FBI Crime Laboratory

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FBI Crime Laboratory

The central premise of the Federal Bureau of Investigation's (FBI's) Crime Laboratory is that the successful solution of crimes, from investigation of an alleged crime scene through conviction of perpetrator(s), relies upon several factors: careful gathering of physical and trace evidence ; preservation, delivery, and forensic scientific analysis of this evidence ; presentation of forensic scientific analysis results; and demonstration of guilt or innocence of alleged perpetrator(s).

The FBI's Crime Lab, as one of the premier forensic research and analysis facilities, offers its expertise to law enforcement agencies across the nation and, at times, across the world, at no cost to the requesting entity. Teams of special agents and administrative staff offer on-site forensic and technical support, nationally and globally, in the event of disasters involving mass casualties or wide-ranging investigations.

Among the services currently provided by the Lab, both within its facilities and off-site, are: analysis of blood , tissue, and other biological evidence; analysis of firearms , weapons, and explosives ; analysis of legal and illegal drugs; and courtroom expert witness testimony for cases involving FBI Crime Laboratory forensic investigations.

Under Director J. Edgar Hoover , the science of criminalistics in the United States became centrally located with the dedication of the United States Bureau of Investigation's Technical Laboratory in Washington, D.C., on November 24, 1932. The Technical Laboratory was located in room 802 of the Old Southern Railway Building, which had been outfitted with a newly purchased Bausch and Lomb microscope, an ultraviolet light machine, a machine designed to examine gun barrel interiors, moulage kits, wiretapping kits, photographic supplies, and various chemicals.

At its inception, the Technical Crime Laboratory was staffed by just one forensic scientist, Special Agent Charles Appel, whose area of special interest was in the area of questioned document examination (at the time, this consisted primarily of handwriting, typewriting, and printed document examination and authentication). The research capabilities and the assigned staff of the Lab grew over time, and the addition of subject matter experts broadened its range of expertise. Samuel Pickering, a specialist in chemical analysis, was the first such resident expert. Additional agents, specially trained in the areas of cipher analysis, research on infrared rays, use of dyes for identification of extortion packages, blood grouping, creating systems for the marking of ransom money, and the chemical development of latent fingerprints, were added to the cadre of scientists at the Lab.

In 1934, the Technical Laboratory moved to the Justice Department building. In 1935, the United States Bureau of Investigation was given the title of Federal Bureau of Investigation by Congress. In 1942, the Technical Laboratory became the Crime Laboratory, and was officially named a division within the FBI.

Both the Lab and FBI headquarters moved to the newly constructed J. Edgar Hoover Building in 1974. In 1981, the Lab's Forensic Science Research and Training Center (FSRTC) was created at the FBI Training Academy in Quantico, Virginia. This site gained worldwide acclaim as a training and research facility dedicated to sharing cutting-edge forensic and criminalistics knowledge and technology with the worldwide law enforcement communities. In April 2003, the FBI's Crime Lab moved to its fourth, and current, location at the Quantico Marine Corps Base. The new facility was seven years and $130 million in the making; it is comprised of three adjoining five-story towers, and contains 463,000 square feet of laboratory and office space. The glass-enclosed laboratory workspaces, spanning two-thirds of every floor of the towers, are sterile environments that contain 100% clean air. They are separated from the office areas by a walkway called the bio-vestibule.

At present, the FBI Crime Laboratory has two primary operating branches: Forensic Analysis and Operational Support. The Forensic Analysis Branch includes the Forensic Analysis and Scientific Analysis Sections. The Operations Support Branch is comprised of the Forensic Science Support, Operational Response, and Operational Support Sections.

The Forensic Analysis Section contains several units, including the Cryptanalysis and Racketeering Records Unit, tasked with examination of written communication and records related to terrorist and criminal organizations. This Unit has four program areas. The first is Cryptanalysis, which involves examination, analysis, and decryption of ciphers and codes embedded in all manner of written and electronic communications. Second, the Drugs program area analyzes and examines records related to illegal drug-trafficking operations. The third area, Racketeering, examines and analyzes records pertaining to all forms of gambling, loan-sharking, and prostitution. Fourth, the Money-laundering area analyzes a broad-range of criminally suspect financial records pertaining to the illegal movement of money both within and outside U.S. borders.

Also within the Forensic Analysis Section is the Firearms and Toolmarks Unit, which is charged with examining all aspects of the mechanical condition of various firearms and ballistic materials, as well as the examination of evidence toolmarks for identification of recovered or suspected tools.

The Latent Print Unit examines and analyzes latent prints on submitted evidence. Latent prints occur when the friction ridge skin of human palms, fingers, or the soles of the feet make contact with a surface and leave physical impressions thereon. Located within the Latent Prints Unit are the FBI Disaster Squad, which is composed largely of latent print and fingerprint analysis experts who are called to mass casualty scenes in order to assist in the identification of remains, and IAFIS (Integrated Automated Fingerprint Identification System ), which was created and implemented by the FBI in 1999. IAFIS is a large database system designed to store and compare fingerprints (primarily in 10-fingerprint units) in order to facilitate identification or exclusion of suspects.

The Questioned Documents Unit is staffed with experts in the examination of printing, handwriting, typewriting, printing by hand, obliterated impressions, erasures, and alterations of written communications. Examiners in this unit are also proficient in the identification of edges, imprints, stamping, water-marks, fibers , and other components of writing surfaces, as well as analysis and identification of the media used to mark on them, such as photocopying and facsimile machines, and the media used therein (ribbons, cartridges, etc.). Databases within the Questioned Documents Unit include the National Fraudulent Check database, Bank Robbery Note database, Shoeprint database, Anonymous Letter database, and Watermark Files database.

The Scientific Analysis Section contains six functional units, the first of which is the Chem-Bio Sciences Unit, involved in extremely high-quality, standardized forensic examination of hazardous chemical, biological, and nuclear evidence, along with related materials.

Another functional unit is the Chemistry Unit, which contains six program areas.

  • The first program area, General Chemistry, is used to analyze and characterize unknown materials in solid or liquid form. Chemists identify chemicals and dyes used in bank or other security devices and examine suspect cloth, clothing or currency for their presence; they compare stains, markings, and lubricants with possible sources; they also identify source inks by assessing and comparing the compositions of various types and forms of questioned and known ink types. Program area chemists may also utilize various scientific means to determine the elemental composition, quantify and identity of suspected, but unknown controlled substances.
  • Second, the Toxicology area is where toxicological analyses are conducted on food products or biological samples in order to ascertain the presence of poisons, drugs, or drug metabolites. This unit is also responsible for assessing claims of commercial product tampering .
  • The third program area, Paints and Polymers, examines and analyzes paint specimens in order to make comparisons with suspected sources. These subject matter experts use obtained samples to identify automotive make, model and year; they also oversee the National Automotive Paint File and the National Forensic Tape File. Other forensic scientists in this unit examine plastics for comparison with suspected sources. Additional scientists examine caulks, sealants, and other adhesives and engage in chemical and material analyses of various types of tape in order to determine composition, construction, color, type and manufacturer, as well as to identify tape from torn or cut ends of suspected rolls.
  • Fourth, Metallurgy experts examine and analyze evidence recovered from air, rail, and nautical calamities, along with product tampering, material strength assessments, structural damage and failure analyses, suspected fabrication and specification fraud, and appliance and device malfunction. Metallurgy experts also study material corrosion.
  • Elemental section staff in the fifth program area perform examinations and chemical analyses of glass and light bulb shards, bullet contents, substrates and components isolated from biological or biochemical samples, and make materials comparisons in the investigation of arson , homicides, suicides, and accidents.
  • The sixth program area, Instrumentation Operation and Support, provides oversight for maintenance of all unit instrumentation, databases, and reference libraries.

The third Unit, in the Scientific Analysis Section is CODIS (Combined DNA Index System), which utilizes advanced electronic computer technologies in tandem with cutting edge forensic science as a means of solving distant violent crimes. A computerized database and analysis system enables forensic labs across the country to share real-time data ofDNA profiles. Investigators use this information to evaluate and link crimes committed in differing geographical areas, serial crimes, and the comparison of known perpetrator DNA with DNA recovered from crime scenes.

The fourth Scientific Analysis Unit is dedicated to DNA Analysis. At crime scenes, DNA is extracted from questioned blood, tissue, and body fluid specimens. These specimens are compared with DNA analysis of known samples. By so doing, it is often possible to link victims, alleged perpetrators, and crime scenes.

Explosives, the fifth Unit, is staffed by scientists who analyze and compare samples from suspected explosions and evidence obtained from recovered explosives (or fragments thereof), in an effort to link the two. They also conduct on-site bomb scene investigations, search suspected bomb-making locations, and oversee the Terrorist Explosive Device Analytical Center (TEDAC).

The sixth Unit, Trace Evidence, provides expert identification and analysis of physical materials that may be transferred between victim, alleged perpetrator, and crime scene. Some common trace materials are fibers from cloth, ropes, ligatures, bindings, coverings or textiles, human and animal hair, wood or soil particles, glass fragments, and building or construction materials. This Unit archives samples of textiles, fibers, animal and human hair, different types of soil, wood, and feathers.

Housed with the Forensic Science and Support Section is the Counterterrorism and Forensic Science Research Unit, the mission of which is to continually research and broaden the security community's knowledge base in order to more effectively combat terrorism. This Unit has three subsections: (1) Biology, tasked with the automation of forensic DNA analysis; (2) a Chemistry Subunit which houses subject matter experts in the areas of chemical separations and mass spectrometry, who are equipped for field chemical research, evidence collection and analysis; and (3) the Physical Sciences Unit, which focuses on document analysis, imaging and latent fingerprint studies, and materials analysis.

The Evidence Control Unit is tasked with ongoing analysis of recovered evidence, as well as the oversight and management of the evidence control system, which tracks the movement of all forms of evidence throughout the investigational and judicial processes.

The Quality Assurance and Training Unit is responsible for the management and maintenance of all aspects of quality assurance and best practice standards within the FBI Crime Laboratory. It also coordinates and manages quality oversight training programs throughout the Bureau. In addition, this Unit maintains the FBI Crime Laboratory Library, which is responsible for the production and publication of the juried journal Forensic Science Communications, publication of the Handbook of Forensic Services, production of field and laboratory manuals and training materials, and has oversight and management responsibility for all forensic science training programs within the Bureau and among the field laboratories.

The Special Photographic Unit houses the FBI's entire forensic imaging and photographic continuum, from camera and equipment maintenance and repair, to technical assistance on concealment operations, to aerial and surveillance filming. There are three subunits: the Forensic Studio which is responsible for all FBI forensic photographic operations; the Field Support subunit, which processes film and produces hard copy and digital photographic images and trains Bureau and field personnel in photographic equipment use and image production; and the Training subunit, which is responsible for teaching new Special Agents and field support staff basic and advanced crime scene photography .

The Operational Response Section is comprised of the Bomb Data Center, in which specially trained forensic scientists create and implement advanced technologies designed to increase safety for those involved in bomb disarmament and disposal. The Hazardous Devices School is housed within this unit and its mission is to provide certification-level training to personnel involved with explosive device render-safe technology. Bomb Data Center staff are tasked with interface between the FBI and the law enforcement communities. It is the Center's responsibility to provide field technical support to the public sector on an as-needed basis. The Bomb Center Data Unit produces the Special Technician's Bulletin, the Investigator's Bulletin and the General Information Bulletin, as well as any other requested technical manuals, bulletins, and reports.

The Evidence Response Team Unit coordinates and supervises Evidence response Teams (ERTs) throughout the FBI. ERTs are comprised of specially equipped and trained Special Agents, support and administrative staff who are expert at planning, preparation, organization, and conduction of major evidence-recovery missions at disaster, crisis, and mass casualty sites. ERT staff are trained and experienced in leading techniques and have access to the most advanced scientific methodologies and forensic technologies available.

The FBI Crime Laboratory's Hazardous Materials Response Unit is dedicated to countering terrorism in the nuclear, radiological, and biological realms, as well as to the investigation of environmental crimes. This Unit also provides training, equipment, and certification-level coursework for FBI central and field staff involved in hazardous materials operations.

Within the Operational Support Section, the Administrative Unit provides oversight, coordination, and adherence to published FBI and Crime Laboratory Policy and Procedural guidelines; the Facility Services Unit is responsible for assuring the safety and integrity of both the Crime Laboratory staff and the physical plant itself; the Investigative and Prosecutive Graphics Unit is responsible for the sub-areas of crime scene survey, documentation and reconstruction; forensic facial imaging; demonstrative evidence; and provision of the full range of FBI Director's Office Support, including the President and Presidential staff, the Attorney General of the United States, Congress, the Department of Defense, and various national and international officials and dignitaries.

The Planning and Budget Unit is charged with tracking, management, and financial oversight of the FBI Crime Laboratory budget as well as its federal funding and appropriations.

Finally, the Structural Design Unit plans, designs, develops, and implements actual physical models and evidentiary mock-ups for courtroom crime scene reconstruction and evidentiary clarification in support of expert witness testimony.

Vast in complexity and ever-broadening in scope, the modern-day FBI Crime Laboratory far surpasses the early vision of J. Edgar Hoover and his G-men; it continues to stand as one of the best known and most inclusive forensics research facilities in the world.

see also Accident investigations at sea; Artificial fibers; Bacterial biology; Bioterrorism; Building materials; Crime scene staging; Cryptology and number theory; Fracture matching; Luminol; Mitochondrial DNA analysis; Mitochondrial DNA typing.