GEAR & TECH

Governments paid millions for this fake bomb detector

It was a miracle device. The makers of the Alpha 6 device claimed it could detect ivory, explosives, drugs, and more. The UK, Saudi Arabia, India, and Pakistan all fell for it. Egypt ordered a million dollars' worth. Thailand paid $33,000 dollars for a single unit.


13 Thai state agencies bought the Alpha 6 devices.

But it was really a bunch of plastic parts filled with shredded paper, assembled in the UK and made in China (who actually also bought a number of the devices).

It was promised to governments in Iraq and Afghanistan, especially for its reported ability to detected bombs up to three miles away, but it was about as effective as any divining rod. When the British government suspected the fraud, it banned the export of the Alpha 6.

Seems legit.

The creators claimed that it used the body's static electricity to power an antenna, which would make the device point to the contraband material. A card or paper would be attached to the device, with an image of what it was to be looking for.

A single Alpha 6 cost around seven dollars to make. The British couple producing them sold their "devices" for upwards of $105 million over more than 10 years. They sold thousands of the Alpha 6s – no more than a plastic handle with an antenna.

An Alpha 6, as shipped.

The whole situation would be funny if it weren't so tragic. The devices were sold to the Iraqi government during much of the Iraq War, and Iraqi troops – often defending allied troops – depended on the Alpha 6 to do its job. No one knows if the bogus detectors led to the death of any allied troops in Iraq or Afghanistan.

When the British justice system caught up to the fraudsters, their assets were seized and they were given prison sentences of up to three years.