Playing with lives: Bomb detector scam

April 26, 2013

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— File Photo
— File Photo

THE whistle was blown on him in 2008, and after a police investigation lasting nearly three years, the jury at Old Bailey in Britain found businessman Jim McCormick guilty on three counts of fraud on Tuesday. It was far from an ordinary case of deception: McCormick’s company ATSC manufactured devices that could supposedly detect explosives; the millionaire’s company claimed they worked even long range and through lead-lined rooms or multiple buildings. The devices were sold to and extensively used by several countries — including Iraq, Afghanistan, Syria, Niger and Lebanon — with internal security issues. In fact, these devices were useless. As the judge told the Old Bailey jury, tests found that there was “no way in which the device could work according to the presently known laws of physics”. While McCormick got rich, “both civilians and armed forces personnel were put at significant risk in relying upon this equipment”, to quote the detective who led the investigation.

Why is this relevant to Pakistan? Because back when the British government and scientists denounced the device, the ADE651 was being used in Pakistan, particularly at airports. When contacted by this newspaper in January 2010 after McCormick’s suspected scam came to light, the Airport Security Force at Karachi’s Jinnah International Airport bypassed the matter, saying that what they were using was not actually the ADE651 but a similar device based on the same principles that had been designed by the ASF. Yet a written request for an opportunity to test the device was refused. What’s worse, whether it’s the ADE651 or its clone, the use of the antenna-bearing device continues to be in evidence. True, there have not yet been cases here where the device has allowed explosives to be slipped through security cordons — but it could be only a matter of time before this happens. The security situation in the country is nightmarish enough; is it too much to ask that the use of bomb-detecting devices known to be ineffective be curtailed?