published Saturday, January 23rd, 2010

UK bans export of bomb detection device

By DANICA KIRKA AND MEERA SELVA

Associated Press Writers

LONDON — Britain has banned the export of a hand-held machine marketed as a bomb-detection device in Iraq and Afghanistan, months after the U.S. military warned that the device is ineffective and fraudulent.

The ADE651 device made by the British company ATSC is used at security checkpoints across Baghdad, and its makers claim it can detect explosives at a distance.

But Britain’s Department for Business Innovation and Skills halted the export of the ADE651 after a BBC-TV “Newsnight” investigation Friday challenged its effectiveness. The broadcaster took the key aspects of the device to a laboratory, which concluded that a component intended to detect explosives contained technology used to prevent thefts in stores.

“Tests have shown that the technology used in the ADE651 and similar devices is not suitable for bomb detection,” the department said in a statement.

A British news agency reported that police have arrested the company’s director on suspicion of fraud.

The findings on the ADE651 back up the U.S. military, which has had concerns about the device for months. The military does not use it, and in June 2009 it distributed a study using laboratory testing and X-ray analysis that found the ADE651 ineffective.

“The examination resulted in a determination that there was no possible means by which the ADE651 could detect explosives and therefore was determined to be totally ineffective and fraudulent,” Maj. Joe Scrocca, a U.S. military spokesman in Baghdad, told The Associated Press in an e-mail.

As a result of that study, the U.S. military notified all military and civilian personnel in Iraq that the bomb detection device is “ineffective and should not be relied upon as a means of insuring the safety of any personnel,” Scrocca said.

The New York Times reported in November that the Iraqi government purchased more than 1,500 of the devices, at a cost of between $16,500 and $60,000 each.

The news about the hand-held machine has sparked fury in Iraq. The British government said Friday that Britain’s Embassy in Baghdad has raised concerns with Iraqi authorities who had bought the ADE651 — which consists of a swiveling antenna mounted on a hand grip — for security checkpoints and who continue to use them.

But Iraq’s government defended the device.

Interior Minister Jawad al-Bolani told state-run Iraqiya TV on Friday that the instruments “managed to prevent and detect more than 16,000 bombs that would be a threat to people’s life and more than 733 car bombs were defused.”

“Iraq is considered as a market area for many companies producing such devices ... and there are other rival companies trying to belittle the efficiency of these instruments the government is buying,” al-Bolani said. “Not all those who use the instrument are fully trained. The instrument’s efficiency depends on the training of the user.”

However, Iraqi civilians who lost relatives in recent bombings in Baghdad are furious and want to know why the Iraqi government still relies of the devices for security checkpoints.

Haider Mohammed, a relative of such victims, called the detectors “a toy,” and demanded the Iraqi government explain why it was not following the British government’s lead.

“We ask the Iraqi government, if this device does not work why did they buy it?” Mohammed said. “Are the lives of Iraqi people so cheap?”

Britain’s Press Association news agency reported that Avon and Somerset police have arrested the company’s director, Jim McCormick, on suspicion of fraud by misrepresentation and released him on bail. Police did not name the man arrested, as is customary with British criminal cases, but said that it launched an investigation after the force became “aware of the existence of a piece of equipment around which there were many concerns.”

“Given the obvious sensitivities around this matter, the fact that an arrest has been made, and in order to preserve the integrity of the investigation, we cannot discuss it any further at this time,” the force said in a statement.

McCormick, who has an office in rural Somerset, declined to comment when reached by The Associated Press on Saturday.

BBC’s “Newsnight” took the ADE651 device to the Cambridge University computer lab, which determined that a “programmed substance detection card” that is supposed to detect explosives contained nothing but the type of anti-theft tag used to prevent stealing in department stores.

Though the instrument would not normally need a license because it is nonmilitary technology, the British government banned its export to Iraq and Afghanistan because of the risk that it could hurt British and allied forces.

————

Associated Press Writers Sameer N. Yacoub and Chelsea J. Carter in Baghdad contributed to this story.

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