Dec 312010

A swivelling radio antenna? Probably a fake bomb detector


Download the free briefing for ship security officers and others with a security remit here.

The briefing provides the background to the devices and the hazards they present when used in a maritime/port security context, how to identify them and suggested responses when the devices are known to be in use.

SSO Briefing

Seafarers may lose their lives if fraudulent ‘bomb-detectors’ currently being marketed to gullible government security agencies and anti-terrorism companies are used to assess the presence or absence of explosives aboard ship. Ship security officers should learn to identify this class of equipment and be aware that it does not work, cannot detect what the makers claim it can detect,  and that any reliance on such equipment represents a hazard to the vessel, its crew and its cargo.

MAC came across a picture in the Guardian that came as a shock: a fake bomb detector being used by Bangladesh’s notorious Rapid Action Battallion, RAB. The last one he spotted was being used at the rear of an office building in Makati, Manila, by a ‘blue guard’ who clearly had not the foggiest notion that it was supported solely by bunkum.

Mexico’s PEMEX bought several of the devices in 2008 for its oil terminals without testing their effectiveness. One shudders at the potential loss of life, damage to assets of national importance and environmental devastation that could result from depending upon a device no better than a ouiji board.

Some of the devices are allegedly being used in Belgian and Chinese ports and with exports to Iraq and Afghanistan now blocked marketers appear to be focussing on the maritime industry . Certainly this website suggests so as does the HEDD1 presentation and SAE Systems which until recently sold the XK-9 ‘car aerial on a swivel’ detector also markets anti-piracy equipment.

In its promotional literature SAE Systems said: “The new ISPS code has stipulated new procedures for screening containers at ports. The sheer number of containers entering a port makes other methods of detection for explosives inefficient. The XK-9 however, can quickly and categorically identify any containers that may have explosives present. Port security staff can then carry out further specific X-Ray and manual searches”.

“The XK-9 however, can quickly and categorically identify any containers that may have explosives present”, no, it cannot. SAE Systems is believed to have halted sales of the XK-9 as has Comstec, which says of its Alpha 6: “In view of recent events and investigations into the operation of Alpha 6 Molecular Detection System, we have taken the decision to withdraw this product from sale. This in no way is an admission that there has been any wrongdoing or that Alpha 6 is a product that does not work. However it has been decided to stop sales of this product until investigations are completed”.

The investigations referred to are by the UK police for fraud. Several companies selling the equipment, or similar, have been raided and executives charged.

A GT200 - the case is worth more than the components

The results of using the device are no better than chance. If one in 1000 containers has a bomb inside there is a 0.1 per cent chance of finding it using this class of device, no better than taking a random selection of one in 1,000 containers.

Because they don’t work but give a false sense of confidence, these devices are dangerous.

After more than a year of being exposed, these devices are still being offered to police and security forces with insane price tags. A ballpoint pen barrel and a piece of welding rod is cheaper and just as (in) effective.

Given the money to be made out of providing maritime security services and equipment it is almost certain that these devices are being used somewhere, either by security conscious shipping companies or by port authorities.

Inside the case of a GT200... empty air. Typical of devices of this class.

Providers and manufacturers appear to be increasingly based in Asia. These include, from the appropriately name Alibaba trading site: AR Works Engineering of Pakistan which sells the Sniffex Plus; Guangdong Somens Electronic Technology Co., Ltd. of China which sells what appears to the discreditted MOLE/GT200; Ezzy Enterprise of Bangladesh which markets the much-exposed ADE651 with the self-evidently false claim “The EQUIPMENT was developed with the support of International Law Enforcement, Drug Enforcement, Military and CID Agencies”; Hangil T&I of South Korea;  Shanghai Tesuo Trading Co., Ltd. of China which sells a device it calls TSMT-102035 but which is of the same class; C2t Trading Co., Ltd of Thailand (Alpha 6).

Sniffex Plus, aerial folded here, bears the characteristics of a useless piece of junk and the US Navy agrees.

They have been exposed by the BBC, banned in various parts of the world like Thailand and, after extensive testing the US Naval EOD Technology Division declared them worse that useless.

Typically they consist of what looks like a telescopic radio antenna attached to a plastic handle in such a way that it swings freely. There is no power source nor anything else in the device that actually detects anything, although the sellers are very good at detecting gullibility or greasy-palmed officials.

Some of the more ‘sophisticated’ versions of this scam include cards that are supposed to tune the device to detect specifics, like certain explosives or drugs. Sometimes there is nothing actually in the cards, sometimes there is an RFID chip of the sort used in shop security tags to ensure that granny doesn’t sneak knickers out of the store. Most makers of these fraudulent devices don’t even bother to go that far – the devices are actually empty inside.

There are believed to be links between some of these devices and organised crime in the Middle East.

They have various names:  XK-9, Sniffex, ADE651, Alpha6, GT200, H3 Tec, HEDD1, AL-6D, PSD-22 and others which operate on exactly the same principle and have one thing in common – they do not work. If such a device can’t detect 1,000lbs of explosives it’s likely to be of little value in security operations.

So if you see a Security Officer/expert waving around something with what looks like a swivelling telescopic radio antenna attached to a handle be aware: It doesn’t detect anything.

And beware those ‘testimonials’, look for test reports from reputable and recognised organisations.

And just to show that neither commonsense nor science has made much impact here’s the Pro.Sec security company’s stand at the Security Middle East Show 2009, long after the ADE651 was exposed, where not only would the company sell you the device, to judge by the big poster in the middle, but also rent you a guard to use it. Don’t you feel safer?

The manufacturer of the ADE651, Jim McCormick has been arrested for fraud and is out on bail. The UK government has banned exports of the device and police forces have raided several companies in a widening investigation in fake bomb detectors. McCormick appears to be involved in another fake bomb detector called the ADL6-D about which is claimed “The device detects explosives in distances ranging from cm to several km“. It does not.

Pro.Sec sells the ADE651 - or rents out a guard with it. Hold your breath for the bang.

Another fake bomb detector. This one is the Alpha 6 from ComsTrac.

You may also want to check out

Guide for the Selection of Commercial Explosives Detection Systems for Law Enforcement Applications (NIJ Guide 100-99) which, among other things warns:

Things to look for when dealing with “new technologies” that may well be a dowsing device are words like molecular frequency discrimination, harmonic induction discrimination, and claims of detecting small objects at large distances. Many of these devices require no power to operate
(most real technology requires power). Suspect any device that uses a swinging rod that is held nearly level, pivots freely and “indicates” the material being sought by pointing at it. Any device that uses a pendulum that swings in different shaped paths to indicate its response should also arouse suspicion. Advertisements that feature several testimonials by “satisfied users,” and statements about pending tests by scientific and regulatory agencies (but have just not happened
yet) may be indications that the device has not been proven to work. Statements that the device must be held by a human to operate usually indicate dowsing devices. Statements that the device requires extensive training by the factory, the device is difficult to use, and not everyone can use the device, are often made to allow the manufacturer a way of blaming the operator for the device’s failure to work. Another often used diversion is that scientists and engineers cannot understand the operation of the device or the device operates on principles that have been lost or
forgotten by the scientific community.
In general, any legitimate manufacturer of contraband detection equipment will eagerly seek evaluation of their device’s performance by scientific and engineering laboratories. Any doubt that a device is legitimate can quickly be dispelled by making a call to any of the known agencies whose business it is to know about security-related technology.

See also:

Bogus Bomb Detector Update: BBC Reveals Royal Engineer Role

Unival Reveals Paranormal Counter-Piracy Suite

Dubious Dick’s site forcefully keeps up to date on the issue

Technowiz who, like Dubious Dick has been campaigning on this issue for several years

Check out Professor Bruce Hood’s website, too.