In early 2010, BP blogged repeatedly on GT200 “bomb detectors” and other similar devices purchased by the Thai army and other government agencies. The GT200 device is a black plastic box with an antenna sticking out which was hawked to the Thai military and other agencies along with a few plastic cards for up to 1,000,000 baht a pop by the British firm Global Technical. The seller purported the device could detect bombs and drugs. BP first blogged about the GT200 device in October 2009:
Fourth, the use of the GT-200 device which detects bomb residue and/or other material used in explosive devices has come under suspicion recently on the accuracy of such a device particularly as it may produce a number of false positives (ie indicate the presence of a bomb or bomb residue) and vice versa – see the Bangkok Post here and here. There are a number of other sites which have criticized the reliability of such devices although BP is not enough of a technical expert to know the reliability of criticism so venture on your own and keep an open mind.
Then, in a much longer post in early November 2009 entitled “The GT200: Do we detect a scam? ” looked at the background of the GT200 device and other devices and the scientific evidence questioning the reliability of such devices and noted:
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 precautions accordingly.
Of course, at that time, there was limited information about the GT200 and other similar dowsing rod devices. The ball really started to get rolling after a BBC Newsnight investigation in 2010. The UK government banned the export of such devices stating that “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 licence, and we would not normally need to monitor its sale and use abroad”.
The UK director of the company that sold the ADE651 was arrested on suspicion of fraud for misrepresentations over the device. Puea Thai, then in opposition, sensed their chance and on the back of strong vocal opposition by some Thai scientists against the use of dowsing rods, and in particular Jetsada Denduangboripan, a science lecturer at Chulalongkorn University, asked the military to reconsider purchases saying tests conducted showed the devices didn’t work.
Of course, that didn’t stop the use of such devices in Thailand with Deputy PM Suthep and Dr Pornthip Rojanasunand, director of the Forensic Science Institute, insisting (wrongly in BP’s opinion) that the ban didn’t cover the GT200 device and asserting the effectiveness of such devices. The military became upset after such stories saying it affected the confidence of soldiers.
Eventually, the government ordered testing and Abhisit confirmed that the tests showed that the devices worked 4 out of 20 times – in this instance, less than random chance – but Pornthip still insisted on using the devices. Pornthip has a lot invested as her office purchased such dowsing rods. She definitely used such devices in the Deep South and BP speculated, how many other investigations including the Rohingya explosive residue case did she use the GT200 or similar dowsing rod devices?
Despite Abhisit opposing the use of the device, the military continued to insist they will use the devices (cough civil control of the military?? cough). Interestingly, the narcotics police stopped using them though although the bomb squad didn’t. The military did actually continue to use the device as can be seen from the below image when the red shirts were coming to Bangkok in March 2010:
Now, BBC Newsnight has an update on the seller of ADE-651, a similar device to the GT200:
Jim McCormick, 55, has been on bail for two-and-a-half years while police examined the sale of the device.
A BBC Newsnight investigation in 2010 showed the ADE-651 did not work and led to the British government banning its export to Iraq and Afghanistan.
Mr McCormick will appear at City of London Magistrates’ Court on Thursday.
Avon and Somerset Police said that Mr McCormick would face six charges including producing and supplying the devices, knowing that they were designed or adapted for use in fraud.
The device had been sold to a range of Middle-Eastern countries and as far afield as Bangkok.
BP can’t find any more news on the progress on the case against the GT200 seller, but googling around found this report entitled “Assessment of the GT200 Molecular Detector” by the El Paso Intelligence Center (which is administered by the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration and includes representatives from 15 law enforcement agencies). The report concludes:
It is fascinating how supposedly “educated” decision makers of so many governments could have actually believed in a device that has never been proven scientifically and such “technology” as “static electricity” powered “molecular detection.” This analyst has had the opportunity on numerous occasions to observe the Mexican Army utilizing the device, and has seen the device falsely detect on two incidents (in one incident the object “detected” was a bottle of liquor which is not on the manufacturer’s list). The random variable of the human factor in the “operation” of the device is a significant concern. One can construct a similar “dowsing” device (YouTube video demonstrating the improbability the device can work as claimed) out of a wrench, a hinge, and an antennae to “detect”whatever substance based on the subtle movements of the operator. Therefore it is clear the GT200 and its predecessors have never been proven scientifically to “detect” the substances they claim to, and more reliable equipment needs to be utilized in explosive, drug, cash, weapons, and chemical detection. As long as the GT200 and other “detectors” are being used to detect explosives innocent lives will continue to be placed at risk and lost in some instances.
BP: Indeed. Of course, BP has not heard any news of any investigation on the Thai side. As a joke BP tried a few google queries, but alas found nothing. Then again, who really is going to investigate the Thai military who are a state within a state?
btw, anyone notice how infrequently you hear Pornthip mentioned in the media anymore?