Tuesday, April 23, 2013

Seller of Scam Bomb Detectors Convicted, At Long Last

Police Officer in Islamabad, Pakistan, detecting ... nothing

There is good news from the UK today, where a jury has convicted the biggest con man in the security industry on three counts of fraud. Jim McCormick, salesman extraordinaire of scam bomb detectors, will be sentenced in May. Then, police say, they will go after his multiple millions of ill-gotten gains.

I've blogged about this outrageous scam before, here, here, here, and here. The ADE 651 'bomb detector' consists of an empty plastic box, a swiveling antenna, 'coded' cards, and a massive load of snake oil. A little official corruption helps to close the deal, too.

The ADE 651, sold to Iraq for $65,000 @

The things have been sold under various names in Iraq, Pakistan, Jordon, Mexico, and many other places where the bombs are as real as McCormick's detectors are phony.

Would you buy a magic wand from this man?

The UK Guardian has a good piece on the 'magic' bomb detector that endangered lives all over the world:

Jim McCormick's claims about his range of detection devices were extraordinary. He said the Advanced Detecting Equipment (ADE) he developed at his Somerset farm could pick up the most minuscule traces of explosives, drugs, ivory and even money. They were so good they could spot target substances from as far away as 1,000 metres, deep underground and even through lead-lined rooms. If their plastic grips and waggling antennae bore a passing resemblance to a £15 novelty golf ball finder, that was no coincidence. The 57-year-old businessman had used the jokey product sourced from the US as a starting point for an enterprise that made him a multimillion-pound fortune but placed lives at risk around the world.

-- snip --

It was all nonsense, albeit potentially lethal for the people of Iraq, where 6,000 of the fraudulent gadgets formed a first line of defence against car bombs and suicide bombers at checkpoints. When the devices were opened, it emerged that cable sockets were unconnected and supposed data cards were linked to nothing. One scientist told the jury who on Tuesday convicted McCormick of three counts of fraud that the antenna intended to point to suspect substances was "no more a radio antenna than a nine-inch nail".

It is thought hundreds of lives could have been lost as a result of the failure of the devices, whose detection powers were no better than a random check. One truckload of rockets reportedly went through 23 checkpoints in Baghdad equipped with one of McCormick's devices without being spotted once.

-- snip --

It took the [British] government over a year to cotton on to the problems. In November 2008, a whistleblower wrote to Ian Pearson, a minister in the business department, urging him to shut down the trade in fake explosive detectors, but nothing was done. In January 2009, the whistleblower, who does not want to be named, sent a dossier detailing the scam that began with a hard-hitting title – "Dowsing rods endanger lives" – to James Arbuthnot, the chairman of the Commons defence select committee.

Arbuthnot promised to raise the matter with the minister for defence equipment and support but it was not until 12 months later that their export was banned on the basis that they were a danger to British and allied troops. By then, McCormick had made a fortune on the back of contracts with Iraqis, who paid $85m (£55m) for the bogus devices.

-- snip --

Police have identified £7m of McCormick's assets, which they intend to try to seize, but believe the fraudster has stashed at least that amount away from the eyes of the taxman and other authorities in Cyprus, Belize and Beirut ... McCormick had separate trading arrangements with other countries. In Lebanon, a UN agency and a luxury hotel were among purchasers. Devices were sold to Muammar Gaddafi's Libyan regime, Iran, China, Syria, Jordan, Georgia and Mexico.

-- snip --

[After selling someone else's phony device for a few years in the 1990s, McCormick] decided to try to make his own detector. By now the 9/11 attacks had happened and there were fortunes to be made in security. McCormick found a novelty device called the Golfinder "tuned to elements found in golf balls". The marketing blurb urged: "Don't laugh. It works when used properly," but added: "It's also a great novelty item that you should have fun with."

He bought 300 for just under $20 each and replaced the labels with his own. The ADE 100 was born. McCormick modified his device between 2005 and 2009 and it morphed into the ADE 101 with an asking price of around $7,000. A similar but more solid device was called the ADE 650.

-- snip --

By 2009, British and US soldiers in Basra and Baghdad were expressing "real concern" about the devices after x-raying them and finding no working parts inside. One brigadier told the Old Bailey jury "he had never seen the device detect anything". They compared them to divining rods or ouija boards. Soldiers reported going through checkpoints when they knew they were covered in traces of explosives. At one checkpoint McCormick's detectors might pick something up – but they would then sail through the next one.

McCormick was arrested in the UK in January 2010 and as part of the investigation a full double-blind trial of the devices at Cambridge's Cavendish laboratory found the results were no better than random. The device was right three out of 25 times. One scientist said McCormick's description of radio technology was "an affront".

But still the device continued to be used in Baghdad, Mosul and Basra. "We know it doesn't work and that it has been banned, but we are continuing to use it," an Iraqi army lieutenant told an AFP correspondent in the weeks after McCormick's arrest. "It is bullshit. But still we are lying about it."

-- snip --

"I'm confident people have lost their lives because of this," said Detective Superintendent Nigel Rock, who led the Avon and Somerset police investigation. "There are young Iraqi officials standing on checkpoints hoping this device is going to tell them if there's a bomb in that car or wrapped around that person. I find it incredible and diabolical. He knew what he was doing."

In a just world, McCormick would be sentenced to spend the rest of his life in Iraq searching for bombs with his own ADE 651. But in this world, it looks like we will have to settle for taking away his cash, cars, boats, and homes.


James said...

Kind of a version of "Hey, McCormick you got point for the next year!

TSB said...

I'm just glad to see him go away. For the last few years I've been "screened" with those phony bomb detectors every time I've driven into an airport in Pakistan or Jordan. The sheer scale of that fraud is amazing.

Anonymous said...

They are still being used in Iraq, by the way.

TSB said...


Thanks! I'm afraid they'll be around for a long time yet. The people who buy into frauds (of any kind) are usually the last to admit they were scammed.