CSI: Barwanah, investigative techniques help fight insurgency

21 Mar 2007 | Staff Sgt. T.G. Kessler

Marines are currently using crime scene investigation techniques to help combat insurgents in ongoing operations in Iraq.

Though not like the popular television shows, crime scene investigation is being used to uncover possible insurgents in the Barwanah area and put them behind bars.

According to Staff Sgt. James Breslin, a Marine with the sensitive site exploitation team with Battalion Landing Team 2nd Battalion, 4th Marine Regiment, he and his fellow Marines can process a crime scene using modern evidence collecting procedures to help uncover possible weapons and the people who’ve used them.

If a house or a vehicle is searched and weapons or explosives are found, Breslin and his Marines go over the area with a fine tooth comb collecting all evidence of possible insurgent activity.

“If (the insurgents) are making a new kind of (improvised explosive device) that means there is a new bad guy in town and we’re looking for stuff that coincides with that IED,” said Breslin. “Certain components of an IED specify a certain type of maker or cell. If we find that (material) in someone’s house, then we have enough evidence to hold them,” Breslin added.

Since the evidence he and his Marines collect is used to prosecute criminals in Iraqi courts, it is imperative the evidence collected is done so properly. As a result of their investigations, possible insurgents can be jailed from a few years to life, he explained.

From the beginning of operations, the SSE team has processed roughly 50 different scenes involving possible insurgents. Most notably was a case where four men were found placing an IED. As a result of the SSE’s work, two of the men were given the death penalty, one received a life sentence and the other received several years in prison.

Insurgents are smart about what they are doing, Breslin said, and they make sure not to leave fingerprints or DNA. It just means the team will have to dig deeper to find the evidence they need.

“A good example is when we first got here; we found a car suspected of being a sniper-car. We did the SSE on that vehicle—we got the fingerprints, we got the pictures and recreated the crime scene and sent the information off. It was then decided it was indeed a sniper vehicle,” said Breslin.

Breslin explained many infantry units conduct SSE on their own from within the unit. Though the units are capable of doing the job, a dedicated SSE team allows for the unit to do their job without getting bogged down in the extremely thorough searches and lengthy paperwork involved in the investigation process.

“All the units have to do is a hasty search, turn the objective over to us to do the more thorough search, the paperwork and do the stuff that can be a pain for them to do,” said Breslin. They have to do the cordon, the search, and provide security. Then try to do SSE at the same time—a lot of times the manpower isn’t there. We can alleviate a lot of headaches for the units out there.

For Sgt. Rodolfo Pena, platoon sergeant for the SSE team, the most rewarding part of his job is being able to find and take away the bad guys that might be operating in the area.

Using what he has been taught to gather evidence against possible insurgents, Pena likes knowing what he does can take dangerous people off of the streets and keep weapons from being used against coalition forces operating in the area.

“We get to take away all of the weapons and munitions that harm us and take the (possible insurgent) into custody. I think that makes it safer for us and the Iraqi people around here. That’s the most rewarding part of my job,” said Pena, a San Jose, Calif., native.

There is no normal day for the team. Some days they will patrol on their own or will attach themselves to one of the units operating in the area, explained Pena. One thing is certain however, the days can tend to be very long.

Leaving in the morning and coming back to the camp sometimes after midnight is just part of the job for Pena and his fellow Marines.

“It comes with the job. Whenever we’re needed, we go and we don’t mind. My Marines don’t mind the hours,” said Pena. “We’ve been pulled out of here at night and don’t come home until the next morning, but we don’t mind”.

BLTeam 2/4 is deployed to Iraq as part of the 15th Marine Expeditionary Unit and has been conducting operations in Barwanah since late November.

Headquarters Marine Corps