UPDATE: New York Times has an article on these types of devices.
Have previously blogged on the GT200 device here and here. It is a device which purports to detect bomb residue (also drugs too!). The Bangkok Post has a new article raising questions as to its effectiveness:
Doubts are mounting over the reliability of the remote substance detector GT200, after it repeatedly failed to detect hidden bombs.
/>Some security personnel say the hand-held detectors are reliable in 50% of cases at most, but their supervisors insist they can still be trusted.
BP: The devices cost 900,000 Baht ($27,000) each (you can see a picture of the device in the Bangkok Post article above, but plenty more here), but that is a hardly a high level of reliability. So what is the GT 200 device you ask?
The GT200 device is from the Global Technical company. You will see they have a Thai distributor and distributors in other developing countries. They have password protected their brochure, but their Singapore distributor has the GT200 FAQ. On how the device works:
The GT200 works on the principal of dia/para magnetism. All substances carry a magnetic charge that, when stimulated by an impulse of electricity, (static) creates an attraction between the substance being detected and the GT200 unit itself. This is called EMA or Electro Magnetic Attraction.
/>The simple way to explain this technology is to take an inflated balloon and rub it on your hair. A static charge is being created making that balloon “attract” it to say, a wall. Provided that there is enough charge on that balloon, it will remain “attracted” to the wall for an indefinite amount of time. However, once the “charge” has dissipated, the balloon will then “unattached” between itself and fall to the ground.
The first device of this type was the Quadro Tracker to detect drugs. As Reason wrote in the mid-’90s, it was a scam device. Key excerpt:
It looked like just a plastic cellular phone, about 4 inches long, with a chrome antenna loosely attached. If you walked around, looking for something, the antenna was supposed to pivot around and point in the direction of what you were looking for. It was sold as a golf ball finder to begin with. But then Quattlebaum discovered further benefits and further possibilities for his gadget. With the insertion of the right preprogrammed “frequency chip”.
/>Soon, Quadro was losing more than that. In addition to the problems in Beaumont, the attorney general of Iowa obtained a court order enjoining both the national Quadro Corp. and its Iowa distributor from trying to sell the device. After the FBI sent notices in January to every law enforcement division in the country declaring the device a fraud, sales slackened. Post-injunction, of course, sales have stopped entirely. Quadro’s employees are out of work. And now there’s the grand jury indictment.
Then, of course, in a post 9-11 world, we had all these security devices popping up and everyone forget about Quadro. First, was the MOLE, also by Global Technical of the UK (yes, the same people behind the GT200). Sandia National Laboratories conducted a double-blind test in 2002 and their findings (PDF) was the product “performed no better than random chance” (page 7).
The second is the Sniffex device. The Dallas Morning News published a long article about the devices in 2007. Key excerpt:
The Irving marketers behind Sniffex – which looks like a cross between a large cigarette lighter and a TV antenna – say the device can pinpoint explosives from a football field away.
/>But in a test by the U.S. Navy, Sniffex didn’t register when two trucks passed within 20 feet, hauling a half ton of explosives. The testers said the antenna was “extremely susceptible” to a phenomenon that has also been linked to Ouija boards.
/>“I can tell you that we purchased it in good faith,” said Lt. Col. Jacquelin Lyons. “And we got ripped off.”
BP: More importantly is the accompanying PDF file with a picture of the device with the explanation:
According to the sellers, Sniffex works by detecting the interference between the magnetic field of the earth, the explosive, the device and the human body. When it does, the antenna moves in the direction of the explosives
BP: If you look at the picture, the device operates on the same principle as the GT200. After the market collapsed for Sniffex, we had new companies come up with “new” devices. Most of these devices end up in third world countries. There is also a recent NPR article on the devices (unsure whether GT200, but same type of device) in Iraq:
Iraqi authorities have spent millions of dollars to outfit checkpoints around the country with a simple tool they hope will result in fewer roadside bombings: a hand-held plastic grip with what looks like a transistor radio antenna attached. The curious gadget is supposed to sniff out explosive materials.
/>While Iraqi security forces say the device is effective, U.S. military experts suspect it is nothing more than a charade.
/>A short radio antenna on a swivel sticks out horizontally from a plastic gun grip. If a car smells fishy — or, more aptly, dynamite-y — the antenna swivels and points to it, like a superstitious well-digger’s divining rod.
/>Many U.S. officials say the science is about as sound as searching for groundwater with a stick. But in Baghdad, the policemen swear by it.
/>But critics of the device say it simply doesn’t work — no matter what the state of mind of the operator. One American expert in Baghdad compared the machine with a Ouija board but wouldn’t comment on the record. A U.S. Navy investigation exposed a similar device made by a company called Sniffex as a sham.
/>The U.S. military command that oversees training and advice to Iraq would not comment for this story. But the antenna devices are not seen anywhere near American installations in Iraq, which rely on dogs to sniff out explosive materials.
BP: There is a reason why the Americans won’t use this device (many were fooled by the Quadro in the ’90s) and that is the US Department of Justice have issued “Guide for the Selection of Commercial Explosives Detection Systems for Law Enforcement Applications (NIJ Guide 100-99)” at pages 71-72 (PDF):
7. WARNING: DO NOT BUY BOGUS EXPLOSIVES DETECTION EQUIPMENT
/>From time to time, there are new devices that enter the market. Most companies make reasonable claims, and their products are based on solid scientific principles. Claims for some other devices may seem unreasonable or may not appear to be based on solid scientific principles.
/>There is a rather large community of people around the world that believes in dowsing: the ancient practice of using forked sticks, swinging rods, and pendulums to look for underground water and other materials. These people believe that many types of materials can be located using a variety of dowsing methods. Dowsers claim that the dowsing device will respond to any buried anomalies, and years of practice are needed to use the device with discrimination (the ability to cause the device to respond to only those materials being sought). Modern dowsers have been developing various new methods to add discrimination to their devices….None of these attempts to create devices that can detect specific materials such as explosives (or any materials for that matter) have been proven successful in controlled double-blind scientific tests. In fact, all testing of these inventions has shown these devices to perform no better than random chance.
/>Mostly these devices are used to locate water and now are used extensively by treasure hunters looking for gold and silver. In recent years some makers of these dowsing devices have attempted to cross over from treasure hunting to the areas of contraband detection, search and rescue, and law enforcement. The Quadro Tracker is one notable example of this cross-over attempt. This device was advertised as being a serious technology with a realistic sounding description of how it worked (close examination showed serious errors in the scientific sounding description). Fortunately, the National Institute of Justice investigated this company and stopped the sale of this device for these purposes, but not before many law enforcement agencies and school districts wasted public funds on the purchase of these devices.
The Army and those in favor of the device claim that the effectiveness of the device depends on the knowledge and physical readiness of the user. They claim that due to the user being exhausted or not trained well, the device might not work correctly.
/>The operation of the device is causing a lot of suspicion among scientists in Thailand for several reasons. According to them, the procedure of finding suspicious objects is not based on a reliable scientific method. Besides, GT200 is not being used by credible international organizations. The manufacturer claims that it is used in the UK and the Netherlands Armies but both countries have denied this. A similar device with the trading name MOLE had been tested by US authorities who concluded that the device was fraudulent and prepared to sue the company. MOLE is believed to be a predecessor of GT200 (other names such as Sniffex, Squard, etc. have also been used for similar products).
BP: Various ministers have come out to defend the products, but if the device only works 50% of the time, why not just a one baht coin to decide? Not only will it be a lot cheaper, but those who use won’t be under the impression that the “device” they are using works all the time and can take precuations accordingly.
h/ to the folks at Pantip and friends on Twitter for all the links.
btw, here is a letter which appears to be from the UK Minister for Defence Equipment and Support – if one looks at the properties of the document it has all the necesary properties for a government issued letter.