Wednesday, November 04, 2009

The magical bomb detecting wand saves Iraqi police

When you read this story, there are 3 things to keep in mind.

The first is that US money, directly or indirectly, pays for these “wands”.

The second is that policemen who discover explosives have a high risk of sudden death.

The third is that Iraqis don’t, by and large, like dogs.

Emphases mine.

Iraq Swears by Bomb Detector U.S. Sees as Useless – Rod Nordland -

BAGHDAD — … Iraq’s security forces have been relying on a device to detect bombs and weapons that the United States military and technical experts say is useless.

The small hand-held wand, with a telescopic antenna on a swivel, is being used at hundreds of checkpoints in Iraq…

… the Iraqi government has purchased more than 1,500 of the devices, known as the ADE 651, at costs from $16,500 to $60,000 each. Nearly every police checkpoint, and many Iraqi military checkpoints, have one of the devices, which are now normally used in place of physical inspections of vehicles

… The Iraqis, however, believe passionately in them. “Whether it’s magic or scientific, what I care about is it detects bombs,” said Maj. Gen. Jehad al-Jabiri, head of the Ministry of the Interior’s General Directorate for Combating Explosives…

… Aqeel al-Turaihi, the inspector general for the Ministry of the Interior, reported that the ministry bought 800 of the devices from a company called ATSC (UK) Ltd. for $32 million in 2008, and an unspecified larger quantity for $53 million. Mr. Turaihi said Iraqi officials paid up to $60,000 apiece, when the wands could be purchased for as little as $18,500. He said he had begun an investigation into the no-bid contracts with ATSC.

Jim McCormick, the head of ATSC, based in London, did not return calls for comment.

The Baghdad Operations Command announced Tuesday that it had purchased an additional 100 detection devices, but General Rowe said five to eight bomb-sniffing dogs could be purchased for $60,000, with provable results.

Checking cars with dogs, however, is a slow process, whereas the wands take only a few seconds per vehicle. “Can you imagine dogs at all 400 checkpoints in Baghdad?” General Jabiri said. “The city would be a zoo.”..

… ATSC’s promotional material claims that its device can find guns, ammunition, drugs, truffles, human bodies and even contraband ivory at distances up to a kilometer, underground, through walls, underwater or even from airplanes three miles high. The device works on “electrostatic magnetic ion attraction,” ATSC says.

To detect materials, the operator puts an array of plastic-coated cardboard cards with bar codes into a holder connected to the wand by a cable.

… the operator must walk in place a few moments to “charge” the device, since it has no battery or other power source, and walk with the wand at right angles to the body. If there are explosives or drugs to the operator’s left, the wand is supposed to swivel to the operator’s left and point at them.

If, as often happens, no explosives or weapons are found, the police may blame a false positive on other things found in the car, like perfume, air fresheners or gold fillings in the driver’s teeth…

Effective dog teams: $60,000. Plastic wands: $60,000,000. A thousand fold cost difference, and the wands, of course, do nothing.

It is very likely that good portion of that $60 million sits in the bank accounts of “Maj. Gen. Jehad al-Jabiri” and other Iraqi decision makers. Assuming the wands cost $100 each to make (probably much less) ASTC’s owners must also be rather wealthy now.

On the other hand, use of these wands must have reduced the death rate of Iraqi police over the past year or two. The police may not be as gullible as one might think.

The worst is that this is probably not the worst.

Update: The Onion's monument to human stupidity.

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