BISMARCK — Many talented North Dakota pups can smell a pheasant from 25 yards away, but only one can sniff out a micro SD card the size of a fingernail. The state's Bureau of Criminal Investigation says they're lucky to have him on board.
Special Agent Hex was introduced at the Capitol on Monday, Dec. 2, as the state's first electronic detection dog. Attorney General Wayne Stenehjem granted the two-year-old yellow Labrador a badge after an impressive demonstration of his mighty nose.
"With the power vested in me, I will declare you an official agent of the Bureau of Criminal Investigation," Stenehjem said. "He's a good boy, isn't he?"
His handler and caretaker, special agent Jesse Smith, said the BCI hopes to deploy Hex, short for Hexadecimal, about 50 times a year to detect hard drives, computer chips and cell phones during child pornography and drug busts.
Hex has spent most of the last six months in training with Todd Jordan in Indiana. Jordan gained notoriety in 2015 after Bear, a black Labrador he trained, played a critical role in the FBI operation that put former Subway spokesman Jared Fogle in prison on child porn charges. NBC News reported there were only five "porn-sniffing dogs" in the country at the time, but Jordan now lists 30 alumni of the rigorous program on his website.
The dogs, who are endowed with highly sensitive noses from birth, are taught to sniff out a chemical used in the manufacturing of electronic storage devices, Jordan said. They're rewarded with food after indicating the location of the device to a trained handler.
Jordan said Hex is "a fantastic worker" with "a goofy personality that everyone will love."
The bureau received Hex via a donation from Operation Underground Railroad, a California-based non-profit that aims to assist governments in efforts to stop human trafficking and child pornography. The organization could not be reached for comment in time for publication, but NBC reported that the specially trained dogs cost nearly $20,000.
Smith hid five tiny storage devices in books, soda cans and stuffed animals around Stenehjem's office on Monday to show off Hex's rare abilities. One by one, the dog pointed his snout at the exact location of the devices and looked up at Smith for the treat he'd earned. After witnessing Hex's talent, Stenehjem said he had also earned his spot at the bureau.
Smith, who works on the bureau's cyber crimes unit, said Hex would be especially useful during operations at hoarders' homes where the humans tasked with electronic detection could easily miss something. Hex would be sent into the scene after it had already been searched by BCI agents, Smith said. The dog's nose would never be put to use without the presence of a warrant, Stenehjem said.
Smith said he had never handled a canine assistant prior to Hex, so he too underwent training to get the most out of the dog in the field. Hex will live in Fargo with Smith and his family, which includes two other Labradors who get jealous when Hex goes to work with their owner, Smith said.
The nearest state with a similarly trained dog is Wisconsin, but Minnesota expects to receive its newest four-legged agent next year, Stenehjem said. Smith hopes Hex will enjoy a long seven- or eight-year career with the bureau.