19 July 2010

Static electricity?

Iraqis often ask why the bombers are able to pass unsuspected through so many checkpoints. Over the past year, it has become clear that there is an appallingly simple reason for this that explains much about the weakness of the Iraqi state machine. The extraordinary truth is that keeping bombers out of Baghdad is, to say the least, undermined because the main bomb-detecting device used by troops and police to find explosives is a proven fake. The government paid large sums for the detector, called a "sonar" by Iraqis, though it comes without a power source – and supposedly receives this from the man holding it, who is supposed to shuffle his feet to generate static electricity.

Useless though it is, the "sonar", a black plastic grip with a silver-coloured wand like a television aerial sticking out the front, is the main method by which suspect vehicles in Baghdad are checked by soldiers and police. If arms or explosives are present, the wand is meant to incline towards them, operating in the same way as a water diviner's rod.

What is striking about the bomb detector, officially known as the ADE-651, is that it has been repeatedly exposed as useless by government experts, newspapers and television. It was originally produced in Britain, on a disused milk farm in Somerset, but the managing director of the company behind it was arrested in the UK on suspicion of fraud and its export has now been banned. The only electronic component in the device is a small disk, worth a few pennies, similar to that attached to clothes in high-street shops to stop people walking away with them without paying.

- Independent, 19 July 2010

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