Thursday 30 May 2024

Worthless 'bomb detectors' in Iraq

An Iraqi soldier walks past a line of cars at an entrance to Baghdad's heavily fortified Green Zone, looking for the silver antenna of the bomb detector he holds to swing left, indicating a threat.

AFP | AUGUST 30, 2012, 08:50 AM IST

But however closely the camouflage-uniformed soldier watchesthe plastic pistol-gripped "detector" as he paces slowly past thecars, it will not lead him to any bombs or weapons, except by chance -- it,like others used at checkpoints across Baghdad and elsewhere in Iraq, isworthless.

Evidence that the devices do not work has been available foryears, but that has not stopped Iraq from continuing to employ themat checkpoints across the country, including those guarding highly sensitiveareas such as the Green Zone, where the Iraqi government is headquartered. Thoughviolence in Iraq is down compared with past years, the country isstill plagued by bombings and shootings, which killed 325 people in July,according to official figures -- the highest monthly toll in almost two years. Attacksduring Ramadan, which began in July and ended in August, left at least 409people dead. Faced with such conditions, Iraq cannot afford to relyon non-functioning equipment, but it does, with security forces using the"detectors" to determine which vehicles need extra scrutiny atcheckpoints.

The ADE 651 "bomb detectors" in usein Iraq were made by British firm Advanced Tactical Security andCommunicationsLtd. (ATSC). It made a number of fantastical claims about the devices,including that they could pick up substances ranging from explosives to ivoryat up to 1,000 metres on the ground or 3,000 metres from the air, using creditcard-sized "sensor cards". The reality, however, proved to be ratherdifferent.

In early 2010, ATSC director Jim McCormick was arrested inBritain, which banned the export of the ADE 651 devices to Iraq andAfghanistan. Britain's Department for Business, Innovation and Skills said that"tests have shown that the technology used in the ADE 651 and similardevices is not suitable for bomb detection." Following those revelations,Iraqi Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki ordered an investigation into the devices. Butgovernment spokesman Ali al-Dabbagh said about a month later that the inquiryhad found that "more than 50 percent are good, and the rest we will change,"leaving the devices in use.

The near-daily shootings and bombings in Iraq area testament to the failure of the ADE 651s and the checkpoints where they areused -- which cause huge traffic jams that inconvenience commuters -- to stemthe movement of explosives and other weapons, and keep Iraqis safe.

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