How much longer must we keep pretending that a toy with an antenna is actually detecting bombs? How can we take solace in the illusion of security it offers?
We have all seen this device and its equally fraudulent variants. And we have all wondered, at one point or another, how this supposed marvel of security technology is meant to protect us.
ADE-651 is an instrument that’s been used by security personnel at the entrances of high-value facilities in various countries.
The guard marches by the car with the device in hand, its swivelling antenna jutting out at a right angle to his body.
The makers of this contraption claim that the antenna turns in the direction of a substance that it is programmed to detect.
The device was produced by ATSC in the United Kingdom. After exhaustive investigation by the BBC, amongst other organisations, its export was banned in 2010 by the British government.
About three years later, ATSC was dissolved while its founder – Jim McCormick – was convicted for fraud and imprisoned.
Countries that had been duped into using this instrument began to taper down and ban its use.
The instrument cost the Iraqi security forces $85 million and was widely used in that country until earlier this year.
Since 2007, a vast number of vehicles armed with explosives have driven past these devices undetected, killing and injuring thousands.
It was only after the horrific Karrada bombings in July 2016 that the Iraqi Prime Minister demanded the withdrawal of these fake bomb detector wands from security checkposts.
In Pakistan, however, we are slow to learn lessons concerning national security despite many scientists and senators alike questioning the continued use of khoji (the local variant of ADE-651).
High-value civilian facilities across Pakistan, from airports to upscale shopping malls, are still being guarded by personnel equipped with these fake bomb detectors.
It is far too late for this to be signed off as mere oversight, including how there has not been a statement about our awe-invoking apathy towards loss of civilian life.
The average Pakistani citizen’s rising impatience with security as time-consuming pageantry rather than a practical service has been observable over the last few years.
Metal detectors beep continuously as throngs of disgruntled shoppers and bankers pass straight through them with security officers rarely batting an eye.
Whatever weapon one could potentially wield is masked by the welter of metallic objects carried or worn by the person.
Who dares to ask a cinemagoer to remove his belt and shoes as he hurries through to catch his movie? What purpose does a metal detector serve when you have no intention to pay heed to its alarm?
It fulfills precisely the same function as a fake bomb-detector wand: an illusion of security.
Security apparatus in the absence of an effective system and a workable protocol is like a scarecrow in a corn-field; we just hope the crows don’t call our bluff.
Sentencing McCormick, Judge Richard Hone noted that the man selling the fake bomb detectors not only committed fraud, but likely caused death and injury to countless innocents by bestowing a false sense of security.
The same “false sense of security” in Pakistan appears to be accepted as official policy.
If the public were to realise that the barbed-wire fence separating them from the terrorist is nothing more than a mirage, panic may ensue. The terrorist, in all likelihood, already knows it.
The solution thus far hasn’t been to replace the mirage with something real; but to try and act more convincingly.
Bogus bomb detectors, even as placebo, have outlived their usefulness to the public.
If real security cannot be asked for, we can at least hope that the authorities have another trick lined up for us.