Zoe, a 2-year-old K-9 the U.S. State Department sent to Jordan in 2016 to sniff out bombs, died of heat stroke after less than a year there. Mencey, another young K-9 deployed to Jordan’s frontlines, was euthanized eight months later due to complications from a tick-borne illness. And after 11 months on the job in Jordan, 2-year-old Athena was found so severely malnourished, she was returned to the United States.
Each of the dogs was among more than 100 deployed overseas as part of a State Department program intended to help partner countries detect and prevent terror attacks. The dogs are also among many, according to a new report from the State Department’s Office of Inspector General, that suffered — or died — from neglect by their foreign handlers.
The news comes months after the News4 I-Team first exposed concerns about the treatment of dogs in the Antiterrorism Assistance (ATA) Explosive Detection Canine program.
More than 10 of the roughly 100 dogs given to Jordan during the past decade have died of “various medical problems” outside the dangers of their intended duties, the inspection found.
The report also details an “overall lack of policies and standards governing the program,” from a partner country’s qualifications to guidelines for a dog’s working conditions, care and retirement.
What’s more, the report found the State Department continued to deploy K-9s overseas despite well-documented concerns about their care in places such as Jordan and recommended it “cease providing canines” there until conditions improve.
The State Department told the Office of the Inspector General it’s already taking steps to establish standards of care for dogs with partner nations, though it rejected the recommendation to stop providing K-9s, citing national security concerns.
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In a statement to News4, a State Department official said the department takes the audit “very seriously” and has accepted the majority of the inspectors’ recommendations.
“Given prior incidents and the seriousness of the terrorist threat, we are cooperating with partner nations on these programs, particularly those nations that are a last point of departure for flights to the United States,” the official said. “The strength of the program is dependent on healthy, well-cared for animals.”
A spokesperson for the Embassy of Jordan told NBC: “Jordan takes the welfare of its security working dogs very seriously. An investigation has begun, including external assessors. No further comment will be made until the investigation has concluded.”
In February, a whistleblower who once worked for MSA Security, the private contractor that trains the canines for deployment in Winchester, Virginia, told the I-Team the program lacks formal guidelines and agreements on care with its foreign partners.
“I want the dogs cared for and policies and procedures in place,” Dr. Karen Iovino told News4.
In a federal complaint filed with the State Department’s Office of the Inspector General in August 2017, Iovino alleged 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.”
“If we're going to gift a dog to these countries, we've got to be sure they're taken care of,” she said.
'Lost the Will to Work'
The OIG report confirms many of Iovino’s complaints but reveals widespread concern among other private contractors about the animals’ conditions in countries such as Jordan.
The report states OIG inspectors interviewed five veterinarians who currently or previously worked at the Winchester center and noted “all of them expressed concern with the health and welfare of the canines in Jordan.” At least one, like the OIG, suggested the program in Jordan be halted.
In April 2016, for instance, federal contractors conducting a health and welfare check on the animals deployed to Jordan found “rampant” parvo, a highly contagious, deadly, but preventable canine disease, according to the OIG report.
They observed at least 20 dogs they said “need to be retired and replaced immediately,” as well as dogs suffering from hip dysplasia and arthritis, and poorly maintained facilities.
The team also reported several dogs died from heat exhaustion while under Jordanian care and others simply “lost the will to work.”
Nancy Blaney, the director of government affairs with the D.C.-based Animal Welfare Institute, called the findings a “horror show.”
“It’s shocking to us that you have this major program supplying a counterterrorism effort that really seems to be operating by the seat of its pants.”
“The government is wasting a huge amount of money, too, for all this training, for sending people overseas ... then to have these poor animals languish,” she added.
Poor Tracking of Dogs?
The State Department has deployed K-9s for more than 20 years in the war on terror and previously used dogs supplied by the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives. In 2016, it established a new training program at the Canine Validation Center in Winchester.
A 30-day handler course for 15 dogs costs as much as $450,000, according to the OIG inspection.
It’s unclear exactly how many dogs have been sent overseas through the program, however, as the OIG found “insufficient and contradictory documentation” of their whereabouts after deployment.
The State Department reports at least 100 K-9s trained at the CVC and deployed to six partner countries remained active as of September 2018. While the bulk of those dogs — 61 — were sent to Jordan, others were sent to Egypt, Lebanon, Morocco, Nepal and Oman.
The report states anywhere from 66 to 89 dogs trained in the ATF program remained in seven countries as of September 2018, including dogs in Bahrain, Indonesia, Jordan, Lebanon, Mexico, Morocco and Thailand.
The OIG chided the State Department for lacking routine welfare check procedures on the animals, something the State Department said it’s working to develop.
The State Department disagreed with the OIG’s recommendation to shutter its Jordanian operations, however, saying it could imperil “national security related efforts focused on protecting American interests.”
In the report, OIG replied: “Canines lose their effectiveness when their quality of life is poor.”
To improve oversight, the State Department deployed a full-time veterinary team on the ground as of November 2018, according to the report.
State officials also told the OIG they have developed new guidelines regarding assessing a foreign partner’s “ability to care for canines,” ongoing health and welfare reviews, and retirement plans for K-9s provided through the ATA program.
In the statement to News4, the spokesperson said the State Department is working with Jordanian handlers to “strengthen their canine program via training, equipment, veterinarian assistance, and mentorship to ensure the health and welfare of granted canines.”
The official continued: the State Department “continues to push for bilateral agreements that govern sustainment of our assistance, including the care of canines by the recipient governments” and is developing an initiative to fund “broader sustainment efforts for canine health and welfare across all ATA country programs.”
Earlier this year, the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform requested the State Department OIG to provide a briefing on its investigation.
The Inspector General, as well as the oversight committee, are also reviewing Iovino’s whistleblower complaint. In the filing, she alleges the private contractor 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 has vehemently rejected Iovino’s accusations.
Reported by Scott MacFarlane, produced by Katie Leslie, and shot and edited by Jeff Piper and Steve Jones.