By Kenneth Kesner
"More jobs. More brainpower," said Alabama U.S. Sen. Richard Shelby as he walked in the bright heat this morning on Redstone Arsenal to a construction site.
He joined FBI Director Robert Mueller, ATF Acting Director Todd Jones and others as they dug shiny silver shovels into the red dirt, ceremonially breaking ground on new laboratories, offices and headquarters for the Terrorist Explosives Devices Analytical Center, now located at Quantico, Va.
"It's about the security of our people, our nation, our troops," said Shelby, R-Tuscaloosa. That's why the longtime member of the Senate Appropriations Committee worked for years and secured $125 million in federal funds to bring TEDAC to the arsenal alongside other anti-terrorism agencies.
Since the FBI established TEDAC in 2003 it has examined more than 80,000 improvised explosive devices from Afghanistan, Iraq and around the world. The TEDAC team - which includes ATF, the Department of Defense and other agencies - learns ways to disarm and disrupt the IEDs, have unearthed connections between seemingly unrelated devices to help track their makers, have helped prevent future attacks and saved countless lives.
"In the past nine years, it has proved to be one of our nation's most valuable tools in the war on terror," Mueller said. "One tiny scrap of information can break a case or save lives."
On the arsenal, TEDAC's facilities will be near the ATF's National Center for Explosives Training and Research, which moved into a new headquarters in October of 2010. And the FBI's Hazardous Devices School, which opened here in 1971 in partnership with the Army, has taught every certified civilian bomb-disposal technician in the United States.
Bringing TEDAC here allows for even more interagency and international partnerships, said Jorge Garcia, TEDAC section chief. It's not the FBI's center, he emphasizes, "it is the U.S. government's TEDAC."
He said the arsenal is becoming, in essence, a campus "that provides the federal government, as well as partners worldwide ... a single place where improvised explosives and improvised explosive device analysis training and so forth are focused."
For both security and pragmatic reasons, details on the square footage of the new TEDAC facility and the precise number of labs or employees isn't available. "We certainly anticipate a pretty large presence," Garcia said.
"That's still a work in progress," he said. "That's one of our intentions, is to be able to make the TEDAC an agile location where we can adapt procedures and technologies to further advance efforts to exploit IED materiel."
The hope is to have construction on the specialized facility finished in 2014. Garcia knows that it will be needed to battle the ongoing threat from the ever-changing variety of IEDs.
"It's being used as the strategic weapon of choice worldwide," not just in Afghanistan and Iraq, Garcia said. "We receive materials from 23 nations outside of Iraq and Afghanistan already ... Those submissions are growing by the month."