Dowsing, also known as divination, is an attempt to "sense" a certain material or item such as water, mineral, gem... or even criminals, through the use of a certain "rod" (which could be natural or artificial). It has absolutely NO scientific basis,
In fact, Martin Luther (the original) in 1518 listed dowsing as a belief in occultism, and therefore a violation of the Christian First Commandment! It was subsequently denounced and outlawed in many countries. One Jesuit priest went as far as claiming the stick must be moved by the Devil himself.
Repeated tests since the 1900s, with rise of the scientific method, shows dowsing performed no better than random chance.
Yet with the rise of terrorism since the late 1990s, dowsing made a comeback, when bogus equipment (essentially, high-tech looking dowsing rods) are used as bomb detectors, narcotics detectors, other contraband detectors, and such. And some governments paid thousands of dollars for chunks of plastic and cheap antennas not connected to anything, believing they they actually work.
But first, what really is dowsing?
Dowsing was first mentioned in writing in Martin Luther's warning of occultism dated 1516, where the rod seems to point at mineral deposits, clearly a violation of the First Commandment. Later books described how dowsing seem to point at mineral ores.
By the 1700's there are pseudo-scientific attempts to explain how it works. Often it's something to do with "intersecting magnetic fields" or some such.
Actual scientific studies done since the 1950s (even up to recently) have conclusively proven that dowsing is bogus. There are cases where a few individuals seem to possess a slightly higher than random chance of successful dowsing, but the sample size is not large enough to rule out statistical noise (i.e. lucky streak).
Khoji, the modern dowsing rod
Khoji is created by a Pakistani who claims that 90% of people possess "radiesthesia" (which seems to say something about in tune with the energy around them) and thus can be trained to use this modern dowsing rod.
As you can see, it really is a divining rod held in one's hand that is supposed to point this way and that. In the picture, it's pointing to some landmines laying in plain sight!
What is interesting is he is only charging a very nominal fee of 50 rupees for the information, instead of tens of thousands of dollars like some of the frauds below.
However, it still has no scientific evidence behind how this would work, and no word on how this held up against a "double-blind" test. None was ever documented.
Quadro Tracker, circa 1993
Quadro Corporation of South Carolina was first on the block, and their tracker, various models, was sold between 1993 and 1996. The company president, Wade Quattlebaum, has no known scientific background, and used to be a used car salesman. According to him, he invented this to track lost golf balls. Then he claimed it can be adapted for other materials.
So what does this device look like? Here's the picture of Andrew Harter equipped with such a device (see right). You can see it has a "handheld" portion with a swirvel antenna, linked via a while to a belt-clipped module. According to the company, the belt-clip module can be loaded with additional signatures with "frequency cards" to allow it to be adapted to sense wide variety of stuff, from golf balls to fugitives to contraband and explosives. In once case, it was alleged that if you load a Polaroid picture of a fugitive this device will track the fugitive at range up to 500 miles, even if he's wearing a disguise.
How does it work? Supposedly it's a secret. So secret, there is no patent filed on it.
This is from a guy that has NO scientific training, NO study to prove it works, no experience in material science and explosive, etc. AND he is a used car salesman (who, we know, can often talk people into almost anything.)
Either he's the greatest bull****er ever and it's all a lie, or he's the genius that will transform safety forever.
Turns out, he's a bull****er.
An FBI agent, Ron Kelly, based in Texas, was intrigued with the device that was recently purchased by a different agency. He decided to put one through a courthouse X-ray machine, and determined it is mostly HOLLOW. There are no circuits inside. In fact, there's almost nothing inside.
Sandia National Labs opened one up at the insistence of FBI, and found the inside to be as empty as suspected. There is no processor, nothing that COULD function as a detector. The "antenna" is not connected to anything even though it is supposed to "point" at the item. It is, literally, a dowsing rod, albeit made of plastic and radio antenna, instead of a tree branch or plain metal.
FBI convinced a judge to sign an order banning the shipping of such a device out of the state, as well as issued a nation-wide warning to ALL law enforcement agencies and school boards not to believe such a device without scientific proof. Furthermore, FBI got the local US attorney to indict the company on fraud charges.
Quadros' lawyer claimed in court that the circuits inside the device "aren't the type usually thought of by electronics experts". The "frequency chip"? Contains frozen dead ants cover in resin. (In other word, bogus). Yet the owner claimed the device was endorsed by the American Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA) and National Institute of Justice (neither of which actually made any such statement).
There was no doubt that this is fraud on a HUGE scale, aimed at LAW ENFORCEMENT AND PUBLIC SAFETY OFFICIALS whose job is to keep you and I safe. And how can they do their job if their equipment is clearly fake?
Yet somehow a local jury acquitted the company and three top officials of mail fraud and conspiracy in 1996. Apparently few or none of the law enforcement officials that endorsed it is willing to come out and admit they were duped and defrauded.
The noted skeptic James Randi had tried to get believers of Quadro Tracker to renounce the product, but many are so convinced that they saw the product work, they refused to acknowledge the evidence pointing to the fraud. Some, furthermore, were bribed, or profited from it. At least one senior prosecutor was convicted on conflict of interest, using his prosecutor office to promote / sell Quadro to government. He paid a large fine and quit government service.
The company itself is finshed. However, clones started to appear on the market a few years later, AND was EXPORTED. Apparently, the idea of selling dowsing refused to die...
MOLE, circa 1997
When Quadro Tracker withered and died after the exposure in 1996-1997, the vice president of the company, Malcolm Roe, moved to the UK, and started marketing the same device and renamed it MOLE from a company called "Global Technical".
Outwardly, MOLE is IDENTICAL to Quadro Tracker, and this was indeed confirmed by Sandia Labs, who rigorously tested MOLE in 2001 and found it to be no more effective than random chance (i.e. DOES NOT WORK), just like Quadro Tracker. The company rep was at the Sandia Labs (apparently without permission from the principals) for the test (claiming a need for "trained operator") and he made ALL SORTS of excuses for the test failures, claiming "contamination", "interference", "operator error" (he was conducting the tests himself) and so on. Each of the excuses was subsequently debunked.
That didn't stop UK government from buying a few units (probably "for testing purposes") which was immediately talked up by the company as "proof" of their effectiveness. This is of course, despite Sandia's negative test results.
After the debunking, the company went on to make the GT200, yet another fake scanner (same device as MOLE, but under different name) and a few participants split up into multiple companies, each marketing something remarkably similar, but all of them lacks any scientific basis and full of pseudo-scientific jargon.
Global Technical 200 / 5000, circa 2002
Global Technical, which made the debunked "MOLE", is STILL based on UK, and apparently makes yet another device similar to the Quadro / MOLE, and similarly claims to need NO power source, and works off the user's static electricity. It claims to work by "paramagnetism", though there are no documented research into how this would work. The device appears to be a better looking version of Quadro Scanner, albeit with more technobabble of paramagnetism and static electricity. Instead of two boxes, you now have one just, but structure is the same.
Global Technical was successful in selling several units to UK government and military, and have furthermore sold many to other governments around the world, including government of Thailand, Mexico, and more.
In 2010 BBC Newsnight did a segment on the device and its failures, and soon British police raided the company headquarters for fraud. It even declared the device a fraud and banned its export. However, none of the principals had been charged with any fraud or wrongdoing.
Thai government decided to do its own test and found this device can't detect ****. The dogs did much better. The government was Extremely embarrassed. That doesn't stop the Indian govenrment from buying some, however.
ATSC's ADE651 and variants, circa 2002
ATSC's ADE 651 is yet another variant off MOLE / Quadro Scanner that not even its principal, a Mr. McCormick, seem to know how it works. However, he was a part of the MOLE project, and split off to make ADE651 when the MOLE project was exposed as a fraud.
The story of how ADE651 works keeps changing. Initially it's supposed to be "electrochemical", then it became "electromagnetic attraction". The story then later changed to "thermo-redux", then it changed yet again to "nuclear quadrupole resonance". Then they added the wrinkle of claiming "proprietary technology" that somehow incorporates the electrostatic signature of the ionic and molecular structure of the substance that needs to be detected.
All of that technobabble doesn't change the fact that all this is the same sort of bull**** used in the first Quadro Scanner, then in the subsequent variants such as MOLE.
ADE651's best success is sales to the new Iraqi government, where it was enthusiastically accepted by the head of their bomb squad, Ministry of Interior. ADE651 costs up to 60000 each, and it is believed that the company had sales of over 60 million. It is interesting to note that the head of Iraqi bomb squad was quoted saying that he doesn't care about the Sandia Labs test results or McCormick's role in the MOLE fraud... and the same head was later arrested for accepting bribes. You can draw your own conclusions.
ADE651 was banned from export to UK, but variants using slightly different names have already appeared elsewhere in Europe or countries that does not care about the UK ban on this fraudulent device.
Alpha Six, circa 2001
Alpha Six appears to be nearly identical to MOLE / Quadro Scanner, but claims to use "molecular resonance" technology breakthrough applied to contraband detection. You can see the same body shape, and the same antenna, and a wire, exactly like the Quadro Scanner and MOLE. In this picture, the antenna is hanging downward.
Alpha Six was sold to many foreign government. Iraq, Thailand, and other countries apparently bought several, in the belief that they work, and some were deployed to airports.
BBC Newsnight's investigation which lead to investigation of Global Technical also swept up the makers of Alpha Six (three different companies). Police are investigating the companies to determine if false representation fraud and bribe have been committed. The investigation appears to be still ongoing.
Sniffex, circa 2004
HEDD1, circa 2009
Sniffex, founded in 2004, has several models of alleged explosive detectors, but physically it is a near replica of Quadro Scanner. it claims to detect the presence of nitrous oxide "radicals" which are the components of explosives. Unlike other detectors that claim extraordinary range, Sniffex only claims about 100 meters, but through barriers and such.
A Bulgarian claim to have invented Sniffex, but the company was founded in the US. In 2007, it was revealed by a Texas newspaper that the device is completely bogus, though the owners made various excuses like "it doesn't work on a test range because there are a lot of explosive residue" or "bad equipment". However, the US military apparently bought a couple, and it was touted by the company in promo materials. However, the reality is US Navy Bomb Disposal Office tested one and found it to be junk, but the report was never publicized until the noted skeptic James Randi published snippets from it, and the evidence is conclusive: junk.
In 2008, the American Security Exchange Commission charged the company with conducting a "pump and dump" stock fraud. Basically, the company released many bogus news that claimed successful tests, new contracts, etc. which massively pumped up their stock prices, from 80 cents to 6 dollars in three months, then the owners sold their shares at the height and pocketed massive profits. The inventor, Markov, escaped the US and went back to Bulgaria, and none of the US partners was charged with a non-financial crime. Stock, meanwhile, went to less than 1/10th of a cent (read: junk).
Today, Sniffex Plus is sold in Europe under a new company name. It's the exact same device that was marketed in the US, albeit with a battery attached. Then in 2009 it changed name again to HEDD1, with a more ergonomic handle, and is now distributed by "Unival Security" of Bonn, Germany. It is still being sold today, and its website and Facebook page is still up.
DKL Lifeguard, circa 1996
DK Labs, producer of DKL Lifeguard, is a company based in Virginia, USA. Its primary product is the "lifeguard", which claims to be able to detect the electrical field of a human heart at range of 500 meter on open ground, 100 meters if behind obstacles such as walls and other objects.
It sounded so good, it got written into the Tom Clancy novel "Rainbow Six", known as the "heartbeat sensor", and was incorporated into the various Rainbow Six games that followed.
Subsequent test in 1998 by Sandia Labs shown that the device is a fake, failed double blind test, and upon disassembly, revealed that it could NOT have done what it claimed to do. It uses a omnidirectional antenna when it is supposed to be directional, among other problems. DKL responded to the finding with threat of a lawsuit, but it was never carried out.
The device is apparently still sold today, as a disaster rescue device intended to locate people buried in rubble. DKL claims their device was used to save 6 miners in China.
H3tec, circa 2000
H3Tec claims that it has a special technology in its device that listens to "how atoms talk". Their patent application claimed that their technology works by nuclear magnetic resonance. Their device claims to work mainly as mineral and gem sensing in the ground at up to 5 miles. Some earlier literature claims to sense contraband and explosives, but have since backed off those claims.
Its founder, Mr. Christiansen, once claimed that the military can launch one of his devices via a satellite so it can detect all battlefield IEDs in the area.
Physically, it's a box filled with various electronic components, and even connects to a laptop for "processing" in some models. However, the basic model for detecting minerals is remarkably similar to Quadro Tracker... a sensing rod and a main device, connected by a wire, which makes it just like the "two-metal-rod" dowsing system. Supposedly you can "program" the device to look for various types of metal or other materials.
Repeated tests by various treasure hunter enthusiasts have revealed that the device does NOT do what it says.
Furthermore, the owner claims to have devices deployed in Kuwait, Iraq, etc. but does NOT have a military contract, claiming that he doesn't want the military to control his invention. According to him, the equipment and training was DONATED (so you are willing to give it away, but not sell it... hmmmm...)
Geotech have taken apart one of the devices and found it to be a bogus dowsing rod, albeit dressed up to look very high tech. A $25000 challenge was issued by Geotech and was refused. H3tec have instead threatened to sue Geotech if the findings are not removed.
H3Tec seem to have NOT been related to Quadro Tracker and its offshoots, but rather an independent development.
Common Fraud Factors
What are common among these fraudulent detectors?
- They are marketed as a "supplement" to existing technology (i.e. you don't really know who failed, may not be our device)
- They claim the device does NOT give precise location, merely "general area" (i.e. weasel talk)
- They often claim ridiculous range (some claimed to work from satellite or plane in the air)
- They ALWAYS fail a true double-blind test, and perform no better than random chance, for those willing to be tested (most refused to be thus tested)
- They OFTEN fail during tests where the company does NOT control all the test parameters, leading one to suspect rigged demos
- They always require a "trained operator" for test (i.e. their own people)
- Few of them ever need batteries or power, claiming to work off human static electricity
- They ALWAYS refuse a 'test-off', such as the $1 million challenge prize offered by James Randi (prove it works in double-blind test, and get $1 million dollars)
- They often send legal threats to testing facilities that discovered there are no electronics inside their device, or it doesn't do what it claims to do.
- They ALWAYS have an excuse on why a "real" test never works for it. It's "contamination", it's "bad equipment", it's "operator error", and so on and so forth.
- They always use a lot of technobabble instead of real science, though they may borrow actual bomb detection technological terms (just not how it's done in their device... "proprietary industrial secret!")
- They make a huge deal about the purchase of products by so-and-so agency
- Their demo or examples are suspicious
- Some have even resorted to putting in disclaimers about the effectiveness
- They are always invented by someone who is NOT technical at all (relatively few exceptions)
- They only get large contracts from places that have heavy corruption, such as Thailand and Iraq.
- They OFTEN change their story on how their stuff really is supposed to work.
Interestingly, these factors also appear in "scam tactics", such as "after-the-fact rationalization", "attack the critics", "deny the charges", and so on.
Yet NONE of the perps have been jailed for fraud! ZERO!
How many bombs do you suppose have gone off and killed people because of these fake bomb detectors?
Fake bomb detectors are being used around the world. While they may provide some visual deterrence, they also provide false sense of security. It is no better than superstition, like believing in divine protection.
I wouldn't want to travel to places with one of these being used...
kschang (author) from San Francisco, CA, USA on July 25, 2016:
Iraq FINALLY banned all such bogus devices bought during previous administrations after multiple bombings killed many people these devices could not have detected (because they are fake!)
kschang (author) from San Francisco, CA, USA on April 23, 2013:
ATSC's head Jim McCormick guilty of fraud in UK.
kschang (author) from San Francisco, CA, USA on April 09, 2013:
You mean H3Tec? They're giving them away to the military because of their... "patriotic duty".
If any one dies because those things don't work, I sincerely hope FBI arrest all the owners for manslaughter or even murder.
David on April 09, 2013:
I have just seen this device being used by a soldier in Iraq, on RT News, 10 April 2013. Has no one told these soldiers?