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Out of the Wreckage

Out of the Wreckage

Out of the Wreckage

5/5 (8 ratings)
58 pages
56 minutes
Jul 27, 2022

Editor's Note

Enthralling Scribd Original…

We’ve all seen wreckage from bombings: The skeletons of exploded cars, the rubble of broken buildings. Out of that utter chaos, Yeager, the FBI’s chief explosives scientist, assesses how this terrorism occurred and works intricately to unravel incidents step-by-step. In this enthralling Scribd Original, Yeager lifts the caution tape to walk us through two high-profile crime scenes.


In this fascinating essay, Kirk Yeager, the FBI’s current chief explosives scientist, details the grueling process of examining the aftermath of a terrorist bombing. Drawing on his 30-year career working with improvised explosive devices, Yeager breaks down prominent cases like the horrific 1995 Oklahoma City bombing, when Timothy McVeigh, motivated by white supremacist ideology, detonated approximately 2 tons of explosives outside the Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building, killing 168 people. Looking back on crime scenes like the 1993 World Trade Center bombing and a multipronged attack by deranged farmer Andrew Kehoe against a schoolhouse and its administrators in Bath Township, Michigan, in 1927, Yeager shares his extensive knowledge of post-blast forensics, from the nuts and bolts of bomb components to scientific analysis of how explosives function and predictions of their destructive power.

Yeager also describes the daunting step-by-step task of attempting to solve the brutal assassination of Lebanese anti-Syrian journalist Samir Kassir in Beirut, in June 2005, just months after Rafic Hariri, the former prime minister of Lebanon, had been assassinated by a massive roadside truck bomb that killed 22 people and injured hundreds of others. After navigating the bureaucratic maze of foreign airport-security checkpoints, upon arrival in Lebanon, Yeager and his small team worked with local police and well-meaning but forensics- challenged ambassadors and officials and wrangled crowds of chanting protesters as he scoured the mangled wreckage for clues. While Yeager tried to keep the volatile crime scene secured from contamination, a photograph of two Pepsi cans, offered as a refreshing beverage by local law enforcement and then innocently placed next to his crime-scene kit ̶surfaced on the Internet. Shortly thereafter, Yeager had some explaining to do to his FBI bosses.

In Out of the Wreckage, Yeager dives deep into the forensics of an FBI crime-scene investigation, providing seasoned analysis of terrorist bombing cases on both domestic and international grounds as he methodically works to uncover the darkest recesses of a criminal mind.

Yeager’s sister, Selene Yeager, a National Magazine Award nominee and author of, or contributor to, nearly thirty books, is his coauthor.

Jul 27, 2022

About the author

Dr. Kirk Yeager received his B.S. in Chemistry from Lafayette College and PhD in Inorganic Chemistry from Cornell University. He worked as a research scientist and became Associate Director of R

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Out of the Wreckage - Kirk Yeager

The opinions and views expressed are those of the authors and not the Federal Bureau of Investigation or any other government agency. Adventures relayed do not constitute an official FBI record of events or investigations. Bad words used and lapses into sarcasm have not been condoned by the United States government, its myriad of fine institutions, or any of its many dedicated employees.

My sister and her family often visit over the holidays. A few Easters ago, they were greeted by a tall stack of sawed-off bamboo stalks drying on my front porch next to a bucket filled with roughly 4,000 matchsticks that had their heads clipped off and a metal toolbox labeled Explosives Material in Sharpie sitting off to the side. When my sister inquired about my little project, I assured her it was fine — just something I’d read about in Inspire.

Seriously. It was something I had read about in Inspire — an online magazine published by al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula. The magazine is an important brand-building tool for the organization. Like many magazines, it also features recipes — except these aren’t for cakes and Instant Pot stews; these are for bombs. The edition I’d just finished before my sister came to call included an illustrated guide to harvesting explosive fillers for deadly pipe bombs from common match heads. I thought I’d give it some study.

To stay one step ahead, I read what the bad guys read and have spent a good deal of my career manufacturing explosives that replicate the materials deployed by terrorists. My job is to understand what these folks are cooking up and to help the good guys safely make it go away.

As a true bomb detective, what you have to work with are fragments, soot, fields of twisted metal, and charred human remains. You have carnage and chaos. And in that sea of wailing sirens, beeping horns, and screaming survivors, amid the stench of diesel fuel and decaying bodies, your job is to ferret out forensic clues in a type of macabre scavenger hunt. Your mission is to find what you need to reconstruct the scene, recreate the explosive device (or devices), as well as determine what the bomb looked like and what went down before it was torn asunder, all in the hope of ultimately bringing the bad guys to justice and preventing further attacks.

That’s what true bomb forensics is like. You’re walking into hell, blindfolded.

You don’t know what’s in front of you; you don’t know where the path will lead you. You just start pursuing different avenues, wading through idle speculation, and finding forensic clues to slowly develop a fuller picture. This process does not happen overnight. It takes weeks, months, even years.

But it’s work that we learn from, work that helps prevent more catastrophes in the world. It’s gritty. It’s gruesome. It’s time-consuming and sometimes dangerous. And it’s 100 percent worth it.

Romancing Becky Stone

During my tenure as a research scientist and adjunct professor of chemistry at the New Mexico Institute of Mining and Technology — before I officially joined the Bureau — I conducted field tests in Socorro for the FBI. We were doing a deep dive into the use of ammonium nitrate (AN) — a type of fertilizer mixed with a variety of fuels to make car bombs, which were wreaking havoc in the US and the UK at the time.

Governments on both sides of the pond were eager to learn more about these materials and find ways of preventing terrorists from using them to create mass mayhem. Over the course of 6 years, my team and I prepared approximately 128,000 pounds of explosives created from fertilizer and a wide assortment of fuels. I cannot recall the number of old junker vehicles I disseminated into the desert during that time frame, but one test shot in particular stands out. During one of our largest tests, meant to simulate a truck bomb, we piled about 4,000 pounds of AN that had been mixed with diesel fuel (which produces an explosive called ANFO) onto a testing pad. Everyone else watched the pad through a periscope-like assemblage of mirrors from the blast-proof observation area deep within a bunker. The doorway faced away from the range, so fragmentation was not a concern. It was spring, and I was enjoying the cool desert mountain air. I was wearing a ball cap, and the technician next to me had on a wide-brimmed straw cowboy hat. I remember hearing the countdown.

Three, two, one….

A peculiar moment of stillness accompanied a huge fireball and blast, as if captured on a reel of a silent film. The shock wave eventually reached out and

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  • (5/5)
    Great descriptions! For me, I had to finish reading in one sitting. It certainly grabbed your attention and kept your interest until the end!!