The lure of the magic wand

The lure of the magic wand

It is ugly, looks like a toy and has cost the Iraqi government nearly 90 million dollars. And it does not even work. This is the controversial, so-called bomb-detecting wand produced by a British company, ATSC, and its director Jim McCormick.

Used at checkpoints around the country, the device, known as ADE651, is supposed to detect explosives at up to 1km away. Yet, it fails to detect them from even 1m away. The Iraqi government may have paid $45,000 for each one, but Iraqis have paid with their lives. Hundreds have been killed by the recent wave of bombings in Baghdad, bombings that were supposed to be prevented by the device that has been described as nothing more than “an empty plastic case”.

A BBC Newsnight investigation recently put the wand to the test by some of the best technical, explosives and electronic experts in the country. The result? It does not work and operates using the most basic technology available, so basic that it is the sort of anti-shoplifting technology you find on the back of your products at the local supermarket.

The report shows an Iraqi demonstrating the device in front of a live audience and television cameras. Making a mockery of the intelligence of the Iraqi people, he walks along carrying the device and supposedly unaware of the grenade to his left. He stops, looks at the device and dramatically points to the grenade. Convincing it is not, tragic and comical it most certainly is.

To add insult to the injury, the Iraqi government on Tuesday announced that it will in fact be keeping the devices on. After carrying out an investigation, the government declared that the devices “generally” work, though it remarkably still went on to admit that some were faulty or, worse still, fake. The UK has halted the export of the products since last month and McCormick, although arrested and later released, continues to be investigated. The US, meanwhile, warned the Iraqi government back in June 2009 that the devices did not work, after carrying out its own investigation and extensive testing of the device.

The questions Iraqis will, therefore, be asking now are how many more lives will it take to convince the government to discard the ADE651? Admitting that the products were entirely faulty could, of course, be embarrassing and lead to a floodgate of lawsuits, and there will be questions as to whose pockets the devices are really filling. The nation is currently gripped by campaigning and preparations for the national elections in less than two weeks, a good time to release unpopular news – little wonder then that the Iraqi government chose to release its ‘”findings” at this time.

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