Taggants In Explosives
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Issue: Should taggants
be required in commercial explosives?
Tagging of explosives can refer to two types of marking
technologies. Detection taggants are used to enhance the detection
of explosives before detonation. Identification taggants are
intended to be used to trace explosive materials to their source
The Antiterrorism Act of 1996
requires a detection taggant, or agent, be added to plastic
explosives. Without such an additive, plastic explosives can be
difficult to detect, and could pose a security threat in the hands
of terrorists. These detection agents can be added to plastic and
sheet explosive products to make them more "visible" to existing
detection equipment without compromising safety or the performance
of affected materials. IME has continually supported the development
of such detection technologies. However, identification taggants
present a different story.
Following any terrorist attack,
particularly a bombing attack, reactionary efforts are made to
require identification taggants in explosives. In the 1996
anti-terrorism legislation, IME supported the study of the
feasibility of placing identification taggants in explosives.
Congress assigned this study to the Secretary of the Treasury which
subsequently tasked the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms
(BATF) with this responsibility. Congress also mandated that the
government report be supported by an independent source. The
National Academy of Sciences (NAS) was contracted to conduct this
independent third-party examination. IME has worked closely with
both the BATF and NAS to insure they have the industry data that
they require to complete their studies.
The NAS report,
completed and issued in March 1998, concluded: "At today's level of
threat, it is not appropriate to require commercial explosives to
contain identification taggants … All of the taggant technologies
currently available raise concerns about long-range environmental
consequences, effectiveness in law enforcement, safety issues, and
The BATF issued an Interim report in March 1998 and
also concluded: "At this stage of the Study it is clear that … there
are remaining complexities surrounding the issue. Any effort which
is to have a measurable impact on the prevention and investigation
of bombing incidents must be an integrated one, involving the
effective regulation of explosives and explosive materials, the
effective enforcement of those regulations, and the effective
application of cutting edge technologies."
IME's position is
consistent with these findings:
- IME supports all law
enforcement efforts to combat the illegal use of explosives.
- The concept of
identification tagging is attractive, but has never been proven
safe or practical.
- Known taggant technologies
pose safety, environmental, and utility problems.
- Less than 2 percent of the
bombings in the United States involve commercial explosives.
- Identification tagging is
minimally beneficial to law enforcement and could complicate
bombing investigations and prosecutions.
- The much-touted Swiss
taggant program is not an effective model for a U.S. program and
has not been successful in apprehending or deterring bombers in
- The substantial costs
associated with identification taggants have never been justified
by the minimal benefits to law enforcement.
addition of identification taggants to commercial explosives must be
based on sound science and a cost-benefit analysis. Until new
technologies can be embraced, it is not in the best interests of the
public, the environment, law enforcement or industry to mandate
identification taggants in commercial explosives.