Fake bomb detectors still used in Iraq

Two inventors convicted of fraud for bogus bomb detection devices. And yet, they are still in use.

Exclusive: Iraq still using bogus bomb detectors – and thousands pay the price – Middle East – World – The Independent.

Bogus bomb detectors are still being used in Iraq five months after a British businessman who supplied the devices was found guilty of fraud.

More than 4,500 people are estimated to have been killed in Iraq – 979 of them in September alone – since James McCormick, a former policeman, was convicted at the Old Bailey in April. His trial heard that the devices he was selling, called ADE-651, were based on novelty golf-ball finders and had no scientific means of detecting explosives.

The Iraqi government promised after the trial that the fake detectors would be phased out. But they were still in use at checkpoints two days ago when 55 people were killed by bombs packed into cars in Baghdad. The responsibility for the attacks was claimed by an al-Qa’ida-linked group, which began its current campaign of violence around five months ago.

A journalist who has worked for The Independent in Iraq in the past, described his surprise at seeing the fake detectors each time he went back to Baghdad. Hassan Ali (not his full name, which has been withheld for security reasons) said from Baghdad: “Some of the junior ranks actually believe they work; more senior ones say it is better than nothing and acts as a deterrent… Some say that the first batch they got worked, the other ones that came later did not. Of course it’s all nonsense.”

Bad habits die hard. And there are sometimes collateral casualties. This is disappointing but unsurprising. I suspect it may be difficult to get the word out to the very end of the communication chain. I hope that it does happen. However, I suspect that those who still BELIEVE it works will continue to use it. I mean, look at all the precedence we have – dowsing has been tested over and over and fails, psychics fail, astrology fails, all sorts of divination is nonsense but still people cling to it as a security blanket.

James McCormick jailed for 10 years for “callous confidence trick”.

Gary Bolton slapped with seven-year sentence for fake bomb detectors .


  5 comments for “Fake bomb detectors still used in Iraq

  1. Peter Robinson
    October 3, 2013 at 12:38 PM

    In this case the biggest problem remains that the purchases of the fake detectors were encouraged with large bribes. hence those who were bribed are reluctant to accept the devices do not work, because that would be an admission that they did not carry out due diligence, and open up the corruption issues to wider scrutiny. Of course, some may have been stupid as well as bribed, and those who have been conned often find it difficult to admit to having fallen for a scam, because that makes them look stupid.

    There can be no excuse by now that any of those using or defending use of the fake detectors are not aware of the fraud convictions of McCormick and Bolton, and the fact that they do not and cannot work.

    The problem remains in Mexico as well in connection with the GT200:

    A lawyer and human rights activist, Jesús Robles Maloof published
    today an article where, among other things, he describes how the GT200
    was presented as evidence to arrest and imprison a blogger, acussed
    of selling drugs, as recently as August the 8th! This happened in the
    state of Chiapas, in the south of Mexico, whose attorney general
    claimed a couple of days after Bolton’s sentence that in CHiapas, the
    detectors do work. I had challenged him publicly some weeks ago to
    test them, but he hasn’t taken the challenge, in contrast to the
    governor of the state of Colima, who did accept the challenge and
    later announced that his detectors indeed didn’t work. Jesús Robles
    Maloof got his article translated into English and posted it at his


    In other news, the annual report of the army was published in
    Septermber 1. Sadly, it does mention the GT200 as if it were in use,
    at least in 14 mobile checkpoints, without mentioning that it is
    worthless. I posted a copy in my blog (in Spanish). It seems that the
    corresonding report from the Navy refrained from mentioning the

    This information supplied by Luis Mochan, a Physics Professor at UNAM in Mexico, who has long been battling the problem there.

  2. Suzanne de Nimes
    October 3, 2013 at 3:30 PM

    Also, belief in “magical” Western technology is still widespread in Iraq. The battlefield success of American and allied soldiers led to a lot of crazy (but widely accepted) rumors in Iraq about the magical devices that enable it,

    For instance, American sunglasses were believed to grant a sort of X-Ray vision (possibly in “magically detect bad guys” and/or “see through clothes” mode), and American body armor was believed to contain its own air conditioning system that keeps soldiers cool no matter how hot the temperature.

    I’ve read more than one account by American soldiers talking to Iraqi colleagues about this stuff, and first assuming the Iraqis were just joking around with them, then discovering that they were in fact quite earnest in their beliefs.

    If you’re culturally prone to believe in this sort of thing, it might be hard for you to abandon your “Magic English Bomb-Finder Machine.” Maybe even moreso now that the Americans and Brits are gone.

  3. phil
    October 3, 2013 at 4:05 PM

    And is is what the harm is in magical thinking. You stop using actual methods which work and use nonsense.

  4. neko
    October 3, 2013 at 7:18 PM

    @Suzanne de Nimes

    While these claims are not true, they reflect possibly real world factual apprehension of advanced technology. It’s not impossible to make portable cooling systems ( whether through evaporation, which works well in the Iraqi climate, or gel packs, or other tech ) . Sunglasses with X-ray vision may seem fantasy, but we do have night vision, which might seem equally implausible in a country where such tech is unavailable, basically.

    So, it’s not like they are really speculating magical powers there. The soldiers who assume they are joking apparently aren’t up on available tech either. Americans in Iraq have more availability of water, air conditioned buildings, and refrigeration than the locals. They also have heightened alertness, night vision goggles, and in some places actual X-ray devices.

    The Iraqis are not so far off. The American’s level of activity due to a continual flow of cold water to drink even during the summer may have been strange to the Iraqis, used to slowing down in the oppressive heat. A logical biological imperative the Americans seem to ignore.

    :end @Suzzanne:

    Aside from all the irrational reasons people might use these devices, it’s important to reflect on their utility.

    if your enemy, or the local populace, is reassured by these devices, the authorities are motivated to contiune to use them to:

    A. ) Reassure the public.
    B. ) Maintain their authority and control . Imagine telling the soldiers the devices they are using have been bogus all this time.

    Add to this… what is the benefit to them of telling the truth? A Machiavellian approach might dictate continuing the lie, with a caveat: “you cannot rely on these devices, search thoroughly anyway.” You would only say this to the foot soldiers tasked with using them.

    Magic has a utility, as a useful fraud to keep people under control, if you are indifferent to the moral consequences. Or if you are worried about the consequences of telling the truth.

    I sometimes worry skeptical criticisms always assume the people using “magical thinking” are stupid. Sometime they are conniving. Sometimes ill informed. Sometimes… it’s the only option they have in an otherwise hopeless situation.

    It reminds me of rich people criticising the poor, at times, for eating moldy bread crusts. It reeks of self-satisfaction.

    I am a skeptic, so allow me to criticize: if you want results, don’t assume the people you are trying to help have no reason for doing what they are doing.

    If you really want to criticize, first recognize the desperation on the other side of this. People are dying. They are not stupid, or ignorant either. Recognizing the truth here may not be a monopoly you hold. Some of them are holding these boxes because they are all they have.

    I have no patience for the NSA and other smug idiots, or the inventors of devices like this, or the government officials who utterly failed to even wonder about such a horrendous device… but these were not people in some backwater believing in magic. People who probably DID know better passed this device along, with the luxury of actual equipment that works.

    Maybe because they have no proven alternatives that could be deployed effectively. Bomb sniffing dogs, with mixed success, are hard to train and expensive. Not to mention the Islamic prohibition against dogs as filthy animals.

    Which they are, but in this case they would be better off with bomb sniffing pigs, whatever the disease related or environmental consequences to feral swine.

    Sorry this story really bothers me. The people of Iraq deserve better. There are some people in the US and England who should have already lost their jobs who are smugly… still being paid in spite of the government shut down, because they are essential. Or something.

    Sorry never mind. I just mean it’s easy to sneer when you are comfortable. I don’t think anyone is doing that I’m just angry. Skeptics have to watch out for this, especially.

  5. Colin Davis
    October 8, 2013 at 5:29 PM

    Hey, Neko, stop insulting pigs! They are much cleaner animals than dogs. In the wild, they wallow in mud to cool themselves. In a pigsty they wallow in filth because there is no alternative. That’s how they got the undeserved reputation for being dirty.

Comments are closed.