Wednesday, February 17, 2010

First: A Meta Moment --
Sometimes we here at D&D are blessed with too many things to write about. Today is one of those days. My colleague Dave has done a great job making me
bummed out about Operation Moshtarak and the United Nations, and while we all wait to see what Mullah Baradar has to share, I have been caught in the epic debate of what to cover next. The LeCarre-esq story unfolding around the alleged Mossad assassination team in Dubai, while incredibly interesting and wildly mysterious, has held my focus of late -- but the likelihood of us ever knowing anything more than the BBC on it is slim.

A story has been pinging around the major news networks the past few days that has gotten far less attention than it deserves.

Today, the Thai Government announced the results of a recent double-blind test of their bomb detection equipment -- specifically the GT200 produced by the British firm Global Technical (pictured left). The findings? Abysmal.

from CNN:

The Thai government announced Tuesday that the GT200 failed rigorous tests carried out by scientists and the army in Thailand, after concerns were raised that the device was an elaborate hoax.

"We've done a double-blind test where the equipment was only successful in discovering in 20 percent of the cases, when just a random choice would give you 25 percent -- so there's no statistical significance to having the equipment," Thai Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva told CNN.

In fact, it appears that the equipment is actually less effective than simple guesswork. (update: The Bangkok Post is now reporting that soldiers are opting to use CHOPSTICKS instead of the GT200). While incredibly relevant to Thailand, who have deployed around 700 of the devices for the past six years on their southern border -- where there have been weekly bomb attacks. They have spent over $20 million on the project. But this disaster reaches...

...much further than Thailand, or South-East Asia for that matter.

It gets more terrifying if you look at how GT markets their "product":

The GT200 has been developed to allow the search of large areas and reduce them to small locations that can then be searched using other methods such as the canine. The system allows for all types of drugs or explosives to be searched for in one operation.

The GT200 can be used for Vehicle Check Point searches, Port Control searches, Open Area searches, Air Operation searches, Naval Operation searches, and Building searches.

The GT200 is currently used by approximately 30 nations, including Mexico -- where finding things that go boom is kind of important. And it doesn't work. Moreover, it is incredibly similar to the AED651, sold by another British firm, ATSC. While the AED651 is currently banned from export in the UK, it has been bought by the governments of both Iraq and Afghanistan -- along with many many others.

Let me explain something. These bomb "detectors" are more or less the modern equivalent to the divining rod, only way more expensive. They are about as useful as the magic wands frequently deployed by aggressive LARPers, and as effective as a one legged soccer player. Again,

from CNN:
Both the AED651 and the GT200 use technology that some scientists dismiss as little more than a car antenna mounted on a plastic box that is designed to act much the way a dowsing rod is used to find water.

"I can see no mechanism of a detecting nature whatsoever, except for the brain of the person who is holding it," said Sidney Alford, an explosives engineer.

"There is no electronic [component]," he said. "I would expect there to be some sort of electronic device if a person had told me this works. I would expect to see electronic components here."

I know that I feel safe -- how about you guys? Hopefully, this will not be the end of the story, but the beginning. Counter-Terrorism, Counter-Proliferation, and Homeland Security depend on all nations being able to deter, defend, and detect unwanted explosives entering their borders -- and this crap isn't helping.


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