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Iraq Swears by Bomb Detector U.S. (Correctly) Sees as Useless
November 4, 2009 7:51 AM   Subscribe

Iraq Swears by Bomb Detector U.S. (Correctly) Sees as Useless. Similar to the now debunked Sniffex (as seen previously on Metafilter), the ADE651 detects explosives, firearms, grenades, narcotics, elephant ivory, bank notes, and according to its manufacturer's website, "human research."

There is no known mechanism by which the device can work, it has failed numerous tests, and the James Randi Educational Foundation has offered one million dollars if the ADE651 is successful in a double-blind test. With multi-million dollar profits already made from Iraqi and U.S. coffers, however, the various shell companies behind the ADE651 have so far declined.
posted by Optimus Chyme (52 comments total) 10 users marked this as a favorite

 
Also, it can detect gold, long-buried treasures, underground water, and the lost city of Atlantis.
posted by splice at 7:55 AM on November 4, 2009


Which link said that?
posted by gman at 7:58 AM on November 4, 2009


FWIW, according to a contact of mine who works for a very large consultancy that finds emerging commercialized technologies for the DoD, over the next few years you're going to see more and more interest in, and resources allocated to, "human research" in the realm of security technologies and security processes.
posted by KokuRyu at 8:00 AM on November 4, 2009


words fail.
posted by scrutiny at 8:01 AM on November 4, 2009


This seems .....ominous. Like the scroll text to a 80s Action movie.
posted by The Whelk at 8:02 AM on November 4, 2009


ADE651? Does that mean that they previously made 650 different models that didn't work? hamburger
posted by Balisong at 8:03 AM on November 4, 2009


You've heard the saying "There are no atheists in foxholes"?

A corollary is "There are no ineffective bomb detecting technologies in a country riddled with bombs".
posted by Joe Beese at 8:04 AM on November 4, 2009 [11 favorites]


Which link said that?
posted by gman at 7:58 AM on November 4


Well, the Times article noted one of the proponents of the device saying that false positives can be caused by gold teeth, so that's one. What splice is noting is that this is nothing more than a $60,000 divining rod, with similar accuracy (none).
posted by Optimus Chyme at 8:04 AM on November 4, 2009


But can it detect sockpuppets?
posted by Sailormom at 8:05 AM on November 4, 2009 [1 favorite]


I enjoy your regular imaginative con, but this kind of thing, like quackery, drives me fucking berserker. What I'd do to Mssrs. McCormick and Jabiri would be to hand an ADE 651 to each of them and place them in front of two doors. I'd tell them that behind one of the doors there's a million dollars, and behind the other one a hairtrigger IED.

Then I'd put bombs behind both doors.
posted by Skeptic at 8:09 AM on November 4, 2009 [12 favorites]


We have reason to believe that the sale of ADE 651 to Iraq mentioned in the August SWIFT was done via a corrupt Iraqi Interior Ministry official connected with the Cumberland Industries agent and using money supplied by the U.S. for enhancing security.
This sounds like it's probably right. Some administrators must know it doesn't work, but don't care because they get some sort of convoluted kickback.
posted by scrutiny at 8:16 AM on November 4, 2009


Dowsing rods are funny when rich idiots buy them to search their kids' rooms for marijuana.

Dowsing rods are sad and infuriating when a poor country we're trying to help uses them to search for roadside bombs.

If it works by the ideomotor effect and can sense anything, why not calibrate it for stupidity and have one of our ambassadors use it on the Iraqi government official who suggested using the thing in the first place?
posted by mccarty.tim at 8:16 AM on November 4, 2009 [1 favorite]


Dowsing for bombs. Wow.
posted by cog_nate at 8:17 AM on November 4, 2009


I'm still stuck on the idea of it detecting "human research".

"johnson! Is there research going on in this building?"

"Yes sir, but there is a problem!"

"Problem Johnson? We don't have time for problems!"

"They put up decoys, Sir. Half the labs are just repetitive, non-standard research and there is one room full of people just thinking real hard."

"Ye Gods!"

"What's more sir, our discussion of this, the sharing and comparing of information and considering it, it's throwing the device off! Looks too much like research!"

"Quickly! No one think about anything!"

"Already on it sir!"
posted by The Whelk at 8:17 AM on November 4, 2009 [18 favorites]


So this works on the same principle as drug-sniffing dogs? The handlers can make it go off and then justify a search? Sounds like it works exactly as the Iraqi forces want it to, justifying them to do whatever they want.
posted by allen.spaulding at 8:17 AM on November 4, 2009 [2 favorites]


Devil's advocate: The device could work if it encourages the bomb detection squads to subconsciously use their intuition to quickly get a "feel" for if there's a bomb, a bit like how most "master dowsers" for water are actually looking at vegetation and so on subconsciously. However, it's still horribly unscientific, and instead of using a gadget, they could just be using a stick, or maybe even just their bare hands.
posted by mccarty.tim at 8:18 AM on November 4, 2009


"In fact, I know more about bombs than anyone in the world."
posted by Free word order! at 8:23 AM on November 4, 2009


Devil's advocate: The device could work if it encourages the bomb detection squads to subconsciously use their intuition to quickly get a "feel" for if there's a bomb, a bit like how most "master dowsers" for water are actually looking at vegetation and so on subconsciously. However, it's still horribly unscientific, and instead of using a gadget, they could just be using a stick, or maybe even just their bare hands.
posted by mccarty.tim at 8:18 AM on November 4


hmm yes it could work that way

on the other hand nothing has ever worked that way
posted by Optimus Chyme at 8:24 AM on November 4, 2009 [6 favorites]


I have it on authority from a highly placed official in Defense Department that the ADE651 can detect with near 100% accuracy who farted on a crowded subway train.
posted by The Straightener at 8:26 AM on November 4, 2009


In third-world countries, people still believe in magic.

“It’s all true about the magic stone,” Mokhaled Muhammad, a car dealer and Saddam supporter, said. “First of all, he put it on a chicken and tried to shoot it. Then he put it on a cow, and the bullets went around it.

That said, I live in a country where 70 percent of the people believe in angels. So which countries exactly comprise the "third world" remains up for debate.
posted by Cool Papa Bell at 8:28 AM on November 4, 2009 [2 favorites]


Genius. Utter genius.

...I mean, the people who sell this are depraved monsters in cahoots with vile traitorous dogs but they're still geniuses.
posted by aramaic at 8:31 AM on November 4, 2009


All you skeptics and haters will have your minds blown when you see the conclusive proof provided in this video.
posted by brain_drain at 8:39 AM on November 4, 2009


Weaponizing the awesome power of placebos.
posted by StickyCarpet at 9:11 AM on November 4, 2009 [2 favorites]


It works just fine as a tiger and shark repellent, however. Easily the best one on the market.
posted by stavrogin at 9:14 AM on November 4, 2009


That said, I live in a country where 70 percent of the people believe in angels. So which countries exactly comprise the "third world" remains up for debate.

Total derail, but I always think surveys like this are of what people *say* they believe, not what they believe. We always hear that 97.2% percent of Americans are hardcore Evangelical Christians and all that, but how many *really* believe in a literal God, Heaven, and Hell? How many behave as if they are genuinely fearful of going to Hell for their bad actions? How many rejoice at the approach of death because they believe they are going to heaven? I know some do, but that number has to be down around one or two percent. The rest are just paying lip service, in my book.

The same goes for angels. When I hear of someone jumping off a building or intentionally crashing their car in completely confidence an angel will save them, I'll mark them down as a believer. Just liking the Hallmark cards doesn't really cut it as "belief" for me.
posted by drjimmy11 at 9:43 AM on November 4, 2009


Put another way: if your "belief" requires no action or risk on your part whatsoever, it's not that much of a belief.
posted by drjimmy11 at 9:45 AM on November 4, 2009


Optimus Chyme: "...and according to its manufacturer's website..."

<title>layout widescreem2.gif</title>

Classic.
posted by Plutor at 9:57 AM on November 4, 2009 [3 favorites]


From the NYTimes link:

"the operator must walk in place a few moments to “charge” the device, since it has no battery or other power source, and walk with the wand at right angles to the body. If there are explosives or drugs to the operator’s left, the wand is supposed to swivel to the operator’s left and point at them"

Wait - no power source? They don't even bother with the expense of electrical fakery! Has no one bothered to take one apart? If it turns out to be an empty plastic box surely that will convince believers that they've been scammed.

I'm googling but so far no disassembly info has surfaced.
posted by CynicalKnight at 10:01 AM on November 4, 2009 [1 favorite]


Use only genuine Interociter parts.
posted by The Whelk at 10:03 AM on November 4, 2009 [6 favorites]


This is an amazing thing. People whose lives are acutally threatened are willing to throw them away on a superstition. It really says something about the innateness of superstitious thinking and learned nature of the scientific method.

Also, remember this the next time an Iraqi official blames the U.S. for not doing enough to secure Iraq after a big bombing. Responsibility is a two-way street.
posted by Dasein at 10:07 AM on November 4, 2009


...I mean, the people who sell this are depraved monsters in cahoots with vile traitorous dogs but they're still geniuses.

I believe the term you're angling for is, "evil geniuses."


The way the whole thing operates its like the government knows they're a bunch of crock, but see it as a cheaper way to instill confidence in their security forces and the populace (who can see their government at work with gizmos!). Cheaper than real bomb detecting devices or bomb sniffing dogs (filthy animals anyways!).
posted by Atreides at 10:10 AM on November 4, 2009


Has no one bothered to take one apart? If it turns out to be an empty plastic box surely that will convince believers that they've been scammed.

The inner components of the ADE651 are visible only using a proprietary detection tool developed by ATSC.
posted by brain_drain at 10:24 AM on November 4, 2009


Oh!! So it works like a Diebold electronic vote tabulation machine!
posted by Balisong at 10:35 AM on November 4, 2009 [1 favorite]


If it turns out to be an empty plastic box surely that will convince believers that they've been scammed.
Absolutely not. The air inside is part of a larger sample of air that once upon a time got some email from an air molecule that had a cousin whose barber read an article on explosives. Air Memory.
posted by joaquim at 10:36 AM on November 4, 2009 [1 favorite]


I'm googling but so far no disassembly info has surfaced.

Well they're paying $60K for them, they're not going to be opening them up willy-nilly and letting all the magic out.
posted by nicwolff at 10:42 AM on November 4, 2009


I think it has more to do with quality of fledgling democracy. In a hurry, they need to make decisions and decisions that make them look good, with no benefit from experienced, neutral bureaucratic machinery to evaluate these decisions, but maybe a dozen or so consultants who have just the right product for you. When you have fooled a person in high enough position, he will defend his choice to the very end, because acknowledging a mistake would be acknowledging his mistake.
posted by Free word order! at 10:54 AM on November 4, 2009 [2 favorites]


From the site:
Detection Range (in Tests)
* Above ground Up to 650 meters in ideal conditions
* From Aircraft Up to 5000 meters (3+miles)
* Under Water Up to 30 meters (100+ feet)
* Underground Up to 10 meters (30+ feet)
Errrr... What? This detector supposedly captures molecules given off by a certain substance from a fricking flying plane??? And below 30 meters of water?
I mean, seriously? What? How can they... What? I... What?

I know that dogs have extremely impressive noses, and that certain technical sensors can detect really minute amounts of certain molecules, but this is just plain ridiculous. I simply cannot believe that such technology exists in the form they describe.

Oh, and I watched the video linked by brain_drain and have to confess I'm completely baffled. How the heck is this supposed to work? They get directional data, ferchrissake, DIRECTIONAL DATA ON A SMELL! The only way this could work was if the air was absolutely, completely still and unperturbed and they had a working sensor that could detect the existence of the minute amounts of the substance carried through the air by Brownian motion and the sensor was sensitive enough to detect a difference in concentration between the tip of the "wand" and the other end.
To illustrate what I mean: imagine a swimming pool full of water. Keep everyone out and turn the pumps off, so the water does not move. Now throw a gumball somewhere in there, not too close to the walls. Wait several hours. If you look closely now, you'll notice the outer layer of the gumball has dissolved, coloring the water in its vicinity. Now walk to the far end of the pool, take two water samples from places about 30 cm / one foot apart and try to imagine how incredibly precise those measurements of the concentration of the substance coloring of the gumball's coating would have to be to allow you to deduce the direction of the gradient from that.

I won't say that a feat like what they claim is completely impossible per se, but someone would have to show me incontrovertible proof of such outrageous claims before I'd even consider paying one red cent for one of those things.
posted by PontifexPrimus at 10:56 AM on November 4, 2009 [2 favorites]


I wonder if the makers of bombs believe that these fancy dowsing rods actually work.

Not to defend the makers/scammers behind the device, mind you. But if the cops and the criminals both believe in its effectiveness, then it would have some sort of effect, although perhaps not the intended one.
posted by Western Infidels at 10:58 AM on November 4, 2009


Just wrap your bomb in tinfoil and you'll be fine.
posted by InfidelZombie at 11:08 AM on November 4, 2009


I think there's only one cure for the kind of assholism that goes into a scam like this. Skeptic's on the right track, fersure.
posted by five fresh fish at 11:30 AM on November 4, 2009


So this works on the same principle as drug-sniffing dogs? The handlers can make it go off and then justify a search?

Wait, what? I thought drug-sniffing dogs actually worked.
posted by Pope Guilty at 12:02 PM on November 4, 2009


thought drug-sniffing dogs actually worked.
posted by Pope Guilty at 12:02 PM on November 4


Drug-sniffing dogs work well and fairly accurately* in a line of cars at checkpoints, but many departments use them in "sniff" lineups, where cross-contamination is all but certain.

*except for when the handler fakes a reaction from the dog to search whomever he feels like searching
posted by Optimus Chyme at 12:11 PM on November 4, 2009


Whether it’s magic or scientific, what I care about is it detects bombs...

About the only thing this device can detect with any accuracy is morons: the rate of detection is 100% - whoever signs a purchase order for the ADE651 is a moron; whoever claims they work for anything other than moron-detection, and believes it, is a moron.

On the other hand, I'm inspired by the obvious need for the user to generate power. Can anyone help me design the ADE651 perpetual motion upgrade?
posted by Hylas at 12:29 PM on November 4, 2009 [2 favorites]


Hylas, although I won't underestimate the power of human stupidity, I'm not so sure this man is a moron or simply got a big enough cut of the racket.
posted by Skeptic at 1:45 PM on November 4, 2009


I just reread my comment, and realized I almost sounded like I thought the dowsing rod tapped into psychic powers or something. That's not what I meant.

I meant it more in terms of like what Malcolm Gladwell talked about in Blink, and how people often subconsciously observe a situation for evidence without actively realizing it. It could be giving the bomb squads the confidence to go with their hunches (admittedly, not what you want a bomb squad to be doing). If they are noticing some measure of success with these things, perhaps they could approach the problem from the angle of scientific management (ie recording the bomb squads and checking every detail about the squad's movements and their environment), and figure out where the hunches come from. Using that, they could make a checklist for the squad to use.

Of course, for that to work, that means that the things have to be having some effect on the squads' behavior for the better, and the government has to be willing to accept that there are no magical powers inside the rod. Those seem like two big "ifs" in this situation.

And yes, I know dowsing rods have been proven to be worthless in controlled tests, but the problem with those tests is that great lengths are typically taken to make sure the control and the actual place the object is hidden look alike. In real life, it's likely that the typical IED may have certain traits that clue the inspectors in subconsciously, like how people who dowse for water often have decent success rates by subconsciously examining the geology and plants.
posted by mccarty.tim at 2:30 PM on November 4, 2009


"Put another way: if your 'belief' requires no action or risk on your part whatsoever, it's not that much of a belief."

Well I don't know about that. I believe in gravity after all.

"Errrr... What? This detector supposedly captures molecules given off by a certain substance from a fricking flying plane??? And below 30 meters of water?
"I mean, seriously? What? How can they... What? I... What?"


Even better the range increases by an order of magnitude, give or take, by wrapping a plane around the detector. IE: the in air under ideal condition range is less than the airborne range. Is there any legitimate device for which this is the case?
posted by Mitheral at 2:33 PM on November 4, 2009


Just some back-of-an-envelope number crunching, just for the heck of it and because I can't leave that well enough alone:

Let's assume the following:

We have an IED with 5 kg TNT as payload.
We have a 5-km-radius to detect it.
Because we are very, very generous we'll say the TNT is equally spread over the whole volume, even though in reality the edges of the volume would be practically devoid of any stray molecules, and only the immediate neighborhood of the bomb would carry any noticeable amounts apart from the main bomb body itself.

So: volume of the 5000 meter half-sphere: v = (4/3 *pi * 5000m * 5000m * 5000m) / 2 = 2.6199*1011m3
Concentration of completely dispersed TNT in that volume: c = 5,000,000mg / v = 1.90986*10-5mg/m3
Using the wikipedia formula for ppm and the molecular weight for TNT we get
x = c * 24.45 / 227.1 = 2.05619 * 10-6 ppm or 2.05619 ppt

The first link I found that said something about the sensitivity of artificial electronic noses (note they have to be targeted to specific compunds):
NASA can detect changes of 1 ppm with its electronic nose .

So, even if we assume we don't have an IED but a dump truck filled with half a metric ton (500kg) of TNT that has been left out in the open for so long that another half ton has evaporated and completely saturated a perfect dome-shape without drifting away or dispersing further then the concentration would still be way, way below the sensitivity of a tool that NASA uses in its space station!

Feel free to correct my math if I made a mistake somewhere, but seriously: how can anybody with a basic grasp of chemistry and physics not immediately see that there must be something wrong with claims like that?
posted by PontifexPrimus at 3:42 PM on November 4, 2009 [1 favorite]


Pontifex, you are not wrong about the science. Your mistake is in assuming that people with backgrounds in chemistry and physics tend to end up being in these positions.
posted by Pope Guilty at 4:13 PM on November 4, 2009 [3 favorites]


So this works on the same principle as drug-sniffing dogs? The handlers can make it go off and then justify a search?

Uh, so you're suggesting that the guards at Iraqi security checkpoints need a pretense to search your vehicle lest they be accused of bias? Somehow I think civil rights lawsuits aren't really a concern for them.

No, I think this is exactly what it looks like.
posted by meta_eli at 6:49 PM on November 4, 2009 [1 favorite]


now finally they have the resources to find the Weapons Of Mass Destruction!
posted by zog at 1:48 AM on November 5, 2009 [1 favorite]


Lisa, I want to buy your rock detector.
posted by Monochrome at 6:31 AM on November 5, 2009


Ah, ignorance of science, is there no profit you can't create?
posted by Mental Wimp at 9:59 AM on November 5, 2009


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