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Snake oil

Post by Scott Fontaine on Dec. 26, 2009 at 9:33 am |
December 26, 2009 1:45 pm

wigglestick
ZAIDON, Iraq – Its official name is the ADE651. Its critics mockingly call it the magic wand or the wigglestick.

Iraqis swear by it.

To Americans, it’s a laughingstock.

This handheld device is used at checkpoints across Iraq to look for bombs, guns, explosives and apparently even ivory. The ADE651 uses no batteries – it’s supposedly charged by marching in place for a few seconds – and will detect anything that seems like a threat.

It can supposedly discover nefarious products 30 feet underground, 100 feet underwater and from an airplane flying three miles ahead.

Iraq has spent $85 million on these machines even though independent tests say they don’t work, according to the New York Times. And an Iraqi official credited the device for a decrease in bombings in the country. (My reading of history? Thirty thousand more American troops, a shift to a counterinsurgency strategy, better aerial surveillance and a grassroots uprising against AQI and other insurgent groups. But hey, wigglesticks might have helped.)

“I can’t believe anyone would actually believe this thing works,” one Fort Lewis officer told me. “The Iraqis, by nature, are not stupid people. So why would they buy into this?”

I’m no scientist, but this product sounds like it would spark a revolution in homeland security and military operations. According to its Web site, the ADE651 can detect:

▪ Gunpowder
▪ Used weapons
▪ Fireworks
▪ “All types of ammunition”
▪ Ammonium nitrate
▪ Chinese, Czech and Russian semtex
▪ Plastic explosives (like C4 and C1)
▪ Dynamite
▪ RDX
▪ TNT
▪ Nitroglycerine
▪ Tetryl
▪ Grenades
▪ Mines
▪ Amphetamine
▪ Cocaine
▪ Crack
▪ Heroin
▪ Marijuana
▪ Morphine
▪ Ivory
▪ “Human research”
▪ Banknotes

And the Web site leaves open for the possibility of detecting even more stuff, pending proper coding.

The New York Times took a much more journalismy look at the wigglesticks, which is worth a read. Some of the better passages include:

But the device works “on the same principle as a Ouija board” — the power of suggestion — said a retired United States Air Force officer, Lt. Col. Hal Bidlack, who described the wand as nothing more than an explosives divining rod.

Still, the Iraqi government has purchased more than 1,500 of the devices, known as the ADE 651, at costs from $16,500 to $60,000 each.

and

On Tuesday, a guard and a driver for The New York Times, both licensed to carry firearms, drove through nine police checkpoints that were using the device. None of the checkpoint guards detected the two AK-47 rifles and ammunition inside the vehicle.

During an interview on Tuesday, General Jabiri challenged a Times reporter to test the ADE 651, placing a grenade and a machine pistol in plain view in his office. Despite two attempts, the wand did not detect the weapons when used by the reporter but did so each time it was used by a policeman.

“You need more training,” the general said.

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