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WASHINGTON — The director of DARPA, the Pentagon office responsible for developing secretive high-tech gadgets, took an exceptional interest in developing bomb-sniffing robo-dogs five years ago. The goal: to help trace the origins of roadside bombs that were killing hundreds of American soldiers a year in Afghanistan.

But there was a problem. The company that came up with the idea just happened to be run by Vince Dugan, the father of the DARPA director, Regina Dugan.

Pentagon inspectors now say Regina Dugan "used her position to endorse a product" in violation of ethical rules. The investigative report was completed last year but just released by the Pentagon Wednesday — with about half its contents blacked out — in response to a Freedom of Information Act request.

Dugan was the director of the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency from July 2009 to March 2012. Before that, she was CEO of RedXDefense, a Rockville, Md., technology firm where she developed a system for stopping roadside bombs that she called The Bookends. Before that, she was a program manager for DARPA, responsible for the "Dog's Nose" program to employ dogs to sniff for land mines.

She had a similar solution for the improvised explosive devices, or IEDs, in Afghanistan. The military would equip bomb-sniffing dogs with global positioning units and set them loose. Every time the dog smelled explosives, it would lie down, triggering a computer to record its position. Those positions could then be analyzed to help find the locations of bombmakers, much like a map of cholera cases could be used to determine the locations of tainted wells.

U.S. forces could target the bombs at their source. Her marketing slogan for this system was, "Shoot the archer, not the arrow."

As DARPA director, Dugan gave a presentation on the concept for military brass on Sept. 11, 2009. The presentation included RedX logos and copyright symbol, and the "shoot the archer" slogan.

She also gave further presentations, with or without those marketing materials. And when Dugan returned from a fact-finding trip to Afghanistan in 2010, she decided the lED problem there required "more noses."

In her defense, Dugan told inspectors that she spoke only generally about the concepts, and didn't explicitly advocate any one company's solution. She also said she cleared her activity through ethics officials, but the report said she failed to tell those officials the full story.

The presentations, while not explicitly sales pitches, "created potential business opportunities" for her former company, the inspector general's report concluded. Wired magazine and The Los Angeles Times first reported on the conflict of interest in 2011, noting that the firm received $1.8 million in Pentagon contracts during Dugan's tenure there — while the firm still owed her $250,000.

None of those contracts were for the system Dugan gave presentations on.

The inspector general did not make any recommendations for disciplinary action against Dugan because she's already left the government. In 2012, Dugan left the agency for Google Inc., where she is now vice president of engineering, advanced technology and projects.

Dugan responded through a statement by Google spokeswoman Iska Saric: "This matter was closed over a year ago. At no time did Dr. Dugan use her position as the Director of DARPA to make any endorsement — explicit or implied."

The investigation started with a complaint from the Project on Government Oversight, an accountability and transparency advocacy group. POGO's general counsel, Scott Amey, said Wednesday that he was disappointed with the "no harm, no foul" conclusion of the report. "This makes it seem that if you're out of government service, you can't be made accountable," he said.

The report noted that Dugan tried to have parts of the report classified — both for national security reasons and because some of the information was "highly prejudicial" to her.

RedXDefense CEO Vince Dugan, Regina Dugan's father, did not return a call seeking comment.

Follow @gregorykorte on Twitter.

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