ISLAMABAD: Despite being proven as a scam internationally, thousands of variants of the bogus ‘magic wand’ bomb-detecting devices continue to be used to guard high-value facilities in Pakistan.
More than 15,000 of a new variant of the handheld device, which has a radio-like antennae meant to swivel and point at vehicles carrying bombs, have been manufactured in Pakistan and deployed at sensitive locations such as airports, government installations and hotels.
Many creators of the original devices are currently serving long prison sentences for fraud.
“It serves a deterrence value only — it’s good for police and security personnel to have something in their hands,” said a senior interior ministry official, who asked to remain anonymous.
Pressed on whether Taliban and al Qaeda insurgents may by now be wise to the deception, he conceded: “Yes, they are savvy and they probably are aware by now.”
His comments were backed by two more senior members of government, though neither was prepared to go formally on the record.
Official silence over the matter may be linked to the enormous sums of money involved in the business, observers say.
“Powerful people make money through these scams and you cannot offend powerful people, even if it means endangering lives,” said one ex-official at the interior ministry.
Pakistan initially imported devices such as the ADE-651 and the German made Sniffex, according to a government source, but in 2009 Pakistan’s Airport Security Force (ASF) took over making and selling the wands.
More than 15,000 units have been sold in the country, according to an official.
The wands, named ‘Khoji’ (finder), have also been widely sold to the private sector. The ASF declined to comment.
The device claims an accuracy level of 90 per cent, according to a copy of its user manual obtained by AFP, but uses the principles of radiesthesia, which experts consider junk science.
“Khoji is the first device of its kind that can detect explosives from distances of up to 100 metres (330 feet), even when the explosive is hidden behind walls or metal barriers such as buildings or vehicles,” the manual boasts.
“It detects the interference by between the magnetic field of the earth, the explosive, the device itself and the human body, which allows the device to penetrate and locate even small amounts of explosive through concrete, soil, and metal barriers.”
Physicist Pervez Hoodbhoy, who trained at the US’s MIT, dismissed the device’s mechanics as a hoax.
“It’s a fraud. There’s no way that explosives can be detected by electromagnetic means,” he said.
Andrea Sella, a professor of chemistry at the University College London, echoed Hoodbhoy stating the claims were ‘laughable’.