Friday, July 26, 2013

Canine Security Costs for the Baghdad Embassy Double in Three Years from $24 to $50 Million

Additional Note.  A GAO memorandum to various Congressional committee chairs concerning training facilities for diplomatic security (GAO-15-808BR, September 9, 2015) indicates that State Department officials told GAO investigators that the Department "will continue to use the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives' National Canine Center in Front Royal, Virginia, for canine training."  The memorandum was issued in response to efforts to consolidate diplomatic security training, but it is not surprising that canine training would not be easily moved to a centralized teaching location.  

In a redacted report released by the U.S. State Department Inspector General in May 2013, Inspection of Baghdad and Constituent Posts Iraq (ISP-I-13-24A), the IG states that several "security programs at Embassy Baghdad are atypical.  The sense and warn system (identifies, tracks, and warns employees of incoming rocket and mortar fire), biometric access control (daily iris scans or fingerprinting of local employees), emergency reaction teams, and explosives detection dogs are but a few." 

The IG’s report includes a table listing the annual costs of the unique security programs that are operational at the U.S. embassy in Baghdad:

Unique Security Programs
Annual Cost
Sense and Warn System
Biometrics Access Control Program
Biometrics Badging Program
Emergency Reaction Teams
Canine Screening Program
Electronic Countermeasures Program
Green Radio Program
Modular Tactical Operations Centers
Infrared Camera System with operators
Total Annual Operating/Maintenance Cost
Total Approximate Value of Equipment

Thus, it appears that explosives detection dogs are the largest annual security expense of the embassy.

The State Department IG stated in 2010 that the cost of canine services for the Baghdad Embassy Security Force was $24 million annually.  We reported on that in a prior blog here, as well as discussing the serious deficiencies in the canine program that the IG found at the time.    

Given that canine expenses amount to more than a third of Baghdad embassy security expenses, it is curious that the most recent Government Accountability Office report on general U.S. embassy security (GAO-08-162, January 2008) fails to mention this aspect of security at all.  Rather, the GAO emphasizes the kinds of walls and gates, and blast-resistant construction, as noted in the graphic of key security standards below.  Presumably this is not because the GAO is unaware of the use of dogs in embassies, but rather because it agrees with the IG that the Baghdad embassy is unique in this regard.

GAO Graphic of Key Security Standards for Embassies (GAO-08-162)
Numbers of Dogs at the Embassy

It is difficult to understand why canine security costs would have doubled in three years at a time when overall embassy personnel are being substantially cut or, to use bureaucratese that appears in the IG’s 2013 report, “rightsized.”  Apparently dog handlers are not being rightsized. In its 2005 search for bidders to provide security services to the Baghdad embassy, a table of guard posts and schedule of guard coverage was attached.  It appeared to list 32 separate assignments for dog handlers.  (The document is attached to Solicitation #SAQMPD05R1014.A performance audit report of March 2010 (The Bureau of Diplomatic Security Baghdad Embassy Security Force, MERO-A-10-05) specifies that there were 34 dog handlers posts in the Embassy Security Force, almost no change in five years.  That report adds the interesting datum that some of the handlers are Canadian and UK nationals where the original solicitation required that all handlers be U.S. citizens or expatriates.    

On a website page concerning its canine services, RONCO states that it “has supported the Baghdad Embassy Security Force with 117 EDD teams ….”  This presumably covers most of the period from 2005 to the present.  If RONCO supplied all the dogs for the Embassy Force (which may not be the case), it would mean that each team is working an average of two to three years.   G4S’s company newsletter for 2012 states that G4S (parent of RONCO) was awarded a five-year contract with the State Department for canine explosives detection support for the Baghdad Embassy Security Force.  It mentions no increase in the number of handlers and dogs. Thus, it does not appear that the number of dogs in use at any one time, at least for perimeter security, has substantially increased. 

In its 2010 “limited-scope review” of the canine programs that the State Department contracted with, the IG “found systematic weaknesses in canine test procedures that call into question the ability of the canines to effectively detect explosives.”  RONCO took issue with the IG’s conclusions at the time.  It must be wondered why State is now paying twice as much as it was only three years ago in a country that it no longer views as a war zone.  The Benghazi attack no doubt helped fuel embassy security, but this would only explain the increase in canine team costs if the number of teams substantially increased.  Nor would it seem rational to explain it as an expense required to correct the deficiencies the IG found in 2010, particularly when the contractor disagreed with those findings.  

Effect of Military Drawdown in Iraq

The answer as to why canine security now costs twice what it did three years ago may lie in the effects of the military drawdown in Iraq.  The Department of Defense Inspector General stated in 2009 that the "U.S. military drawdown will affect protection of the new embassy compound in Baghdad, as well as convoy security provided by the military for goods brought into Iraq to support embassy operations." This report (MERO-A-09-10) noted that there are "approximately 1,900 guards in the Baghdad Embassy Security Force who maintain the embassy's perimeter security." There are also 1,300 personal security specialists associated with the embassy.  The following paragraph from the report suggests one area where the State Department may have had to pick up expenses formerly paid by the Defense Department:

"The U.S. military provides convoy security (armored vehicle motorcades) for equipment, supplies, food, and fuel brought into Iraq to support embassy operations. According to the embassy’s management officer, the security situation in Iraq prevents the procurement of local food stuffs. Also, there is no “clean” (appropriately refined) fuel available in Iraq, so fuel must be transported by truck to the Embassy from Kuwait. As the military continues its drawdown, the smaller number of military personnel will likely reduce its ability to protect embassy supply convoys."

The report then states that contracts "with private security providers for movement protection will substantially increase the cost to the Department" with regard to truck convoys supplying food and fuel. Visiting delegations and dignitaries also require substantial use of dogs to sweep areas in hotels, business locations, routes along which motorcades will travel, etc. Another 2013 State Department IG Audit (AUD-MERO-13-25), this one of the Bureau of Diplomatic Security relating specifically to Baghdad movement security, mentions dog handlers among those with “protective service positions responsible for actually conducting movement security missions.”  The audit indicates that 20 personnel are required for the “Embassy Program, the Airport Option Program, and the INL-Iraq Program.”  If 20 dogs and handlers were added to the costs listed in the 2013 audit overall Baghdad embassy security costs, this could explain much of the increase.   

What Dogs Do for the Baghdad Embassy

In 2005, the State Department provided details concerning the dogs it wanted for Baghdad (Solicitation No. SAQMPD05R1014). Working dogs are to have “completed a certified training program from a properly certified, licensed, and industry recognized dog kennel, school, or dog trainer.”  They are to be “certified as having met the Department of Treasury, Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms (BATF) standards.”  Further they must “maintain a calm temperament at all times and possess certificates of training equal to that of the Department of the Treasury Odor Recognition Proficiency standard for EOD canines.”  They must “be able to recognize common explosives used by bombers today.”  Six explosives were specifically mentioned in 2005:
  • Black Powder (free flowing, time fuse, or safety fuse)
  • Double-base Smokeless Powder
  • Dynamite (containing EGDN and NG)
  • PETN-based Detonating cord
  • RDX-based Detonating cord or C-4
  • TNT
Part of the IG’s criticism in 2010 was that dogs had only been trained on five of the six mandatory odors.

Dogs must be “selected from large, tractable, intelligent breeds in their prime and in good health.” Certain alerting procedures are required:

“The dog shall be trained to disregard artificial detractors/substances purposely placed in the article to confuse the dog.  The dog shall be trained not to paw or retrieve an explosive or chemical once it has been located; it must be trained to sit to alert the handler that he has located explosive materials.  In addition to sense of smell, the dog must be eager to perform this type of work.  The animal must be healthy, possess a stable temperament and be anxious to please its handler.  A minimum of two hour a day training is required, is invoiced as productive time, and may be suspended by the COR [Contracting Officer’s Representative] as necessary.”
Among artificial detractors used to hide IEDs, according to a U.S. Marine Corps Medical Battalion training manual, are animal carcasses, trash, dirt piles, and even human cadavers.  The requirement of using a sit alert is somewhat curious, since dogs often sit when not moving.  A more definitive signal is to train the dog to lie down, which many explosives-detection dog trainers prefer.  Training dogs daily is optimal, but many U.S. law enforcement agencies make this virtually impossible.
Dogs inspect “all incoming packages, parcels, boxes, containers, vehicles, compounds, facilities and/or other items for the presence of explosives or explosive devices.”  They are to provide “early warning of impending danger from terrorists and other sources.”  Apparently they might be deployed off the Embassy grounds as they are also to provide “assistance in thwarting terrorist acts directed against the local U.S. Diplomatic community.”  Dogs and handlers participate with the Quick Reaction Force, if necessary.

Part of the original Solicitation in 2005 included the following sentences:  

"The dog must be trained to conduct perimeter/patrol searches for the purpose of detecting potential threats to the location being guarded.  The dog must also be trained to respond to commands from the dog handler in threatening situations.  The dog will be trained to use the necessary force to restrain assailants and/or unwelcome intruders."

The Department explained that since the dogs were supposed to be Explosive Ordinance Detection Dogs (EOD dogs), the addition of these sentences to the Solicitation meant that the dogs were to be dual-trained, i.e., to be patrol/attack dogs as well. Because of confusion this was causing, and the fact that some bidders were only capable of providing EOD dogs, the Department deleted these sentences from the Solicitation.  If more dual-trained dogs are now in use in Baghdad, this could explain a small part of the increased expense.  It must be noted, however, that many dogs are imported from Europe by American contractors and are already trained to do bite work before they are sent to Iraq (though contractors may still charge more for a dog if this skill is present).

Handler Qualifications for Baghdad

Handlers must be or have the following:
  • U.S. citizens or expatriates.  (As noted above, this may not be a strict requirement.)
  • Native English speakers.
  • At least 21 years old.
  • Minimum three years of military, similar police, or local guard force experience.
  • Passing of physical fitness test.
  • Proficiency in the detection of explosives.
  • Competent dog handling skills
  • Familiarity with physical security and access control matters.
  • Marksman-level of weapon qualification in weapons carried.
It is curious that the list calls for marksman-level qualification for weapons, but only competence in dog handling. As to care for the dogs, they are to “be housed in clean facilities while not on duty.”  Shifts were not to be so long that the dog would not maintain “a high state of alertness and attentiveness.”

One possible reason for part of the increase is that dog handlers may be getting higher pay.  A State Department IG performance evaluation of DynCorp (MERO-IQO-09-06), which provides protective services in Iraq, noted several times that the company has had “difficulty maintaining staff in two personal security specialist labor categories, dog handlers and designated marksmen.”  

Afghan Canine Program May Lose Funding

While the State Department may funding an increase its use of canine teams, in May the Department of Defense released a report on the Afghan border police (DODIG-2013-081) which states that a canine program developed by coalition forces and German Police Training Teams for those police may not be funded after the withdrawal of coalition forces in 2014. The program currently has 26 dogs with Afghan dog handlers being monitored by the Germans. 

The report says that "neither Coalition forces nor the German Police Training Teams had planned funding post-2014 to continue the program."  No alternative funding sources have been identified, so presumably the Afghan government does not value the program. The report says that discontinuance of the program will "degrade security screening at key crossing sites" and recommends that the NATO commander work with the Afghan Ministry of the Interior and the Afghan Border Police to find a funding source.


The overall cost of security for Iraq operations increased from 2008 through 2010, from approximately $305 million to $594 million according to an Iraq Operations Resource Summary.  Even the State Department may be a little unsure of some of the expenses, as its May 2013 inspection report notes that some budget numbers “are generally accurate, but others, such as canine screening and emergency reaction team program costs, are opaque to the mission because Washington controls them.”  Still, someone must be able to get to the bottom of what all this is costing.   

This dramatic increase in canine security costs seems most likely to be due to the shift of certain costs from military operations to embassy operations, i.e., from the Defense Department to the State Department, though there may be other explanations for at least parts of the increase. One must hope that the State Department's Inspector General will examine this issue in the near future.

An overall study that would be of considerable value, a subject for a Congressional committee or the GAO, would be to compare the costs that the military dropped and State picked up. Just because State took over functions from the Department of Defense does not mean that it is paying the same for those functions.  If the military was using military personnel, then some of the dogs would have been Military Working Dogs, not Contract Working Dogs as the State Department primarily uses.  It would be useful for appropriations committees to know whether the general shift to contractors and CWDs is cost-effective. There is reason for concern.  Some of the WikiLeaks documents, discussed here almost two years ago, indicated that State Department officials were often ignorant of canine functions and procedures. 

The military has been said to prefer to have deaths from IEDs not listed among military casualties in places like Iraq, so an overall study should also verify whether cost savings (if such there are) are being accompanied by any reduction in casualties. 

This blog was written by John Ensminger and L.E. Papet.  The authors thank Dennis Civiello and Eric Krieger for suggestions.

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