A Recent Explosion in Baghdad
|Source: BBC (2014)|
The “bomb detectors” sold to Iraq—and, it would later emerge, the versions bought by security forces in dozens of other countries—were based on a gag gift that had been around for decades. When the group modified the devices to sell them all over the world, they invented technical-sounding names like the A.D.E. 651, the Quadro Tracker, the Positive Molecular Locator, the Alpha 6, and the GT200. But all of them were simply rebranded versions of a hollow, five-ounce plastic toy sold as “Gopher: The Amazing Golf Ball Finder!,” whose packaging claims, limply, that “you may never lose a golf ball again!” Even as a toy, the Gopher is unimpressive. It would barely pass muster as a prop in a fourth grader’s camcorded Star Wars tribute. It consists of a cheap plastic handle with a free-swinging antenna, and the way it works is simple: When you tilt the device to the right, the antenna swings right. When you tilt it to the left, the antenna swings left. If you’ve been primed by the right sales pitch, you believe that the antenna has moved as a result of something called nuclear quadrupole resonance, or electrostatic attraction, or low-frequency radio waves bouncing off the ionosphere—each force supposedly drawing the antenna toward the substance you’re scanning for, such as, in the beginning, “the elements used in all golf balls.” Because the salesman is glib and confident, or because people around you aren’t questioning it, or because your superior has ordered you to use it, you ignore the far more obvious force that has actually moved the antenna: gravity.
Over the years, the modifications that turned the Gopher into the Advanced Detection Equipment 651 bomb detector were entirely cosmetic. The device was shipped to customers in a ruggedized plastic briefcase with a hard-foam interior, the kind of case used in spy movies to carry disassembled sniper rifles. The container was the most expensive, and impressive, part of the whole unit. The device had a pistol-like grip and a barrel from which sprouted an antenna. It came with a holster and an assortment of laminated cards, each labeled with the substance it would program the device to detect. Depending on which card you put in the holster, you could look for different types of explosives, as well as narcotics, ivory, and other contraband. (Vanity Fair Hive, 2015.)
|Source: BBC (2014)|
But not everyone fell for it
- The FBI (USA) tested a sample of the product and found that it didn’t work. They sent out a teletype warning to other enforcement agencies.
- The UK’s Home Office tested a sample of the product and found that it didn’t work. They declared it a fraud, but didn’t stop its export.
- The Royal Canadian Mounted Police sat through a demonstration of the product. They asked how it worked, and McCormick could not explain. They declined to buy.
- Test the product. If it works in a lab, it should work when you need it to.
- Check for the patent on the product. If there’s no patent, you should wonder why a tech “entrepreneur” is willing to put his product into the hands of people who can easily clone his product?
- Check for other patents held by the manufacturer. Even if they do not have the exact patent on the product, they may have filed other patents which are related to the invention at hand.
- Trust your gut instinct. Your subconscious may already know that the product is bogus. Your mind is overwhelmed by the excellent salesmanship and the wonderful Powerpoint.
- Washington Post, 4th July 2016. Toll climbs to more than 200 in Islamic State’s worst-ever bomb attack on civilians. By Mustafa Salim and Loveday Morris
- BBC, 3rd October 2014. The story of the fake bomb detectors. By Caroline Hawley.
- Reuters, 3rd July 2016. Iraq PM Abadi orders police to stop using fake bomb detectors.
- Guardian, 4th July 2016. Iraq PM orders removal of British-made fake bomb detectors. By Martin Chulov.
- Vanity Fair Hive, 24th June 2015. The $80 Million Fake Bomb-Detector Scam—And The People Behind It. By Jeffrey E. Stern.
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