The bomb detector that 56-year-old British millionaire James McCormick peddled sounded too good to be true. It could sense C-4 at a range of 600 yards. And it could be programmed to root out other contraband, too. The pistol-sized device’s simple metal antenna would magically point to where explosives, ivory, even $100 bills were hidden. Authorities in countries like Georgia, Romania, Niger, Thailand, Saudi Arabia, and Iraq, where McCormick was able to sell the detector, could, with a flick of the wrist, stop smuggling, organized crime, and deadly terrorist attacks.
Guess what? McCormick was full of shit. His device, dubbed the ADE-651, was bogus. Earlier incarnations of the detector, produced under the brand name ATSC, were based on $20 novelty golf ball detectors, the kind of plastic gag gift you’d give your argyle-wearing uncle whose slice off the tee is worse than he’d ever admit.
Sadly, it turns out the joke was on the Iraqi people. McGormick sold over 6,000 of these “detectors” to Iraqi government officials (after bribing them) to the tune of over $45,000 PER DETECTOR. And they were used at checkpoints throughout the country—actually scanning vehicles for explosives during the height of the insurgency that would see an average of 30 attacks a day.
McCormick was convicted of three counts of fraud today in the UK and will be sentenced in May. Revelations of his outrageous scheme first came to light in 2009 after the New York Times published an exposé.
When VICE co-founder Suroosh Alvi and a VICE video crew traveled to Baghdad this year to make a documentary a decade after the beginning of the US-led invasion, things were even weirder than they’d expected. Here’s Suroosh:
“The most insane part of this story is that in spite of the obvious uselessness of the device, in spite of the arrest and trial of Jim McCormick, the Iraqi military and police are still using them at every checkpoint in the city.”
Watch In Saddam’s Shadow for more about the stolen and squandered legacy of the Iraq War. A magic wand, needless to say, isn’t going to fix the situation there—but maybe McCormick’s conviction is a step in the right direction.