The National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency’s 13 explosive detection dogs are the goodest boys and girls, according to previously unpublished — and adorable — documents obtained by ThinkProgress.
NGA released a collection of trading cards for its police force’s K-9s earlier this month in response to a Freedom of Information Act request by ThinkProgress. They show the very good dogs sitting at attention, looking into the distance stoically, smiling at their handlers, and obviously begging for chin skritches.
Each card has the dog’s picture and name flanked by crests for NGA’s police force, the Office of Protective Services. The back has the dog’s name, date of birth, breed, weight, the date it started service, and the name of its handler, along with general information on the Office of Protective Services and what to do in an emergency.
The dog’s handlers, who are officers in the Protective Service’s Special Operations Branch, give the cards to agency employees and hand them out to members of the public at events as part of the force’s community policing strategy, according to Chief John Manson.
“I can stand up there in my chief uniform and finest regalia, but it doesn’t matter if there’s a dog there, because everyone wants to pet the dog,” Manson told ThinkProgress, laughing. “They’re loved.”
This reporter first noticed two of the cards on a bulletin board at his veterinarian’s office in northern Virginia, prompting the public records request.
NGA redacted the handler’s names on the cards it released to ThinkProgress under a federal law that allows it to withhold the identities of its employees.
NGA isn’t as well-known as some of its counterparts in Department of Defense and the U.S. Intelligence Community, but its mission is critical. It’s the primary government agency responsible for geospatial intelligence, or GEOINT — everything from maps of Osama bin Laden’s compound to satellite imagery used in domestic disaster relief efforts.
The Protective Service guards NGA’s facilities, personnel, and visitors. Just last March, a man in Everett, Washington, allegedly mailed explosives to several military and intelligence agencies in the Washington, D.C., area. NGA wasn’t on a Federal Bureau of Investigation list of agencies that received those packages. But the incident highlights the dangers agencies like NGA face, according to Manson.
“That is precisely what our K-9 program is meant to mitigate against,” he said.
All of NGA’s K-9s are Labrador retrievers, which have great senses of smell and friendly temperaments, according to NGA Police canine handler Lieutenant Herbert Watson.
The dogs come from two organizations that train seeing-eye dogs, Guiding Eyes for the Blind and Puppies Behind Bars. They send those dogs who seem more disposed to explosives detection than to guide work go to the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms, and Explosives. The dogs then undergo six weeks of training on explosive odors and another ten weeks with their handlers at ATF’s canine training facility, in Front Royal, Va., before heading to NGA.
NGA’s canine handlers also undergo a rigorous selection process, according to Manson and Watson. It’s more than just an on-duty commitment for both the dogs and the officers — they live, work, and even vacation together. The K-9 officers are all huge dog lovers, Watson says, and he encourages potential handlers to involve their families in the decision.
“I’m with my dog more than I’m with my wife,” Watson joked.
That family environment helps both officers and dogs. NGA’s only uses its canines for detection — not patrolling, personal defense, or attack purposes. So it’s important that they’re friendly with people, Watson said, and being around a family helps. Meanwhile the officers get to work every day with a family member and friend.
“I wish I was a handler, I’ll tell you that,” Manson said. “It’s a great gig.”