A British businessman who has made millions selling dowsing-rod "explosives detectors" to the Iraqi security forces has been arrested on suspicion of fraud.
The Times reports that Jim McCormick, 53, a former Merseyside police officer who is nowadays managing director of detector-maker ATSC (UK) Ltd, was arrested and questioned by Avon and Somerset detectives, following widespread claims that his company's products do not work. He is currently free on bail pending further enquiries.
ATSC's ADE "Advanced Detection Equipment" is said by its makers to be able to detect "all known drug and explosive based substances", using "non-vapour" methods. A simple plastic holder is fitted with a special piece of cardboard which has been prepared using "the proprietary process of electrostatic matching of the ionic charge and structure of the substance" to be detected. There is no power source or electronics - the device is said to be "charged" by the body of the user.
Attached to the holder is a metal wand which the user holds at right angles to his or her body. The wand is said to drift in the direction of any explosive, drug or whatever else the cardboard insert has been "electrostatically matched" to - even contraband ivory or truffles - at ranges of up to 1km.
The Iraqi government has bought 1,500 ADEs from ATSC for a total of $85m. McCormick told the Times that he'd provided the ADE-651s for no less than $8,000 each - some $12m. The other $73m apparently went on training and "middlemen", the paper said.
Major General Jehad al-Jabiri of the Iraqi interior ministry insisted last year that he really believes in the ADE.
"Whether it's magic or scientific, what I care about is it detects bombs," he told the New York Times last year. He even went so far as to "demonstrate" that it worked by placing a grenade and a submachinegun in his office (in plain sight) and having one of his policemen "detect" them with the ADE. When a reporter couldn't get the dowsing rod to work, the general blithely stated:
"You need more training."
The US Justice Department tells us (pdf page 51):
Modern dowsers have been developing various new methods... [these have] taken the form of everything from placing a xerox copy of a Polaroid photograph of the desired material into the handle of the device, to using dowsing rods in conjunction with frequency generation electronics (function generators). None of these attempts to create devices that can detect specific materials such as explosives (or any materials for that matter) have been proven successful in controlled double-blind scientific tests. In fact, all testing of these inventions has shown these devices to perform no better than random chance.
In recent years some makers of these dowsing devices have attempted to cross over from treasure hunting to the areas of contraband detection, search and rescue, and law enforcement. The Quadro Tracker is one notable example of this cross-over attempt. This device was advertised as being a serious technology with a realistic sounding description of how it worked (close examination showed serious errors in the scientific sounding description). Fortunately, the National Institute of Justice investigated this company and stopped the sale of this device for these purposes, but not before many law enforcement agencies and school districts wasted public funds on the purchase of these devices.
Avon and Somerset plods were put onto the ATSC case after their chief constable, who is the Association of Chief Police Officers' chairman of the International Police Assistance Board, was formally notified of concerns around the ADE "equipment".
An unnamed police source told the Times that "we are satisfied the bomb detectors don't work".
McCormick hit back, however, telling the paper that “we have been dealing with doubters for ten years. One of the problems we have is that the machine does look a little primitive. We are working on a new model that has flashing lights.”
The Reg called Avon and Somerset police this morning to confirm that Mr McCormick had been arrested, questioned and bailed as reported. A force spokesperson stated that "everything in the Times is true".
We also called ATSC's offices in London, where a company employee said she wasn't aware of Mr McCormick's arrest and that she couldn't comment further on the matter. When we asked to speak to Mr McCormick himself, we were informed that "he's out of the country". We left a request for comment, but hadn't received a response as of publication. ®