New Prime Minister Haider Abadi is making some small steps towards reforming Iraq’s dysfunctional government. In the middle of October 2014 he announced a small, but important move in that direction. The premier said that the fake bomb detectors that were purchased back in 2007 and had been proven not to work over and over again would finally be replaced. New devices from the U.S. are supposed to arrive soon to be installed in Karbala to protect the shrine cities, and then another alternative is supposed to be found for the rest of the country. These detectors, known as the ADE-651 have been a massive scandal wrapped in corruption and incompetence that no one in Iraq would own up to previously. Finally, the new prime minister is moving to rectify this situation that has cost the lives of hundreds of people.
On October 23, 2014 Prime Minister Haider Abadi finally said that the ADE-651s would be removed from service at checkpoints. An alternative would be found, but he didn’t say what that would be. Two days later Adnan Asadi who is the deputy Interior Minister held a press conference stating that modern U.S. bomb detectors would arrive in Iraq this month to be employed in Karbala to protect the pilgrims who flock to that province. He repeated Abadi’s remark that the fake devices would be replaced as well. The ADE-651s were symbolic of the corruption and hubris within the Iraqi government. Despite everyone knowing they did not work Baghdad refused to get rid of them, and denied any wrong doing. Abadi finally moving to get rid of them would be a huge move for improving security. If real detectors can be found and deployed they could help bring down the daily number of bombings, which plague the country and kill hundreds of people every week.
An ADE-651 detector
The purchase of the ADE-651s were shrouded in controversy from the very beginning. The devices were built by Jim McCormick’s ATC out of England. McCormick was inspired to create the 651s when he saw an ad for golf ball finders. He bought 300 of them for $20 each, repackaged them and sold them as detectors for $7,000 a piece. He claimed they could find explosives, drugs, ivory, and money. If that wasn’t enough the devices had no power source, and were supposed to be run by static electricity generated by the operating walking around in circles. In 2007 McCormick signed a deal to sell around 7,000 of them for $2,500-$30,000 each to Iraq’s Interior Ministry. Like all too many contracts this involved huge payoffs to 15 Iraqi officials. The Inspector General at Interior estimated that up to 75% of the $122 million deal could have gone to bribes. Corruption is institutionalized within Baghdad, so it was no surprise that the ATC deal involved it. What made the situation worse was that no one in the leadership would own up to it despite all of the evidence that the devices were not working and that they were killing people.
As soon as the ADE-651s were put into service there were warnings about them. In November 2008, a whistleblower in the British government said that the devices should be banned because they did not work, but he was ignored. In January 2009 another official got the attention of the British parliament who began looking into the detectors. That year the British and American forces in Iraq were investigating the 651s. In June 2009, the U.S. military did a study of the ADE-651 and found that it did not work. The Iraqis were told about the report, but they did nothing. In 2010 England banned the exportation of ATC’s devices, and McCormick was arrested. Finally, in May 2013 McCormick was convicted of fraud and received ten years in prison. The judge said that McCormick’s greed had resulted in the deaths of people around the world, while the ATC owner insisted that they worked all the way to the end.
ATC owner Jim McCormick was sentenced to 10 yrs in prison in 2013. That wasn’t enough to stop Iraq from continuing to use the 651s (EPA)
Within Iraq there were investigations as well. In 2009 the Interior Ministry’s Inspector General started an inquiry, followed by Maliki ordering one after England banned the export of the 651s. Then Interior Minister Jawad Bolani said that his office had looked into the devices and found that they worked, and then stopped the prosecution of six Interior officers who were charged with corruption in the buying of the detectors. In February 2011, the head of the explosives department at the Interior Ministry and two other officers were arrested over buying the 651s, and the Inspector General was able to recover $20 million from the deal. Despite all this, Maliki would not admit to any wrong doing. In May 2013 he said that most of the devices actually worked. He seemed more interested in denying that his government was corrupt and incompetent then removing the devices from service. By then everyone in Iraq knew that the 651s were a farce, but the prime minister wanted to act like business as usual. To do otherwise might have opened the door to more accusations of theft and bribery something Maliki was completely unwilling to do probably because he would have taken it as a personal attack. His hubris outweighed protecting the public from insurgent bombs.
It took seven years for the Iraqi government to do anything about the fake detectors. That only happened after Maliki was removed from office. Even then, Karbala is supposed to get bomb detectors, but what will be employed in the rest of the country has not been detailed nor when they are to arrive. Until then more bombs will go off that could have been deterred if Iraq had taken this matter seriously years ago instead of thinking about money and image over people’s lives.
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