BOMB TRACKING: Taggant technology could track explosives - KMSP-TV

BOMB TRACKING: Taggant technology could help police track explosives

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MINNEAPOLIS (KMSP) -

Police are constantly looking for ways to prevent the next bombing, and a Minneapolis company has a tiny, high-tech tool that could help trace explosives and find clues much sooner.

Microtrace makes taggants, which are small tracking particles used in toys and cosmetics for quality control -- but they can also be placed into explosives and then tracked after a bomb blast. Although it could help police, there's major pushback in the United States.

After the Boston Marathon bombing, investigators spent days searching for clues at the scene of the explosions, eventually collecting fragments from two pressure-cooker bombs. If the bombs had contained the microscopic taggants, police may have been able to immediately determine where and when the explosives were made.

"From there, they could follow the paper trail to see who had access to that material, and that would narrow down their trail of potential suspects," explained Brian Brogger, vice president of Microtrace.

The taggant technology offered by Microtrace is already being used in explosives -- but only in Switzerland.

"You have one side that has extremely powerful special interests and industry, and the other side of the debate does not have that," Brogger said of the gun lobby and its allies.

Pro-gun lobbyists claim taggant technology could destabilize explosives like gunpowder, raise costs and eventually lead to a national registry.

"It's harassment," said Andrew Rothman, of the Gun Owners Civil Rights Alliance.

After the World Trade and Oklahoma City bombings, debates about taggant use in explosives raged in Congress -- but David Chippman, a former agent with the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Explosives, told FOX 9 News he is frustrated because it didn't make it far.

"Law enforcement needed clues immediately to identify who the perpetrators were, and their efforts were complicated because of the fact that we don't have the ability to trace taggants," he said.

Taggants were first created by 3M in the 1970s to trace explosives, but the company sold the technology to Microtrace because of political challenges and pushback.

"We kind of stay out of the political debate," Brogger told FOX 9 News.

The company, which employs 15 people, is currently spending time finding new ways to use taggants to track items, and they can already be found in unexpected places -- like labels inside jerseys because brands are trying to protect against counterfeits. Yet, Microtrace still holds out hope that taggants will eventually be used to track all explosives. Although they don't plan to jump into the political lobbying game, they are open if others want to take up the cause.

Currently, taggants are only mandatory in plastic explosives. On April 17, the Manchin-Toomey Amendment that would have required gunpowder manufacturers to use taggants as well -- a move the ATF has twice advocated for -- was defeated.

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