelon, the Center ensures warfighters and law enforcement receive real-time information as they need it.
To sustain that focus, JIEDDO aggressively establishes a broad network of partners from many other agencies and organizations. This allows the Counter-IED Operation Integrations Center to cut across traditional information barriers to provide relevant, timely, and credible IED information at the tactical edge of the counter-IED fight.
One of JIEDDO's most important missions is to create a common language that police and soldiers can use to identify IEDs.
Commissioned by JIEDDO and the Defense Intelligence Agency (DIA), the Weapons Technical Intelligence IED Lexicon was developed with close cooperation and coordination among the U.S. military, the intelligence community, and law enforcement agencies. The Lexicon provides a common language when it comes to IEDs.
The Lexicon increases the fidelity of counter-IED information from data collection in-theater to national level analysis. This publication unifies IED exploitation through common language and shared scientific vocabulary.
"The Lexicon ensures that the United States and all NATO nations are talking the same language when it comes to IEDs," says Lt. Col. Mark Wickham, a United Kingdom officer who serves as JIEDDO's WTI expert. "Clearly outlining the common terms for IEDs and other improvised weapons enables better information fusion, from the tactical to strategic level."
Comprehensive in scope, the Lexicon defines terms ranging from basic IED design and components to tactical outcomes of IED employment.
"At each phase, information is gathered to build a common picture of enemy capabilities, inform commanders of new developments, and support material developers in building necessary countermeasures," says Wickham. "The Lexicon encourages accurate reporting and analysis from the moment the IED is found."
Weaving together forensic and technical analysis, the WTI process identifies unique characteristics of IEDs and their components on the battlefield to provide intelligence to ongoing operations in-theater.
The collection process begins on the battlefield, as units in Iraq and Afghanistan discover or recover IEDs. Once detected, the devices are rendered safe by EOD teams and initial data is gathered by a specialized WIT.
Upon initial examination, the devices are sent to battlefield labs for in-depth technical analysis. The information collected is used to provide evidentiary support to the prosecution of bomb-makers. The devices are also sent to government and military forensics labs across the globe for more detailed, national-level analysis. The forensic and technical data is also used in counter-IED training support to provide the most realistic scenarios possible.
A Tough Nut to Crack
Preventing IED attacks is very difficult. The information for making these bombs is on the Internet, and they are easily produced. Also, once JIEDDO or the military develops a new tactic or technique for foiling the attacks, the enemy adjusts.
The challenge facing law enforcement and DOD is the constantly changing electronic environment and ongoing technological advances of cell phones.
"The insurgents are riding the trillion dollar science and technology wave off the shelves of Radio Shack," says Metz. "We have seen the global migration of mobile and fixed Internet Protocol (IP)-based communications technology. Thanks to the Internet, we have seen global proliferation of IED tactics, techniques, and procedures beyond the borders of Iraq and Afghanistan."
The threat of IEDs will continue, Metz says, but he's committed to making life more difficult for those who choose to use them. "It's about pushing back and making tomorrow more risky than today for everyone in the enemy IED networks."
Michael Corderre is a freelance writer who covers IEDs. Michael Register is a 23-year veteran of the U.S. military currently assigned to the Joint Improvised Explosive Devices Defeat Organization (JIEDDO).