When New York City police officers responded Wednesday to calls about pipe bombs sent to opponents and critics of President Donald Trump, employees of a small Maryland defense technology firm recognized a large, round piece of machinery on television — a bomb containment system that company officials just announced they plan to make in a Baltimore suburb.
“We were very proud; this technology saves lives,” said Eyal Banai, CEO at Bethesda-based Mistral Group, at a ribbon-cutting ceremony Thursday in White Marsh, where dozens of workers will piece together the containers, as well as other equipment designed for military and law enforcement use.
Banai said big-city police departments around the country, including in Baltimore, have purchased the containers for just such threats. A pipe bomb could detonate inside with people standing five feet away and the explosion would likely only hurt their ears a bit.
Mistral officials are unsure how many of the bombs were carted away in a company container. The explosives initially were sent this week to multiple targets including former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, former President Barack Obama and CNN. They were later delivered to former Vice President Joe Biden and a restaurant owned by actor Robert De Niro.
None of the bombs exploded on site, and officials still are investigating and have not said whether the devices were capable of detonating.
Mistral officials said that departments have their own protocols, but bombs can be loaded via robot into the container, driven to a more remote location and exploded inside, thus preserving the evidence. It’s also possible to test the air inside the container for biological or chemical weapons without releasing anything dangerous into the atmosphere.
The systems take up to 700 man-hours to build and cost between $100,000 and $200,000 each. Mistral has begun hiring engineers, welders and others involved in assembly at the White Marsh plant and expects 30 people to work there initially and dozens more to be hired in the next two years.
The 48,000-square-foot plant is a consolidation of a Mistral facility in Curtis Bay and another facility in Pittsburgh, operated by Nabco Systems, which is now partnering with Mistral. The bomb containment systems previously were made in Pennsylvania.
While the technology for the bomb containment system is American, Mistral is a group of companies that connects technology developed and manufactured in Israel and sold in the United States, said Jim Blackburn, a Mistral executive vice president and retired Army general. He said about 70 percent of its products are imported from overseas manufacturers and 30 percent are made in the United States by Mistral and sold to U.S. military and law enforcement entities.
He said the Israeli technology helps the military and law enforcement fill gaps in their defense capabilities by identifying deficiencies and working on technology to address them.
That includes glass and metal armor that can withstand blasts, but also explosive- and drug-detecting chemistry sets for use by drug enforcement, border security and other agents. There also is underwater GPS technology and drones that are capable of lingering in one spot and dropping an explosive at a specific target. They have been used in military operations in Iraq and Afghanistan.
Mistral will make many of those products in White Marsh. Another item to be manufactured there will be bomb-containing trash cans, which are already in use around the country in airports and other public places.They are designed to withstand an outward blast by directing the force of an explosion upward.
Barry Bogage, director of the Maryland/Israel Development Center, a nonprofit group that promotes economic ties between the state and Israel, is among those that helped facilitate the company’s expansion in the Baltimore area. He touted the high-tech jobs that would move to the area.
Several public officials came out to see the equipment Thursday, including Gov. Larry Hogan, U.S. Rep. C.A. Dutch Ruppersberger, Sen. Ben Cardin and local politicians. They touted the relationship the company and the nation have with Israel, which they say has made the United States safer.
“For decades, Mistral has identified America’s defense and homeland security needs and brought proven Israeli technologies here to solve those problems,” Hogan said of the company, which launched in Bethesda 30 years ago.