Monday, November 29, 2010

Iraq’s Interior Ministry Absolves Official Of Buying Useless Bomb Detectors

Iraq spent $85 mil on these worthless bomb detectors, and then refused to recall them

In 2007 Iraq’s Interior Ministry began buying bomb detector wands from an English company.  Despite repeated warnings from the U.S. military, tests and investigations that all showed the devices were useless the Ministry stood by them. That all culminated in Interior Minister Jawad Bolani issuing an amnesty order for the officer responsible for the purchase to protect him from possible fraud charges.

In 2007 the Interior Ministry began buying ADE-651 bomb detector wands from ATSC, a British company owned by Jim McCormick. Up to $85 million was spent on them in a no-bid contract. The devices were distributed throughout the country, and became a common feature at checkpoints. According to ATSC, the devices could find guns, ammunition, drugs, truffles, human bodies, and contraband ivory through walls, water, the earth, and even in planes flying overhead. The wands had no batteries, and were supposed to be powered by static electricity generated by the operator walking in place for a short period of time. Once a person had moved around enough, they were to point the ADE-651 at a vehicle or package and it would point at any contraband. It would seem that any legitimate government agency would be skeptical of such lavish claims, but the Interior Ministry went ahead and bought several hundred from 2007-2009 for an average price of around $40,000-$60,000 a piece.

As soon as Iraq purchased the wands, the U.S. began protesting. The Americans told the Iraqis that the devices were a scam. In 2008 for example, a group of U.S. officers asked Iraqi soldiers to demonstrate the wands on a group of cars, one of which was loaded with explosives. The test failed, and the entire time the Iraqis were checking the vehicles, a U.S. soldier who had C4 in his uniform accompanied them. In June 2009 U.S. military scientists released a report that found that the only electronics within the wands was a simple anti-theft chip. The BBC also did an investigation where Cambridge University found that there was nothing in the devices that could detect bombs.

In 2009 ATSC came under suspicion by the British authorities, which led to an investigation in Iraq. In January 2010 ATSC’s owner McCormick was arrested in England for fraud, and London banned the export of the ADE-651s. Members of the Security Committee in Iraq’s parliament demanded an investigation as a result, claiming that corruption was involved in the contract. Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki ordered a review, which found that around 50% were fake or defective, but in general the wands worked. Iraqi forces continued to use them at checkpoints as a result, while officials expressed confidence in them. Minister Bolani claimed that the wands were responsible for the discovery of 16,000 bombs.

Eventually the Inspector General of the Interior Ministry looked into the purchase of the wands. In October 2010 they announced that the ADE-651s did not work, but they could not do anything about their purchase because Interior Minister Bolani had invoked Article 136(b) that allows top officials to stop any criminal investigation. The Inspector General went on to say that hundreds of Iraqis had died because of the devices, but that they were still being used in checkpoints around the country.

The whole episode smacks of the institutionalized corruption and incompetence that is found throughout the Iraqi government. No one should have believed that the ADE-651s worked. The claims about the device’s abilities were too good to be true. More to the point, after the Americans repeatedly told the Iraqis about their ineffectiveness, and various studies had come out that proved they did not work, the Interior Ministry should’ve stopped their use. Instead officials again and again said they believed in them. The Ministry even made a bogus report to absolve itself, and then the Interior Minister blocked his own Inspector General from investigating the purchase of the wands. The Inspector General noted that the cost of this fiasco was the deaths of hundreds of people, and yet they were still deployed across Iraq. It seems to protect themselves the leadership of the Interior Ministry are willing to allow their own people to be killed rather than admit their mistake, and recall the wands.


Chulov, Martin, “Iraq MPs bid to remove bomb detector,” Guardian, 1/24/10

Loftus, Jack, “ADE-651 Magic Wand Bomb Detector Is a Fraud, Probably Killed Hundreds,” Gizmodo, 1/24/10

Londono, Ernesto, “In Iraq, no magic, or any use, for these wands,” Washington Post, 11/3/10

Nordland, Rod, “Iraq Swears by Bomb Detector U.S. Sees as Useless,” New York Times, 11/3/09

Special Inspector General for Iraq Reconstruction, “Quarterly Report to the United States Congress,” 10/30/10

UPI, “Iraqis say bomb sniffer wands worthless,” 11/2/10

Yacoub, Sameer, “Bomb-Detecting Wands to Be Kept in Service in Iraq,” Associated Press, 2/23/10


amagi said...

Hard to believe. Just hard to believe. Hard to read through this fiasco and maintain any hope for Iraq whatsoever.

Joel Wing said...

It must have been an important official who bought the wands, which led Minister Bolani to protect him from all the criticism and investigations.

Anonymous said...

Just hearing the facts as written makes me guess corruption far more than incompetence.

The obvious scenario is that the Ministry knew they were bogus from the start, but got significant kickbacks and that's why they've blocked all investigation.

Anonymous said...

Iraqis aren't stupid. They are, however, that corrupt. Those prices leave plenty of room some highly motivating kickbacks to some highly placed government officials.

Joel Wing said...


The Interior Ministry's Inspector General found that the wands could've been purchased for around $16,000 a piece. It was also a no bid contract so there was probably some corruption going on. As I said before though, I think the wands must've been bought by someone high up and important, otherwise why have they stuck with them and exonerated the person? If it was someone lower down the food chain they could've easily been made them a scapegoat and pulled the wands from the streets. As is they're still out there doing nothing and costing lives.