CSI Amman: US boosts support for Jordan law enforcement with sniffer dogs, surveillance tech

CSI Amman: US boosts support for Jordan law enforcement with sniffer dogs, surveillance tech
Sniffer dogs and forensics labs are part of the upgraded counter-terrorism initiatives in Jordan being supported by the US State Department.
3 min read
21 March, 2018
The US Anti-Terrorism Assistance (ATA) programme trains and equip security forces in partner nations [Getty]
The US is spending millions of dollars on anti-terrorism training in Jordan which includes explosive-sniffing dogs and CCTV surveillance.

The US State Department's expanding Anti-Terrorism Assistance (ATA) programme has allocated $300 million to train and equip security forces in partner nations - so far 21 out of a pool of 56.

The aim is to improve the safety of US diplomats and citizens abroad and to support US allies.

In Jordanthis has included training more explosives-sniffing dogs for airport duty, focusing on the departure gates of US bound flights, and setting up cyber security training for local law enforcement agencies.

In recent years, Jordan has upgraded its fight against militants and criminals, in large part with US backing, setting up a national emergency call centre, a network of street surveillance cameras and databases for DNA, ballistics and fingerprints.

Paul Davies, the ATA programme director, said training has paid off.

"I know that the teams we've trained, whether it's a canine team or a crisis response team for the Public Security Directorate ... have all discovered and disrupted terrorist plots, weapons and explosives that may have been attempted to be smuggled over the border," he told Associated Press in Jordan's capital, Amman.

Jordan's importance to Washington was apparent last month when the kingdom was promised $1.275 billion a year in US economic and military aid through 2022, an increase of 27 percent. 

Jordan faces domestic and external threats from extremists, even though once powerful Islamic State militants have largely been defeated in neighbouring Syria and Iraq.

Street surveillance

At a Jordanian forensics lab and call centre, where facilities are largely on par with those in the US, an average of 30,000 calls are received every day from members of the public or foreign embassies reporting suspicious activity, Brig. Eng. Rami al-Dabbas, the director of the centre, said.

Live footage from street surveillance cameras streamed on screens are mounted on a back wall.

Dabbas said 720 cameras currently cover Amman and key locations elsewhere, including tourism sites, but that he needs another 3,000 to cover the entire capital.

Eventually, close to 11,000 cameras are to cover the kingdom, he said, adding that lack of funding is holding up plans.

Security analyst Amer Sabaileh said he didn't expect public pushback to mounting surveillance. Crime is on the rise and most Jordanians feel security trumps privacy, he said.

Jordan's crime lab, meanwhile, is expanding its databases. It has about 1.5 million sets of fingerprints, or of almost one-fourth of Jordan's citizens, along with 150,000 DNA samples of criminal suspects and thousands of ballistics samples that help solve dozens of cold cases each month.

Lt. Col. Mohammed al-Dajeh, head of training in the criminal investigations department of Jordan's police, said he has seen an overlap between criminal and terrorist networks. Terrorists looking for funding often engage in crime, and some of the militants have a criminal past, he said.

At the canine unit on the outskirts of Amman, German shepherds dogs in training sniff out explosives hidden in the fuel tank of a car, under a fake rock and in a suitcase.

In coming months, five more teams will be trained for airport duty, sniffing laptops and mobile phones of passengers about to board direct flights from Jordan to New York, Chicago and Detroit, said Lt. Col. Ali al-Khaldi of the canine unit.

The dogs won't touch the electronics directly, in deference to local cultural and religious sensitivities, he said, adding that police will seek a religious ruling from a top Muslim cleric on how to deal with police dogs.