News that three British government departments promoted the sale of useless bomb detectors to security forces around the world has caused shock and outrage.
But this is just the latest example of otherwise skeptical military and defence officials who have been taken for a ride by purveyors of woo – including claims about Remote Viewing and UFOs.
On 23 August Kent businessman Gary Bolton was jailed for seven years at the Old Bailey for fraud after selling thousands of the devices – priced at £10,000 – to Iraq, Mexico and other regions where they are still being used to detect explosives and drugs.
But the court heard the ‘detectors’ were nothing more than empty boxes with plastic handles and aerials acting as antennae. As Doubtful News reported,
‘…[they] are nothing but glorified dowsing rods that have no basis in reality and did not work, [but] they were sold to security companies and military organisations for an inflated price (never mind they didn’t actually detect bombs or drugs)…’
It has been reported that lives have been lost in Iraq and other places as a result of this long-running fraud, while those who benefited lived in luxury (Bolton’s company had an annual turnover of £3 million).
This scam continued for a decade, and despite a damning report by Home Office scientists in 2001 that was widely circulated across the British military, three departments - including the Ministry of Defence and the Foreign Office – continued to allow the detectors to be sold and promoted to ‘customers’ abroad.
But Bolton. 47, has now joined another member of the bomb-detecting scam, James McCormick, behind bars.
McCormick – who was jailed for 10 years in April – was the founding member of the British company, ATSC Ltd, that exploited the belief in the power of dowsing rods to detect substances such as drugs, explosives and even truffles buried underground. According to The Guardian, he boasted of being an expert ‘like Q in James Bond’, but the gadget he ‘invented’ was based upon a novelty golf-ball finder.
After his conviction it was estimated that he had invested $60 million in luxury homes, including Nicholas Cage’s former house in Bath.
During Bolton’s six-week trial it emerged that in 1999 he paid the Royal Engineers Exports Support Team (REEST) to test an early version of the invention. They found it to be accurate ‘only about 30% of the time’ – the Old Bailey heard, but Bolton altered this report and another produced by the Dutch navy, to sell his products in Malta, Egypt and South Africa.
On his arrest last year Bolton admitted he had ‘no background in science, research, training or specifically security’ and, like McCormick, claimed he simply believed in the power of the devices to detect bombs and other substances.
Bolton called the President of the British Society of Dowsers, Grahame Gardner, as a witness in his defence. Gardner said that dowsing rods had also been used by US troops in Vietnam to locate booby traps. He said dowsing worked by ‘amplifying a person’s subconscious response’ to ‘earth energy’ into ‘subconscious muscle movements.’
To put this in context, Gardner and a fellow dowser, Geoffrey Crockford, are responsible for a ‘forensic survey’ that claims to show, through the agency of a ‘bilocation survey’, that a UFO landed at Rendlesham Forest, Suffolk, in 1980 after developing engine trouble. As one blogger noted, ‘a belief in one lot of nonsense is often accompanied with other, equally absurd, notions’.
Psychologist Bruce Hood, writing in Huff Post Science, says that many people regard magical beliefs as harmless fun, but there are always those – either through greed or delusion – who are happy to take advantage of other people’s gullibility, in this case with fatal consequences.
He says of the so-called ‘bomb detectors’:
“The devices were nothing more than dowsing rods, a supernatural practice believed to reveal the location of water and minerals that has been around for hundreds of years. Despite the claims of various associations and practitioners, dowsing is nothing more than a psychological phenomena known as the ‘ideomotor effect’. Simply put, when you are aware of the location of a potential target, you make imperceptible body movements that make finely balanced rods or pendulums point in the same direction. There is no evidence that these devices or the user can detect sources through supernatural powers’.
The hard facts do not, of course, deter people from continuing to believe that dowsing actually works.