A local federal whistleblower is raising questions about the welfare of K-9s deployed overseas through a State Department program intended to help other countries fight terrorism — complaints that have caught the attention of multiple government oversight officials, News4 has learned.
Dr. Karen Iovino, a veterinarian who until 2017 worked for a private contractor that trains the explosive detection K-9s in Virginia, is calling for the U.S. government to impose tougher oversight of the dogs once deployed in the war on terror.
At issue is the State Department’s Anti-Terrorism Assistance Program (ATA), which provides training and equipment to law enforcement agencies in more than 150 countries. As of September 2018, at least 100 explosive detection K-9s have been granted to six partner countries through the ATA program, according to a State Department official.
The U.S. provides training to the recipients of the explosive detection canines. But in a federal complaint filed with the State Department’s Office of the Inspector General in August 2017, Iovino alleges that, once leaving U.S. control, some of the K-9s given to foreign governments are “dying due to medical conditions” and “lack of veterinary care,” as well as “poor working conditions.”
“Unfortunately, we're sending dogs to an area of the world that has a lot of poverty and doesn't always see dogs or animals the way we do in the United States,” she told News4. “If we're going to gift a dog to these countries, we've gotta be sure they're taken care of.”
Iovino provided the I-Team with an internal email from a former colleague indicating one dog sent to Jordan died of suspected heat stroke in July 2017. She also provided photos of underweight K-9s she alleges were taken by a former contractor visiting the K-9s overseas — photos News4 could not independently verify.
Her allegations have sparked multiple federal inquiries. The State Department’s inspector general has confirmed to News4 that it’s reviewing the health and welfare of explosive detection K-9s sent overseas.
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The IG, as well as the U.S. House Committee on Oversight and Reform, are also reviewing Iovino’s whistleblower complaint. In the filing, she alleges the private contractor, MSA Security, terminated her after she brought her concerns about the K-9s and other matters to the State Department’s Office of Acquisitions Management.
MSA Security declined comment to News4, citing a confidentiality agreement with the Department of State, but court records show it vehemently rejects Iovino’s accusations pertaining to the reason for her dismissal. The contractor is appealing a July 2018 decision by the State Department IG that found it “committed retaliation” against her after she made protected disclosures.
In an August 2018 letter — made public in court records — an attorney for the contractor blasted the IG investigation and said Iovino’s position was eliminated because the Department of State had “placed increased emphasis on monitoring the well-being” of the overseas K-9s and created a position for a new veterinarian that would travel to provide care. Iovino, the attorney wrote, was not qualified for that position.
“MSA and the government can readily rebut Iovino’s retaliation charges,” the attorney stated.
Last December, former House Oversight Committee Chairman Trey Gowdy issued a letter to Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, requesting documents outlining the State Department’s oversight of the Winchester-based Canine Validation Center, as well as governmental agreements between State and recipients of K-9s through the ATA program.
Staff for the committee’s new chairman, U.S. Rep. Elijah Cummings, D-Md., have since reached out to Iovino, though it’s unclear whether the committee will pursue the issue.
The State Department confirmed it’s aware of Iovino’s complaints but declined an interview about the ATA program, and the Embassy of Jordan in Washington, D.C., has not yet responded to multiple News4 requests.
Reported by Scott MacFarlane and Katie Leslie, produced by Katie Leslie, and shot by Steve Jones and Jeff Piper.