Several TSA security dogs serving at Philadelphia International Airport have been removed from active service due to issues with their training, officials said Tuesday.
The dogs, which are typically used to detect drugs, bombs and other potential security threats, failed their recertification training. They were unable to distinguish the scents of explosive materials, officials said.
Sources say three dogs were unable to pass the annual certification tests, but TSA officials refused to release an exact number. They said there were still canines serving at the airport noting that the TSA has 700 dog teams in 85 airports around the nation.
The affected dogs have been undergoing an intensive rehab training program since the failure, but they remain on-duty to act as visual deterrents, officials said. Philadelphia Police K-9 units are not affected and still being used at the airport.
Still, visual deterrents are not the purpose the dogs are there to serve, terrorism expert Ed Turzanski says.
"These dogs are not ornamental. They're there for a specific purpose," he said. "If the purpose isn't being served, you have to move quickly to compensate for whatever the deficit is."
In a statement released late Tuesday, airport spokesperson Mark Pesce said the TSA has yet to officially notify the airport of any canine decertification, but that passenger safety would not be affected should that happen.
"All Airport Police (Philadelphia Police Department) canine units are unequivocally certified and continue to perform their normal inspection functions in all areas of the airport including terminals, aircraft and cargo."
"The use of canine teams is only one of the available approved screening methods air carriers may utilize. Should TSA canine units be unavailable, that should in no way imply that the airport is unsafe or that cargo is being shipped from PHL without first being screened using of the TSA's approved screening methods."
News of the decertification came just hours after President Obama delivered a speech on the government's security failures surrounding an attempted bombing of a U.S.-bound jetliner on Christmas Eve.
In the speech, Mr. Obama said officials "failed to connect the dots" and that failure will not be tolerated.
Tolerated or not on the federal level, Turzanski says the public won't stand for many other failures.
"I would imagine there's some erosion of public confidence just in terms of security because it does appear as if we have what is starting to look like a systemic breakdown."