Intercept I saw one of these devices firsthand last year while driving up to a security checkpoint at Jinnah International airport in Karachi, Pakistan. by Murtaza Hussain
'As our vehicle approached, a security officer walked past us, waving the wand alongside our doors. In theory, had there been a bomb located inside, the device’s antenna would have moved, alerting officials to the danger nearby.
'Happily, there wasn’t any bomb.
'However, even if there were, the fact is that the ADE 651 wouldn’t actually have found it. In fact, although it remains in use at sensitive security areas throughout the world, the ADE 651 is a complete fraud. A 2010 BBC Newsnight investigation into the device determined that it was based on pseudoscience and amounted to nothing more than a divining rod. Investigators from BBC also found that the ADE-651’s manufacturer sold it with the full knowledge that it was useless at detecting explosives.
'The device is once again back in the news as it was reportedly used for security screening at hotels in the Egyptian resort city of Sharm el-Sheikh. A Russian airliner that took off from that city’s airport was recently destroyed in a likely bombing attack by the militant Islamic State group. Speaking to The Independent about the hotel screening, the U.K. Foreign Office stated it would “continue to raise concerns” over the use of the ADE 651.
'The sordid story of how the ADE 651 came into use involves the 2003 U.S. invasion of Iraq. At the height of the conflict, as the new Iraqi government battled a wave of deadly car bombings, it purchased more than 7,000 ADE 651 units worth tens of millions of dollars in a desperate effort to stop the attacks. Not only did the units not help, the device actually heightened the bloodshed by creating “a false sense of security” that contributed to the deaths of hundreds of Iraqi civilians, according to the inspector general of Iraq’s Interior Ministry. Although the manufacturer claimed the ADE 651 worked via sophisticated “electrostatic ion attraction,” U.S. military officials in Iraq derided its use, describing it as essentially a “magic wand.” Researchers who tested the device found that it served no better than random chance in predicting the location of explosives.
'The BBC investigation led to a subsequent export ban on the devices, as well as a 10-year prison sentence for the British businessman behind them, James McCormick, responsible for their manufacture and sale. An employee of McCormick who later became a whistleblower said that after becoming concerned and questioning McCormick about the device, McCormick told him the ADE 651 “does exactly what it’s designed to. It makes money.”'