On Wednesday, the Iraqi Interior Ministry reportedly said it had recovered the equivalent of $20 million that the government lost due to corruption. Unfortunately, that’s only a fraction of the amount it lost to people who duped it into buying hundreds of magic wands.
Some refer to these as “ADE-651 bomb detectors,” but those people are crooks, like Jim McCormick, the head of the British company that sold them. He was arrested last year for fraud (but is currently out on bail). What he sold the Iraqis, and many others, was – literally – a plastic handle with a TV antenna stuck onto it, which the company claimed could find explosives in the same way a dowsing rod finds water. I guess that’s true in a sense, because dowsing rods also don’t work. This, however, did not stop the Iraqis from spending $85 million to buy 1,500 ADE-651s.
McCormick was the director of ATSC Ltd, which marketed the ADE-651 as being able to detect “all known drug and explosive based substances.” Supposedly, it could detect tiny quantities of explosives at distances of up to one kilometer (or three kilometers from the air). In a test conducted by the London Times, though, it failed to detect a paper bag containing fireworks from a distance of a few feet.
McCormick insisted that his detectors do work, although in the Times interview he could not explain why or even what principle is involved. (This is generally a bad sign.) According to the company’s website, which amazingly was still up at the time of writing, the ADE-651 uses “long range electromagnetic attraction” to detect the “resonance frequency” of nitrogen atoms, which sounds scientific but is in fact complete bullshit. McCormick, though, said he and his company had been “dealing with doubters” for years, but thought that they had finally identified the issue causing the doubts. “One of the problems we have,” he said, “is that the machine does look a little primitive.” To address this problem, “[w]e are working on a new model that has flashing lights.”
Yes, that’s the problem. It needs some lights.
The ministry’s inspector general issued a report last October confirming that the things are totally useless, and news agencies have taken the things apart to show they contain no electronics. But some minds will not be changed. “Whether it’s magic or scientific,” said Major General Jehad al-Jabiri, “what I care about is [that] it detects bombs.” Fair enough, only it doesn’t. Although ministry officials did take swift action by granting immunity to the guy who signed the contracts, they did not take the magic wands out of service, and according to this report people were still waving them around expecting to find bombs as recently as three weeks ago. (I imagine some of them find bombs, but not in the way they expect.)
A policeman quoted in the report said he wasn’t surprised that the inspector general found the devices to be a sham. “We all knew they’re a failure,” he said. “They don’t achieve anything. It’s all a show for the public.” But that can’t be true – what kind of government would spend huge amounts of money on security technology that doesn’t work and is just a show for the public?
Can we at least get some flashing lights on our body scanners? I mean, give us our money’s worth.