Under the seaTerrorism threat sparks a labor market for underwater detectives

Published 10 January 2007

Grant from DHS launches a minor in underwater crime scene investigation at Florida State University; SCUBA diving, rules of evidence, among the coursework in this unusual discipline; investigations move beyond mere recovery of bodies

There are many spinoffs of CBS’s popular CSI series, but none to our knowledge take place underwater. No doubt, CSI: Atlantis would be a very expensive project to film, but there is also little doubt that many crimes involve a maritime componant, and those with expertise in underwater crime scene investigation are in great demand. In fact, DHS has even provided Florida State University with $300,000 to offer a minor in this unusual discipline, and the dozens of divers who have graduated from it are attracting the attention of government agencies such as the NSA and NASA. “So far we haven’t had a real bad terrorist attack involving our harbors. Part of our school is preparing investigators and law enforcement for that,” program director Tom Kelley said.

An underwater crime scene investigator has the same object in mind as his land-based collegues, although certain techniques such as dusting for fingerprints are not as important. “In the past, the mentality wasn’t investigation, it was just recovery,” said one expert. The terrorist threat, however, has changed that. Investigators closely examine recovered bodies for clues as to cause, location, and time of death, and, as all are trained as divers, often descend deep into the bowels of sunken ships to recover evidence related both the cause of the sinking and to crimes that might have been committed on board. The job is glamorous in a certain way, but it is not for everyone. “Only about 40 percent who start out graduate. The others find out that it’s really about a lot of getting cold and muddy and that’s not what they thought it was,” said professor Michael Zinszer.

-read more in Melissa Nelson’s AP report

(sub. req.); and see FSU underwater crime scene Web site