Thailand's Fake Bomb Detectors

With Thai Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva announcing Tuesday that a controversial bomb detector purchased by the government has worked only four times in 20 field tests, the question now is whether the Thai government will initiate an investigation into who bought the fraudulent devices.

Despite the tests and the prime minister's press conference, Thai military and other government officials insisted they would go on using the devices, which they say are effective. Critics say if they do, they will subject the users to the possibility of death.

The Thai Army reportedly bought 535 of the GT200 devices at a cost ranging from Bt900,000 (US$27,250) to Bt1.2 million for add-ons, according to Lt Gen Daopong Rattansuwan, the deputy army chief of staff, before a house committee in October last year. (Asia Sentinel, A Dowsing Rod Bomb Detector, Jan. 28, 2010)

That means that at the very least, the government paid US$14.7 million to as much as US$19.4 million for the devices, which now appear to be worthless despite the military's vow to go on using them.

"I suspect that, a bit like a badly placed IED, this will now lurk in the long grass and quietly rust," a security analyst told Asia Sentinel.

In the tests, officials at the Thailand Science Park placed C4 plastic explosive in one of four boxes and ran the device over the boxes. The GT200 missed the substance 16 times out of 20.

Abhisit made the declaration that the devices were ineffective at a press conference attended by Anupong Paojinda, the Commander in Chief of the Royal Thai Army, telling local reporters that field trials by a committee of the Science and Technology Ministry found that "The GT200 itself cannot be used alone without help from other devices." He recommended using sniffer dogs.

In late January, police in the United Kingdom arrested Jim McCormick, the director of a company that sold thousands of similarly fraudulent bomb detecting equipment devices to the Iraqi Army, which has been paying the price in maimed bomb squads and raising the possibility of mass casualties caused by undetected explosives passing through security checkpoints.

"Note this is a double-blind test using four boxes and if it was pure random chance it should have worked five times," wrote a blogger who identifies himself as Bangkok Pundit, and who has covered the affair extensively. "So what this means if you were to replace the 1.2 million baht GT200 devices with a 25 satang (US,07¢) coin, the coin would be more accurate. Bangkok Pundit would even be willing to sell 25 satang coins for a mere 50 satang and provide training on how to flip the coins to accurately detect bombs.

"So what happens now? Any investigation into the purchases? Who will be the scapegoat? What about (retired Gen. Sonthi Boonyaratglin, former Commander-in-Chief of the Royal Thai Army) who first purchased the device? What about Anupong? It will be hard to sweep this under the carpet."

Asia Sentinel reported on Jan. 28 that the devices, manufactured by a UK-based firm called Global Technical Ltd, are being peddled to militaries in Thailand and the Philippines and possibly to others around Asia through a Singapore-based company called Electronic K9 Singapore Pte Ltd, which has a Manila website, and a second in Thailand called Avia Satcom Ltd. In late January, UK police arrested Jim McCormick, the director of a company that sold thousands of similar bomb detecting equipment devices, the ADE651, to the Iraqi Army.

On its Singapore website, Electronic K9 claimed that in addition to bombs the GT200 could find crystal methamphetamine, gold, ivory, poison, currency, tobacco and human beings from long distances away.

As in Thailand, critics question whether military procurement officials aren't being lured by commissions from the manufacturers to purchase the devices. The companies selling the devices appear to be concentrating on third-world countries where procurement officials are more malleable. The Thai purchases, according to a Thai NGO called the Working Group on Justice and Peace, were via a ‘secret budget' which gives makes the military procurement officers unaccountable to the Thai parliament.

The Thai army, according to local reports, will now be required to change its plans to buy bomb detectors and must consult with the National Electronics and Computer Technology Center before any new purchase to make sure that the equipment works.

The affair also calls into question the stance of Pornthip Rojanasunand, the flamboyant Thai forensic pathologist and human rights activist who is currently director of the Central Institute of Forensic Science for Thailand's Ministry of Justice. Dr Rojanasunand said her agency will continue to use the GT200 device although it won't buy any more of them. In the past, she has said the device is not scientific but depends on human operators.

Bangkok Pundit blogs at Asian Correspondent,