A Rare Inside Look at the ATF

The Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives – better known as the ATF – is a federal agency that the public rarely gets to see in action. The reason is simple: the agency has some of the most advanced technical knowledge and expertise in firearms and explosives in the world. That's why CBS News jumped at the chance to get an exclusive, behind-the-scenes look at how the ATF handles explosives.

The ATF is the federal agency charged with tracking domestic bombings and explosive incidents in the United States. On Tuesday, the agency released the latest data that shows in 2007 there were 2,772 explosive incidents reported to the ATF by some 540 police departments nationwide.

In order to combat the problem, the ATF provides state-of-the-art, hands-on training to local and state law enforcement to teach them how to investigative domestic bombings. CBS News spent two days watching some of the training conducted by the ATF's Atlanta field office.

ATF officials set off a massive pipe bomb inside a car and detonated explosives inside vacated townhomes. Bomb investigators then sifted through the aftermath to determine how to handle an actual bomb scene.

In another training session, the ATF set off a series of different kinds of explosives including those that contain black powder. Investigators were able to see, in part, how bombs differ from one another when they blow up.

The ATF has three national forensic labs in the country – one of them is in Atlanta. The specialized labs played a key role in the 1993 World Trade Center bombing and the 1995 Oklahoma City bombing. One of the ATF's senior fingerprinting specialists in the Atlanta field office showed us how the ATF uses sophisticated technology to identify who may be responsible for any given explosive crime. Then, we got to see how they can analyze a particle from a bomb that is as small as a tiny sand grain.

Explore the ATF U.S. Bomb Data Center statistics here.