US report says bomb-sniffing dogs sent to Afghanistan, Iraq may be missing common explosives

By Richard Lardner, AP
Friday, October 8, 2010

Report says US bomb-sniffing dogs not up to snuff

WASHINGTON — The State Department’s inspector general said Friday that bomb-sniffing dogs in Afghanistan and Iraq aren’t being tested properly and may not be able to effectively detect explosives.

The inspector general’s review found that the companies hired to supply and train the animals weren’t testing them for all of the scents of the most commonly encountered explosives, increasing the chance of a dog missing a bomb in a vehicle or luggage. That puts U.S. diplomats at risk, the inspector general said.

The companies — U.S. Training Center in Moyock, N.C., a business unit of the company formerly known as Blackwater, and RONCO Consulting Corp. in Washington — also used expired or potentially contaminated materials for the scent tests, the inspector general’s report said.

Susan Pitcher, a spokeswoman for Wackenhut Services, RONCO’s parent company, called the inspector general’s review “inaccurate.” She said a canine expert engaged by the State Department to verify the detection capabilities of the dogs concluded they complied with the required standards.

Pitcher, however, said that the company had not been provided of the expert’s report, receiving instead what she described as “on-site briefings” of the results.

The inspector general’s office said it had not been given the results of the expert’s inspection when it released its report.

The U.S. Training Center did not respond to a request for comment on the inspector general’s report.

The inspector general’s review was limited to three canine programs handled by U.S. Training Center and RONCO. The report does not say how many dogs each contractor provides.

Overall, the State Department uses nearly 200 bomb-sniffing dogs. And the report only offers a glimpse of the costs of these services, saying the State department pays $24 million a year alone for canine services at the U.S. Embassy in Baghdad.

The report faults the department’s Bureau of Diplomatic Security, which is responsible for managing the canine program, for weak oversight. Investigators found that the contractors, not the bureau, were running the program and policing themselves.

During visits to Afghanistan and Iraq, the investigators did not meet any bureau personnel with expertise in bomb-sniffing dogs. “They depended upon the knowledge and expertise of the contractors to ensure all contractual requirements and other standards were met,” according to the report.

And the contractors told the investigators “that no outside organization with expertise in explosive detection canines had ever reviewed their operations in Iraq or Afghanistan,” the report said.

In comments printed in the report, the department’s Bureau of Diplomatic Security said it is taking steps to improve the canine program and plans to hire an independent expert who will ensure all the contract requirements are met properly.



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