The Skeptical Teacher

Musings of a science teacher & skeptic in an age of woo.

Posts Tagged ‘FBI’

Purveyor of Fake “Bomb Detectors” Found Guilty of Fraud

Posted by mattusmaximus on April 25, 2013

Wow, sometimes the good guys win one. In case you didn’t know, there has been a long-running skeptical campaign against a pseudoscientific fraudster, James McCormick, who sold bomb dowsing kits to the Iraqi military. Yes, you read that correctly, dowsing kits – as in “water witching”! And no, dowsing doesn’t work. And yes, it resulted in a lot of people getting killed, because these things didn’t do squat to detect bombs. And yes, it pleases me greatly to see this criminal finally receive justice…

James McCormick guilty of selling fake bomb detectors

James McCormick arrives at the Old Bailey
McCormick’s fake bomb detectors were used at Iraqi checkpoints staffed by the British military

A millionaire businessman who sold fake bomb detectors to countries including Iraq and Georgia, knowing they did not work, has been convicted of fraud.

James McCormick, 56, of Langport, Somerset, is said to have made £50m from sales and sold more than 6,000 in Iraq, the Old Bailey heard.

Police said the devices, modelled on a novelty golf ball finder, are still in use at some checkpoints.

One Iraqi bomb victim described him to the BBC as a “morally bankrupt” man.

During Tuesday’s hearing at the Old Bailey in London, the court was told McCormick’s detectors, which cost up to $40,000 (£27,000) each, were completely ineffectual and lacked any grounding in science.

Richard Whittam QC, for the prosecution, said: “The devices did not work and he knew they did not work.”

McCormick’s claims

McCormick had claimed the devices could bypass “all forms of concealment”, detecting drugs and people along with explosives, the court heard.

He claimed they would work under water and from the air, and would track an object up to 1km (3280ft) below the ground.

The bomb detectors came with cards which were “programmed” to detect a wide array of substances, from ivory to $100 banknotes.

Other substances could be detected, it was claimed, if put in a jar with a sticker which would absorb its “vapours” and was then stuck on a card that would be read by the machine.

In reality, McCormick’s device was based on $20 (£13) golf ball finders which he had purchased from the US and which had no working electronics.

Police said McCormick showed a complete disregard for the safety of those who used and relied upon the device for their own security and protection. …

Serves this scumbag right.  I hope they throw the book at him, not only for his crimes but also to send a clear message to the other fraudsters and charlatans out there: we’re watching you.  Skepticism matters.

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Another Spectacular Example of Psychic Fail in Texas “Murder” Mystery

Posted by mattusmaximus on June 12, 2011

It seems that in Texas an anonymous “psychic detective” tipped off the police to the fact that there was a gruesome scene in a farmhouse which contained the remains of about 30 people, including the dismembered bodies of multiple children.  Unfortunately, the police of the Liberty County’s Sheriff’s Office actually took these tips seriously, because after they mobilized a massive amount of resources, they found absolutely nothing at the site…

A false tip from a psychic prompted Texas authorities to swarm a rural home searching for a nonexistent mass grave and up to 30 bodies, including those of dismembered children.

A few hours later it was clear the tip was nothing more than a gruesome wild goose chase.

“There’s no crime scene,” Liberty County Judge Craig McNair told reporters as deputies, Texas Rangers and FBI agents wrapped up a fruitless search that gained national media attention. [emphasis added]

Yup, you read that right.  Not only did the local Sheriff’s Office get into the mix, but the Texas Rangers and FBI were also involved in this fiasco!  I think these agencies have opened themselves up to some much deserved derision, because it has been shown conclusively in great detail that, despite numerous claims to the contrary, psychics do not do anything to help with police investigations.  In fact, most police and detectives do not use psychics because they know the track record of such “help” (i.e. it doesn’t work), and they know that chasing down false leads provided by these morons would just be a waste of time and resources (as it was in the spectacular failure of the case in question).

So why is it that these alleged “psychic detectives” keep on cropping up?  Because they are very good self-promoters, and they are playing off people’s desire to have closure on certain topics – it is, after all, very difficult when dealing with certain crimes (especially child abductions) to be patient and follow established and well-tested investigatory procedures.  These psychics play on this sense of unease on the part of the family in question (or perhaps the community) to swoop in and offer a measure of hope (however empty it is) while  also garnering some fame for themselves.

In his article in Skeptical Inquirer magazine titled “The Case of the ‘Psychic Detectives'”, I really like how skeptical investigator Joe Nickell puts it…

Although mainstream science has never validated any psychic ability, self-styled clairvoyants, diviners, spirit mediums, and soothsayers continue to sell their fantasies—and in some cases to shrewdly purvey their cons—to a credulous public. Particularly disturbing is a resurgence of alleged psychic crime-solving.

In fact, the media—especially Court TV’s Psychic Detectives, NBC’s Medium, and various programs of Larry King Live—have shamelessly touted several self-claimed psychic shamuses as if they could actually identify murderers and kidnappers, or locate missing persons. Here is an investigative look at five such claimants. (Another, Phil Jordan, was featured in an earlier SI [Nickell 2004].) …

… psychics do not solve crimes or locate missing persons—unless they employ the same non-mystical techniques as real detectives: obtaining and assessing factual information, receiving tips, and so on, even sometimes getting lucky. In addition to the technique of “retrofitting,” psychics may shrewdly study local newspaper files and area maps, glean information from family members or others associated with a tragedy, and even impersonate police and reportedly attempt to bribe detectives (Nickell 1994). It is bad enough that they are often able to fool members of the media; detectives, if they do not know better, as most do, should learn better. They should, well, investigate their alleged psychic counterparts.

Well, in the Texas case, there is a silver lining.  It seems the agencies in question disliked being deceived by the supposed psychic tipster, and they have decided to try charging them with filing a false police report – perhaps if more of these charlatans were actually held to account, then there would be fewer of the psychic glory-hounds clamoring for their 15 minutes of fame.  We can only hope.

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Take Action in Fake Bomb Detector Scandal!

Posted by mattusmaximus on March 30, 2011

A bit over a year ago, I blogged – in a post titled Skepticism Matters – Bomb Dowsing Pseudoscience in Iraq – about a scandal concerning the sale of fake bomb detectors to various governments (including in Iraq).  As outlined at that post, these bogus detectors (based off of thoroughly debunked dowsing techniques) have resulted in the deaths of many people because – surprise! – they don’t work. Fortunately, some of the charlatans selling these fake bomb detectors are in big trouble, but unfortunately there is much more that can be done.

Well, now there is a movement afoot to take the investigation & prosecution of these pseudoscientific charlatans to the next level.  I strongly encourage you to read the following petition, read the related links documenting this criminal activity, and sign & pass it on…

OVERVIEW

From the early 1990s to now, commencing with James Randi and the Quadro Tracker, and now comprising a huge Worldwide network, the fight has been on to try to eliminate the trade in fake detectors which claim to be able to find everything from explosives, to drugs, to people, to gold deposits, to almost anything.

The picture illustrates the end of the line of this disgusting trade in fraudulent hope. Further the terrible waste of money on what are effectively dowsing rods dressed up as fancy gadgets, with absolutely 0 possible working principle.

We know of a latest very reasonable estimate from various sources including credible news reports and public documents of $200 -250 million dollars of sales around the World.

Plus the many hundreds if not thousands of deaths caused by their inevitable failure, because every single one of these devices is totally useless, they are still on sale, including in the U.S. Germany, India, China, and many other locations around the World.

The campaign has made great progress in the last year, and we are hopeful of much more UK action soon. However, we want to see concerted Political action to at least shut down the International aspect of this scam.

If you want to research further please see blogs at:

http://sniffexquestions.blogspot.com/

http://explosivedetectorfrauds.blogspot.com/

http://ade651gt200scamfraud.blogspot.com/

Or the forum threads at randi.org:

http://forums.randi.org/showthread.php?t=128253

We now need a final push to major Westen Governments to get an effective ban in place. What we want is more cross-border co-operation, especially to recover as much of the money as possible and put it to better use e.g. Schools and Hospitals!

We will petition;

U.S.A. for pursuit of Charles Chistensen and his H3Tec

Germany for pursuit of Unival, David Vollmar, Frank Trier and the HEDD1 (formerly Sniffex Europe/ SNiffex Plus)

Gary Bolton, Global Technical, UK GT200

John Wyatt, SDS Group UK, HEDD1

General Pierre Hadji Georgiou, ProSec. Lebanon, ADE651

Stelian Ilie, Mira Telecom Romania, ADE651,

Simon Sherrard, ComsTrac UK, Alpha6

Yuri Markov, Sniffex ‘inventor’ Bulgaria,

Horizon Group India, GT200

Malcolm Roe, Sniffex into Europe

Sam Tree, Sniffex/Mole/GT200 into Europe

Agents in Thailand, Mexico, and elsewhere who have facilitated this trade through bribery and corruption. Other sales have been to Kenya, Niger, Hong Kong etc.

We have documented evidence of sales in 30 countries and possibly 10+ more

This is a winnable one. We already have ADE651 principal under Police Bail in UK, General Al Jabiri arrested in Iraq for ADE651 corruption, Thailand have carried out proper testing on Alpha 6, GT200, and HEDD 1, with all failing (much pressure was required on Government to get past the bribe takers!), action by private companies to sever ties with participants, major media investigations by NYT, BBC Newsnight and many others across the World; Internet full of anti information on almost any relevant search possible; widespread network of blogs, sites and campaigners from small beginnings.

Embarassing and calling to account the perpetrators and the officials who were fooled and or bribed in this process.

We ask that you add your name to this worthy cause and we will deliver the petition to multiple sources including media at the end of June  if we have a respectable number. How about one for every dollar spent! Or is that a bit much to ask? May be one for every life damaged. Perhaps 10,000+

Hope you agree a good cause and as many as possible please!!! Thanks so much!

Posted in ghosts & paranormal, skeptical community | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 5 Comments »

Skepticism Matters – Bomb Dowsing Pseudoscience in Iraq

Posted by mattusmaximus on February 15, 2010

Sometimes we skeptics have to deal with the criticism that “this skepticism stuff isn’t important”, “who cares if someone believes in ghosts?”, or “why do you want to trample on what people believe?”.  My answer is simple: skepticism matters because when sloppy & irrational thinking is allowed to go unchecked the results can be disastrous.  Case in point: believe it or not, there are “bomb detection devices” in use now in Iraq, with the at least tacit approval of both the United States and British military, that are based upon the pseudoscience of dowsing! And, like any device based upon dowsing, they don’t work, which means people (both military & civilian) are getting killed.

Really folks, you can’t make this stuff up.  Check out some of the recent media coverage on this…

UK bans export of fraudulent bomb detector; arrests director of manufacturer

The government of the United Kingdom has banned the export of the ADE 651, which is advertised by the manufacturer, ATSC Ltd., as a hand-held “remote portable substance detector.” However, critics say it is just a “glorified dowsing rod.”

In a statement, the Department for Business said, “Tests have shown that the technology used in the ADE651 and similar devices is not suitable for bomb detection. As non-military technology it does not need an export license, and we would not normally need to monitor its sale and use abroad.”

The statement went on to say, “However, it is clearly of concern that it is being used as bomb detection equipment. As soon as it was brought to the attention of the Export Control Organisation and Lord Mandelson we acted urgently to put in place export restrictions which will come into force next week. We will be making an order, under the Export Control Act 2002, banning the export of this type of device to Iraq and Afghanistan.”

Adding, “The reason the ban is limited to these two countries is that our legal power to control these goods is based on the risk that they could cause harm to UK and other friendly forces.” The statement closed by saying, “The British Embassy Baghdad has raised our concerns about the ADE651 with the Iraqi authorities.”

Meanwhile, the Avon and Somerset Police have arrested the managing director of the manufacturer, ATSC, 53-year old Jim McCormick on suspicion of fraud. McCormick is a former police officer from Merseyside. He has been released on bail.

These two events come after an investigation by the BBC’s Newsnight program where they tested and revealed the device as a fraud.

The device, manufactured by ATSC Ltd. which operates from a former dairy in Sparkford, Somerset, contains an antenna attached to plastic hand grip which is attached to black box. It requires no battery or other power source, and is supposedly powered solely by the user’s static electricity, the manufacturer claims. It can supposedly detect minute traces of explosives, drugs, human bodies, money and even elephants provided it has the right card.

The black box of the device is intended to read “programmed substance detection cards” that are supplied with the device. The device supposedly works on the principle of “electrostatic magnetic ion attraction”.

Newsnight brought the device to Sidney Alford, a renowned explosives expert who advises all branches of the UK military. Alford opened up the card reader of the device which was empty. Alford said, “Speaking as a professional, I would say that’s an empty plastic case.” Alford believes that the selling of the device is “absolutely immoral”. He added, “It could result in people being killed in the dozens, if not hundreds.”

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Conspiracy Theorists Gear Up After Release of Oklahoma City Bombing Video

Posted by mattusmaximus on September 28, 2009

Recently, the FBI released some video footage from cameras in the area around the site of the Oklahoma City Bombing on April 19th, 1995.  The video came from a variety of cameras from sites surrounding the Murrah Federal Building, the target of the bombing.  And, true to form, conspiracy theorists have already jumped all over the release of the videos…

Attorney: OKC bombing tapes appear edited

Long-secret security tapes showing the chaos immediately after the 1995 bombing of the Oklahoma City federal building are blank in the minutes before the blast and appear to have been edited, an attorney who obtained the recordings said Sunday.

“The real story is what’s missing,” said Jesse Trentadue, a Salt Lake City attorney who obtained the recordings through the federal Freedom of Information Act as part of an unofficial inquiry he is conducting into the April 19, 1995, bombing that killed 168 people and injured hundreds more. …

… The tapes turned over by the FBI came from security cameras various companies had mounted outside office buildings near the Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building. They are blank at points before 9:02 a.m., when a truck bomb carrying a 4,000 pound fertilizer-and-fuel-oil bomb detonated in front of the building, Trentadue said.

“Four cameras in four different locations going blank at basically the same time on the morning of April 19, 1995. There ain’t no such thing as a coincidence,” Trentadue said. …

… “The interesting thing is they spring back on after 9:02,” he said. “The absence of footage from these crucial time intervals is evidence that there is something there that the FBI doesn’t want anybody to see.

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