History of Taggant Research and Use

During 1977 to 1980, a pilot test was conducted for the ATF by the Aerospace Corporation. This feasibility demonstration program evaluated the addition of identification taggants manufactured by the 3M Corporation to 6.4 million pounds of packaged, cap-sensitive explosives manufactured by four companies (Atlas, DuPont, Hercules, and Independent). Taggant addition during manufacture, recordkeeping, and taggant recovery and analysis procedures were evaluated.11

In 1980, the Swiss government began requiring that all manufactured explosives contain identification taggants to aid in criminal investigations. Some success in resolving bombing cases has been reported,12 although the usefulness of the Swiss experience is controversial, in part because of differences between the U.S. and Swiss explosives industries. 13

Previous Evaluation of Taggants

In 1980, the Office of Technology Assessment (OTA) examined the use of identification taggants in commercial explosives.14 While it concluded that taggants could be useful for law enforcement, OTA noted the need for further development and safety/compatibility evaluation testing.

Committee's Approach to Evaluation of Taggants

Taggant Taxonomy

In an effort to categorize the many existing and proposed taggant concepts, the committee developed a draft taggant concepts taxonomy as shown in Box 1. Such a taxonomy should prove useful for stimulating thinking about new taggant approaches and for ensuring a complete consideration of taggant concepts. The reader is cautioned that this taxonomy is only a draft tool being used to stimulate committee thinking at this point.

11  

Aerospace Corporation. 1980. Identification Tagging Pilot Test for Packaged, Cap-Sensitive Explosives: Final Report. ATR-80(5860-03)-1ND. Washington, D.C.: Aerospace Corporation.

12  

Scharer, J. 1995. “Switzerland's Explosives Identification Program,” in Proceedings of the International Explosives Symposium. Fairfax, Va.: Government Printing Office.

13  

Ronay, C. 1997. Testimony to the Committee on Marking, Rendering Inert, and Licensing of Explosive Materials.

14  

Office of Technology Assessment. 1980. Taggants in Explosives. Washington, D.C.: Government Printing Office.



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--> History of Taggant Research and Use During 1977 to 1980, a pilot test was conducted for the ATF by the Aerospace Corporation. This feasibility demonstration program evaluated the addition of identification taggants manufactured by the 3M Corporation to 6.4 million pounds of packaged, cap-sensitive explosives manufactured by four companies (Atlas, DuPont, Hercules, and Independent). Taggant addition during manufacture, recordkeeping, and taggant recovery and analysis procedures were evaluated.11 In 1980, the Swiss government began requiring that all manufactured explosives contain identification taggants to aid in criminal investigations. Some success in resolving bombing cases has been reported,12 although the usefulness of the Swiss experience is controversial, in part because of differences between the U.S. and Swiss explosives industries. 13 Previous Evaluation of Taggants In 1980, the Office of Technology Assessment (OTA) examined the use of identification taggants in commercial explosives.14 While it concluded that taggants could be useful for law enforcement, OTA noted the need for further development and safety/compatibility evaluation testing. Committee's Approach to Evaluation of Taggants Taggant Taxonomy In an effort to categorize the many existing and proposed taggant concepts, the committee developed a draft taggant concepts taxonomy as shown in Box 1. Such a taxonomy should prove useful for stimulating thinking about new taggant approaches and for ensuring a complete consideration of taggant concepts. The reader is cautioned that this taxonomy is only a draft tool being used to stimulate committee thinking at this point. 11   Aerospace Corporation. 1980. Identification Tagging Pilot Test for Packaged, Cap-Sensitive Explosives: Final Report. ATR-80(5860-03)-1ND. Washington, D.C.: Aerospace Corporation. 12   Scharer, J. 1995. “Switzerland's Explosives Identification Program,” in Proceedings of the International Explosives Symposium. Fairfax, Va.: Government Printing Office. 13   Ronay, C. 1997. Testimony to the Committee on Marking, Rendering Inert, and Licensing of Explosive Materials. 14   Office of Technology Assessment. 1980. Taggants in Explosives. Washington, D.C.: Government Printing Office.

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--> BOX 1 Draft Taggant Concepts Taxonomy (A)   Detection Taggants Active-things that “tell you explosives are there” Electronics-electromagnetic radiation (from RF to UV-visible) Sound-also probably electronic, but different output Radioisotope-emitting particles or gamma radiation Volatile chemical-emitting detectable molecules Other Passive-things that respond to a query Electromagnetic excitation or scattering of contrast additives Particle excitation or scattering of contrast additives Electronics Sound (B)   Identification Taggants Physical-macro level Marking package (e.g., bar coding) or detonator cap (mainly for unexploded material) Coded particle (e.g., colored plastic “bar code,” ceramic particle containing fluorescent rare-earth compounds, ceramic particle containing magnetic rare-earth compounds) Chemical/Molecular-micro level Coded molecule (e.g., combinatorial variation of short-chain polymer or chlorinated aromatic compounds, isotopic mixtures of readily detected radioactive or non-radioactive elements) Coded mixture of chemicals (e.g., “digitized” mixture of fluorescent chemicals, etc., concentration code determined by chemical assay) Taggant Concept Screening Questions To aid in its examination of existing and proposed taggant concepts, the committee developed a list of screening questions. These questions were provided to taggant vendors to guide their presentations to the committee, and are shown in Box 2.

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--> BOX 2 Questions for Detection and Identification Taggant Concepts Provide an overview of your taggant concept or technique. Is this taggant concept intended for pre-blast detection, post-blast identification, or both? How does the technique work? How many unique taggants are possible? What is the information content of the taggant; e.g., how many years of unique identification taggants are possible at the proposed labeling rate? What level or concentration of taggant is needed (to survive a detonation and be collected)? How adaptable is the taggant to different explosive types? What is the cost of the taggant, e.g., cost per pound of taggant, cost of taggant per pound of explosive, other cost impacts such as process changes required? How are taggant detection, collection, and analysis accomplished? What materials might interfere with detection? Are special personnel training or taggant detection/analysis instruments needed? Are these instruments fixed or portable? What is the response time? What calibration requirements are necessary? What is the false alarm rate/probability of detection? Is the taggant concept (including the detection scheme) equally applicable to detection of concealed explosives on people, in baggage, etc.? What is the level of development of this concept (ideas, experiments, calculations, field tests, operational experience with stimulants or explosives, etc.)? What kind of testing has been conducted on this concept? Taggant survivability following an explosion? At a measured, high detonation rate? Taggant effects on explosive sensitivity? Compatibility testing? Shelf life or long-term stability of the taggant and effect on explosives? Safety testing of the taggant? Toxicity testing of the taggant? Environmental effects of the taggant; e.g., has a material safety data sheet or premanufacture notification been prepared? What is the environmental persistence of the taggant; e.g., is it biodegradeable? How does the taggant affect explosive performance? How is the taggant added to the explosive? If added during manufacturing, what are the effects on the operation and throughput rate? How is proper dispersal of the taggant in the explosive ensured? Is it applicable to both batch and continuous manufacture of explosives? Are there unique operational, recordkeeping, or training requirements for this taggant concept for either explosive manufacturers or users, or for law enforcement personnel? How susceptible is this concept to countermeasures, including ease of removal? How susceptible is this concept to cross-contamination? What is the market for this concept? Are there non-explosive applications?

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--> Taggant Vendors To date, the committee has held discussions (see Appendix C) with a number of taggant vendors, including the following: Bio Traces, Inc. Biocode, Inc. Cambridge Isotope Laboratories, Inc. CDS, Inc. Innovative Biosystems, Inc. Isotag LLC Micro Tracers, Inc. Microtrace, Inc. SRI International Tri-Valley Research Given below are brief descriptions of each vendor's taggant concept culled from presentations and written materials supplied by the vendors. Bio Traces, Inc. Bio Traces, Inc., principally makes instrumentation for detection and quantification of low levels of biomolecules and proposed a taggant concept based on the use of multiphoton detection of appropriate biological and organic molecules. Biocode, Inc. Biocode, Inc., uses immunoassay techniques—utilizing engineered antibodies—to specifically identify matching, inert chemicals added to materials as taggants. Biocode currently provides companies in the fuels, inks, pharmaceuticals, chemicals, and other industries with systems for marking or coding their products as a means of detecting and deterring counterfeiting. The company proposed this concept for post-blast identification of explosives. Cambridge Isotope Laboratories, Inc. Cambridge Isotope Laboratories, Inc., synthesizes molecules (including some explosive compounds) tagged with stable, non-radioactive heavy isotopes. These isotopes are used mainly for biochemical and environmental trace analysis, but application to tagging of explosives was proposed to the committee.

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--> Chemical Delivery Systems, Inc. Chemical Delivery Systems, Inc. (CDS, Inc.) develops and manufacturers a number of microencapsulated particle systems for controlled release of solid, liquid, or gaseous materials in various commercial and military products. CDS, Inc., believes that its technologies are applicable and adaptable to both detection and identification taggants for explosives. Innovative Biosystems, Inc. Innovative Biosystems, Inc., produces a Gene Tag™ using unique DNA sequences that can be detected in small amounts and amplified using polymerase chain reaction (PCR) methods. The company proposed this method for post-blast identification tagging of explosives. Six-month stability and explosion survivability testing has been conducted by Innovative Biosystems on ammonium nitrate fertilizer. Isotag LLC Isotag LLC uses stable (non-radioactive) isotopes to develop “molecular twins” by substituting deuterium for hydrogen in materials to provide an internal identification technique. In some cases, rare-earth elements or rare stable isotopes of common elements are also proposed. Isotag provides the marker compounds, the services to add the tag and take samples of tagged liquids, and the laboratory analytical services to verify the tag presence and tag concentration. It is currently providing tagging services for gasoline supplies of several major oil companies. In a test, Isotag exploded one ton of ANFO tagged with its isotags to verify post-blast survivability and subsequent collection and analysis procedures. The company also has tagged ammonium nitrate at a manufacturing plant. Micro Tracers, Inc. Micro Tracers, Inc., produces Microtracers™—colored, uniformly sized iron grit, iron alloy, graphite, stainless steel, or silica gel particles that are analyzed via colormetric techniques—currently used in the animal and poultry feed and building materials industries. They have been used in more than 300 million tons of animal and poultry feed since the 1960s at a reported cost of ten cents per ton. The company has only limited experience in explosives mixing operations, though it believes that its general approach could be adaptable to explosive applications. Microtrace, Inc. Microtrace, Inc., manufacturers the Microtaggant® Identification Particle—a 0.6-to 1.1-millimeter, irregularly shaped, multicolor and multilayered plastic particle whose color sequence serves as an identification code. This concept was originally developed and patented by the 3M Corporation in the 1970s. A similar product, called HF 6, is also

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--> manufactured in Switzerland by Swiss Blasting A.G.15 Microtaggant® Identification Particles were used in explosives during a test program run by the Aerospace Corporation for the ATF in the late 1970s, have been used by the Swiss in more than 50,000 tons of explosives over the last 12 years, and are used in a number of other commercial, antitheft, and property identification applications. Microtrace, Inc., reported current efforts to develop enhanced taggants for pre-blast detection, post-blast identification, and post-blast location of the particles. SRI International SRI International has proposed the use of upconverting phosphors—a class of man-made, spherical particle materials that absorb radiation (such as from laser excitation) at a specific wavelength and then emit radiation, via luminescence, at a shorter wavelength. The concept has been proposed for both pre-and post-blast detection of explosives and has been successfully tested by SRI on a small-scale explosive charge. A larger-scale test is planned. Tri-Valley Research Tri-Valley Research proposed using rare-earth (lanthanide) element mixtures to tag explosives for identification. Detection and analysis of these ingredients in explosives would be via x-ray fluorescence spectroscopy. Vendor Information Still to Be Reviewed. In addition, the committee has received, and begun reviewing, information from a number of other taggant vendors, including the following: Centrus Plasma Technologies, Inc. MICOT Corporation Micro Dot Security Systems Incorporated Missouri Scientific Natura, Inc. Science Applications International Corporation Security Features, Inc. Tracer Detection Technology Corporation University of Missouri-Rolla University of Strathclyde, Scotland Urenco Nederland B.V., the Netherlands The committee will continue to evaluate taggant concepts as the study proceeds. 15   Department of the Treasury. 1995. Proceedings of the International Explosives Symposium. Fairfax, Va.: Government Printing Office.

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--> Taggant Stakeholders Aside from federal government (ATF, FBI, Federal Aviation Administration (FAA), Secret Service, State, Defense, etc.) and (federal, state, local, and foreign) law enforcement agency interest, a number of other stakeholders have expressed interest and/or noted various concerns about taggant options. To date, the committee has held discussions (see Appendix C) with a number of stakeholder groups, including the following: American Pyrotechnics Association (APA) Chemical Manufacturers Association (CMA) El Dorado Chemical Institute of Makers of Explosives (IME) International Society of Explosives Engineers (ISEE) Law Enforcement Agencies (Los Angeles County Sheriff's Department) National Mining Association (NMA) National Rifle Association (NRA) Sporting Arms and Ammunition Manufacturers' Institute (SAAMI) The Fertilizer Institute (TFI) Given below are brief descriptions of each stakeholder group's position culled from presentations and written materials supplied by the stakeholders. American Pyrotechnics Association John A. Conkling, executive director, presented the APA viewpoint. Concerns raised included the possible wide dispersion of taggants into the environment if they are used in fireworks, thus reducing their effectiveness for law enforcement; taggant effects on sales and recordkeeping requirements for consumer fireworks; effects on the economic competitiveness of U.S. fireworks companies faced with significant pressure from imports; and effects on fireworks distribution methods. Chemical Manufacturers Association Marybeth Kelliher, manager of international trade, presented the CMA viewpoint about the use of taggants and possible imposition of additional precursor controls on the chemical industry. Her main concerns were product liability and integrity, and she also discussed the effectiveness of taggants for law enforcement. She also noted concerns (costs and man-hours) required to address the possible recordkeeping requirements, and the effects on the competitiveness of the chemical industry, particularly from required reporting as it relates to proprietary business relations.

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--> El Dorado Chemical Paul Rydlund, vice president of El Dorado Chemical, discussed the production of both high-density, fertilizer-grade and low-density, explosive-grade ammonium nitrate. He also pointed out some of the difficulties associated with possible tagging approaches for this bulk explosive chemical. Institute of Makers of Explosives J. Christopher Ronay, president of the Institute of Makers of Explosives, presented the IME viewpoint. The IME endorses the use of detection taggants in plastic explosives and supports a national licensing program for purchasers or possessors of commercial explosives. However, it opposes the use of identification taggants—particularly the Microtaggant® product—in explosive materials, stating that they can pose safety risks, will have an adverse effect on the environment and mined products, will have minimal law enforcement benefits, and will present significant costs and economic competitiveness issues. International Society of Explosives Engineers Jeffrey L. Dean, executive director and general counsel, presented the ISEE viewpoint, which included support for a national licensing program for purchasers or possessors of commercial explosives, increased controls on the proliferation of improvised explosives information, support for explosive detection technologies, and the use of detection taggants in plastic explosives. Law Enforcement Agencies The committee heard presentations from Lt. Thomas Spencer and Sgt. Howard Rechtshaffen, members of the bomb squad of the Los Angeles County Sheriff's Department. They indicated that while taggant approaches could offer another tool to locate and convict criminals, new legislation requiring taggants would not address the substantial quantities of explosive materials already in the hands of the public. They also indicated a strong preference for pre-blast detection technologies rather than post-blast identification schemes. National Mining Association Terry O'Connor, vice president of external affairs for ARCO Coal Company, discussed the concerns of the National Mining Association with the committee. He indicated that the mining industry uses approximately 90% of the more than 4 billion pounds of commercial explosives produced each year. The NMA endorses the use of detection taggants in plastic explosives (such as those endorsed by the International Civil Aviation Organization). However, it opposes broad requirements to include identification taggants in explosive materials because of concerns about safety, mined product

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--> contamination and dispersal issues, cost and economic competitiveness issues, with minimal law enforcement benefit, and adverse effects on the environment. National Rifle Association Tanya K. Metaksa, executive director of the NRA Institute for Legislative Action, presented the NRA viewpoint. She noted the strong NRA support for an independent assessment of taggants, particularly for black and smokeless powder, and a strong focus on bombing prevention technologies rather than explosive tagging methods. NRA concerns included safety, cost, possible deleterious effects on firearms, and the utility of taggants to law enforcement. Sporting Arms and Ammunition Manufacturers' Institute. James J. Baker, Don Burton, and Ken Green presented the SAAMI viewpoint about the use of taggants in black and smokeless powders. SAAMI concerns included taggant effects on safety, the manufacturing process, distribution, ballistic performance, and cost-effectiveness. The Fertilizer Institute Gary Myers, president, and Ford West, vice president, presented the views of the Fertilizer Institute. They also discussed the “Be Aware for America” program—a cooperative program between TFI, the ATF, and others to report suspicious sales of fertilizer-grade ammonium nitrate. Additional Stakeholders Contacted In addition, the committee has contacted many other stakeholder groups soliciting written testimony (see Appendix F), including the following: American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) American Iron Ore Association American Portland Cement Alliance American Road and Transportation Builders Association Associated Builders and Contractors Austin Powder Company Dyno Nobel Glass Packaging Institute Goex, Inc. Handgun Control Inc. ICI Explosives Indiana Limestone Institute International Association of Bomb Technicians and Investigators (IABTI)