Battlefield detectives fight with fingerprints
By Staff Sgt. Joshua Strang , Weapons Intelligence Team 7
/ Published July 27, 2009
AL ASAD AIR BASE, Iraq (AFNS) -- Television has glorified the crime scene detective to an almost supernatural level. Sharply dressed investigators can scan through a crime scene draped in a steel blue light and can instantly tell who committed the crime even though police officers have worked the scene for a long time. In a 30-minute episode a crime is committed, the scene processed and the killer is caught. In real life it is not that easy.
Police work long hours and often are granted unlimited amounts of time to sift through the smallest details of a scene in order to catch the suspect at large. However, when the landscape of the crime scene is transformed from a city street into a battlefield, the time allotted to process a scene can be limited to only seconds. In lieu of police detectives, battlefield detectives arrive to the scene, who are also known as the WIT.
Weapons Intelligence Teams are made up of individuals from about 20 different career fields spanning the Army, Navy and Air Force. The individual skill sets consist of different intelligence ratings, photographers, explosive ordnance disposal, master at arms, administration, management and Air Force Office of Special Investigation members. The four- to five-man teams are equipped with many skills and are constantly prepared for calls that lead them outside the wire in a moment's notice. When that call comes in, it is usually for the No. 1 threat to troops on ground in Iraq, improvised explosive devices.
An IED is defined as a bomb deployed in other than conventional military means. First used in World War II, they can have devastating effects on personnel and equipment. WIT teams are called upon to process both pre- and post-blast incidents and can obtain valuable biometric evidence from the largest piece of ordnance fragmentation to the smallest twisted circuit boards and wire. WIT members put the pieces of the scene together to answer what, when, why and how, and in turn, catch who.
"We perform sensitive site exploitation of battlefield attacks where improvised explosive devices are used against coalition forces or Iraqi security force personnel and equipment," said Capt. Daniel Tufts, a Combined Joint Task Force Troy WIT operations officer. "We are the CSI of the Iraqi battlefields."
Trained at Fort Huachuca, Ariz., WIT teams are trained in many areas of scene exploitation.
"We photograph the scene, gather and catalog evidence, take samples, fingerprint and analyze the incident against all other incidents within that operational element," Captain Tufts said.
WIT first showed up in country in 2005 as a joint venture with British forces. It has evolved from an under used group of people more commonly known as "wait in truck" in the early days to a well-trained unit on the forefront of battlefield forensic technology through its use of biometrics.
"People leave their traces everywhere," Captain Tufts explained. "We find that trace and exploit it to the fullest extent. Our main job is to collect the evidence; however, we too can recover biometrics to include DNA, fingerprints and facial recognition."
As the Iraqi legal system continues to form and develop, the evidence collected becomes integral in the conviction of insurgents.
"The evidence is used in the Iraqi court system to prosecute the perpetrators of these crimes," Captain Tufts said. "We help bring the criminals to justice through exposing their involvement in crimes against coalition forces and Iraqi security forces. How we collect, handle and exploit the evidence can determine the outcome of a conviction."
Not only are WIT teams responding to incidents, but also they are aiding in the transition to an all Iraqi response force.
"We provide the Iraqi army, police and national police with much needed training to allow them to take over these duties when we fully withdraw from Iraq," Captain Tufts said. "We are training them to be self sufficient in SSE."
As American forces draw down in Iraq and head to Afghanistan, the future of WIT will be directly determined by the enemy, their tactics, techniques and procedures and their use of IEDs.