Dave Trott's blog: The security blanket of research
The author compares a 'bomb-detecting' device with advertising research
Jul 19, 2021 04:16:00 AM | Article | Dave Trott
After the World Trade Centre attack on 9/11, everyone was petrified of more attacks and would pay anything for a device to detect terrorist bombs.
James McCormick ran Advanced Tactical Security & Communications (ATS&C) which produced the ADE 651.
This device could detect bombs behind walls, underwater, even through concrete or lead.
It was hand-held and featured an antenna that, held at right angles to the body, would pivot towards any explosives.
It had a slot into which you placed the carbo-crystallised software card that resonated on the molecular frequency of the substance you were seeking.
The ADE 651 worked on nuclear quadrupole resonance which itself worked on electrostatic magnetic ion attraction.
In 2008, the Iraqi Interior Ministry bought 800 of these for a cost of £20m, and in 2009 a further 700 for £32m.
The ADE 651 was also sold to: Algeria, Bahrain, Bangladesh, Georgia, India, Iran, Kenya, Niger, Qatar, Romania, Tunisia, Saudi Arabia Syria, the UAE, and Vietnam.
The ADE 651 was a huge success in every respect except one: it didn't work.
It was a con based on selling people what they desperately wanted to believe in.
They wanted a simple way to detect explosives, so McCormick satisfied the demand.
The handle of the ADE 651 was just hollow plastic, the antenna was a car aerial on a hinge.
The US Army laboratory X-rayed the card and found it was just a radio frequency security tag, the kind stores use to prevent shoplifting.
According to Dr Markus Kuhn, the card couldn't be programmed, had no memory, no microprocessor, and no information could be stored on it, the cards cost 3 cents apiece.
The Movenpick Hotel in Bahrain bought an ADE 651 to detect car bombs, but according to the hotel's head of security "It couldn't detect a firework".
The New York Times was able to drive a vehicle carrying two AK47 rifles and ammunition through nine ADE 651 equipped checkpoints undetected.
A vehicle carrying rockets and missiles went through 23 Baghdad checkpoints undetected.
A US Army test found the device was unable to detect a truck carrying a ton of explosives when it drove up behind the operator.
Canadian, James Randi has offered a million dollars to anyone who can prove the device works: "It's a useless quack device which cannot perform any other function than separating naïve persons from their money. It's a fake, a scam, a swindle, and a blatant fraud. Prove me wrong and take the million dollars."
When confronted with the fact that the ADE 651 didn't work, McCormick said: "It does exactly what it was meant to do... it makes money."
James McCormick was able to buy houses in Somerset and Bath, with a basement swimming pool, holiday homes in Cyprus and Florida, a luxury yacht, and three horses for his daughter.
In 2013, he was sentenced to 12 years imprisonment for three counts of fraud, because he preyed on people's fears and desires.
They desired security, and he sold them the illusion of it.
Which is pretty much what advertising research does.
It offers people the illusion of certainty.
A few years back, one of the planners at BMP summarised it this way:
"Most clients would like to know the result of their advertising before it runs.
"Most people would also like to know the result of the 3.30 at Goodwood before it's run.
"Neither of these are unreasonable desires.
"But the fact that we desire them doesn't mean that they are possible."
Dave Trott is the author of The Power of Ignorance, Creative Blindness and How to Cure It, Creative Mischief, Predatory Thinking and One Plus One Equals Three. This artilce first appeared on CampaignLive.co.uk