UK bans export of fraudulent bomb detector; arrests director of manufacturer
Wednesday, January 27, 2010
The government of the United Kingdom has banned the export of the ADE 651, which is advertised by the manufacturer, ATSC Ltd., as a hand-held "remote portable substance detector." However, critics say it is just a "glorified dowsing rod."
In a statement, the Department for Business said, "Tests have shown that the technology used in the ADE651 and similar devices is not suitable for bomb detection. As non-military technology it does not need an export license, and we would not normally need to monitor its sale and use abroad."
The statement went on to say, "However, it is clearly of concern that it is being used as bomb detection equipment. As soon as it was brought to the attention of the Export Control Organisation and Lord Mandelson we acted urgently to put in place export restrictions which will come into force next week. We will be making an order, under the Export Control Act 2002, banning the export of this type of device to Iraq and Afghanistan."
Adding, "The reason the ban is limited to these two countries is that our legal power to control these goods is based on the risk that they could cause harm to UK and other friendly forces." The statement closed by saying, "The British Embassy Baghdad has raised our concerns about the ADE651 with the Iraqi authorities."
Meanwhile, the Avon and Somerset Police have arrested the managing director of the manufacturer, ATSC, 53-year old Jim McCormick on suspicion of fraud. McCormick is a former police officer from Merseyside. He has been released on bail.
These two events come after an investigation by the BBC's Newsnight program where they tested and revealed the device as a fraud.
The device, manufactured by ATSC Ltd. which operates from a former dairy in Sparkford, Somerset, contains an antenna attached to plastic hand grip which is attached to black box. It requires no battery or other power source, and is supposedly powered solely by the user's static electricity, the manufacturer claims. It can supposedly detect minute traces of explosives, drugs, human bodies, money, and even elephants provided it has the right card.
The black box of the device is intended to read "programmed substance detection cards" that are supplied with the device. The device supposedly works on the principle of "electrostatic magnetic ion attraction".
Newsnight brought the device to Sidney Alford, a renowned explosives expert who advises all branches of the UK military. Alford opened up the card reader of the device which was empty. Alford said, "Speaking as a professional, I would say that's an empty plastic case." Alford believes that the selling of the device is "absolutely immoral". He added, "It could result in people being killed in the dozens, if not hundreds."
They then brought the "programmed substance detection cards" to the University of Cambridge Computer Laboratory. The cards were examined by Dr. Markus Kuhn. When the layers of the card were peeled away, it was found that cards contained nothing but RFID security tags.
"There is nothing to program in these cards. There is no memory. There is no microcontroller. There is no way any form of information can be stored," said Kuhn. Adding, "These are the cheapest bit of electronics that you can get that look vaguely electronic and are sufficiently flat to fit inside a card."
The device along with several others has been previously tested by Sandia National Laboratories in the United States. The test concluded that "none have ever performed better than random chance.” The United States Department of Justice has warned law enforcement agencies against buying the device.
The device first came to light in November of 2009, by The New York Times after an increasing amount of car bomb attacks were occurring in Iraq, including the devastating bombing on October 25, 2009, that killed 155. The bombers drove through checkpoints that were equipped with the ADE 651. However, the American magician and skeptic James Randi has been skeptical of the devices since at least October 2008. He offered a $1,000,000 prize if someone could prove the device worked.
Despite what was brought to light by the Times, the Iraqi Interior Ministry stood by the device. Major General Jehad al-Jabiri, who is the head of the Ministry of the Interior’s General Directorate for Combating Explosives, said, "Whether it’s magic or scientific, what I care about is it detects bombs."
In response to the tests by Sandia Labs and the warning from the Justice Department, "I don’t care about Sandia or the Department of Justice or any of them. I know more about this issue than the Americans do. In fact, I know more about bombs than anyone in the world," the general said.
Even after the Newsnight program earlier this week, the Interior Minstry still stands by them, "We conducted several tests on them, and found them successful. In addition, we have a series of achievements officially documented by the Baghdad operations centre, from all the provinces, which establish that these devices detected thousands of bombs, booby-trapped houses and car bombs, and we've noticed a reduction of bombing activities to less than 10 per cent of what it was," said General al-Jabiri.
Interior Minister Jawad al-Bolani even chimed in saying, "The thing is, the instrument is being operated by a user. Not all those who use the instrument are fully trained, the user needs to be alert and adept at using it." The interior ministry has spent over $85 million on the devices, which cost from $40,000 to $60,000, much higher then price given by ATSC, $16,000, despite being warned by the ministry's inspector general, Aqeel al-Turaihi.
"There was corruption associated with this contract and we referred to this and submitted our report to the Minister of the Interior," al-Turaihi told Reuters. He added, "We said that the company which you made a contract with is not well-regarded internationally in the field of explosives detectors, and the price is very high and not commensurate with the abilities of this device."
Meanwhile Iraqi Members of Parliament have called the Iraq Security Forces to stop using the devices. Hussain al-Falluji, a Sunni MP, said, "I proposed to parliament the withdrawal of these machines from service, the formation of an investigative committee and that Iraq recover its money." Others in parliament are backing his suggestion.
Iraqi citizens are also criticizing the devices. Aqeel Yousif Yaqoub, a 39 year-old man who was caught in the October 25th bombing, said, "If they were effective, how did the suicide car bomb reach this area?" Another man, a perfume salesman named Malik Farhan, noted in June 2009 that the device was attracted to his perfumes.
Farhan said, "They stop us every time. There's nothing we can do." Jasim Hussen, an Iraqi Police officer, said, "The vast majority of the people we stop, it's because of their perfume." Another officer, Hasan Ouda, added, "Most people now understand it's what gets them searched, so they don't use as much." McCormick said in email, "cheaply manufactured perfumes and some cosmetics" contain trace amounts of the explosive, RDX.
Other police officers have been doubtful of the device. "I didn’t believe in this device in the first place. I was forced to use it by my superiors and I am still forced to do so," said one police officer who spoke anonymously to the New York Times because he was not authorized to speak. Another officer blamed corruption: "Our government is to be blamed for all the thousands of innocent spirits who were lost since these devices have been used in Iraq."
McCormick still stands by the device, saying, "I have tested it in practice and it works effectively and 100% reliably." McCormick also talked to the The Times of London saying, "We have been dealing with doubters for ten years. One of the problems we have is that the machine does look a little primitive. We are working on a new model that has flashing lights." However, an associate of ATSC, who spoke on the condition of anonymity because of possible retaliation, said, "Everyone at ATSC knew there was nothing inside the ADE 651."
- "Iraqi Interior ministry still backing 'bomb detector'" — , January 24, 2010
- "Iraq official warned against anti-bomb device buy" — , January 24, 2010
- Muhanad Mohammed. "Iraq MPs demand bomb detector be axed after UK ban" — , January 23, 2010
- Press Release: Jeff Wagg. "Randi Responds to the Arrest of James McCormick" — James Randi Educational Foundation, January 23, 2010
- Riyadh Mohammed and Rod Nordland. "British Man Held for Fraud in Iraq Bomb Detectors" — , January 23, 2010
- Caroline Hawley and Meirion Jones. "Export ban for useless 'bomb detector'" — , January 22, 2010
- "Government statement on 'bomb detectors' export ban" — , January 22, 2010
- Simon de Bruxelles. "Head of ATSC 'bomb detector' company arrested on suspicion of fraud" — , January 22, 2010
- Steven Morris. "Boss who sold bomb detectors to Iraq arrested over fraud" — , January 22, 2010
- Press Release: James Randi. "A Direct, Specific, Challenge From James Randi and the JREF" — James Randi Educational Foundation, November 5, 2009
- Rod Nordland. "Iraq Swears by Bomb Detector U.S. Sees as Useless" — , November 3, 2009
- Simon de Bruxelles and Oliver August. "Iraqis spent $80m on ADE651 bomb detectors described as useless" — , November 28, 2009
- Jack Dolan and Sahar Issa. "Iraqi's sweet sorrow: Bomb sniffers detect his perfume" — , June 24, 2009