Iraqi government finally bans debunked bomb-finding dowsing rods

Three years, and hundreds of deaths, after fraud uncovered

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So-called Advanced Detection Equipment (ADE) used by the Iraqi army to find explosives have been scrapped – more than three years after the devices were proved to be fakes.

Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi ordered a halt to the use of the dowsing-rod-like gadgets after they failed to detect explosives on a truck that killed nearly 300 people in a single suicide attack in Baghdad. He has ordered a review into why other explosives detection systems have not been used to thwart terrorist attacks.

"The withdrawal of the device is continuing, but it's still in use here and there, for now," said Brig. Gen. Saad Maan, the Interior Ministry's chief spokesman.

The ADE units consist of metal rods attached to a plastic hand grip that supposedly harvest the operator's electrical field – no batteries are required, in other words. The UK-based manufacturer of the devices, ATSC, said the equipment uses paper cards that are impregnated with "electrostatic matching of the ionic charge and structure" of explosive substances. These cards supposedly caused the rods to swing towards nearby bombs and other dangerous materials.

Almost as soon as ATSC started building these devices, scientists and anyone else with a brain warned that the crackpot gizmos were about as reliable as homeopathy. In 2013, the CEO of ATSC James McCormick was jailed for ten years after a court ruled he had knowingly sold fraudulent products.

In that trial, the Old Bailey in London heard that McCormick had adapted the devices from $20 golfing novelties – toys that allegedly located lost balls in the rough. He then sold them to the Iraqi army for thousands of pounds each and used the money to fund a lavish lifestyle, including homes in the UK, Cyprus, and Florida.

The UK government banned the export of the devices in 2010 and the Iraqis held a testing session subsequently which officials claimed was inconclusive. Several of those involved in the purchase of the devices have since been convicted of corruption charges.

Now, six years later, the devices have now been officially withdrawn from service. However, they are reportedly still in use in other countries, notably Pakistan. ®

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