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Review finds that bomb-sniffing dogs in Afghanistan and Iraq may not be up to snuff

October 13, 2010 | 12:29 pm

BombSniffer 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 that they complied with the required standards.

Pitcher, however, said that the company had not been provided the expert's report, receiving instead what she described as "on-site briefings" about 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 did not say how many dogs each contractor provides.

Overall, the State Department uses nearly 200 bomb-sniffing dogs. 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.

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 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.

RELATED NEWS ABOUT MILITARY DOGS:
PTSD not just for humans anymore? German shepherd that served in Iraq suffered trauma
Bomb-sniffing Labrador honored in U.K. for his services in Afghanistan

-- Richard Lardner, Associated Press

Photo: A Marine works with an IED-sniffing dog in Afghanistan. Credit: Scott Olson / Getty Images

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