Britain has banned the export of a hand-held machine marketed as a bomb-detection device in Iraq and Afghanistan because of allegations that it does not work.
The Department for Business Innovation and Skills halted the export of the ADE651 after a BBC Newsnight investigation on Friday challenged the claims of the company, ATSC. The broadcaster took key components of the bomb detector to a laboratory, which concluded that a key component intended to detect explosives was akin to technology used to prevent theft in stores.
“Tests have shown that the technology used in the ADE651 and similar devices is not suitable for bomb detection,” the department said in a statement.
Though the device would not normally need a license because it is non-military technology, the British government banned its export to Iraq and Afghanistan because of the risk that it could hurt British and allied forces.
Britain’s Press Association reported that Avon and Somerset Police had arrested the company’s director, Jim McCormick, on suspicion of fraud by misrepresentation and released him on bail.
Police did not name the man arrested, as is customary with British criminal investigations, but said that it launched an investigation after the force became “aware of the existence of a piece of equipment around which there were many concerns.”
“Given the obvious sensitivities around this matter, the fact that an arrest has been made, and in order to preserve the integrity of the investigation, we cannot discuss it any further at this time,” the force said in a statement.
ATSC, whose number is not listed, has offices in rural Somerset.
Britain’s Embassy in Baghdad raised concerns with Iraqi authorities, who bought the ADE651, for security checkpoints. The devices remain in use.
Iraq’s Interior Minister, Jawad al-Bolani, told state-run Iraqiya TV on Friday that the instruments “managed to prevent and detect more than 16,000 bombs that would be a threat to people’s life and more than 733 car bombs were defused.”
“Iraq is considered as a market area for many companies producing such devices ... and there are other rival companies trying to belittle the efficiency of these instruments the government is buying,” Mr. Bolani said.
“Not all those who use the instrument are fully trained,” he added. “The instrument’s efficiency depends on the training of the user.”
Concerns about the device were raised in November, when the New York Times reported that the American military deemed the device useless. The newspaper reported that the Iraqi government purchased more than 1,500 of the devices, at a cost of between $16,500 and $60,000 each.
Iraqi families reacted to the news with outrage. Haider Mohammed, a relative of victims who died in recent bombings in Baghdad, called the detectors “a toy,” and demanded the Iraqi government answer for why it was not following the British government’s lead.
“We ask the Iraqi government, if this device does not work, why did they buy it?” Mr. Mohammed said. “Are the lives of Iraqi people so cheap?”
The hand-held device consists of a swivelling antenna mounted via a handgrip. The maker claims it can detect explosives at a distance.
Mr. McCormick told the BBC in an earlier interview that “the theory behind dowsing and the theory behind how we actually detect explosives is very similar.”
The broadcaster took the device to the Cambridge University computer lab, which determined that a “programmed substance detection card” that is supposed to detect explosives contained nothing but the type of anti-theft tag used to prevent stealing in department stores.