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Logan tests dogs in new bomb-detection role

A bomb-sniffing Belgian Malinois at South Station in 2004.

John Tlumacki/Globe Staff/File

A bomb-sniffing Belgian Malinois at South Station in 2004.

Not long before the federal government alerted aviation officials about a potential shoe-bombing threat earlier this week, Logan International Airport officials decided to try out a powerful new piece of explosive detection equipment: a brown Labrador-Belgian Malinois mix trained to sniff out passengers carrying bombs.

Dogs trained to screen passengers, not just baggage or cargo, are the latest addition to aviation security efforts, and Logan is one of many airports considering adding some of them to its canine teams.

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“Dogs are the best technology we have yet,” said George Naccara, chief security officer for the Massachusetts Port Authority, which runs Logan.

The Labrador-Belgian Malinois brought to Logan a few weeks ago, fresh off a bomb-sniffing shift at the Super Bowl, worked the Southwest Airlines security line in Terminal E and successfully identified a simulated explosive planted by Massport officials in a backpack.

Dogs can detect vapors in the air from a few feet away, Naccara said, which means they don’t have to nuzzle a person’s pocketbook or penny loafers to nose out an explosive.

Massport is talking to the State Police and the Transportation Security Administration, which currently have a number of bomb-sniffing dogs, about training or adding canines to work security lines at Logan. Naccara was not aware of protocol to address passengers who are allergic or afraid of dogs.

The breed of bomb-sniffing dogs most commonly used among people are Labradors, said Michael White, director of explosives training at MSA Security in New York, a major provider of bomb-sniffing dogs for events and private companies. “You don’t want a snarling, yapping pit bull to be your people-friendly sniffer,” he said.

MSA Security, which has an office in Boston, got a slew of calls for canines after the Marathon bombings, White said. “We’re running dogs all over Boston,” he said. “Our demand is ever increasing.”

TSA declined to say if it was altering security measures in light of this week’s shoe-bomb threat, which was aimed at international flights coming to the United States. Regardless, Naccara said, Massport is always looking for ways to improve security at Logan, and one of those ways could be through the nose of a four-legged animal.

“So much of what we do is done in advance, whether it’s looking at databases or other things,” Naccara said. “When you talk about real time [threat assessment], there’s probably nothing better than a dog.”

Katie Johnston can be reached at kjohnston@globe.com. Follow her on Twitter @ktkjohnston.
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