22 January 2010

Flashing Lights!

Thanks to Bryan Hemmings for sending me a link to a Times article today,  "Head of ATSC 'bomb detector' company arrested on suspicion of fraud".

Mediaeval-sounding Simon de Bruxelles informs:

"The boss of a British company that has sold million of dollars worth of “bomb detectors” to Iraq’s security forces has been arrested on suspicion of fraud.
Jim McCormick, 53, the managing director of ATSC which is based in a former dairy in Sparkford, Somerset, has been questioned by detectives from Avon and Somerset Police after a complaint that he misrepresented the devices.
In November, Mr McCormick, a former Merseyside police officer, told The Times that his devices, which consist of little more than a telescopic antenna on a molded plastic handle, are able to detect explosives in the same way as a dowsing rod finds water.
Thousands of the devices are in use at military and police check points across Baghdad where they are used to search vehicles and pedestrians for explosives. In recent months hundreds of people have died after car bombers were able to penetrate the security cordon supposed to protect the centre of the Iraqi capital."

The first mention of this I can find was back on 03 November 2009 in the NYT in an article titled "Iraq Swears by Bomb Detector U.S. Sees as Useless":

"The small hand-held wand, with a telescopic antenna on a swivel, is being used at hundreds of checkpoints in Iraq. But the device works “on the same principle as a Ouija board” — the power of suggestion — said a retired United States Air Force officer, Lt. Col. Hal Bidlack, who described the wand as nothing more than an explosives divining rod.
Still, the Iraqi government has purchased more than 1,500 of the devices, known as the ADE 651, at costs from $16,500 to $60,000 each. Nearly every police checkpoint, and many Iraqi military checkpoints, have one of the devices, which are now normally used in place of physical inspections of vehicles.
The suicide bombers who managed to get two tons of explosives into downtown Baghdad on Oct. 25, killing 155 people and destroying three ministries, had to pass at least one checkpoint where the ADE 651 is typically deployed, judging from surveillance videos released by Baghdad’s provincial governor. The American military does not use the devices. “I don’t believe there’s a magic wand that can detect explosives,” said Maj. Gen. Richard J. Rowe Jr., who oversees Iraqi police training for the American military. “If there was, we would all be using it. I have no confidence that these work.”
The Iraqis, however, believe passionately in them. “Whether it’s magic or scientific, what I care about is it detects bombs,” said Maj. Gen. Jehad al-Jabiri, head of the Ministry of the Interior’s General Directorate for Combating Explosives.
Dale Murray, head of the National Explosive Engineering Sciences Security Center at Sandia Labs, which does testing for the Department of Defense, said the center had “tested several devices in this category, and none have ever performed better than random chance.”
On Tuesday, a guard and a driver for The New York Times, both licensed to carry firearms, drove through nine police checkpoints that were using the device. None of the checkpoint guards detected the two AK-47 rifles and ammunition inside the vehicle.
During an interview on Tuesday, General Jabiri challenged a Times reporter to test the ADE 651, placing a grenade and a machine pistol in plain view in his office. Despite two attempts, the wand did not detect the weapons when used by the reporter but did so each time it was used by a policeman.
“You need more training,” the general said."

The story was picked up by Ben Goldacre in the Comment is Free section (not the news section, note) on 14 November 2009, before de Bruxelles picked it up in two articles on 28 November 2009.

One wonders why it took so long to arrest this man and why he's only been arrested for "suspicion of fraud by misrepresentation". Surely he and his company share the blame for all the deaths caused by bombs having passed through roadblocks where the ADE 651 was used? A manslaughter charge at the very least please!

Getting back to de Bruxelles report today, the best comes at the end:

"The Times tested the flimsy device which has no electronic components and no working parts and was unable to detect a paper bag containing fireworks from a few feet away. ATSC’s sales literature claims the device can detect minute quantities of explosives at up to one kilometre, or three kilometres from the air.
Mr McCormick told The Times that his device was being criticised because of its crude appearance.
He added: “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.”
A police source said: “We are satisfied the bomb detectors don’t work.”"

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