January 27, 2011

UK government officials implicated in ADE-651 bomb detector scam

Filed under: Britain, Law, Middle East, Military, Technology — Tags: , , , — Nicholas @ 13:03

Remember the ADE-651? The bomb detector that could “detect elephants, humans and 100 dollar bills”? It now appears that British army personnel and civil servants were involved in the effort to sell the bogus device:

The government has admitted that the Army and UK civil servants helped market so-called “bomb detectors”, which did not work, around the world.

Export of the “magic wand” detectors to Iraq and Afghanistan was banned on 27 January 2010 because of the threat they posed to British and allied troops.

The move followed a BBC Newsnight investigation showing they could not detect explosives — or anything else.

Now Newsnight has learned that they are still being sold around the globe.

You can understand the attraction to potential scammers, as the things cost £11 to make (at most) and can be sold for £15,000 to unsuspecting dupes (or willing accomplices, splitting the profits) representing foreign governments.

May 2, 2013

Fraudster who sold fake bomb detectors to Iraq jailed for ten years

Filed under: Britain, Law, Middle East, Technology — Tags: , , , — Nicholas @ 08:54

Under the circumstances, a ten year sentence is pretty lenient:

Fraudster James McCormick has been jailed for 10 years for selling fake bomb detectors.

McCormick, 57, of Langport, Somerset perpetrated a “callous confidence trick”, said the Old Bailey judge.

He is thought to have made £50m from sales of more than 7,000 of the fake devices to countries, including Iraq.

The fraud “promoted a false sense of security” and contributed to death and injury, the judge said. He also described the profit as “outrageous”.

Police earlier said the ADE-651 devices, modelled on a novelty golf ball finder, are still in use at some checkpoints.

Sentencing McCormick, Judge Richard Hone said: “You are the driving force and sole director behind [the fraud].”

He added: “The device was useless, the profit outrageous, and your culpability as a fraudster has to be considered to be of the highest order.”

One invoice showed sales of £38m over three years to Iraq, the judge said.

The bogus devices were also sold in other countries, including Georgia, Romania, Niger, Thailand and Saudi Arabia.

April 23, 2013

Seller of fake bomb detectors found guilty of fraud

Filed under: Britain, Law, Middle East, Technology — Tags: , , , , — Nicholas @ 11:01

Back in 2010, I said “There should be a special hell for this scam artist” who mocked up bomb detector kits and sold them for thousands of dollars in Iraq and other areas with a real need for protection against IEDs. It’s taken more than three years, but he’s finally been found guilty:

A Somerset-based businessman has been convicted of three counts of fraud over the sale of bogus bomb detectors after his operation was exposed in a BBC Newsnight investigation in 2010.

This was a scam of global dimensions. James McCormick marketed his fake bomb detectors around the world, selling them in Georgia, Romania, Niger, Thailand, Saudi Arabia and beyond.

But his main market was Iraq, where lives depended on bomb detection and where the bogus devices were, and still are, used at virtually every checkpoint in the capital.

Between 2008 and 2009 alone, more than 1,000 Iraqis were killed in explosions in Baghdad.

ADE-651 fake bomb detector

How the device was meant to work:

  1. A small amount of the substance the user wished to detect — such as explosives — was put in a Kilner jar along with a sticker that was intended to absorb the “vapours” of the substance
  2. The sticker was then placed on a credit-card sized card, which was read by a card reader and inserted into the device
  3. The user would then hold the device, which had no working electronics, and the swivelling antenna was meant to indicate the location of the sought substance

In other words, a magical dowsing stick that depended on the user to “detect” whatever the device was supposedly seeking. This wasn’t a case of a device that didn’t do what it was designed to do: it was a deliberate fraud with just enough “technological” mumbo-jumbo to appear to be a solution to a real problem:

The court heard that McCormick began his business by buying a batch of novelty “golf ball detectors” from the USA for less than $20 each. In fact they were simply radio aerials, attached by a hinge to a handle. He put the labels of his company, ATSC, on them and sold them as bomb detectors for $5,000 each.

He then made a more advanced-looking version which he was to sell for up to $55,000. The ADE-651 came with cards which he claimed were “programmed” to detect everything from explosives to ivory and even $100 bills. Police say the only genuine part of the kit — and the most expensive — was the carrying case.

To their credit, the police moved to investigate the same day the BBC’s original story broke. Strategy Page explained why the scam had been so easy to sell. Later it was reported that British civil servants and military personnel had been implicated in the fraud.

November 5, 2010

Now the sale of bogus explosive detectors makes more sense

Filed under: Britain, Law, Middle East, Technology — Tags: , , , — Nicholas @ 08:58

Remember a couple of items from earlier this year about a British manufacturer being arrested for selling fake bomb detection devices called the ADE-651? These devices were claimed to be so sensitive that they could even “detect elephants, humans and 100 dollar bills”. I figured that it was all just a kickback scam, but Strategy Page explains how the scam was not only possible but easy:

But it wasn’t just bribes that made the ADE 651 survive over a year of use in Iraq. Arabs, more than many other cultures, believe in magic and conspiracies. After the September 11, 2001 attacks in the United States, many Moslems again blamed Israel. A favorite variation of this is that, before the attacks on the World Trade Center, a secret message went out to all Jews in the area to stay away. Another variation has it that the 19 attackers (all of them Arab, 15 from Saudi Arabia) were really not Arabs, but falsely identified as part of the Israeli deception.

[. . .]

American troops arriving in Iraq go through a real culture shock as they encounter these cultural difference. They also discovered that the cause of this, and many other Arab problems, is the concept of “inshallah” (“If God wills it.”) This is a basic tenet of Islam, although some scholars believe the attitude preceded that religion. In any event, “inshallah” is deadly when combined with modern technology. For this reason, Arab countries either have poorly maintained infrastructure and equipment (including military stuff), or import a lot of foreigners, possessing the right attitudes, to maintain everything. That minority of Arabs who do have the right attitude towards maintenance and personal responsibility are considered odd, but useful.

The “inshallah” thing is made worse by a stronger belief in the supernatural, and magic in general. This often extends to technology. Thus many Iraqis believe that American troops wear sunglasses that see through clothing, and armor vests that are actually air conditioned. When they first encounter these beliefs, U.S. troops think the Arabs are putting them on. Then it sinks in that Arabs really believe this stuff. It’s a scary moment.

However, many troops learn to live with, and even exploit, these odd beliefs. Troops at one base discovered that they weren’t being attacked much, because many of the locals believed that the base was surrounded by a force field, so the troops would casually make reference to their force field, when they were outside the wire and among the locals. This reinforced the force field myth, and made the base safer. Other troops would invent new fantasies, like a pretending that a handheld bit of military electronics was actually a mind reading device. That often made interrogations go a lot quicker. Not all Arabs believe in this stuff, and those that didn’t and worked for the Americans, often as an interpreter, could only shrug their shoulders when asked about it.

January 22, 2010

British law enforcement moves on bomb detector scam

Filed under: Britain, Law, Middle East — Tags: , , — Nicholas @ 16:03

Well, it’s nice to see that sometimes the British government can move quickly on something. As reported on the BBC program Newsnight, a bogus bomb detector has been selling briskly in Iraq (link here). The lead scammer has been arrested today:

The managing director of a British company that has been selling bomb-detecting equipment to security forces in Iraq was arrested on suspicion of fraud today.

At the same time, the British government announced that it was imposing a ban on the export of the ADE-651 detectors because it was concerned they could put the lives of British forces or other friendly forces at risk.

The government promised to help investigate the multimillion-pound deal between the company, ATSC, and the security forces in Iraq.

Iraq has invested more than £50m in buying the devices and training people to use them. Police and military personnel have used them to search vehicles and pedestrians for explosives. But concerns over their effectiveness — and fears they could put lives at risk — have been raised.

Avon and Somerset police officers arrested Jim McCormick, 53, on suspicion of fraud by misrepresentation. A spokesman said: “We are conducting a criminal investigation and, as part of that, a 53-year-old man has been arrested.

There should be a special hell for this scam artist

Filed under: Britain, Middle East, Technology — Tags: , , — Nicholas @ 09:36

A report from the BBC on a “bomb detection device” widely sold in the Middle East, which does nothing at all:

A BBC Newsnight investigation has found that a so-called “bomb detector”, thousands of which have been sold to Iraq, cannot possibly work.

Leading explosives expert Sidney Alford told Newsnight the sale of the ADE-651 was “absolutely immoral”.

“This type of equipment does not work,” he said. “I wouldn’t mind betting that lives have been lost as a consequence.”

Questions have been raised over the ADE-651, following three recent co-ordinated waves of bombings in Baghdad.

It sounds like the ADE-651 is a combination of tech-look crap and new age marketing crap:

Iraq has bought thousands of the detectors for a total of $85m (£52m).

The device is sold by Jim McCormick, based at offices in rural Somerset, UK.

The ADE-651 detector has never been shown to work in a scientific test.

There are no batteries and it consists of a swivelling aerial mounted to a hinge on a hand-grip. Critics have likened it to a glorified dowsing rod.

And if that’s not enough whiff of flim-flam for you, how about this claim?

The training manual for the device says it can even, with the right card, detect elephants, humans and 100 dollar bills.

Update: The Guardian reports that the managing director of the firm has been arrested today.

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