African countries duped in fake bomb detector scam


British businessman James McCormick has been convicted on three counts of fraud after being found guilty of selling fake bomb detectors to 13 countries, among them Niger, Egypt and Kenya.

McCormick also sold the fake detectors to security forces in Belgium, Thailand, Hong Kong, Iraq, Saudi Arabia, the United Nations (for peacekeepers in Lebanon), Afghanistan, Georgia and Romania where he claimed one of his gadgets was used to conduct security checks on a hotel prior to the arrival of a visiting US president in the 1990s.

McCormick, who was arrested after a four year long police investigation, appeared at the Old Bailey magistrates court last week facing three counts of fraud. The court heard that the businessman sold the ADE 651 version of his ‘bomb detectors’ for as much as $40 000 each to Iraq when he knew they were based on US-made golf ball finders which sold for as little as $20.

Prosecutor Richard Whittam told the court that the detectors were marketed to militaries, police forces and governments around the world with the promise that they could find explosives, drugs, fluids, ivory and people. McCormick also claimed that the detectors could detect substances in aircraft, under water, underground and through walls.

It is alleged that he also convinced his customers that the gadgets could bypass “all known forms of concealment” and detect at a distance.

McCormick’s ADE 651 unit consists of a swivelling antenna mounted to a plastic hand-grip and requires no battery or power source. To use the device, the operator must walk for a few moments to “charge” it before holding it at right angles to the body. After a substance-specific “programmed substance detection card” is inserted, the device is supposed to swivel in the user’s hand to point its antenna in the direction of the target substance. The cards, it was claimed, are designed to “tune into” the frequency of a particular explosive or other substance named on the card. The device is said to work on the principle of “electrostatic magnetic ion attraction.”

Whittam said the court had proof that McCormick had instead purchased over 300 Golfinder novelty devices from the US between 2005 and 2006, adapted them as hand-held detectors and sold them through his companies as bomb detectors. He said the ADE 100 model was actually a golf ball finder that could be purchased in the US for less than $20. It is also alleged that McCormick used the logo of the International Association of Bomb Technicians and Investigators illegally to make his business appear authentic.
“The devices did not work and he knew they did not work. He had them manufactured so that they could be sold – and despite the fact they did not work, people bought them for a handsome but unwarranted profit. During 2007 the volume of devices required by James McCormick increased. He said this was due to a large contract he had obtained with the Iraqi government. The devices were sold to a number of countries but the ADE 651 was mainly for use in Iraq.”

Responding to the charges, McCormick insisted his devices worked and still work. He said he has never received any complaints from his customers.

Detective Superintendent Nigel Rock of Avon and Somerset Police said the investigation also found that McCormick’s gadgets are still being used by security forces in most countries which bought them.
“We have heard evidence from many, many experts, scientists, leaders in their field, who have said this was a fraud. A sham. James McCormick is a conman. He will continue to be a conman. That device has been used and is still being used on checkpoints. People using that device believe it works. It does not.”

According to a report in The Standard, the Kenyan police service bought ten of the fake bomb detectors for US$27 000 each in 2008 and they are still being used to conduct security sweeps on suspected bomb and explosive sites.

Faced with increased bomb threats from Al Shabaab in Somalia and the internal low-level guerrilla war against the secessionist Mombasa Republican Council (MRC) movement, the Kenya Police Service’s Special Crimes Prevention Unit (SCPU) are reported to be using the ADE 651 detectors to conduct searches for weapons and explosives on vehicles, hand luggage and at checkpoints.

SCPU sources who spoke to the media on condition of anonymity said the government was duped by McCormick. “When he came to Kenya, McCormick claimed his devices could detect minuscule traces of explosives, Class A drugs, ivory and human beings at a distance of up to one kilometre at ground level and from a plane flying five kilometres high. We have not been keen on their effectiveness but I can tell you the gadgets worked at times but also failed to detect a given item depending on the card it was fed with,” said the SPCP officer.

In 2010, the Kenyan government cancelled an order for an additional 10 bomb detectors from McCormick after a British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC) special investigation proved they were fake.

McCormick will be sentenced on May 2.