Home News Stories 2005 December K-9s Trained to Detect Volatile Explosives
This is archived material from the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) website. It may contain outdated information and links may no longer function.

K-9s Trained to Detect Volatile Explosives

Sniffing Out Terrorism
   FBI Offers Training Opportunity for K-9s


A military working dog trains at the  FBI Laboratory to detect volatile explosives.
A military working dog trains at the
FBI Laboratory to detect
volatile explosives.

In December 1999, a man was caught trying to smuggle a highly volatile explosive—hexamethylene triperoxide diamine, or HMTD—across the U.S.-Canadian border to attack Los Angeles International Airport. Two years later, would-be shoe bomber Richard Reid attempted to use a similar explosive—triacetone triperoxide, or TATP—to blow up a packed airliner over the Atlantic.

Because terrorists are increasingly using peroxide-based explosives to carry out devastating attacks, we are providing training opportunities to some of the best noses in the U.S. to sniff them out.

Meet explosive-detection dogs—an extraordinarily talented breed of anti-crime specialists. Recently, some 60 dogs and their handlers from the Metropolitan Washington Airports Authority, U.S. Capitol Police, Virginia State Police, Washington Metro Transit Police, Secret Service, and other local, state, and federal law enforcement agencies from across the Washington, D.C., area were in Quantico, Virginia for a training opportunity with the FBI Laboratory’s Explosives Unit.

Many of the dogs can detect some 19,000 different combinations of explosives—but, in general, most have not been exposed to bulk quantities of peroxide-based explosives. The teams worked with HMTD and TATP, and went through a course with a large vehicle bomb containing bulk quantities of ammonium nitrate, the explosive Timothy McVeigh used to destroy Oklahoma City’s Murrah Federal Building 10 years ago. After several hours, the dogs demonstrated that they can detect bulk quantities of HMTD, TATP, and ammonium nitrate.

Methodology: Led by their handlers, the dogs sniffed their way through two courses lined with cinderblocks. Some of the blocks concealed canisters—carefully prepared by our explosives expert—holding “threat quantities” of HMTD and TATP; others had empty canisters, or “blanks.” One by one, the dogs correctly identified the blocks containing the explosives by sitting down in front of them and focusing intently on their handlers. A third course consisted of several parked cars, one of which contained 100 pounds of ammonium nitrate in its trunk. After a quick lesson, the dogs sniffed it out.

Because of the extreme volatility of the explosives—some terrorists have actually blown themselves up during assembly—the dogs also learned not to touch the objects they sniffed. With HMTD and TATP explosives, even a slight nudge or scratch could be deadly.

So far, we’ve held similar courses in Florida and California. It’s all part of our ongoing effort to help prevent terrorist attacks and assist our nation’s first responders. We’d like to thank the law enforcement officers and their dogs for participating in our efforts and for continuing their brave work to keep all of us safe!

Links: FBI Lab I Counterterrorism