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This blog has evolved into a review of historical and modern explosive devices, and responses to them. Links are drawn between historical activity and similar activity in the world today. Mostly I focus on what are now called IEDs but I have a loose personal definition of that and wilingly stray into discussions of more traditional munitions, the science and technology behind them, tactical employment and EOD responses. Sometimes it's just about interesting people in one form or another. Comment is welcome and encouraged but I do monitor it and reserve the right to delete inappropriate stuff. Guest posts are always welcome. Avoid any stuff that makes the enemy's job easier for them.

A note on moral perspectives. Throughout this blog there are descriptions of all sorts of people using IEDs, explosives, or suffering the consequences. Some of the people using IEDs are thought of as heroes by some and terrorists by others. One person's good guy fighting for a cause is another person's evil demon.  It's complicated, and history adds another series of filters too. All of us too live in a narrative made up around however we were brought up, what we were taught and what we learned along the way, rightly or wrongly. So if you sense moral ambivalence, one way or the other, well, I'm guilty and I'm not perfect.  By and large though, I have unapologetic sympathy for those dealing with the devices, whether they be soldiers, cops, or whatever, even those who are part of Nazi or other nasty regimes. That's the cool thing about EOD techs - we don't really care who the enemy is.

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New York's IED Task Force 1905-1919

The article below on Inspector Eagan garnered quite a response so here’s another interesting character for the same city, within a similar line of work. This is Inspector Thomas J Tunney.

In 1905 the NYPD set up an organization to deal with the emerging threat of IEDs from the Italian “Black Hand” extortion gangs. This “Italian Squad” led by the famous New York Italian Cop Joe Petrosino played a significant and successful role in addressing the threat. In many ways they were an “IED task Force”. Tunney was assigned to this squad as a young police officer.

Petrosino was eventually assassinated while on a mission in Italy in 1909.

In August 1914 the NYPD Commissioner formed a “Bomb Squad” made up in part from the remnants of Petrosino’s Italian squad. Thomas J Tunney was assigned to command the Unit.  To be clear this was not a bomb disposal unit at the time but, in essence, a detective division.

Tunney’s job initially was to continue the focus on Italian/mafia extortion gangs using IEDs, and the continuing anarchist revolutionary threat – and the emerging threat from German saboteurs.  Tunney coordinated a significant effort from his team of 34 detectives, and led the use of double agents and detectives working under cover as well as extensive surveillance operations..   His team prevented an attack on St Patrick’s cathedral by some anarchists in 1915 when the bomb planters were arrested “in the act” by undercover police officers, one of whom pulled the fuse from the IED to prevent the explosion.

Tunney’s work expanded significantly in 1917 to counter the IED threat from German saboteurs. As the US entered the war Tunney was transferred directly into the Military Intelligence Service, along with 20 of his squad and indeed along with a number of senior NYPD officers. A significant proportion of the Military Intelligence Service (which before the war had consisted of three people) was then assigned in essence to Homeland protection duties to counter the German IED threat. 

This military Unit, with Tunney as a Major had significant responsibilities for Investigations and security, combining some of the modern roles of Police, DHS and FBI in one unit.  I think we can tell from Tunney’s stern demeanor that he was a competent man, and indeed the press reports of the time rate him very highly.  Tunney toured the nation establishing special squads to deal with the German saboteur threat and the remaining threat from anarchists and other revolutionaries. 

In 1919 he returned to the NYPD and wrote a book about his investigations, available on line here.  However at this time he fell foul of NYPD politics (!) was demoted and assigned to the pickpocket crime division. His deputy, Barnitz, was also demoted, and assigned back to uniform.   Tunney soon resigned and set up a private detective agency.

The following year saw a very significant VBIED attack on Wall Street, which as a crime was never solved. It is tempting to think that had Tunney been in charge he might have got to the bottom of it.

I have gathered some significant material on the German saboteur's IEDs of 1915-1917 in New York and New Jersey (and elsewhere in the US) and will return to this subject in future blogs.

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Reader Comments (1)

always a fascinating read, thanks!

January 17, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterIan Green

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