FBI Agent Speaks on the Science of Fighting Terrorism

Posted: March 22, 2006 at 1:00 am, Last Updated: November 30, -0001 at 12:00 am

By Tara Laskowski

For Special Agent Tom O’Connor, a typical day at work might involve picnicking in a field of land mines, maneuvering through sandstorms or flying in a helicopter being riddled with bullets.

As a member of the FBI Joint Terrorism Task Force, O’Connor helps piece together forensic evidence of major terrorist attacks both in the United States and abroad. Monday evening in Mason Hall, he spoke as part of the School of Management’s Technology Management Speaker Series, highlighting the challenges and tragedies he faces on the job.

“What I see is man’s inhumanity to man,” said O’Connor, who has worked as a team leader in the unit responsible for processing major crime scenes in Africa, Europe and the Middle East when a U.S. citizen is involved or a U.S. interest is attacked.

His work is often painstaking and time-consuming. Leading teams in both the U.S. Embassy attack in Africa and the Sept. 11, 2001, Pentagon attack, much of the work involved sifting through tons of burned metal pieces, destroyed papers and other “junk.” Often those twisted pieces of metal they recover lead them to further evidence and help track down the people involved in planning the attacks.

“Even after an explosion, when it looks like everything is destroyed, there is a lot of forensic evidence to be discovered.”

O’Connor’s presentation also covered his investigations of the 1999 Kosovo war crimes and the 2000 USS Cole attack, as well as his 2004 and 2005 experiences in Iraq, where he worked with local police and military, helped with hostage investigation and rescue and analyzed explosive devices and bombed crime scenes.

Though witness to horrific acts of murder, torture and terrorism, O’Connor says he knows his work is important and necessary to history and justice. While investigating the mass murders in Kosovo, O’Connor gained a perspective on the purpose of his job.

“We excavated more than 280 bodies to determine the cause and manner of their deaths. We were able to return people to their families, to give them some closure, and that made us feel good about being there,” he says. “This is horrendous stuff. However, we had to document this stuff forensically – that’s history. No one will be able to deny it.”

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