Iraq police suckered by fake bomb detector

Ben Goldacre on a hilarious, but tragic, example of obvious bogus science and how the Iraqi police were taken in, to the tune of £19m ($32m):

A British company called ATSC is selling a device which can detect guns, ammunition, bombs, drugs, contraband ivory – and truffles. The ADE651 uses “electrostatic magnetic ion attraction” and can detect these things from a kilometre away, through walls, under the ground, under water or even from an aeroplane three miles overhead.

ATSC’s device is handheld. You simply take a piece of plastic-coated cardboard for your chosen target, which has been through “the proprietary process of electrostatic matching of the ionic charge and structure of the substance”, pop it into a holder connected to a wand and start detecting.

There are no batteries and no power source: you hold the device to “charge” it with the energy of your body. Then you walk with the wand at right angles to your body.

If there is a bomb on your left, the wand will drift to the left, and point at it. Like a dowsing rod.

Various investigators have taken to travelling round Iraq with weapons to see if the police, “equipped” with these magic bomb detectors, find them — and they never do. Maj-Gen Jehad al-Jabiri from the country’s interior ministry says, “Whether it’s magic or scientific, what I care about is it detects bombs”. When it failed to detect bombs which were in front of him, Jabiri said that the person handling it needed more training.

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