If you are active in the skeptical community, then you are perhaps aware of the guy who sold fake bomb detecters. These things turned out to be junk and contained nothing at all inside … yet this fraudster sold them to various governments, (Iraq spent more than $40m on 6,000 devices between 2008 and 2010), to use at checkpoints, and was only rumbled when folks within the skeptical community raised the alarm.
If curious for some background, I blogged about it here almost a year ago.
So anyway, the Guardian has a new update for us today, a twist that I’d not considered …
The government accepted thousands of pounds from a fraudster to assist a global trade in fake bomb detectors despite a Whitehall-wide warning that such devices were “no better than guessing” and could be deadly.
So of course questions abound because there was guidance circulating that these things were simply crap and did not work – but he was still permitted to act as follows …
The ability of UK firms to hire top diplomats to arrange introductions for as little as £250 a time, and serving soldiers to act as salesmen for £109 a day plus VAT, without checks on the authenticity of products, is revealed in Whitehall documents about Bolton’s dealings with the UK government released to the Guardian under the Freedom of Information Act.
The government accepted more than £5,000 in payments from the fraudster to supply uniformed Royal Engineers to promote the bogus kit at international trade fairs in the Middle East and Europe, and to secure the backing of Giles Paxman, the brother of the BBC presenter Jeremy Paxman and then UK ambassador to Mexico, who set up sales meetings for Bolton’s firm with senior Mexican officials engaged in the country’s bloody drugs war.
The British embassy in Manila also helped, and Whitehall trade bodies took money to support Global Technical at least 13 times from 2003 to 2009 as Bolton made up to £3m a year.
Now please, do not get the wrong end of the stick here, the issue is not just that this device was crap and simply did not work at all. The true consequences of this is that it was deployed into Iraq and used at checkpoints, where instead of doing a proper manual check, you simply wave the magic stick and it would give a thumbs up (a false positive) then would then have quite dire and utterly tragic consequences.
It should never have happened because when this crap was tested back in 2001, the scientist responsible issued a warning that was then ignored …
“Although the idea of security forces forking out thousands of pounds for a useless lump of plastic seems incredible or even funny, a surprising number of people have been taken in. If they are relying on such devices to detect terrorist bombs, the implications are deadly serious.”
Yet the guidance never really registered, and so the fraudster managed to reach out into the heart of the government machinery and use it to sell this fake device.
In the end he got just seven years in jail. It perhaps might have been better if he had instead been sent to Iraq to stand at a checkpoint or wander across a mine-field and use his own equipment to check for bombs.
I do also hope that the former ambassador to Mexico will face a merciless interview on Newsnight.