Lives at airport threatened by bogus bomb detectors

By Hasan Abdullah
Tuesday, 26 Jan, 2010

An Airport Security Force officer with explosive detector ADE-651 patrols Benazir Bhutto International Airport in Islamabad. Pakistan’s Airport Security Force continues to use ADE-651 despite strong warnings from the British govt and scientists. – AP/File photo

Briton arrested for fraud over bomb detectors

KARACHI: The lives of thousands of passengers are at stake owing to a major security flaw at the country’s busiest airport, technical experts have warned.

The Airport Security Force is continuing to use a bomb detector at the Jinnah International Airport despite the fact that British government and scientists have declared the device “not suitable for bomb detection”.
The device known as ADE-651 has been manufactured by a British company ATSC (UK) and has been exported to over 20 countries, including Pakistan at “exorbitant” prices. It consists of a swivelling antenna mounted via a hinge to a handgrip. It requires no battery or other power source and the manufacturer claims it is powered by static electricity of the person holding it. According to ATSC (UK), the gadget works by detecting “the frequency of a particular explosive or other substance”.
“We will be making an order, under the Export Control Act 2002, banning the export of this type of device to Iraq and Afghanistan. The reason the ban is limited to these two countries is that our legal power to control these goods is based on the risk that they could cause harm to UK and other friendly forces,” says a statement from the British government. Furthermore, British authorities have charged Jim McCormick, the Managing Director of ATSC (UK) for fraud.
However Pakistan’s Airport Security Force continues to use this product.
“What we use at the Jinnah airport is not ADE-651. The ASF has designed it and it is in huge demand. Even agencies like the ISI are calling on us to provide them with this technology,” said a senior official posted at the Jinnah Airport. However, when cross-questioned, other ASF officials acknowledged that the device they were using operated on the same principle as ADE-651.
Many technical experts have expressed surprise at Pakistani officials who still believe the device works.
“There has to be an electric, magnetic or electromagnetic field for a device to work in such a manner. Furthermore static fields don’t move around the way it is being claimed by some. Also don’t forget that there are so many radio waves of different frequencies all around us. I just don’t see how this device would work,” said Professor Shahid Zaidi from the Applied Physics department at Karachi University.
Dawn even sought written permission from the Airport Security Force to bring in an explosives sample to test the device but ASF officials refused while insisting that their device works.
“The problem here is that we have unqualified and non-technical people holding posts which require technocrats. I just hope that the Ministry of Defence takes serious notice of this flaw before the terrorists do so,” argued Sheikh Mohammad Iqbal, a technical consultant.
Despite repeated attempts, Defence Minister Ahmed Mukthar was not available for comment.

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