Wednesday, May 8, 2013

Conviction Of Fake Bomb Detector Maker In England Changes Nothing On The Ground In Iraq

British businessman Jim McCormick was recently sentenced to ten years in prison for selling fake bomb detectors around the world. The ADE 651 devices were said to be able to find anything from explosives to people to ivory several hundred meters away. Those bold claims along with the instructions on how to use them should have warned any country or organization about their effectiveness, but Iraq ended up being the largest purchaser of the devices in the world. Several groups in Iraq had been investigating the detectors since 2009, and a general in the Interior Ministry was eventually jailed for corruption involving the purchase of them. However, to this day ADE 651s can still be seen in use around the country. This was another example of the culture of corruption in Iraq where even guilty sentences do not deter the government from going about its business, and acting like nothing happened even when people’s lives are placed in jeopardy.

During the British case it was revealed that the ADE-651s had no working parts. The antennas for example were not connected to anything.
In May 2013, Jim McCormick, the head of ATSC was found guilty in a British court for fraud. McCormick received 10 years in prison, the maximum sentences, for selling fake bomb detectors. The judge remarked that McCormick’s greed had cost people their lives. McCormick began as a salesman for a bomb detector company. That inspired him to start his own business. Rather than using the latest technology however, he saw an ad for a golf ball finder, bought 300 of them for $20 each, and placed his own labels on them, and began selling them as the ADE 100 for $7,000 a piece. He claimed that they could find explosives, drugs, ivory, and money up to 1,000 meters away, and that he had four labs in Romania and two in England working on perfecting them. The brochures said that they worked off of ion attraction, and that the operator should walk in place to create static electricity, which would charge the wands, because they did not include their own power source. During the British investigation, a lab took apart one of the devices, and found that it had no working parts, the antenna and internal sockets were unconnected, and the data card that was inserted did not attach to anything. The gaudy claims about the device’s abilities should have been a warning to anyone interested in them, but how the devices were supposed to work should have been the real red light. The idea that walking around in a circle was supposed to generate electricity to make anything work is incredulous. Instead, Iraq, Lebanon, Libya, Iran, China, Syria, Jordan, Georgia, Mexico, and several companies all bought McCormick’s product.

The case against McCormick was slow in coming. In November 2008, a whistleblower wrote to the British government that the devices should be banned, but nothing happened. Then in January 2009, another source wrote the defense select committee in parliament about the bomb detectors, which finally got attention, and inquiries began to be made. By that year, British and American soldiers in Iraq were complaining about the detectors as well. In June 2009 for instance, U.S. military scientists did a study on the ADE-651, and found that they didn’t work. Finally, in 2010, England declared that McCormick’s products could no longer be exported, and he was arrested in January. By then, McCormick was a multi-millionaire. He sold 7,000 to Iraq starting in 2008, which became the largest market for them, (1) for between $2,500-$30,000 each even though they cost less than $50 a piece to manufacture. He made $85 million from that deal alone. During his trial, McCormick continued to claim that his detectors worked despite all the contrary evidence. That was likely the reason why the judge threw the book at him.

In Iraq, the ADE-651 had been a source of controversy within the government as well. In 2009, the Interior Ministry’s inspector general began looking into the contract for the devices. The next year, Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki ordered an official investigation after England banned their export. That led parliament’s anti-corruption integrity committee and the Integrity Commission to become involved. Interior Minister Jawad Bolani immediately objected, saying that this was a political move to discredit his ministry. Not only that, but he claimed that the ministry had already studied the devices, and found that they worked. Bolani then stopped the prosecution of six senior Interior officers for buying the detectors. Despite that, the Integrity Commission cleared the Ministry of any wrongdoing. The parliament and the ministry’s inspector general however, continued to dig into the matter. The inspector general later revealed that it thought that up to 75% of the money spent on the devices, actually went to kickbacks to Interior Ministry officials. This was corroborated during the McCormick trial when it was revealed that he paid millions in bribes to seal the deal for Baghdad to buy them. The inspector general’s office said that at least eight senior Interior officials took this illegal money. At court, evidence was presented that the number might have actually been 15. Not only that, but the officials were told to promote and defend the detectors in return for the illegal payoff. In February 2011, General Jihad Jabiri, the head of the explosives department at Interior and two others were arrested on corruption charges involving the ADE-651. They were amongst the six that Minister Bolani tried to save earlier. The inspector general was also able to recover $20 million from the deal to buy the devices. Iraq’s Interior Ministry regularly ranks as one of the most corrupt in the country. The huge amounts of money budgeted for security opens up lots of opportunities for theft and graft by officials. The fact that former Interior Minister Bolani stood in the way of the investigation, and tried to protect General Jabiri and others also showed that these practices were condoned by the top leadership within the Ministry.

Today in Iraq these cases have changed little. Several media outlets have noted that not only can ADE-651s still be seen at checkpoints throughout the capital Baghdad, but the Interior Ministry has ordered that they still be used. There have been contradictory reports as well about their future. A ministry official told the Guardian that the devices worked, while Deputy Interior Minster Adnan Asadi told Agence France Presse that they would eventually be replaced. He gave no details about when that would happen however. Given that corruption is rife throughout the government it’s unlikely that this will be any time soon. Taking them off the streets would not only be an admission of guilt, but that the authorities knowingly used a device that cost the lives of probably hundreds of Iraqis. Instead, Baghdad likes to ignore its misdeeds if it can, and that’s exactly what it looks to be doing with the fake bomb detectors.


1. Hadi, Laith, “Iraqi MP reveals defect in importing arms deals,” AK News, 3/9/11


Agence France Presse, “Iraq still using James McCormick’s fake bomb detectors at checkpoints,” 5/3/13

Aswat al-Iraq, “VARIETY / Iraq’s Integrity Commission uncovers 9,000 corruption cases,” 4/5/11

Beaumont, Peter, “Fake bomb detectors were being used in Iraq as recently as last month,” Guardian, 4/23/13

Booth, Robert, “Fake bomb detector conman jailed for 10 years,” Guardian, 5/2/13

Booth, Robert and Jones, Meirion, “UK businessman found guilty of selling fake bomb detectors to Iraq,” Guardian, 4/23/13

Brosk, Raman, “Plan to abolish immunity from corruption charges for state officials,” AK News, 3/15/11

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

Dazzayi, Saman, “Iraqi Interior Ministry returns $20m to 2010 budget over explosive detector controversy,” AK News, 2/2/11

Hadi, Laith, “Iraqi MP reveals defect in importing arms deals,” AK News, 3/9/11

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

Morris, Steven, Jones, Meirion and Booth, Robert, “The ‘magic’ bomb detector that endangered lives all over the world,” Guardian, 4/23/13

Nordland, Rod, “Iraq Swears by Bomb Detector U.S. Sees as Useless,” New York Times, 11/4/09

Reuters, “Iraq: Official Arrested in Connection With Bogus British Bomb Detectors,” 2/17/11

Sowell, Kirk, “Inside Iraqi Politics Issue No. 9,” 2/25/11

Special Inspector General for Iraq Reconstruction, “Quarterly Report and Semiannual Report to the United States Congress,” 1/30/11
- “Quarterly Report to the United States Congress,” 4/30/11

Al-Zaman, “Iraqi Parliament Reveals Massive Corruption In Government,” MEMRI Blog, 4/6/11

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