James McCormick, the British businessman behind ATSC Ltd. and its phony bomb detectors, was finally brought to trial this week in London, facing charges of criminal fraud for his role in selling the ADE651. McCormick is only the first of six individuals who will be tried for their involvement with at least three different companies that have been involved in the distribution of fake bomb detectors. I have been following the activities of these companies for some years now, and although it is is depressing it took so long for these scams to be shut down, this will hopefully be the end of the ADE651, the GT200, the Alpha 6, and the XK9.
…this will hopefully be the end of the ADE651, the GT200, the Alpha 6, and the XK9.
The manufacturers of all four of those devices are among those currently facing charges that have been brought under the Fraud Act (2006). I hope, although I have not been able to confirm, that some of them will also face charges under the UK’s Bribery Act (2010), as these devices appear to have been primarily sold through kickback schemes arranged with foreign officials who were aware of the device’s inability to operate as advertised. Jim McCormick’s devices, the ADE651 and its predecessors, were frequently sold to foreign government agencies in countries that included Iraq, Niger, Georgia, and Bahrain. Other devices, such as Gary Bolton’s GT200, specialized in markets in Thailand, Kenya, and Mexico. At a price tag of up to $60,000 per a device, then, Bolton and McCormick had plenty of overhead to allow them to pay out a bribe to foreign officials, and still make a sizable profit.
The kickbacks do not appear to have been insubstantial, however. In Iraq, the Special Inspector General for Iraq Reconstruction (SIGIR) reported in the January 2011 Report to Congress that, of the $122 million spent by the Iraqi government on the ADE-651 devices, McCormick paid as much as $92 million of that back to Iraqi officials in bribes:
This quarter, Iraq’s IGs continued to examine allegations of corruption within their ministries. SIGIR reported in October that an investigation into the MOI’s purchase of ineffective bomb detectors from a British company was quashed by the invocation of Article 136(b)of the Iraqi Criminal Procedure Code, which allows for a minister to halt judicial inquiries into the activities of personnel working in that ministry. This quarter , the MOI IG announced his intention to conduct a joint investigation with British authorities into the circumstances surrounding the acquisition of these devices. According to the MOI IG, 75% of the value of the contract went to kickbacks received by GOI officials.
The harm caused by the ADE-651 has not been merely financial, however. The ADE-651 continued to be used by Iraqi forces for years after the scam was publicized, and in SIGIR’s October 2010 report, it was noted that “many lives have been lost due to the wands’ utter ineffectiveness.”
In Thailand, where Global Technical’s GT200 and Comstrac’s Alpha 6 are more widely prevalent, deaths have also resulted when the devices failed to detect bombs that later exploded. The devices have also been used to carry out widespread human rights abuses, and hundreds of individuals have been imprisoned based on the devices’ “detection” of their possession of unlawful substances. In Thailand, the fake bomb detectors were slightly cheaper than they were in Iraq, selling at up to $48,000 US dollars a piece — but the price paid for individuals devices varied widely among different Thai government agencies, with some agencies paying up to 150% more than others. (Corruption in Mexico would appear to be cheaper — GT200s bought by Mexican agencies appear to have been sold for around $20,000 each. In contrast, GT200s that were apparently sold to purchasers that were duped and not bribed, including a UN program, were sold for as little as $5,000 a piece.) In Thailand, there were also widely reported “procurement irregularities” associated with the acquisition of the GT200 and Alpha 6, which were bought by Thai military agencies using “special funds” with little to no political oversight.
Leaked cables from the U.S. Embassy in Thailand also noted the ineffectiveness of the GT200 devices, as well as the corruption surrounding their procurement:
Criticism of the GT200 came to a crescendo in Thailand in January when the British government banned export of the device after arresting an executive from the manufacturer of another bomb detection device on fraud charges. [Thai Prime Minister] Abhisit also ordered an investigation into the purchase of the GT200 by various state agencies, following Thai press reports that some agencies had paid more than twice as much for the units as others (note: the first Thai purchases of the GT200 occurred by the Thai Air Force in 2004, when Thaksin Shinawatra was PM). …
Thai human rights activists and their political allies, including Democrat Party deputy leader/MP Kraisak Choonhavan, have been raising the alarm about the GT200 for months, and had engaged us in mid-2009 to see if there were any way we could share US bad experience with such equipment. Kraisak’s primary concern was that innocent civilians were being detained and in some cases charged with assisting insurgent efforts solely based on GT200 readings….
To most people, the GT200 appears to be a glorified dousing rod: it claims to detect explosives at long range, powered by static electricity from the user, without any more complicated sample analysis conducted. The bomb detection squad in Yala told us that they never thought it worked, but they were ordered to use it. The squad passed the GT200 to Emboff to hold; it looked and felt like a toy. In contrast, the GT200′s defenders insist the device was effective when used by properly trained personnel. Failures of the device have been explained away as a byproduct of user error; operators were too tired, sick, fatigued, or otherwise impaired to operate the device properly.
At trial against McCormick, the prosecution provided evidence that McCormick’s original inspiration for the ADE651 was not a bomb detector, but rather a gag gift that purported to locate lost golf balls:
The first device marketed by Mr McCormick, the ADE100, was not the result of extensive research and development but a relabelled golf ball finder on sale in the US for less than $US20, the court heard.
A brochure for the ball finder found at Mr McCormick’s farmhouse home said: “Please don’t ask us for the theory of its operation. We just know it works for most people when used properly. It’s a great novelty item that you should have fun with.”
The businessman bought 300 of the “golf-finders” in 2005 and 2006 and rebadged them as the ADE (advanced detection equipment) 100 with the claim that they could detect drugs and explosives, the court heard.
Mr Whittam said: “In reality, save for a different sticky label, the items are indistinguishable.”
Although the Golfinder was not quite as sophisticated of an enterprise as its British bomb-detector variants were — and lacked the use of technical mumbo-jumbo terms such as “electromagnetic attraction” to explain how the device operated — the essential premise of the business was the same. The devices also looked strikingly similar:
ACTUALLY IT’S A DEVICE THAT HELPS YOU LOCATE YOUR GOLF BALLS. DON’T LAUGH! IT WORKS WHEN USED PROPERLY. ACTUALLY WE UNDERSTAND THE SCIENTIFIC PRINCIPLES INVOLVED. MANY SKEPTICS AND DISBELIEVERS TO WHOM WE HAVE SHOWN IT TO ACKNOWLEDGE IT WORKS IF THE INSTRUCTIONS ARE FOLLOWED CLOSELY. …
IT IS NOT COMUPTER DRIVEN, CONTAINS NO CHIPS OR ELECTRONICS. IT USES YOUR NATIVE ENERGY TO ENERGIZE ITS ACTION. PLEASE DON’T ASK US FOR THE THEORY OF ITS OPERATION THAT’S OUR BUSINESS AND THE MAIN REASON WE HAVE NOT APPLIED FOR PATENTS WHICH WOULD EXPOSE THE TECHNOLOGY. WE JUST KNOW IT WORKS FOR MOST PEOPLE WHEN USED PROPERLY. IT’S ALSO A GREAT NOVELTY ITEM THAT YOU SHOULD HAVE FUN WITH ESPECIALLY FOR THE GOLFER WHO HAS “EVERYTHING”!
The manufacturer of the original Golfinder had other handy products for sale as well — such as its ground microwaving Microwave Units, which could be used either to defrost cemetery plots for easier digging or to nuke fire ant nests. The abilities of these fantastic machines, it would seem, are only limited by the creativity of their manufacturers.
…proving that McCormick originally bought his ‘bomb detectors’ from a company that sold ‘golf ball detectors’ … demonstrate[s] that McCormick was fully aware that his devices were completely incapable of operating as advertised.
In any event, proving that McCormick originally bought his ‘bomb detectors’ from a company that sold ‘golf ball detectors’ will provide a convenient way for the prosecutor to demonstrate that McCormick was fully aware that his devices were completely incapable of operating as advertised. McCormick’s attorneys might try and raise the defense that McCormick was a fool rather than a charlatan, and that he genuinely bought into the hocus pocus of his own product, but that is going to be a hard sell. His devices were so ridiculous in their design that McCormick, who designed the ADE651 and arranged for its manufacture, could not have thought that they might actually work.
Unfortunately for McCormick, he will not be able to try to spin that to his advantage, by trying to claim that his devices were so absurd that there is no possibility that any of his customers genuinely believed the devices worked. Because McCormick was not charged with committing fraud, but rather with ”[m]aking or supplying articles for use in fraud”.
The UK probably brought charges relating to the use of fraudulent devices — rather than fraud through use of misrepresentations — because most of McCormick’s customers seem to have been foreign officials who either received kickbacks from McCormick in exchange for arranging for procurement of the fake bomb detectors, or received some similar compensation for their role in the distribution of the devices. As such, McCormick’s acts of fraud by misrepresentation may have been outside the jurisdiction of the Fraud Act (2006), at Section 15, concerning the Act’s “Commencement and extent”:
(2)Subject to subsection (3), sections 1 to 9 and 11 to 13 extend to England and Wales and Northern Ireland only.
(3)Section 8, so far as it relates to the Armed Forces Act 2001 (c. 19), extends to any place to which that Act extends.
In the UK, then, the crime of fraud for misrepresentation applies only to domestic crimes, and does not have any extraterritorial reach. In contrast, per Section 15(3), in cases of fraud arising from “[p]ossession etc. of articles for use in frauds” or “[m]aking or supplying articles for use in frauds,” criminal liability “extends to any place to which [the Armed Forces Act 2001] extends.” The territorial force of the prohibition on possession or supplying of fraudulent devices would therefore extend to “where any body of the [UK] regular forces is on active service” — i.e., Iraq and Afghanistan.
So to the extent that McCormick’s crimes occurred overseas, his sales to Iraq and Afghanistan were still unlawful under UK law.