Philadelphia airport bomb-sniffing dogs fail tests

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PHILADELPHIA (AP) — Three bomb-sniffing dogs assigned to inspect cargo at Philadelphia International Airport failed recent recertification tests and federal officials should immediately replace them, a Pennsylvania congressman said.

U.S. Rep. Robert Brady, D-Pa., said he was briefed on the failures by airport and Transportation Security Administration officials.

“This is totally ridiculous,” Brady said.

Brady sent a letter Tuesday to acting TSA administrator Gale Rossides urging him “to immediately replace the three dogs on duty at PHL with certified animals so that passengers and cargo flying out of our airport can do so safely.”

There also are 10 TSA-certified Philadelphia police dogs assigned to the airport.

TSA spokesman Greg Soule said the agency could not comment on the status of its dogs. He said, however, that the rigorous nature of yearly certification tests means that some of the nation’s 700 TSA-led dog teams deployed in air, marine and mass transportation systems may not pass and must go through a remedial program.

In the meantime, other layers of security are employed, Soule said. TSA-led teams concentrate on cargo screening while law enforcement-led teams handle all areas of the airport and spend part of their time supporting cargo inspection.

Built-in redundancy means the dogs’ lack of certification will not hurt air cargo screening, Soule said.

Brady, however, said the agency should immediately replace the dogs while they are being recertified.

Philadelphia International Airport officials said they had not been notified officially that any dog team had been decertified.

Edward Turzanski, a senior fellow at the Center on Terrorism, Counter-Terrorism, and Homeland Security in the Foreign Policy Research Institute in Philadelphia, called the situation serious, especially considering that lack of communication between federal and local officials.

“These dogs are not ornamental,” said Turzanski, also a La Salle University professor. “They are there for a purpose. If the purpose is not being satisfied, that’s a serious issue.”

Turzanski recent troubles such as Sunday’s security breach in Newark Liberty International Airport, which prompted a shutdown and passenger rescreening, may indicate systemic problems at the agency.

“It looks as if we have an unwieldy bureaucracy that appears to have lost its way in some pretty serious ways,” Turzanski said.