When a homemade bomb explodes on the side of a road in Baghdad, cars are rocked, debris is strewn about, and U.S. and Iraqi investigators arrive on the scene. Their job is to gather information and collect evidence, to find the bad guys and, hopefully, bring them to trial. A soldier whips out a laptop computer, and starts typing. Fifteen minutes later, all the information is electronically stored and simultaneously sent to those who need it. Samantha Wright reports the integrated software program they're using was designed and built by Trancite Logic Systems, a tiny computer company in Boise, Idaho.
Trancite's lobby is casual: a desk, a few chairs, soft lighting. But on the bookcase along one wall there is something that seems out of place: several blue and white boxes with wires sticking out of them. Trancite manager Josh Evarts explains that they are IEDs, improvised explosive devices that are used in training, "so when we're training troops, they're actually looking at live devices and things they would see in theater as opposed to an orange cone that says 'This is a roadside IED' on it." He adds that these samples have had the plastic explosives removed.
Most of the time, Evarts is in the field, traveling wherever there are troops in harm's
way, giving them the tools they need for crime scene reconstruction and data collection. It's a process familiar to anyone who watches TV crime dramas like Law and Order or CSI (Crime Scene Investigations). "A lot of people ask us, 'are you doing that CSI stuff?'" Evarts laughs. "And that's exactly the stuff we're doing, we're way out kind of on the cutting edge of how we're electronically documenting incidents."
Trancite got started 10 years ago, designing software local police could use for accident and crime scene reconstruction. Evarts says one day, the U.S. military called, looking for a program it could use, "so that when our troops are going to investigate a roadside bombing or suicide bombing that they've got the tools and technology to exploit that scene as if it were a crime scene here stateside, so we can prosecute and catch bad guys."
The resulting software program is called ATTAC, for Asymmetric Threat And Tactical Analysis Casebook. It can collect data, draw a diagram, and manage digital evidence, all in the computer. Evarts pulls the image of a road from a menu onto the screen. He can expand it, curve it, add lanes, whatever he wants. He adds a second road, creating an intersection.
"Everything from vehicles to bodies to roadway elements, furnishings that might be part of an interior structure, basically anything that could be a variable that's part of a particular event can be added on this scene," Evarts explains, dropping in a tree, a building, a car, and a military transport.
The scene can be copied, with slight changes each time. That creates a storyboard or
filmstrip, of what happened. It's designed for simplicity and speed, Evarts says. "Our mission, or our development guideline was if it's not faster and easier then a pencil and paper, then it's not gonna get used."
The program can upload digital pictures, correlate fingerprints, and track DNA evidence. The goal is to get the evidence needed to convict a suspect or find a pattern inside attacks. Evarts says that can lead investigators to the bomb builders. "Most of the time the guys who are delivering the bombs and the guys that are sacrificing their lives to kill others are not the guys that are making the bombs," he says. "Our target really is the guys that are making them and making sure we're taking them out of play."
Boise, Idaho, is a long way from Baghdad. And the 17 people who make up Trancite are working in an environment far removed from a war zone. But Evarts got a taste of how the software will be used in the field in June, when he flew to Baghdad. The base where he was training Iraqi police and the U.S. military to use the Trancite system was hit by a rocket. "We realized it was our camp that got hit by that rocket, a Chinese rocket that had struck a palm tree, fragmented at that point and had significantly damaged three of the trailers," he recalls. "I had been there training the Iraqis for the past two weeks. They asked me to be the team lead to conduct that post-blast investigation and really put the software through its [paces], does it really work in the field? It worked great!"
But back home now and safe in Boise, Josh Evarts can't forget that night in Baghdad. And he can't forget the faces of all the people he's trained to use the system. "Probably the hardest part of my job over the last two years has been the memorial services that I've attended for guys that I've trained," he admits. "My bomb techs are doing the most dangerous job that there is in-country right now and we just don't get all those guys back."
Evarts says Trancite will keep right on producing new programs, and creating new software, for both the military and civilian police forces. "As long as there're bad people out there in the world that are looking to attack us, then I'm probably gonna have a lot of work to do," he says.