Iraq: The deadly bomb detector fraud

May 6, 2013 at 4:24 PM
share with facebook
share with twitter
| License Photo
Sign up for our Security newsletter

BAGHDAD, May 6 (UPI) -- Bombs are exploding all over Iraq these days, killing and maiming hundreds of people, and one of the reasons is that an unscrupulous British businessman sold the Baghdad government and other agencies 7,000 phony bomb detectors.

The unbelievable thing is that these utterly useless devices are still being used in Iraq, as well as Lebanon and other countries where it was sold.

James McCormick, 57, was convicted at London's famous Old Bailey criminal court last month of selling the fake detectors from 2007-10, a scam that earned him $85.6 million.

He was sentenced Thursday to 10 years in prison for a fraud that Judge Richard Hone branded "a callous confidence trick."

But, incredibly, despite McCormick's conviction and overwhelming evidence the so-called ADE 651, a small hand-held wand with pistol grip and a telescopic antenna on a swivel, are totally worthless, they're still being used even now as Iraq reels from another deadly bombing offensive by Sunni extremists seeking to trigger sectarian conflict.

Inspector General Akil al-Tuheri of Iraq's Interior Ministry, who's headed an investigation into corruption surrounding the government's purchase of the devices since 2009, says at least eight senior Iraq officials took bribes in connection with the case.

Three people, including the former head of the Baghdad bomb squad, are now in jail.

The survivors of the truck and car bombs that escaped detection at checkpoints because of the useless "bomb detectors" are seeking at least $10.9 million of McCormick's seized assets.

The claimants include about 200 people who were either wounded in the 2009 bombings of the foreign and justice ministries in Baghdad, linked by the prosecution during McCormick's trial to the phony detectors or were related to 95 of the people killed in those particular atrocities.

The attacks, blamed on al-Qaida or other Sunni extremists, involved perpetrators driving trucks carrying massive bombs through multiple checkpoints ringing the heavily guarded Green Zone in central Baghdad where security personnel used what they thought were genuine, functioning bomb detectors.

The suicide bombings that ensued in these cases, along with scores more in which there were hundreds of civilian casualties, caused a critical security crisis that almost crippled the coalition government of Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki, a situation he's still grappling with and which could determine Iraq's future.

It's not clear whether al-Qaida and other militant groups were aware that McCormick's ADE 651, used at hundreds of security checkpoints, was useless. But it must be assumed that when bombers were able to penetrate heavily guarded target areas time after time without being detected, the terrorist masterminds came to realize the supposedly functioning wands were useless.

It seems that U.S. authorities had figured it out. The New York Times reported Nov. 4, 2009, that security experts and the U.S. military had determined the ADE 651 was a fraudulent dud.

Lt. Col. Hal Bidlack, a retired U.S. Air Force officer, was quoted as saying the device worked on "the same principle as a Ouija board" -- the power of suggestion.

During McCormick's trial, one British scientist testified that the antenna intended to point to suspicious substances was "no more a radio antenna than a 9-inch nail."

But the Iraqi government reportedly bought 6,000 of the metal wands that McCormick sold for between $16,000 and $60,000 apiece, the Times said. Figures cited at McCormick's trial ranged from $2,500 to $29,500.

The ADE 651 -- that stands for Advanced Detecting Equipment -- cost McCormick less than $50 to manufacture. He had based it on a $20 novelty golf ball finder.

The British government unwittingly gave McCormick respectability when the ADE 651 was marketed at government-backed trade fairs.

In November 2008, a whistleblower tipped off the authorities. But nothing was done until he contacted the chairman of Parliament's Select Defense Committee.

Even then, it took another year before the government banned export of the ADE 651.

McCormick was arrested in the United Kingdom in January 2010. Throughout his 6-week trial he insisted the devices worked.

Hone told him, "Your profits were obscene, funding grand houses, a greedy and extravagant lifestyle and even a yacht; you have neither insight, shame or any sense of remorse."

Related UPI Stories
Trending Stories