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Kenya Police: Our Fake Bomb Detectors Are Real 151

Posted by timothy
from the but-how-are-the-elephant-detectors? dept.
First time accepted submitter NF6X writes "Following the conviction of British conman James McCormick for selling fake bomb detectors which were in fact rebadged novelty golf ball divining rods, Nairobi police chief Benson Githinji stated to reporters that his department's fake bomb detectors are serviceable, and contributed towards a recent elimination of successful grenade attacks."
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Kenya Police: Our Fake Bomb Detectors Are Real

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  • by Anonymous Coward on Friday April 26, 2013 @01:18PM (#43558655)

    1) Give intern new shiny bomb detector
    2) Send intern to walk around field for a while
    3) Intern blows up
    4) Success - bomb detected!
    5) Added bonus - bomb removed!

    • Won't work. (Score:5, Funny)

      by msauve (701917) on Friday April 26, 2013 @01:47PM (#43559113)
      Didn't you read the summary? It's a fake bomb detector. It won't detect real bombs.
      • by interval1066 (668936) on Friday April 26, 2013 @02:03PM (#43559313) Homepage Journal
        The shining endorsement is by a people who also believe in sympathetic magic and possession by evil spirits. Of course the bomb detectors work; you just have to activate them by burning insense in a slot on the side of the detector and appealing to "J'mbibwe", god of bombs and bush babies.
        • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

          by ohms (728912)
          Firstly, there isn't much different between believing in sympathetic magic/possession by evil spirits and the belief in a supreme being who directs our fate every day. My point? Everywhere in the world, you'll find "a people" who believe in otherworldly crap. Secondly, if you think the police spokesman firmly believes the bomb tthing works, then you're sorely mistaken. This is probably what happened (trust me, I have first hand information on this kind of stuff): 1. The British dude was able to get in cont
      • by Darinbob (1142669)

        However, once you've detected all of the fake bombs then all of the remaining bombs must be real!
        Elementary.

      • by narcc (412956)

        Didn't you read the summary? It's a fake bomb detector. It won't detect real bombs.

        You'd think that it would be harder to detect fake bombs than real ones.

    • by WhiteDragon (4556)

      1) Give intern new shiny bomb detector
      2) Send intern to walk around field for a while
      3) Intern blows up
      4) Success - bomb detected!
      5) Added bonus - bomb removed!

      That's the premise of the game Unexploded Cow [boardgamegeek.com], only instead of interns, it's cows with Mad Cow Disease.

  • by Trepidity (597) <.delirium-slashdot. .at. .hackish.org.> on Friday April 26, 2013 @01:28PM (#43558771)

    You'd think if you were buying some devices claiming to detect something-or-other, you would try out a specimen and see if it works. Did all of these countries he sold them to fail to do any testing on whether they worked?

    • by jythie (914043) on Friday April 26, 2013 @01:34PM (#43558889)
      Problem is confirmation bais is really easy to sell on people, so they honestly believe they did test it out and it worked.
    • > Did all of these countries he sold them to fail to do any testing on whether they worked?

      They passed the bribe test successfully. What more do we need?
    • by Hatta (162192) on Friday April 26, 2013 @01:39PM (#43558963) Journal

      Police work in any country is more about the appearance of security than actual security. It doesn't matter if it works. It only matters if it keeps people calm.

      I'm not advocating this as the way it should be, just the way it is. We'd all actually be safer if we switched to evidence based policing. But then the government couldn't get away with shit like the War on Drug Users.

      • by CdBee (742846)
        Also , in that particular culture the appearance of not having been duped / not losing face is worth more than any degree of integrity and honesty. Plus - maybe the bomb un-detectors have a placebo effect on potential bombers?
        • by eugene6 (2627513)
          I think you're right. Run three lines with conspicuous fake bomb detectors on two, and all the bombs will pass through the third line.
      • I agree with the "appearance of security" bit.

        I have season tickets to an NFL team. The stadium security staff "scans" everyone entering using hand-held devices (metal detectors?) that I believe to be fake.

        They have been using these for a few years, I have never once seen anyone stopped after a scanning. No one is asked to empty pockets. The devices do not appear to omit any audible or visual feedback....even when going over cell phones, keys, or flasks of whiskey.

        If it helps some people feel mo
        • There's a warehouse store I frequent, with the unlikely name of "BJs [bjs.com], that insists on checking everyone leaving for, well, supposedly stolen merchandise.

          They do this by asking for the receipt. They then look for items listed on the receipt, and verify those items are in the shopping basket. After a couple of checks to make sure different items listed on the receipt are in your basket, they wish you a good day and wave you on.

          Yes, that's right. They check you have the items you bought, not that you have

          • by Plunky (929104)

            They do this by asking for the receipt. They then look for items listed on the receipt, and verify those items are in the shopping basket. After a couple of checks to make sure different items listed on the receipt are in your basket, they wish you a good day and wave you on.

            They are not checking you, they are checking that the checkout staff are not in collusion with thieves.. I worked in a large DIY store once, and their stated theory was that 90% of the thieves were customers but that 90% of the value

          • by pspahn (1175617)

            This is an infamous practice of Fry's Electronics. I haven't been to one in some time, so I can only assume they still do it.

            I am not sure if this is true or not, but I have heard that when they are doing that, they have no legal right to detain you from leaving the store, and you are more than welcome to simply leave without them checking the receipt. This could be a California thing, or maybe not even true at all. Whenever I used to leave Fry's, I would walk right past the door receipt checkers, when the

            • Had I guy from Best Buy follow me out in to the parking lot after doing this. Some of these guys take their job really seriously!
            • I am not sure if this is true or not, but I have heard that when they are doing that, they have no legal right to detain you from leaving the store, and you are more than welcome to simply leave without them checking the receipt.

              At BJ's/Sams/Costco, yes they can. Being membership clubs, it is on the agreement when you sign up and pay for membership.

              disclaimer - the wife works at one of those
              • by jonbryce (703250)

                And if you violate the membership agreement, what can they do about it? Ask you to leave the premises immediately? But that's what you are trying to do anyway. Revoke your membership? Yes, they can certainly do that.

                • by drinkypoo (153816)

                  The membership costs money, and there's not a whole lot of costco stores, you can't necessarily just go to another one without traveling for hours. That's my case, anyway, and I live in the most populous state in the union.

                  With that said, when the line has been long and the receipt checkers slow, I have definitely just blown out of the costco. But it seems to me that as years have passed they have gotten better at hiring people who will actually get people out of the door.

      • by b4upoo (166390)

        It sort of starts with the meaning of security. To lock down or prevent movement is one definition of security. So a security guard walking by a client who does not move and is stretched out on the asphalt in the parking area need do nothing. The body would be even more secure if it were chained to a tree. The guard's duty is to observe and report so if he notices that the building is on fire he should note it in his report for end of shift.

    • Re: (Score:2, Funny)

      by rwise2112 (648849)

      You'd think if you were buying some devices claiming to detect something-or-other, you would try out a specimen and see if it works. Did all of these countries he sold them to fail to do any testing on whether they worked?

      You see they are not using them right. They are trying to detect 'real bombs', when clearly this is a 'fake bomb' detector!

    • You'd think if you were buying some devices claiming to detect something-or-other, you would try out a specimen and see if it works. Did all of these countries he sold them to fail to do any testing on whether they worked?

      The inventor is being accused of bribery as well, paying "millions" of pounds to Iraqi politicians/leaders.

      Set up a simple demo which "shows" the detector finding something so that they have plausible deniability or actually believe the "test", and then hand them a fat wad of cash so

    • by Culture20 (968837)
      Sure, but they used golfballs as filler in their mock-bombs for the testing.
    • A follow-up poster replied "confirmation bias". I have to say "so what?"

      To function as a bomb detector, all it has to do go bleep when it detects some kind of thing, used in some kind of bomb. Chemical compounds, object density, ferrous metal content, anything.

      To be useful as a bomb detector, it doesn't even have to do that - it just has to help reinforce safe handling procedures for "unknown objects".

      False positives don't matter - if you have a device that, one time, keeps one operator from doing somethi

    • The pendulum spins clockwise when held over a genuine one.
    • It works on the same principal as the collander attached to a photo copy machine with a paper with LIE in the scanner. As long as the subject believes it, the operator looks for the subjects reaction to it.

      A normal tourisit or business traveler will pretty much ignore it and pass it off as yet another delay in boarding and nothing else. Others may display visable sweating, nervousness, etc and that is the indicator. A trained operator will look for the proper indicators. The fact the item is searchable

    • by Patch86 (1465427)

      Bribes. Lots and lots of bribes. It isn't clear exactly how much was paid in bribes around the world as part of this scam, but as an example General al-Jabiri of Iraq was convicted of accepting "millions of dollars" in bribes in exchange for making his country's purchases.

      This also explains why the authorities in some countries (e.g. Kenya, from TFA) are still swearing blind that they are authentic, and have been doing so since the scam was publicly denounced in 2010- the people responsible are still in pow

  • Perhaps they would have benefited more from a gullible idiot detector. Though thinking about it, I guess that's already an additional purpose of these devices. The irony being, of course, than you can't use them for that purpose when you're a gullible idiot yourself.
    • Perhaps they would have benefited more from a gullible idiot detector.

      They are called eyes. And mine constantly detect them.

    • Perhaps they would have benefited more from a gullible idiot detector.

      Good news. These devices are equally effective at that as they are at detecting bombs!

    • by fractoid (1076465)

      Perhaps they would have benefited more from a gullible idiot detector.

      I can sell you one of those...

  • by Anonymous Coward

    Good! Glad to know someone out there has developed easy-to-use technology to detect if a bomb is fake! That'll certainly be a load off my mind whenever I see a shoddily-constructed homemade bomb. I'll be able to easily check to see if it's authentic or if it's just made by some poser looking to bite a popular style.

  • "There are no US tanks in Bagdad!"
    • Re: (Score:2, Funny)

      by Anonymous Coward

      He knew this because his tank detector was reading zero.

  • Thailand too.... (Score:5, Interesting)

    by ShawnDoc (572959) on Friday April 26, 2013 @01:42PM (#43559015) Homepage
    About 2 years ago, when it came to light these bomb detectors were totally fake, the Thai government, who has bought a whole bunch of these came out insisting they were real and worked. My hunch is there are no "real" portable bomb detectors (other than a trained dog), and government middle managers under pressure to buy bomb detectors bought the only thing on the market claiming to do that regardless of whether it worked or not. They knew it didn't work, but the politicians further up the chain didn't care, they just wanted to be able to say they'd purchased bomb detectors and people would be safe. Alternately, maybe James was just really good at structuring kickbacks and bribes to the decision makers. Its not like Thailand, Iraq or Kenya's governments are corruption free.
    • by Dahamma (304068) on Friday April 26, 2013 @01:59PM (#43559269)

      Yeah, if there was such thing as a *reliable* portable bomb detector, you'd think US law enforcement would stop detonating people's "suspicious" laptops and grocery bags left on the street.

      • Yeah, if there was such thing as a *reliable* portable bomb detector, you'd think US law enforcement would stop detonating people's "suspicious" laptops and grocery bags left on the street.

        Why would they do it? Do you know how much fun it is to blow things up AND get paid for it by the government? It seriously beats blowing things up and getting thrown into jail by the same government. I'm certain they have them but don't want to get rid of the fun.

        • They also get hazardous duty pay and any overtime multiplies that rate.
          And you get to blow thing s up.

        • by Dahamma (304068)

          Yeah, but it's only really fun if you already used the portable bomb detector to make sure it's not actually a real bomb and you may take out half the block...

    • About 2 years ago, when it came to light these bomb detectors were totally fake, the Thai government, who has bought a whole bunch of these came out insisting they were real and worked.

      Wasn't there a story some time ago on this very site about the Iraqis doing exactly the same thing?

    • by mcmonkey (96054)

      My hunch is there are no "real" portable bomb detectors (other than a trained dog), and government middle managers under pressure to buy bomb detectors bought the only thing on the market claiming to do that regardless of whether it worked or not. They knew it didn't work, but the politicians further up the chain didn't care, they just wanted to be able to say they'd purchased bomb detectors and people would be safe.

      Yeah, about that...

      http://www.science20.com/gerhard_adam/how_reliable_are_sniffing_dogs-95956 [science20.com]

    • Are those detectors at least useful for their original purpose? Detecting golf balls. Or is that a scam too?

      • by Patch86 (1465427)

        They were novelty (i.e., joke) golfball detectors. They do nothing. They are a moulded plastic shell with an extendible radio aerial stuck on the front. And a sticker on the side. There is no power source, no wiring, no circuitry- nothing. The only thing in the device which even remotely resembles electronics was in the "programme cards" which McCormick distributed with them (which didn't come with the original novelty toy), which contained an RFID tag similar to the ones high-street shops use to prevent sh

    • There are two sides of this news. Of course one side is corruption and fraud - not that interesting, the usual story. The other side is more interesting. The news doesn't say "detectors were fake and didn't work", it says "they work nevertheless". This may not be a scientific fact as many would like to hear but nevertheless many people believe in it. So the question is why they work? Something is not proven scientifically means it's not possible? How about sixth sense?
  • by kheldan (1460303) on Friday April 26, 2013 @01:55PM (#43559219) Journal
    I'm taking this story to mean that they've got these fake, non-functional bomb/drug/illicit substance detectors, and they know they're fake, but "officially" they work great, thus they use the fiction of their functionality to support their "finding" of said illicit substances, where in reality they used methods that otherwise would not be admissable in court; it's a con-job turned on it's head. I can't condone it, if I'm correct then they're completely corrupt, but it's still clever of them, if rather scary that any police force could be allowed to function that way.
    • by Impy the Impiuos Imp (442658) on Friday April 26, 2013 @02:05PM (#43559341) Journal

      They would be useful, even if fake, if terrorists thought them real and skipped attempts.

      FBI and friends use lie detectors even though they are hogwash. I assume it's for the same reason: to scare people rather than use as a physical filter. Only the high-level strategists need know it doesn't work -- the plebe agents don't.

      • by Anonymous Coward

        Oh definitely, long time ago I had to take a polygraph for a job and during the exam, I felt as if a game was being played in which I hadn't been informed as to the rules. They had issues with my results and scheduled a follow up exam. And during that time, I decided to research the polygraph. I did from time to time see references to a 'classified study' on their effectiveness, but never saw the study of course. However, if said study happened to match what I found out in publicly available literature, and

    • I'm sure they work just as well as other Security Theater props like porno-scanners and face-recognition cameras. In fact, they probably have a lot lower rate of false positives.

  • by paiute (550198) on Friday April 26, 2013 @02:02PM (#43559291)
    I think we can figure out from the summary alone who took kickback money to buy these things.
  • by Riceballsan (816702) on Friday April 26, 2013 @02:02PM (#43559301)
    So essentially it sounds to me like the Quadro QRS 250G "Detector" device sold a few decades back http://skepdic.com/quadro.html [skepdic.com] . Of which even after they were proven to be just an antenna, hooked to a box filled with dead ants. Many schools found it worth it to keep them for detecting drugs because the security theatre aspect, if the students think a machine can detect drugs... they will be afraid to bring drugs.
    • by RobinH (124750)
      Any "detector" can detect drugs in a high school, if it tells you to open enough lockers.
    • by Darinbob (1142669)

      It could be. The earlier BBC report about the trial says that they were based on "novelty" golf ball detectors.

  • by Anonymous Coward

    If these things don't work, it's great news for all those Nigerian princes trying to move money - just route it through Kenya! No more depending on those greedy and overly-skeptical first-world emailers.

  • by Anonymous Coward

    Oh, don't get me wrong- the 'bomb detectors' most certainly cannot detect anything to do with real bombs, but that was NEVER their purpose. They are intended to be a tool of the police-state. Justification for uniformed goons to stop you, interrogate you, and take you off to torture centres using the 'bomb detector' as an excuse.

    The USA has torture facilities all across our planet. Other states are able to argue that if kidnap and torture is good enough for America, it most certainly is good enough for them

  • by Anonymous Coward

    you're just not holding it right.

    Jobs

  • by nimbius (983462) on Friday April 26, 2013 @02:36PM (#43559723) Homepage
    terrorist: so does that bomb detector really work? i need to know because it takes a super long time to put one of these things together and i dont want to waste a bunch of time just getting arrested.
    trollface kenyan officer: they dont not work.
    terrorist: ok but a court in the UK said the detectors were all fake.
    trollface kenyan officer: our fake detectors work.
  • Denial (Score:4, Insightful)

    by dkleinsc (563838) on Friday April 26, 2013 @02:41PM (#43559765) Homepage

    It's not just a river with sources in Kenya.

  • by Beorytis (1014777) on Friday April 26, 2013 @02:59PM (#43559985)
    Two ways they might work:
    1. Officer using detector is forced to get up off his butt and wave the magic wand around. In the process he notices the bomb.
    2. Potential bomber sees officer with magic gadget and decides to bomb somewhere else.
  • This is a way to create probable cause. The "bomb detector" wriggled? That's our cue/excuse to take your car apart, call in the bomb sniffer dogs, and so on. It's science woo at its purest. These things were used in Iraq for a while as well, there was a similar scandal.
  • The feedback of the indicator is open to interpretation. If you want to search a car, just use it and claim a positive reading. This gives you probable cause for a search. Same as K9 dogs. They are able to detect stuff, but that seems to be becoming merely an additional benefit.

  • ...a while back at http://viewfromll2.com/ [viewfromll2.com]

    as well as some other interesting articles if you're into lawyer stuff.

  • Law enforcement has no interest in verifiable accurate technology, those things only provide "proof." What they really want is plausible "probable cause," which allows them get around all those pesky rights that citizens seem to think they want.

  • A pair of L-shaped brass rods, one in each hand, seems to work for 'dowsing'. They swing across each other over a target. But if you clamp the handles in a swivelling frame, they (unsurprisingly) swing only parallel. Hypothesis, the kit indicates only what the operator is subliminally suspecting (just like the traditional stressed hazel twig, or magic pendulum). So you can do a bit of theatre with such things (especially if the credulous believe they work), but it's fake, but/and it's fake for a reason.
    • by drinkypoo (153816)

      A pair of L-shaped brass rods, one in each hand, seems to work for 'dowsing'. They swing across each other over a target. But if you clamp the handles in a swivelling frame, they (unsurprisingly) swing only parallel.

      I'm not saying dowsing works, but I will say that is not a useful test for whether dowsing works, because removing the human element is the opposite of what you would want to do. One idea of how dowsing could work (again, not saying it does) is some possibly subconscious awareness of an interaction between your EM field and that of "the planet" (cue hippie music) and therefore eliminating the human from the equation does not prove that dowsing does not work.

      This is different; this does even less than that.

      • I tested my rods on a road with trenches either side, looking for 'pipes', with a friend who could see down the trenches. Nothing, but at one spot they always crossed even with no pipes evident - eventually we noticed there was a wire running overhead at that point. Not saying it 'works', only - and most likely - that it sensitively discloses the operator's own subliminal suspicions/intuitions. Plus, confirmation bias - how many other trials have I not reported? But in the bomb case, provided the bad gu
  • you'd think that the fact that, as the BBC news item pointed out, the detectors needed no battery or other power supply might have been a first clue.

  • by patiwat (126496) on Sunday April 28, 2013 @05:20AM (#43572723)

    This also occurred in Thailand a few years ago, and it's a very sad story of (military) politics triumphing over reason.

    During the early years of the Thaksin Shinawatra government, Pornthip Rojanasunand [wikipedia.org], a very high-profile CSI official, claimed that there was corruption in the Thai police. She became something of a media personality, and a National Geographic documentary was even made of her. She became very popular with the Thai military, who are rivals with the police and eventually launched a coup to remove Thaksin from power. After the coup, the military government spent over $20 million on the "bomb detectors" (not including "commissions") for and gave them to patrols in the deep South to deal with Muslim insurgents.

    The military junta eventually organized an election, which a Thaksin-friendly government won. During an anti-government protest, a lady died in an explosion, and many protestors lost limbs. There was some suspicion that the protestors were carrying IEDs which exploded prematurely. "Our team has used a GT200 substance detector and found no substance used in making bombs. We've already checked the clash scenes and the bodies and clothing of the injured victims," [nationmultimedia.com] Pornthip Rojanasunand said. She concluded that police tear-gas grenades used by the police caused the injuries and death. Despite evidence to the contrary [nationmultimedia.com]. The public trusted her and the forensic powers of the "bomb detectors," the Queen attended the funeral of the dead lady, and a military-appointed court soon replaced the elected government with one that supported the military.

    Soon, evidence started accumulating the the "bomb detectors" weren't working in the South and civilians and low-level soldiers were dying as a result. Pornthip lended her public credibility to the devices. "Personally, I have never handled the device myself. But my people have used it and it is accurate every time. Long long time ago, people believed that the Earth is flat and anyone who said otherwise faced execution. Things which are not visible does not necessarily mean they do not exist. The devices are there and no one has the right to ban their use. I will continue to use it." [isranews.org]

    The basic detector costs about $20,000, but additional "sensor cards" can be bought to "detect" things like dead bodies. The military-leaning government later killed many protestors in a large protest a few years ago. There were rumors that even more were killed and their bodies placed in containers and sunk off the coast. When containers was found sunk off the coast, Pornthip put a dead-body sensor card into her "bomb detector" and concluded that the containers didn't have dead bodies. Therefore, it wouldn't be cost effective to actually open one of the containers up to check and see.

    In conclusion, people like Pornthip support such non-sense "bomb detectors" - not because they personally have to use them - but because they or people they have a vested interest in have supported the frauds in the past, and suddenly recanting and saying that they don't actually work would cause them to lose face.

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