STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL ONE: So I’ll start with a statement. Good morning. I’m here to provide an update on the department’s Antiterrorism Assistance and Explosive Detection Canine Program. The department takes the results and recommendations of the OIG reports seriously. Any death of a canine in the field is an extremely sad event, and we will take every measure possible to prevent this from happening in the future.
Canines play a critical role in our counterterrorism efforts overseas and in saving American lives. In fact, studies have shown that canines are the most effective way to detect explosives-related materials. Our ATA canines assist our partners with maintaining and protecting their air and land borders, protect key infrastructure and soft targets, and support airport security. In Jordan alone, on over 50 different occasions, canines have identified items such as improvised explosives, bullets, and detonation cords in airports as well as in vehicles crossing borders.
When the OIG released its first report in September 2019, the Diplomatic Security Service ATA director traveled to Jordan and Egypt immediately. He and our embassies engaged with the two governments on recommendations to follow stricter standards for the health and welfare of canines as well as to allow increased oversight of (inaudible). To ensure all the programs were following our guidelines, we are working to visit every country in which we have explosives-detection canine programs and have requested greater embassy oversight.
The latest OIG report was a follow-on to that report, and we concur with the OIG recommendations to cease temporarily providing additional canines to Jordan and Egypt until those countries implement our requirements to ensure the canines’ health and welfare. Additionally, we have not sent canines to Jordan or Egypt since the OIG released its September 2019 findings.
We have also developed an action plan to enhance the strategic direction and oversight of the Explosive Detection Canine Program. This includes securing written commitments from partner nations with canines that clearly outline preconditions for the assistance, additional funding for health and welfare visits and technical assistance, routine monitoring by U.S. personnel, and sharing canine best practices and expected standards with partner nations.
When the OIG’s investigation began in 2017, DSS, or Diplomatic Security, was already in the process of making systematic changes to the management and oversight of our Explosive Detection Canine Program. We have implemented a number of changes stemming from our own review of the program. By November 2018, we had full-time veterinarians in country conducting regular checks of the ATA canines. We have improved the canine facilities and kennels. We have mentors onsite to monitor the canines and they train foreign dog handlers to our standards as well.
These are just some of the improvements DSS began implementing well before the first OIG report. As I said previously, the death of any canine is tragic, and we will continue to evaluate and monitor the program to include our canines in Jordan and Egypt and to take every measure possible to prevent a canine death in the future.
QUESTION: Can you just say how many countries do you send them to? You said you were going to implement this everywhere or just in Jordan or Egypt, but you would – but even if it’s just Jordan or Egypt, how many countries are involved in the program?
STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL ONE: With ATA, eight countries.
QUESTION: How many? Eight?
QUESTION: Eight countries?
STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL ONE: Eight.
QUESTION: And there’s about 200 dogs?
STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL ONE: Less than that.
STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL TWO: There’s approximately 135, 36 right now. There’s one that’s in the process of being retired, so that’s why.
QUESTION: What are the other —
STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL TWO: The number changes.
QUESTION: But aside from Egypt and Jordan, what are the other countries?
STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL TWO: We have dogs in Egypt, in Jordan, in Oman, in Bahrain, in Lebanon. Let me get you the full list here.
QUESTION: That’s five.
STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL TWO: Nepal, the Dominican Republic. And is that it? Does anyone – is that eight?
STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL THREE: Afghanistan.
QUESTION: One, two, three, four —
STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL TWO: Where —
STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL THREE: Afghanistan.
STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL TWO: Afghanistan.
QUESTION: Afghanistan. And are these – they work only with the host country, or is this something that, like, DS guys, like if there’s a Secretary – if the Secretary visits, are these dogs then detailed?
STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL TWO: They work —
QUESTION: Or do they only work with the local —
STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL TWO: They work with host country to specifically address some of the border and aviation security needs of the host country.
QUESTION: So they don’t – they’re not involved in VIP protection that you guys —
STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL TWO: That’s correct.
STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL THREE: If I can add, in some countries they do provide security for the embassy, for instance, in securing (inaudible) and critical infrastructure, whether it’s government – U.S. Government facilities or host country government facilities.
QUESTION: If I could ask sort of the elephant in the room, or the Saint Bernard in the room, these are mostly Muslim countries where traditionally dogs are not valued; they’re seen as dirty animals. Has that at all played a role, do you think, in why some of these dogs have died and why some of them mistreated?
STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL ONE: I couldn’t comment on that, because I don’t know. But I do know that the trainers and handlers we work with care deeply for the animals that they work with on a day-to-day basis.
QUESTION: Those are Americans, or they’re local as well, or —
STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL ONE: No, these would be partner nation —
QUESTION: — that you’ve trained and – okay.
STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL ONE: Local police. Yeah.
QUESTION: Beyond the health issues and the deaths, have there been any other issues with the program in such that they have used the dogs for purposes that they were not designed, or anything like that?
STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL ONE: I would just say this: In the event that that happens, we re-evaluate the programming and we have the option to cease the program and repatriate the dogs.
QUESTION: Has any country been thrown out?
STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL ONE: Yes.
STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL THREE: Yes.
QUESTION: And they would be?
STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL ONE: Well, just in the interest of diplomatic relations, I’d rather not say. But that has —
QUESTION: Well, we’re on background, so yeah.
STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL TWO: No, I think it’s better not to comment. Yeah.
QUESTION: Oh, really?
QUESTION: Is this recent, or —
STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL TWO: I mean, it’s his call and he prefers not to. Guys, please, come on.
QUESTION: Is it the Iraqis?
STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL ONE: I just —
QUESTION: You’re trying to create transparency around this program.
STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL TWO: He’s here to talk about the programs in Jordan and Egypt, which is what the OIG report addresses.
QUESTION: Is it Iraq?
STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL ONE: Pardon?
QUESTION: Is it Iraq?
STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL ONE: I have no further comments.
QUESTION: Why did Egypt not cooperate, as it says in the investigation? And why didn’t you notice this and step in before, years ago really? I mean, how could – how is this allowed to go on for so long?
STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL ONE: Well, I’ll start and feel free, but —
STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL TWO: Yeah. Go ahead.
STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL ONE: When you say Egypt didn’t cooperate —
QUESTION: That’s what it said in the IG report.
STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL ONE: Yeah. I could say that Egypt is cooperating at this time and doing – trying to be the lead, because they recognize the seriousness of the canine health and welfare.
Any further comments?
STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL TWO: Yeah. Our – so the canines that are in Egypt were granted in the summer of 2018. So normally, no more than six months into the program, usually within a year, we would be visiting and doing a follow-up to see how things are going.
We became aware there might be some issues earlier this year. That’s when we began engaging with the Government of Egypt to schedule one of those visits to go and do the follow-up. It just – for a variety of reasons – again, diplomatic engagement and other things – it didn’t happen for a few months, but it did happen in November of this year.
QUESTION: But in Jordan, they’ve been there for quite a while. It continued for quite a while, right?
STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL THREE: Yes.
QUESTION: I mean, I assume you – everyone in your division loves dogs, and I would think you go in and you see, like, one or two examples of this and say, “Whoa.”
STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL THREE: I mean, in Jordan, we are – we do have – we have CT resources committed to helping. So for instance, we have full-time veterinarians there to assist the Jordanians on improving their health and welfare procedures.
QUESTION: Since when?
STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL THREE: 20 —
STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL ONE: Well, the veterinarian and a veterinary technician arrived full-time, working with the Jordanian veterinary team, November of 2018. But we also had other canine experts that we sent in full-time embedded in their canine unit back in two thousand and – they arrived in ’16?
STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL THREE: Late, late —
STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL ONE: Late ’16 or early ’17.
STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL THREE: Late ’16, early ’17. Yes.
STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL ONE: And some of the things that they brought up were things that we then programmed. Like, well, maybe we should have vets here, or we should provide additional equipment. Maybe we should – things that they were noticing that we have progressively done to help sustain —
STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL THREE: Yeah. And if I could – if I could add – as [State Department Official One] was saying, a lot of these things that the OIG pointed out are things we were already aware of and working on. Improving health and welfare is something that’s continual and gradual. It will not happen overnight. And that’s why improving kennel conditions, improving how many times they check on the canines, those are all things we’re actively working on.
QUESTION: And what’s the cost to train a dog and then to send veteran – or veterinarians over to be mentors, I guess, is the phrase you used?
STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL ONE: Well, the —
STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL TWO: Well —
STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL ONE: Go ahead, [State Department Official Two].
STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL TWO: Did you want to give the cost of an individual program?
STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL ONE: Yeah, the individual for a 30-day foreign handler course that includes the procurement of canines costs $640,000 to train 10 K-9 teams, and a K-9 team is the handler and the canine. So two is a team.
QUESTION: Ten men or women and dog?
STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL ONE: Exactly. Exactly.
QUESTION: And the dogs are female or male, or both?
STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL ONE: Both. They’re both.
QUESTION: The trainers are all men I presume?
STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL ONE: No, we’ve had both. They’ve had a mix, yeah.
QUESTION: Oh, really?
STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL ONE: Yeah. Jordan has recently sent some female officers to train as well.
QUESTION: How much does it cost to train a dog?
STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL ONE: I don’t know the breakdown.
STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL TWO: The purchase of the dog and the training of the dog is – I don’t have the exact figure, but it’s built into that 50- to 60,000 per K-9 team because there’s other costs of bringing the student over here, all the people that support the training.
QUESTION: So you’re ceasing to provide them new dogs, but are they keeping the dogs that they already had in (inaudible) for their health and —
STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL TWO: That’s correct, exactly as you noted. We’re not providing new canines, but they maintain the use and care and welfare of the canines they have with the measures that we put in place. We just recognize the critical need that they have that the K-9s can —
QUESTION: So one of the things that the IG report points out is that you guys did not disclose, when they were doing their original investigation, these additional deaths and it took a whistleblower to come forward to report that. So if you were so concerned and if you were indeed moving ahead urgently with this reform program, why not disclose this to the IG? You got off kind of light. It was harsh, but no one’s getting punished I don’t think, no human is getting punished. You’ve got dead dogs, but – or are people being punished, and why wasn’t this not disclosed? Why did you guys try to – what it suggests is that you were attempting to cover it up.
STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL ONE: I’ll start, [State Department Official Two], and feel free to clarify. But one, we have to have what’s – a verification process. There are many canines in-country. In some countries, there’s certainly – we’re not the sole provider, so you have to do your research, you have to find out, you have to clarify, you have to verify and talk with host government before we can make any formal report. Anything to add to that?
STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL TWO: Yeah. I mean, we were trying to get confirmation on some of these deaths, the cause of deaths, and the lessons to be learned from them. We did – when the OIG report – the original one, not the follow-up – was released in September, we did subsequently follow up with the IG. Unfortunately, one of the deaths happened that same week and we followed up with the IG and provided that information. But again, the information is preliminary until we have veterinary reports and medical records to kind of review and confirm.
QUESTION: Well, why – then why did they make such a big – why did they make the note that it was – you did not disclose this when —
STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL THREE: That’s for the IG to comment.
STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL TWO: That’s for the IG to answer. We can’t answer that.
QUESTION: So you’re saying there was no “whistleblower”, quote/unquote?
STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL ONE: I think we answered that question already.
QUESTION: I’m sorry? Who?
STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL TWO: I think we said that they gave the information that they had.
QUESTION: Who? I want to ask about the whistleblower, which is mentioned in the IG report, which is –
STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL ONE: Go ahead. Go ahead, ask.
QUESTION: Yeah. So you’re saying there was no whistleblower?
STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL ONE: No, I’m not saying that.
QUESTION: Okay. Well, then why – why did it take a whistleblower for this information, the additional deaths to come up?
STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL ONE: Again, as we noted, we have to do a verification process that takes time.
QUESTION: Well, the whistleblower, he or she, as we’re all – we know about whistleblowers these days, didn’t seem to have that – didn’t seemed to have that – or seem to know.
STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL ONE: Yeah, I don’t —
STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL TWO: You’d have to ask the IG. I – they didn’t – that person or whoever that person is didn’t contact us. And I don’t know the history and wouldn’t know the history of how the OIG received that information.
MODERATOR: One more question.
QUESTION: Could you tell us what breed the dogs are? And also the report said that the heat stroke deaths are caused by neglect, they’re not accidents. What was neglected by the handlers that caused those deaths?
STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL ONE: [State Department Official Two], I’ll yield to you on the breeds. I think you are a little better than I —
STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL TWO: Belgian Malinois is probably the primary breed we’re going with now, but there’s a variety of breeds. There’s Labs, there’s German Shepherd mixes. There’s a whole variety depending on the country we’re sending them to or that we try and send what we call the softer looking dogs, or the dogs with pointy ears versus floppy ears.
QUESTION: Why does that make a difference to? I’m curious, why does that make a difference, floppy versus – I’m sorry, that’s kind of interesting.
STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL ONE: Well —
STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL THREE: For aviation security purposes —
STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL TWO: Yeah.
STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: — we were moving towards floppy-ear dogs, which look a little less intimidating than a German Shepherd might.
STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL TWO: People in the airport, kids.
STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL THREE: However, they’re still – they’re trained to the same standard in detecting explosives, so —
STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL TWO: Yeah, if they – they all are validated to the same explosive detection standards. From our standpoint, it makes no difference. But in a mission, we might want —
STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL TWO: A family dog, a family-looking dog versus a police-looking dog. I guess that’s an easy way of explaining it.
QUESTION: Got it.
MODERATOR: Okay. Thanks, everybody.
QUESTION: And sorry, my second question?
MODERATOR: So, yeah, your question?
QUESTION: Yeah, the – about the neglect and the heat strokes, what was neglected to be done there?
STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL ONE: You’re saying what was neglected?
QUESTION: Yeah. The report says that the heat strokes are caused by neglect and they’re not accidental deaths.
STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL ONE: Right, right.
QUESTION: And they mentioned malnutrition.
STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL TWO: Again, that was an OIG comment. For every death we have that we determine or we’re told or can see in the host – in the partner nation’s response was caused by heat stroke, we rely on our partner nations to do the primary investigation of their police officers to say: Could the handler have done something differently? But —
STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL THREE: We have —
STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL TWO: Go ahead.
STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL THREE: And we have taken, for instance, in Jordan, corrective (inaudible), for instance, training the handlers about how to detect early signs of heat strokes. So we are working on that as well.
QUESTION: Have the dogs regained their will to work? It said in the September report they had lost their will to work, that they were treated so poorly.
STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL ONE: No. They – to my knowledge, they are working very well and are in good health and actively being utilized. Yeah.
MODERATOR: Okay. Thanks, everybody.
QUESTION: Thank you.
QUESTION: Thank you.