Inside the FBI: Iris, the FBI's Electronics Detection Canine

August 18, 2016

The FBI’s latest tool to track down evidence knows how to use her nose: Iris is a 2-year-old black Labrador retriever and is the FBI’s first electronics detection dog.

Audio Transcript

Mollie Halpern: [Sounds of barking.] Meet Iris. The 2-year-old black Labrador retriever is the FBI’s newest canine crime fighter.

Iris is the Bureau’s first electronics detection dog. She is trained to sniff out a specific chemical universally found in digital media.

Her nose knows no bounds. With the abundant use of digital media used in crime, Iris can assist FBI agents with all types of investigations, from cyber intrusions to terrorism.

You’ll find Special Agent Jeff Calandra holding her leash.

Jeffrey Calandra: So whether it’s a terrorism, drug case, a counterintelligence case, as well as your traditional cyber cases, child pornography cases—all those cases, those criminals use some form of digital media to either plan, store information.

Halpern: Iris and Jeff went through six weeks of handler training together. Iris completed another four weeks of training so she could be imprinted on the specific chemical.

She graduated in April—which makes her one of only of seven certified dogs in the world capable of tracking down the specific chemical. 

Iris is a food-reward dog, so her training is ongoing. It’s now a common sight in the FBI’s Newark Field Office to see Iris following her nose.

Calandra: I have to set up a version of a search warrant a day for her for her to eat. Otherwise, she doesn’t eat. So, every day I have to find a new location, I have to set out “hides”—hide some devices in a location—and then I have to run her through that location like a search warrant so she can find those devices so she can be fed.

Halpern: When Iris finds a device, it’s unmistakable. Agent Calandra knows she is barking up the right tree when…

Calandra: When she alerts she does two things: One, she goes through a physiological change: heavy breathing, drooling, her tail starts wagging, stuff that she can’t control. And then there is a trained response—she sits.

Halpern: Since coming on board at the Bureau, Iris has been an invaluable resource in multiple search warrants. Agent Calandra describes one of those operations.

Calandra: We typically go in, we do a hand search of a room, and then we bring her in to see if there is anything that we’ve missed. We searched the room, we brought her in, and she ended up alerting on one of the desk drawers. She sat. We opened up the drawe, and we dumped all the contents out, and we still didn’t see any electronic devices. So I do what’s called a “show me”—meaning that she’s trained to put her nose directly on or as close to the source of the odor as possible. So I did a show me, and she put her nose into the pile of items that we dumped out onto the desk. And we still couldn’t find something. And I did another show me, and she put her nose onto a pad of sticky notes—it was a full pad of stickies that you use to write notes on—and we looked at it and were like, “What is she alerting on?” I did one more show me, and she ended up grabbing the sticky pad with her mouth, and she flipped it. And when she flipped it, it opened up and there was an SD card in between the sticky notes.

Halpern: It was a proud moment for Calandra, who is not only Iris’ partner at work but also at home.

Calandra: I spend more time with her than I do my own family. [Laughs]

[Calandra, in the background: Sit, sit.]

[Sounds of barking.]

When she is not working, she’s at home with me—she lives with me. She plays like a normal dog; we play fetch. I mean, she just roams my house. I have two other dogs; she plays with them. When she’s not working, she’s a pet.

Halpern: Calandra isn’t keeping Iris all to himself. He and the leaders at the Newark Field Office want other law enforcement to know they’re happy to share Iris’ capability with them. 

Newark’s Assistant Special Agent in Charge Michael Brodack:

Michael Brodack: Since Iris is a new tool for the FBI, we wanted to make it clear that she’s available not only to help the FBI and all the FBI divisions around the country, but also to our state and local partners and, of course, our federal partners as well.

Halpern: Law enforcement interested in having Iris help them with their investigations should contact the FBI’s Newark Field Office. With Inside the FBI, [sound of barking] I’m Mollie Halpern of the Bureau. Thanks for listening.

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