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May 4, 2013 12:05 PM   Subscribe

If you’re going to have security theater, you need props. James McCormick was sentenced yesterday in the UK to three ten-year jail terms for selling magic wands - rebranded gag golf ball finders he claimed could detect explosives.
posted by kristi (57 comments total) 7 users marked this as a favorite

 
To be more specific: he was jailed for the maximum term possible for the offenses he was convicted of, namely fraud. (Three 10 year sentences to be served concurrently.)

Given the serious consequences of the fraud in question, I suspect a lot of people would be happier if those sentences had been imposed consecutively. Alas, sentencing in England doesn't work that way.
posted by cstross at 12:15 PM on May 4, 2013 [8 favorites]


What better way to protect the green.. zone.
posted by phaedon at 12:15 PM on May 4, 2013


I'm just amazed that a wealthy person is going to jail at all. Good job, UK courts!
posted by kavasa at 12:18 PM on May 4, 2013 [4 favorites]


The "bomb detectors," which were still being used as recently as this year in some areas despite being debunked years ago, have allegedly been involved in the death and injury of thousands in Iraq alone.
Fuck this guy.
“The most insane part of this story," says Suroosh, "is that in spite of the obvious uselessness of the device, in spite of the arrest and trial of Jim McCormick, the Iraqi military and police are still using them at every checkpoint in the city.” He'll be sentenced in May.
Fuck these people too.
posted by Foci for Analysis at 12:19 PM on May 4, 2013 [6 favorites]


His customers insist the detectors work, of course.
posted by BinaryApe at 12:19 PM on May 4, 2013


Yeah, I don't think checking for bombs at Iraqi checkpoints qualifies as "security theater". I think it rather qualifies as "trying to save people's lives from real and imminent threats."
posted by Tell Me No Lies at 12:21 PM on May 4, 2013 [9 favorites]


I'm slightly surprised this isn't a corporate manslaughter charge under the Corporate Manslaughter and Corporate Homicide Act 2007 too; McCormick is clearly the controlling mind for the purposes of the Act and the lack of actual detection abilities is clearly a factor in several specific suicide bombings.

Liability results when an activity by the company that causes death and [s.1(3)] "Amounts to a gross breach of a relevant duty of care owed by the organisation to the deceased; — and the way in which its activities are managed or organised by its senior management is a substantial element in the breach" activating the s.1(6) provision for unlimited fines as a result on the company as well as the controlling mind and meaning you can sweep up all company assets.

I'd take all the money and salt the earth for this, just as an example to other people thinking of selling similar crap from the UK.
posted by jaduncan at 12:21 PM on May 4, 2013 [7 favorites]


Kenyan police bizarrely insist that the fake bomb/drug detectors work
posted by Bwithh at 12:31 PM on May 4, 2013


Methinks Kenyan police don't want to admit that they're the fools they so obviously are.
posted by item at 12:34 PM on May 4, 2013


Wow....cargo-cult security!
posted by limeonaire at 12:35 PM on May 4, 2013 [8 favorites]


*Only somewhat ironic call for this case to be used as precedent to jail homeopaths*
posted by Jofus at 12:44 PM on May 4, 2013 [9 favorites]


"... based mostly on a novelty golf-ball finder called the Gopher."

Amazon: Gopher Amazing Golf Ball Finder
by Quadro Corp ... Currently unavailable.

Wikipedia: The Quadro Tracker, also known as the Positive Molecular Locator, was a "detection device" sold by Quadro Corp. of Harleyville, South Carolina between 1993 and 1996. Around 1,000 were sold to police departments and school districts around the United States on the basis that it could detect hidden drugs, explosives, weapons and lost golf balls.

Not just in Iraq, not just in Kenya. Police everywhere are willing to believe in magic.
posted by fredludd at 12:49 PM on May 4, 2013 [8 favorites]


Homeopaths believe what they're pushing will cure people. There was quite a bit of evidence that McCormick was under no such illusion.
posted by cstross at 12:50 PM on May 4, 2013 [1 favorite]


There was quite a bit of evidence that McCormick was under no such illusion.

Beyond a reasonable doubt, even.
posted by jaduncan at 12:55 PM on May 4, 2013


All the jail in the world is not enough for this scum.

If there was a "just punishment division", he would have to navigate a field of hidden bombs with his "detector", one bomb for each person killed by his malfeasance and war profiteering. The bombs should be small ones.......nothing too lethal.
posted by lalochezia at 12:56 PM on May 4, 2013 [1 favorite]


It's very good news. But this strikes me as the kind of guy likely to pull an Ernest Saunders.
posted by raygirvan at 1:02 PM on May 4, 2013


tellmenolies: Yeah, I don't think checking for bombs at Iraqi checkpoints qualifies as "security theater". I think it rather qualifies as "trying to save people's lives from real and imminent threats."

I agree that checking for bombs is not security theater, but checking for bombs in a way that's completely ineffective is.

"in spite of the obvious uselessness of the device, in spite of the arrest and trial of Jim McCormick, the Iraqi military and police are still using them at every checkpoint in the city."

Using things that don't work - things that are "obviously useless" - is sheer theater. Wasteful, harmful theater that means that effective tools are displaced.
posted by kristi at 1:09 PM on May 4, 2013


It may not be as simple as "security theater" on the Iraqi side and elsewhere around the world. There is probably a kind of placebo effect in play: people who pass through security checkpoints are probably aware that "explosive detection wands" are in use, which may serve as a partial deterrent. The devices give the security officers an air of authority: it's probably easier to act on a hunch when you can back it up with "the machine said so." The devices may also carry a respectable patina of "international high technology." So, even though the wands are useless in a literal sense, and absolute reliance on them has almost certainly led to loss of life, they may still be "useful" in some specific ways in the hands of security enforcement.
posted by Nomyte at 1:19 PM on May 4, 2013 [5 favorites]


At least one military expert has aptly compared the ADE devices to an expensive divining rod or Ouigi board.

Ouija, Slate. Ouija.
posted by Sys Rq at 1:24 PM on May 4, 2013 [1 favorite]


Even better than a jail sentence, the Proceeds of Crime Act will now be used against him. Ten years down and not a penny richer? That would add up to a real deterrent.
posted by Jehan at 1:27 PM on May 4, 2013 [2 favorites]


Did anyone, anywhere actually test these things at all before they payed between $2,500 to $60,000 each for them?
posted by cosmic.osmo at 1:28 PM on May 4, 2013 [2 favorites]


I am in Jeddah this week and read the story of his sentence in the Saudi press. He did a lot of business out here where bomb checking is regarded as pretty serious. The tone of the article was that, in terms of justice, he is escaping with rather more limbs - and perhaps heads - than might be considered proper.
posted by rongorongo at 1:32 PM on May 4, 2013 [5 favorites]


He should have made a "Find My iBomb" app. It would have been as effective.
posted by cjorgensen at 1:33 PM on May 4, 2013 [1 favorite]


So, even though the wands are useless in a literal sense, and absolute reliance on them has almost certainly led to loss of life, they may still be "useful" in some specific ways in the hands of security enforcement.

This correlates nicely with the hypothesis which posits that trial by ordeal worked -- that is, the Medieval juridical practice of immersion in boiling water and examination of the effects on the person was a viable way to determine the guilt or innocence of a person. Or the placebo/nocebo effect, if you wish.
posted by dhartung at 1:41 PM on May 4, 2013 [2 favorites]


Even better than a jail sentence, the Proceeds of Crime Act will now be used against him. Ten years down and not a penny richer? That would add up to a real deterrent.

POCA can have limitations when dealing with corporate shells, especially when the corporate veil can only be practically be pierced in the parent company rather than a subsidiary or sub-subsidiary that exists in another jurisdiction.
posted by jaduncan at 1:43 PM on May 4, 2013


Methinks Kenyan police don't want to admit that they're the fools they so obviously are.

Methinks Kenyan head of bomb detecting device procurement doesn't want to own up to the kickbacks he received from McCormick to buy his junk. Glad to see this guy go to jail.

General Jihad al-Jabiri, who ran the Baghdad bomb squad, has been jailed for corruption as a result of the inquiry along with two others. Police sources said Jabiri was paid millions to purchase the ADE 651 and publicly defend it.
posted by pravit at 2:00 PM on May 4, 2013 [1 favorite]


Both seller and purchaser of these bomb detectors knew that there was a load of crap inside; these were essentially a cover for embezzlement. In the words of James McCormick himself they were designed to do exactly what could do - make money.

A businessman approaches the head of security in a developing/recently liberated country and offers him a box with nothing in it and a bribe. The head of security takes the bribe and distributes the boxes. Whoever hands out the budget to the head of security sees the boxes everywhere and is content that the money is well spent.

What's special about this case is that the boxes themselves were so tangibly useless and tragically dangerous; the very stupidest most cynical drop of snake oil sold by a small-time shyster. Just imagine how many larger operators are out there selling selling less obvious but equally worthless goods and services.
posted by Brian Lux at 2:03 PM on May 4, 2013 [12 favorites]


There is probably a kind of placebo effect in play: people who pass through security checkpoints are probably aware that "explosive detection wands" are in use, which may serve as a partial deterrent.

There's a placebo effect on the people using the wands, if their superiors have told them "this thing really works, it must be good because we paid $60,000 for it!". If you're a terrorist trying to get a bomb through a checkpoint, maybe you start by trying to find out how to fool the detector. Two minutes with Google tells you that the detector doesn't work at all (NYT article from 2009), at which point you can start loading up the bomb truck. And maybe the guy at the checkpoint has a hunch but hey, the detector didn't ping this time, so I guess it's OK.
Brigadier Simon Marriner, who served in Iraq from 2009-2011, had told the court in a statement that McCormick's ADE-brand machines were used at checkpoints across Baghdad through which truck bombs had to pass before blowing up the ministries of justice and foreign affairs.
So perhaps those security forces thought that their $55m was buying functioning bomb detectors rather than a kind of placebo effect.
posted by pont at 2:11 PM on May 4, 2013 [1 favorite]


So his living was covered by the Government before and now gets 10 year free ride?
posted by rough ashlar at 2:12 PM on May 4, 2013


If you're a terrorist trying to get a bomb through a checkpoint, maybe you start by trying to find out how to fool the detector. Two minutes with Google tells you that the detector doesn't work at all (NYT article from 2009), at which point you can start loading up the bomb truck.

Well, it tells you that the New York times had once printed an article claiming that the device doesn't work. The standard of proof, the credibility you're willing to invest, and the perception of a self-interested agenda probably differs a great deal based on whether you're a Metafilter reader or a guy loading a bomb truck.

More generally, anthropology is full of cases where a "clearly" dysfunctional system (like religious or magical ritual) serves a huge social role and has vast social consequences. Human belief about the natural world is a complicated thing.
posted by Nomyte at 2:34 PM on May 4, 2013 [1 favorite]


and now gets 10 year free ride

No, now he's going to prison.
posted by biffa at 2:36 PM on May 4, 2013 [4 favorites]


More generally, anthropology is full of cases where a "clearly" dysfunctional system (like religious or magical ritual) serves a huge social role and has vast social consequences.

Well, I think we agree on that. We just seem to be disagreeing on whether, in this case, said social consequences increased or decreased the effectiveness of the checkpoints.
posted by pont at 2:46 PM on May 4, 2013


From the dead tree part of the latest Private Eye:

CONMAN MADE MILLIONS AND RISKED THOUSANDS OF LIVES WITH 'BOMB DETECTION' LIES
A multi-millionaire British businessman was found guilty yesterday of a massive fraud, involving his claims that he could detect "weapons of mass destruction" in Iraq. The court found that the story sold to the public by Mr. Anthony Blair, 56, and his associate (Mr. A. Campbell) was "a tissue of lies from beginning to end"...Mr Blair was sentenced to 45 minutes of community service, for which he will be paid £2,500,000
posted by Jakey at 2:52 PM on May 4, 2013 [12 favorites]


And I agree that knowingly selling the device is a clear example of grossly immoral fraud. The part I'm trying to amend is that assuming that the device had a very straightforward effect on security enforcement begs important questions about the nature of belief and authority.
posted by Nomyte at 2:56 PM on May 4, 2013 [1 favorite]


Wow....cargo-cult security!

I am familiar with the term.
posted by ricochet biscuit at 3:59 PM on May 4, 2013


cosmic.osmo Did anyone, anywhere actually test these things at all before they payed between $2,500 to $60,000 each for them?

Yes according to the NYT in 2009:
On Tuesday, a guard and a driver for The New York Times, both licensed to carry firearms, drove through nine police checkpoints that were using the device. None of the checkpoint guards detected the two AK-47 rifles and ammunition inside the vehicle.

During an interview on Tuesday, General Jabiri challenged a Times reporter to test the ADE 651, placing a grenade and a machine pistol in plain view in his office. Despite two attempts, the wand did not detect the weapons when used by the reporter but did so each time it was used by a policeman.

“You need more training,” the general said.
posted by snaparapans at 4:02 PM on May 4, 2013 [1 favorite]


Bo:   Hey Mack, ... Can I ask you a question?
Mack: Shoot.
B: What the hell are these things for?
M: What do you mean?
B: I mean, what do they do?
M: What do you mean, what do they do? You run 'em along the floor, like this.
B: Ok. So what does it do? It's not any cleaner.
M: Don't know. Maybe it looks for cracks, or it does something to the metal; makes it stronger, I don't know.
B: So you don't know what it does either?
M: No.
B: Well... guess it's time for lunch.
M: Yep.

posted by ceribus peribus at 4:15 PM on May 4, 2013 [2 favorites]


I found Jim MacDonald's piece at Making Light an interesting summary.
posted by We had a deal, Kyle at 4:19 PM on May 4, 2013 [1 favorite]


Should be a year for every fake one he sold.
posted by arcticseal at 5:04 PM on May 4, 2013 [1 favorite]


The judge told McCormick as he sat impassive in the dock: "Your fraudulent conduct in selling so many useless devices for simply enormous profit promoted a false sense of security and in all probability materially contributed to causing death and injury to innocent individuals."

As opposed to creating a war zone in the first place? Or profiteering? Or waste and abuse? Or misappropriations? Corruption? Buying influence, outsourcing logistics, contractor fraud, etc. etc.
I mean, the judiciary of the U.K. is a separate system from the legislature and the government, (and the U.S. obviously) but yeah, irony in those words.

McCormick's lawyers argument, sorta the same as the coalition to re-develop Iraq lost a few billion, the famous "*look around* "Wha?" *shrug*" defense.

Guys like Herb S. Winokur, Dwight Williams, etc. folks from Dyncorp, etc. still walking around.

I don't know, is it easier to prosecute someone like McCormick because the offense is more (ok, glaringly) obvious or because of their relative political expediencies?

I don't know what McCormick's company took home, but DynCorp trained Iraqi police forces and made about a billion and a half on it.
So, selling the fraudulent tools, or training the guys and developing the system that uses the fraudulent tools?

Or, indeed too, going after a small fish who doesn't have lunch with the same guys who own your media outlet and won't torpedo the story?

begs important questions about the nature of belief and authority.

It's the authoritarian approach to things. Not as bad in the U.S. but it's coming along in some quarters. If you don't train your people, and don't trust them with the material, you get zero useful feedback on the reality picture.

I mean, the fraud is all bad, yeah, explosive deaths suck, yes. But consider how bad your system has to be that the people whos life is on the line has no say over their own life saving equipment.
Someone hands Joe EOD a piece of equipment that "detects bombs" he picks up a chunk of C-4 or semtex, waves the jigger at it, and knows instantly whether it's worth anything.
Your munitions techs know the engineers and the disposal guys, and they all hang out and can and will tell their superiors to go to hell if something doesn't work.

That's not because they alone have huge testicles or ovaries enough to tell the world to go to hell (well, maybe Yahalom), but because anyone would lose the job before going to work with equipment that is absolutely useless in saving their, or anyone elses, lives.

Unless the system is sophisticated enough to completely isolate and blind the people on the ground. And that has to be done by intent, because people will talk over a beer, or tea, or whatever. Even if they're stupid, they're not that stupid.
Even if you can get them to charge a machine gun nest, you can't just use ideology to convince someone to stand there impotently, let explosives park next to them.

This McCormick guy - evil, heartless, all that. But not really scary. Really scary is any system that deliberately perpetuates that isolating, fearful, enforced ignorance environment.
posted by Smedleyman at 5:08 PM on May 4, 2013 [7 favorites]


When this guy gets old he should only have access to homoepathic medicine and be barred from being prescribed anything that's passed a controlled trial/peer review. Live by the magic wand, die by the magic wand.
posted by Telf at 5:28 PM on May 4, 2013


We had a deal, Kyle: I found Jim MacDonald's piece at Making Light an interesting summary.

I ... am apparently completely incapable of making a proper front-page post. My whole intention was to link to that page. I wonder if I can get a mod to add it for me?

Thank you for including it. I am abashed.
posted by kristi at 5:31 PM on May 4, 2013


[Added link to source for clarity. ]
posted by restless_nomad at 5:39 PM on May 4, 2013


Wonder how much time the government official(s) who took the $65mil bribe from McCormick got..
posted by snaparapans at 5:42 PM on May 4, 2013


The tone of the article was that, in terms of justice, he is escaping with rather more limbs - and perhaps heads - than might be considered proper.

People in that part of the world tend to have long memories. I suspect the situation may be rectified after he is released from jail.

And honestly I would be just as happy if everyone looked the other way when it happened.
posted by Tell Me No Lies at 6:06 PM on May 4, 2013


Ha, I remember these. I think they showed a guy using one of these in a 2006-ish BBC documentary about the state of Iraq that I saw at the time. Unbelievable.
posted by thelonius at 6:30 PM on May 4, 2013


Nomyte, that's an excellent description of security theater in action.
posted by yohko at 7:01 PM on May 4, 2013 [1 favorite]


Lest we forget, people died because they thought these fucking things actually worked. Fraud was an easy win in court, but there's a good argument to be made for homicide.
posted by tommasz at 7:10 PM on May 4, 2013


He missed his calling in the pharmaceutical industry.
posted by telstar at 8:07 PM on May 4, 2013


Homeopaths believe what they're pushing will cure people.

By Metafilter standards, I'm hardly cynical at all, but I don't agree with this.
posted by Catch at 10:58 PM on May 4, 2013 [1 favorite]


Fuck this shuckster and double fuck the procurement officers who took kick-backs. And triple fuck the system that didn't have enough checks and balances to require a field test in front of impartial witnesses. Militaries own explosives, do they not? Maybe just walk this hunk of junk down to the munitions shed maybe and see if it beeps? For crying out loud... I mean, even if these were the real deal, should't someone be doing periodic QA tests for when a unit goes defective? Infuriating.
posted by Skwirl at 11:19 PM on May 4, 2013


Wonder how much time the government official(s) who took the $65mil bribe from McCormick got..

I was thinking this too. I think this thing finally got too big to not fail and collapsed under its own blubber, and they needed a fall guy. Everyone else in the chain had paid their dues and bent over for someone else in the chain, so it was this guys turn.

Everyone else walks, in the grand scheme of things he gets a slap on the wrist.

Does anyone here think he'll really even serve all of that ten years? I didn't see any "without possibility of early release" language in there.

More importantly, what's to say he won't be back with a more insidious grift later? Or that he hasn't even already laid the groundwork and given it a push before he even gets locked up?
posted by emptythought at 11:53 PM on May 4, 2013 [3 favorites]


wait a sec, so who makes the explosive detection wands that do work
posted by This, of course, alludes to you at 6:07 AM on May 5, 2013


Disney have a nice line, and you can choose from five different popular princess shapes.
posted by Wolof at 7:17 AM on May 5, 2013 [1 favorite]


look, the current situation is really not sustainable without either magic or people not wanting to blow up our shit, so it would be helpful if you'd stop making fun
posted by This, of course, alludes to you at 7:59 AM on May 5, 2013


But McCormick was just small beer. He was the unauthorised con. The authorised con involved more money by a factor of twenty million; it was a multi trillion dollar con involving entirely fake and planted evidence as a justification for a war in which millions were killed or maimed, the infrastructure of a modern country bombed back to the Middle Ages, and vast personal fortunes made in the arms, mercenary, military support, banking and oil industries.
Yes McCormick should be in jail. But those much, much more guilty are walking around, opening libraries and giving lecture tours.
Thank you Craig.
posted by adamvasco at 2:01 PM on May 5, 2013


wait a sec, so who makes the explosive detection wands that do work

In all seriousness, you could raise and train an explosive detection dog for a song compared to the pricetag on these plastic doodads. Most of the cost is labor, so training unemployed locals as dog trainers is going to be sustainable, cost effective and it will create jobs.
posted by Skwirl at 2:19 PM on May 6, 2013 [1 favorite]


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