Wednesday, August 14, 2013

If the stakes weren’t so high, conman James McCormick would be LOL funny. But the stakes are so very, very high…

Interesting article a few weeks back in Business Week on a British businessman conman named James McCormick, who’s now serving a ten year sentence for selling the Iraqis (among others) real fake bomb detectors.

And he sold a lot of them:

By the time police in Britain raided his offices [in 2009], McCormick had spent three years selling the Iraqi government these devices, sometimes for more than $30,000 each. The best estimates suggest that the authorities in Baghdad bought more than 6,000 useless bomb detectors, at a cost of at least $38 million.

While those with any technical know-how (or common decency) knew that the ADE 651 was a fake and a fraud:

McCormick dismissed U.S. military assertions that the detectors were worthless. “We’ve created a product that fits a demand here in Iraq,” he explained. “Just not necessarily in all countries.”

Hard to believe that any country, no matter how beleaguered, would actually have any use for a non-working bomb detector.

McCormick’s ADE 651 was a version of the Quadro golf-ball detector was the “brain” child of one Wade Quattlebaum, and was just one application of a:

…new detection technology he called the Quadro Tracker Positive Molecular Locator... Quattlebaum said he originally invented the device to find lost balls on the golf course but had since refined it to locate marijuana, cocaine, heroin, gunpowder, and dynamite by detecting the individual “molecular frequency” of each substance.

In terms of how well it worked, the Quadro made stringing two juice cans together look like a Samsung Galaxy.

The Tracker consisted of a handheld unit, with an antenna mounted on a plastic handgrip, and a belt-mounted box slightly smaller than a VHS cassette, built to contain “carbo-crystallized” software cards programmed, Quattlebaum said, with the specific frequency of whatever the user wished to find…Tracker was powered by the static electricity created by the operator’s own body; when it found what it was looking for, the antenna automatically turned to point at its quarry. Prices for the device varied from $395 for a basic model to $8,000 for one capable of locating individual human beings, which required a Polaroid photograph of the person to be loaded into the programming box. Quadro’s golf ball-finding variant, the Gopher, was available by mail order for just $69.

Ah, the old load-the-Polaroid-in and find the missing person technology. Edwin Land was some genius!

While a number of police departments bought them – not to mention plenty of unsuspecting golfers – the FBI called BS.

“They said, ‘This is a car antenna and a plastic handle. It doesn’t do anything.’ ”

Further analysis by the FBI and Sandia National Laboratories in New Mexico established that Quadro’s programming cards were small squares of photocopy paper sandwiched between pieces of plastic. Dale Murray, who examined the device at Sandia, discovered that the Quadro programming method was to take a Polaroid photograph of the desired target—gunpowder, cocaine, or on one occasion, an elephant—blow up the image on a Xerox machine, cut up the copy into fragments, and use these to provide the card with its “molecular signature.” “They had a very naive explanation of how it worked,” Murray says. “They were fascinated by Polaroid photographs.”

The Quadro business was shut down in 1996, but Quattelbaum and his business partners were not found guilty of fraud. Apparently, the jury believed that they were believers. One of the business partners, however, never came to trial. A Brit, he headed back to the UK before his day in court, and took the Quadro concept with him. Soon enough, James McCormick glommed on, and began selling something called the Mole Programmable Substance Detector.

Once again, it ended up in the hands of Sandia Labs. While the investigator there recognized the Mole as a re-branded Quadro Tracker, he went through the testing, anyway. The Mole failed. Undeterred, McCormick kept rebranding and “refining” the device.

He was also able to track down, in the US, a stockpile of Gopher golf ball finders, and ordered 100 of them.

In his garage in Somerset, he later told police, he programmed these for “electrostatic ion attraction” using a collection of jam jars and spice pots that contained samples of drugs and explosives. In each jar, he placed small colored stickers and left them for a week to absorb the vapor of whatever substance his customers might wish to detect. The samples included cannabis; folded fragments of a Japanese 1,000 yen note; and a piece of gauze McCormick had used to staunch a nosebleed, which he later explained was used to aid in human detection. After a sticker had spent a week absorbing vapor, he glued it inside the Gopher. He then removed the plastic badge that identified it as a golf ball finder, and replaced it with one bearing ATSC’s logo. This became the ADE 100—sold for the first time, in March 2006, to McCormick’s agents in Lebanon. Price: $3,000 each.

McCormick eventually found his way to Iraq where, for obvious reasons, demand for a bomb detector was high.

There, McCormick found a willing audience for the new, souped up ADE 651  equipped with the insignia of the International Association of Bomb Technicians (a bona fide organization) -  which sold for$30,000 each.

The police eventually caught up with McCormick.

As in the original Quadro case in the US, prosecutors needed to prove both that the device didn’t work, and that McCormick knew it didn’t work.

The former was easy enough; the latter required a few years of sleuthing, but Scotland Yard eventually got their man. Not by finding any “smoking gun” – McCormick was apparently plenty canny about never admitting to anyone that the device was bogus – but by tripping him up on smaller fibs (claiming to be a member of that Bomb Technicians organization), and on ignoring the Sandia labs pronouncement that his product was useless, and continuing to sell it.

While no deaths in Iraqi are specifically tied to the ADE 651, McCormick was found guilty of fraud, and is in the pokey for 10 years.

The device, however, lives on, still used and, it is feared, still being produced in Romania.

If the stakes weren’t so high, if this wasn’t just being sold as a golf-ball detector, the quack technology involved here would be laugh out loud funny.

But it’s not.

People have been duped into thinking it will detect bombs.

How’d James McCormick like it if one of his kids was blown up as a result of someone at a checkpoint waving through a bomb-laden truck because the ADE 651 said it was okay?

1 comment:

crm sistemos said...

If one of James McCormick's kids was blown up - I think he wouldn't care at all..