Tuesday, November 3, 2009

"Whether it's magic or scientific, what I care about is it detects bombs"

Apparently the Iraqi government is making extensive use of a device called the ADE 651, which at least one American military officer has described as "nothing more than an explosives divining rod." The same guy says that it "works on the same principle as a Ouija board," and the DoD testers at Sandia Labs have shown that devices of a similar type perform no better in detecting explosives than random chance.

This is a deadly serious subject, of course, but it's hard not to chuckle at some of the quotes from Maj. Gen. Jehad al-Jabiri, who heads up the MoI's General Directorate for Combating Explosives. The title of the post is one of them. More:
Checking cars with dogs, however, is a slow process, whereas the wands take only a few seconds per vehicle. “Can you imagine dogs at all 400 checkpoints in Baghdad?” General Jabiri said. “The city would be a zoo.”
And this one's awesome:
“I don’t care about Sandia or the Department of Justice or any of them,” General Jabiri said. “I know more about this issue than the Americans do. In fact, I know more about bombs than anyone in the world.”
But easily my favorite:
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.

But again, this is a serious issue. Iraq has spent $85 million on these devices. Probably the most telling fact in this whole story: "no major country’s military or police force is a customer, according to the manufacturer." And yet the guy in charge of detecting and disarming explosives for the Iraqi Interior Ministry swears by them.

Hopefully Iraq's requirement for bomb detection decreases in the coming months and years, and I think it's reasonable to expect it will. But here's another example of the way that things change as U.S. presence diminishes, and as our leverage decreases. Not before time, many will say, and it's surely a good thing that fewer U.S. troops are vulnerable to attacks that could possibly be prevented if those troops' Iraqi partners weren't dependent on pseudo-science for protection.

And are we going to be surprised if we find out that Jabiri or someone else at MoI is getting rich off the purchase of these devices (for $60k a pop, incidentally, when they're apparently available for under $20k each)?


  1. It's almost hilarious, but for the lives it puts at risk. I remember in Baghdad like a year ago a different Times reporter was telling me about how the Iraqis love these things.

  2. "ATSC’s promotional material claims that its device can find guns, ammunition, drugs, truffles, human bodies and even contraband ivory at distances up to a kilometer, underground, through walls, underwater or even from airplanes three miles high."

    All your truffles are belong to us.

  3. I've got some nice farmland in Diyala for sale if anyone's interested.

    Seriously, I always had respect/pity for the IA EOD teams. It reminded me of the old stories about Russian privates reconning minefields for the main body by walking through them.


  4. Is this really any more of a joke than the Warlock?

  5. Schmedlap -- Is this really any more of a joke than the Warlock?

    You know this already, but, uh, yes.