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Eternal Vigilance PDF Print E-mail
Swift
Written by Jeff Wagg   

A year ago, Randi finished off a succesful attack on a device that was a swindle at best, and a killer at worst. That device, "Sniffex," was a divining rod purported by its marketers to detect explosives. (Not to be confused with SniffEx, a scientific – and functioning – sensor.)

Sadly, another troll has taken residence under the bridge.

Visit NPR and take a look at the picture there. Yes, that's a soldier holding a divining rod. It's looking for bombs, and it's going to get people killed.

NPR did a good job on this article, taking the right tone, and calling it like it is. But I wish it had been longer than three minutes.

Here's a choice quote:

Police officer Husam Muhammad says using the device properly is more of an art than a science, and he demonstrates how to walk with a steady rocking march, holding the sniffer out ahead of him.

"If we are tense, the device doesn't work correctly. I start slow, and relax my body, and I try to clear my mind," he says.

Yes, you'd better practice those relaxation techniques, because you're waving a hunk of plastic with an antenna stuck on it at what could possibly be a car bomb.

He's claiming that this device which has "saved lives" is an art form rather than a science and he's right – there's no science at all here. But there IS a patent. And that means... well, it means someone filled out a lot of paperwork. That's about it.

I understand that people without a science background might see the device and think "Ooh, they're using it... it must work" and that that would supposedly be a deterrent. (I suspect lie detectors are used so often for the same reason.) But we're talking about bombs here, in a war zone. Bombmakers are sophisticated enough to know that dowsing isn't real. Can we stop playing pretend now? Please?

Randi decided to make his point very clear about this matter, and posted this message in the articles comment section:

Police officer Husam Muhammad, the head of Baghdad's bomb squad,Gen. Jihad al-Jaberi, Iraq's deputy minister of the interior Adnan al-Asadi, or ANY MEMBER of the Iraqi armed forces - can win the Foundation's million-dollar prize (see http://www.randi.org/site/index.php/1m-challenge.html) if they can demonstrate that this device works to find ANYTHING. We are the group who alerted the U.S. military and the U.S. Navy to the "Sniffex" scam and put Sniffex out of business. The prize is legit, the device being used, is not. ANYONE can apply for and win the prize, if they can show that it works. It's a fake, a fraud, and a deception. If you think not, apply...

If you agree, you might want to recommend that post to the readers of the NPR article. You might also want to let people know that superstition persists in the world today, it still has teeth, and it still draws blood.

 

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written by Andrew Wiggin, September 08, 2009
I think you broke the internet. The second link takes me to the same Swift page as the first link does, not to the NPR page. I looked around a bit on NPR but couldn't find the article deescribed here to post the link myself.

Here's hoping that the poor soldier with the dowsing rod doesn't get blown up.

A.
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NPR link incorrect?
written by rc_moore@cvaas.org, September 08, 2009
Is it just me, or is the NPR link incorrect?

The following may be what Jeff meant to link to.

http://www-cdn.npr.org/templat...=111750111
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written by Waffle, September 08, 2009
The people that sell or promote this device (or others like it) should take one and go play in a mine-field. If nothing else, they're likely to remove at least one mine. It's win-win.
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Not Such a Stretch
written by TDjazz, September 09, 2009
That Iraqi security forces have embraced such a useless device is not so hard to understand. They are believers in Islam, which, as all religions, has some pretty far-out tenets and superstitions. To them, belief in such a useless device probably seems as a progressive acceptance of modern Western "technology."

Alas, all it will take to have them swear off this device is for one vehicle, checked out to be free of explosives, to explode and kill and injure people nearby. I hope the Iraqi security forces come to their senses before that.
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written by hdhondt, September 09, 2009
I think this is the link Jeff meant:

http://www.npr.org/templates/story/story.php?storyId=111750111
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written by Careyp74, September 09, 2009
From the article: "One day, the commander called me to check a suspicious car, and the machine read 'Dynamite and C-4.' I checked it twice more, and then we called the bomb squad, and they discovered that the car carried explosives," one policeman at a checkpoint in central Baghdad says.

So now it has a readout? Also......

"Jaberi says it's not true that perfume and soap set off the devices. He resents the fact that Americans deride the devices — which are also used elsewhere in the Middle East — as operating by "magic."

Oh, well great, they don't set it off, neither does anything else other than a tilted wrist. Not what we are critisizing here General.
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It's everywhere.
written by SonofRojBlake, September 09, 2009
Last week someone wrote to the Guardian, one of the most respected mainstream quality newspapers in the UK and home to Ben Goldacre's brilliant "Bad Science" column. They asked if anyone still believed in water divining, or whether it had gone the way of spoon-bending. Click on the link to see the single reply they published.

http://www.guardian.co.uk/theguardian/2009/sep/09/notes-and-queries-books-translation
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written by Careyp74, September 09, 2009
TDjazz is right. Also, if there is an explosion, and the device shows not to work, wouldn't there be a lot of resentment towards americans because it is an american company, and the Iraqi General would probably do anything to shift the blame off of himself?
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written by llewelly, September 09, 2009
Kuroyume, September 05, 2009 :

Up until the USA sort of wrestled most of the western territories (and Florida) from Spain in the mid 1800s, Spain owned everything in the Americas from half of what is now the USA (California, New Mexico, Arizona, Utah, Colorado, Texas, Florida territories) to the tip of South America except a couple small French and Dutch territories.

Not to disagree with your thesis, but during most of Spanish imperial period, Portugal held Brazil, which is not a small territory. (Though there were some rulers who held both Spain and Portugal, that wasn't the norm.)
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Apologies...
written by JeffWagg, September 09, 2009
Yes, I messed up the code for the link and didn't test it properly. Its fixed now. Thanks to those commenters who cared enough to put the proper link in the comments. You guys rock. smilies/smiley.gif
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What is the point?
written by Sadhatter, September 09, 2009
So from what i read the method of using this device seems to be.

1. Point at suspicious object.

2. Wait for "reading"

3. Call in bomb squad.

Now before i go any further , when it is said it is more of an art than a science i would safely be able to say that means it does not work 100% of the time. But i am getting ahead of myself here.

What they are doing is taking an untrained individual and having them use a device on an object that may or may not be a bomb. Then, they call in the real bomb squad to check it out.

What, then, is the benefit of this object?

I mean if i were to see what i thought was a bomb, i would think for a moment, decide if it is probably a bomb, call the police who would bring in the appropriate squad to find out if i was correct.

This divining rod, is doing nothing more than adding a step in the process. The bomb squad still needs to be called, and it still takes a " trained" professional to use it.

Regardless of its validity, (which is obviously zero) it does nothing beneficial. If the bomb squad needs to be called in anyway then simply save the money , because either

A. It is a bomb, and they need to deal with it.

B. If it aroused enough suspicion and is not one, it is probably a mock bomb. But these need to be confirmed as harmless anyway.

I cannot even begin to imagine the sales ninja that pitched this device. How does one close the deal when the pitch is " would you like to add a step in defusing a bomb?", actually this seems like a great pitch, to the bomb makers. MAybe the security dept just got a big unmarked crate of these marked " from a friend" and didn't question it.
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Also in Mexico
written by Tonini, September 09, 2009
Well, you don't need to go to Irak to see this things. Right behind you, in Mexico, Federal and some State Goverment agencies as the Army, Navy, Pemex an so are actually using a dowsing rod called "GT200 molecular detection system" to search for explosives, drugs and almost everything.

If you can read spanish, there are more on my blog: http://tinyurl.com/c6kjjg

Regards.

Andrés Tonini.

PS. Sorry the bad english.
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written by Careyp74, September 09, 2009
Sadhatter, it is actually sadder than that. They aren't using it to tell if something suspicious is in fact a bomb or not, they are using it as their only method of detecting explosives! The guy in the picture is standing off to the side, allowing all the cars to pass, waiting for the rod to move before stopping anyone.
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@llewelly
written by Careyp74, September 09, 2009
let's keep other thread arguments in the other threads, seem reasonable?
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written by thatguywhojuggles, September 09, 2009
I've heard James Randi say "Oh yeah? Can you dowse a spot where there isn't water?" With the way things are in Iraq, it wouldn't surprise me if you could use the same... "Oh yeah? Can you dowse a spot where there aren't explosives?"

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written by Beelzebub, September 09, 2009
Sadly, Sniffex is still alive and kicking here in Europe http://www.sniffex-eu.com/sniffex_news.htm They even have an up to date (2009) advertising document http://www.sniffex-eu.com/imag...t 2009.pdf
It's sad to see these folk still peddling this nonsense smilies/cry.gif
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Simple Mine Field Test
written by Holmstrom, September 09, 2009
Using any American football field...hide 100 live, fully-functional land mines at random under the turf. Have the inventors of the device walk across the field and simply detect the mines. Sounds pretty simple to me. It is just pass or fail. At the opposite end zone from where they started, they pick up a cool million bucks. Or the maintenance crew simply picks them up from all over the field.
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written by Steve Packard, September 09, 2009
Well it looks like there is a little more effort that went into faking this. They added what looks like a BNC connector and a cable, or something similar.

Unfortunately, even without knowing the process by which it allegedly operates, I can tell you it doesn't work. Detecting explosives is a very tough technical problem. Detecting them by proximity is not really feasible because they don't produce any kind of field or energy that could be detected. Radioactive material can be detected by proximity by detecting the radiation. Metallic objects can be detected by their magnetic field.

Most explosive detectors do so by analyzing samples chemically. This would usually mean taking a test swab of the material. There are air samplers, but the whole thing is very hit or miss. It's difficult because if the package is sealed well enough and the surface clean, there may be very little free molecules to collect and analyze. What makes it even harder is that some of the chemicals may be benign in some circumstances. For example, a fire bomb composed of bottles of gasoline. Does detecting gasoline molecules on a car necessarily mean anything sinister? No, of course not.

Some really cutting edge techniques have been looked at to try to detect explosives by proximity. Things like x-ray fluorescence or neutron scatter to try to detect very dense concentrations of nitrogen have been looked at, as most high explosives contain nitrogen in high concentrations. This is very difficult though and would only be useful on certain compounds.

At this point the best explosives detector remains the same that it has been all along: a well trained dog. They are really amazingly good at it and they tend to use very intelligent dogs, for example German Shepherds. These dogs are really amazing. They have the smarts to know when something is out of place and when it's not. The concentrations of molecules that they can pick up on is really amazing as well.

If you're going to invest in anything with the hopes of finding explosives, invest in a good dog training program.
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written by cdion321, September 09, 2009
Set off by perfume and soap? That right there tells you something about which way their ideomotor effect leans. They're prejudiced against people who don't smell bad!

I wonder what I'd have to roll in not to get harrassed around there. Horse dung, perhaps?
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Great Article
written by monstrmac1, September 09, 2009
I've written alot of comments about how swift needs to get back to education as its main goal and away from things that can seem like personal vendettas. For writing those comments I get insulted and voted down by other readers. But here is a perfect example of what I think SWIFT should be all about. This is a great article that represents what JREF is all about, exposing life-threatening frauds.

Great article Jeff, give us more like this one. (and less denny's smilies/wink.gif)
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