Lebanon News

Security guards still use fake bomb detectors

A security man uses a detector at the parking entrance of a mall in Beirut, Tuesday, May 7, 2013. (The Daily Star/Hasan Shaaban)

BEIRUT: Security guards around Lebanon are still using phony bomb detectors to scan cars and people for explosives, despite years’ worth of warnings and evidence that the devices do not work.

Guards will walk the length of cars with the black devices and their long antennas, ostensibly looking for a positive sign from the handheld device that an explosive is planted inside.

The sweep, which can be performed hundreds of times a day by one person, reveals nothing about what is inside the car and the detector device is part of a scam that defrauded security companies and national governments in conflict countries of tens of millions of dollars.

“Misinformation about the possibility to detect weapons and explosives by using one and the same device is propaganda perpetuated by traders who have drowned the Lebanese market with a vast number of devices that are connected to a metal antenna,” said Sami Zod from Zod Security, in a memo about the devices.

Zod compared the bomb detector to people using sticks to find water.

British businessman James McCormick was sentenced last week to 10 years in jail for selling the devices abroad and making around $76 million in profits. According to the BBC, Iraq has spent $85 million on the useless devices that are used at checkpoints around the country.

Data proving the devices are fake has been published for over a decade, but the need to cheaply detect bomb threats meant that the fake detectors, which are based on a novelty toy, were quickly snapped up by security firms.

A mistaken purchase of the devices by Lebanese politicians years ago led the country’s security firms to adopt the products with little scrutiny, Zod said. The police and Army followed suit, purchasing the bomb detectors.

Illegal or poorly run security businesses across the country led to the use of the device to skyrocket and become commonplace, even as evidence against the bomb detectors piled up.

Many security guards are aware of the fact that the devices don’t work but still keep using them under instructions from their bosses.

Guards in Downtown Beirut were seen using the detectors Tuesday on cars entering the shopping mall parking lots. Beirut Souks representatives were not available for comment.

“There have been a lot of issues concerning these detectors,” said Eli Fayyad, from ProSec security company. “Ever since there was a problem with them and an investigation, we stopped using these detectors.”

Fayyad said ProSec stopped using the phony devices several years ago and now uses under-car mirrors. He was aware of other companies that continued to use the devices, especially unlicensed security organizations.

Security experts said cameras, sniffer dog, vapor detectors and X-ray machines are proven ways of detecting the explosives, but that none of these methods work without attentive guards.

The Daily Star reported security guards around the country were improperly using hand-held metal detectors to look for weapons in bags in March.

“It is imperative to mention that security guards have the main role in any inspection process. They should be highly attentive and should not be [on the job] for more than two consecutive hours, followed by a break to re-energize and stay alert,” Zod said.

 
A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Daily Star on May 08, 2013, on page 4.

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