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Hendon Publishing

Surveillance, Less-Lethal and Countermeasures

Fighting the war on terrorism, like fighting crime, requires a balance between the rights of Americans guaranteed by the Constitution and the means that can be used to protect them. The Special Operations session at the Technologies for Critical Incident Preparedness Conference and Exposition 2005 pointed out how challenging maintaining this balance will be as more high-tech devices are used against low-tech terrorist threats.

There is a huge number of surveillance technologies that can root out terrorists, but their use can violate the right to move about on public streets and thoroughfares freely and without police intrusions. There are countermeasure technologies that can defeat the terrorists’ weapons of choice, the suicide bomber and the remotely controlled improvised explosive device, or R/C IED. However, many of these require electronic jamming technologies, and that raises legal questions.

Stanley Borek (, an electrical engineer from the Air Force Research, covered a large array of new surveillance technologies under development and in actual use. These technologies vividly show the merging of military-oriented and law enforcement-oriented technologies. Examples included terahertz imaging, electronic systems for concealed weapons detection; magnetic signature analysis, through-the-wall surveillance, and low-cost sensors for location and tracking individuals within buildings.

While these technologies are very effective in the “almost anything goes” military environment, their civilian use could be severely limited by the Fourth Amendment, as was covered in a subsequent presentation.

Andrew Munro, Med-Eng, Inc. (, gave a rather chilling overview on remotely controlled IEDs that he obtained from open sources including the Internet and from viewing middle-Eastern TV programs. R/C IEDs can be as simple as amateur-built ones triggered by a garage door opener, door bell transmitter or automobile remote key fob. More sophisticated IEDs can be controlled via a cell phone, walky-talky or hand-held radio. Model airplane or car R/C systems can also be used.

There are many challenges to defeating R/C IEDs. Foremost, it is vital that the countermeasure used prevents triggering the bomb, but does not actually set it off, accomplishing the terrorist’s objective. Electronic techniques require determining the operating radio frequency. For simple devices like garage doors and key fobs, this usually means only a single, known frequency. The more sophisticated IEDs can transmit on multiple frequencies, making the task more difficult.

Terrorists favor IEDs because they can choose the target, change targets rapidly as more valuable ones appear, and they can choose the time to do the evil deed. They can easily change tactics without changing the technology. For example, now they will set off a small device inside a building, then detonate a larger one outside as people exit the building. The latter also can injure or kill first responders. These factors further complicate the problem.

R/C IEDs could represent a threat not only from the terrorist, but also your ordinary criminal and the mentally deranged. The technology is readily available anywhere in the world. While wartorn countries might have more ordnance easily at hand, developed nations have more choices in the electronic portion, and the availability of more sophisticated electronics.

How to manufacture an IED is also easily found on the Internet. Munro showed a portion of an Arabic video that provided details on building circuit boards and other components of an R/C IED. Good intelligence is the best way to determine frequencies used as well as understanding of tactics that might be used by terrorist groups.

Julie Raffish (jraffis@atty.lacity. org) and Carlos De La Guerra, from the Los Angeles City Attorney’s Office presented an overview of the legal issues associated with using the new surveillance and less-lethal technologies. When considering new surveillance technology, the question should be asked, “Does “X” constitute a “search” within the meaning of the Fourth Amendment?” The answer requires more than looking at a manufacturer’s spec sheet.

Surveillance technology used must be sufficiently reliable to establish probable cause. For example, what is the device’s proneness to give false positive results? Or, how much training is required before an operator is proficient in its use? An insufficiently trained operator not only can make the device less reliable, but result in the evidence collected to be thrown out in court.

It is also important to post notices when surveillance is under way. The notices should be posted in conspicuous locations, have easy-to-read and understand signage, and spell out clearly the reason for the deployment of surveillance equipment. The more focused the surveillance, the less the legal problems. “Dragnets” and surveillance of large masses of people result in more “probable cause” issues. Homes and personal/private property are the most protected from random surveillance. Finally, try to establish probable cause on several factors rather than on the sole basis of a single device or technique.

Andrew Mazzara (afm126@psu. edu), Applied Research Laboratory, Penn State University, gave an overview of available minimum force, counter personnel and material technologies. Like surveillance, there is an overlapping of non-lethal military and less-lethal law enforcement technologies. Besides well-known devices like portable vehicle stoppers, Tasers® and so forth, Mazzara presented some technologies that could have niche applications in law enforcement.

For example, while a high power, tactical laser might be too “lethal” in civilian applications to use against civilians, its ultra-high precision could stop a vehicle that is miles away. The Long Range Acoustic Device, or LRAD, is a long-range acoustic device that can be used for crowd control and as a combatant deterrent ( While at close range it can permanently damage hearing, at a range of 1,000 to 1,600 feet it can emit a loud warning like “STOP” or “DESIST.”

By using at intermediate ranges and for only a few seconds, the sound can be painful, but does not cause permanent damage. The LRAD has been used by the police in New York City for crowd control, in New Orleans during Hurricane Katrina, and in Iraq. The Area Denial Systems, which emit a painful, but non-permanent, sting via a directed energy beam, have potential law enforcement applications.

Surveillance, jamming and less-lethal technologies that rely on radio frequencies are not only constrained by privacy and excessive force issues. Their use can be limited because they emit electromagnetic radiation in radio frequency bands that can interfere with many types of communications.

Frequency allocation is tightly controlled in the United States ( This was pointed out in an overview of the U.S. government spectrum regulatory process by Merri Jo Gamble, U.S. DoJ Telecommunications Manager ( gov), and Rick Murphy, Head ofSpectrum Management at U.S. DHS ( While the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) is usually thought of as the agency that controls and licenses the RF Spectrum, it only does this for non-government allocations.

All government agency assignments are made by the National Telecommunications and Information Administration (NTIC) that is part of the Executive Branch. ( The FCC is a Legislature Branch function. The bottom line is that jamming is usually illegal and RF transmissions cannot cause harm to essential communication. Thus any RF-based technology must be properly licensed before it can be used.

Bill Siuru is a retired USAF Colonel. Since retiring he has done consulting and writing. He currently is the technical editor for several publications - Diesel Progress, Green Car Journal. He has a PhD in Mechanical Engineering. Highlights of his military career include a professor at West Point, commander of the research laboratory at the Air Force Academy and Director of Engineering at Wright-Patterson AFB. Bill Siuru can be reached at

Published in Law and Order, Apr 2006

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