How a con artist made $80m by selling fake bomb detectors to the world

The device was sold to many countries including Iraq, Pakistan, India

Web Desk June 27, 2015
In this March 6, 2010 file photo, an Iraqi police commando scans a truck with the ADE 651, a bomb detector that was discovered to be fake - little more than a handle with an antenna attached. PHOTO: AFP

A con artist minted over $80 million by selling fake bomb detectors to law enforcement agencies in different countries around the world including Iraq, Pakistan, China, India, Bangladesh, Lebanon and many more.

Jim McCormick, born in Liverpool in 1956, sold thousands of fake bomb detectors such as the ADE 650 and ADE 651 to law enforcement agencies across the world including the Iraqi Army, the Mexican Army, Belgium Police and many others before he was caught.

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Although the product was sold all across the globe from Mexico in South America, Belgium in Europe, Pakistan, India, Bangladesh and China in Asia, its biggest suitor was war-torn Middle Eastern country Iraq, who bought $38 million worth of devices.

From golf ball-detector to bomb detector

Interestingly, the device that earned McCormick a fortune did not even belong to him.

The device was first introduced as “Gopher: The Amazing Golf Ball Finder,” in the US, It was pitched as a device capable of tracking golf balls.

Later, Malcolm Stig Roe and his partner converted “Gopher” into “Quadro Tracker”, a device to track narcotics in 1990s.

Little did they know that the success of their device would by their undoing. So popular was their device that it drew the attention of Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI), who tested the device only to find it was fake.

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It prompted the FBI to send out a warning to all law enforcement agencies in US not to be fooled by the product, forcing Roe to leave for England.

Before being leaving, however, Roe sold his devices to schools in Texas, Kansas, and Florid and few local law enforcement agencies.

In the UK, Roe tried to sell his device as well. But the Home Office discovered, just like the FBI, that the device was worthless.

Then, out of the blue, McCormick appeared like a saviour. He helped Roe and his British friends Sam and Joan Tree, Gary Bolton to form a new company, to sell his equipment to defense agencies around the world. He leverage his contacts in Africa, Asia, and Latin America, built by selling electronic equipment in Africa.

But the arrangement between them soon fell out owing to their internal conflicts.

Rise of McCormick and an empire

In 2004, McCormick decided to market the product on his own and started his search for a heavier and more premium looking model since the original one was made of a cheap plastic handle with a free-swinging antenna.

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In 2006, after finding a manufacturer willing to work with him, he started producing the ADE under his own company name ATSC.

He sold five units of what he called the ADE 650 to the Lebanese army at a price of $14,000 each. The Lebanese army went on to order 80 more pieces. Amazingly, they did not find problem with the equipment.

McCormick managed to charm the Mövenpick Hotels into buying the ADE, who started using it at their Bahrain branch in 2007. He also sold 10 units to the Niger, at $25,000 each.

But it was Iraq, embroiled in insurgency and chaos, that turned out to be a gold mine for McCormick. He sold at least 5,000 devices to Iraq at a list price of as much as $40,000 apiece. Although the price is highly controversial as it take make his profit from Iraq to $200 million, a composite invoice later seized from McCormick’s office placed his earnings from Iraq at a modest $38 million.

British authorities started investigating into McCormick's affairs after media reported about agitation found in US and British military personnel posted in Iraq about the obviously bogus device showing up at checkpoints.

He was finally convicted and received the maximum sentence of 10 years in fraud cases. But many countries are reportedly still using his devices, including Pakistan.

The article originally appeared on Vanity Fair


Timorlane | 8 years ago | Reply A con artist once made it to the presidency in this country besides looting trillions of this country
GI Joe | 8 years ago | Reply Strangely enough, once with a car full of luggage heading to KHI Airport, I had left my laptop on in my bag. When ASF used this device on the checkpoint to screen the car I was in, they told the alarm had went off. So I was asked to come out of the car. The ASF officer then told me that most of the time it's a false alarm due to laptops being warm after being left on. And this was indeed the case, I took my laptop out and he screened it again. This time the alarm did not go off. My point is apparently this device WORKED in my case. True, it was just a warm object but it is not totally fake. ET and other media should investigate this further instead of being lazy and reporting what is already out there.
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