Lebanon: The Great Explosives Detector Hoax
By: Radwan Mortada
Published Thursday, September 12, 2013
After the recent car bombs that killed dozens in Beirut and Tripoli, Lebanon’s public and private security forces armed themselves with a simple device that allegedly can detect explosives in a car. Al-Akhbar put the detectors to the test. Here are the results.
All over Beirut, you inevitably come across security guards carrying a plastic device, with what looks like an antenna extending from it, much like an old radio. You are asked to stop your car, and they run the scanner from front to back. If the metallic rod turns in the direction of the car, then it has sniffed a trace of explosives.
But is this kind of detector genuine? Does it in fact protect thousands of lives by finding explosive material? How does it actually work, and how effective is it? Do all the security outfits use the same product or are there a number of different models available?
In fact, there have been a number of recent media reports internationally exposing this kind of detector as a hoax, after it was shown to experts, who opened the devices up to see what’s inside. Many of them concluded that these contraptions – some of which can cost tens of thousands of dollars – give people a false sense of security, as they cannot possibly detect explosives.
To put the device to the test on the streets of Beirut, Al-Akhbar placed several sticks of dynamite, some hand grenades, and material used to rig explosives in the glove compartment of a car to see just how effective these detectors really are.
We first proceeded to test the many security-conscious malls in and around Beirut, where explosives detectors are widely used. The car was easily able to get through security checkpoints without even a twitch from the device’s “antenna.”
Then we tried to up the ante by testing the heavy security measures in place around Dahiyeh, which was recently targeted by two car bombs. We succeeded in passing through two Lebanese army checkpoints at the entrance of the district and then managed to cross more than a dozen Hezbollah inspection points inside.
Those times when the car was searched, the security guards tended to look in the trunk, overlooking the glove compartment or the front area of the car, where in one recent case, security services discovered explosives hidden in a secret compartment underneath one of the seats.
Our journey did not end here. We parked the car in Dahiyeh overnight and returned in the morning to find a security guard running an explosives detector alongside the vehicle. The device was larger than others we had seen, suggesting that it may actually work this time, but to no avail.
Given the possibility that there are more effective models being used elsewhere, we decided to consult a security officer who is an expert in explosives. When we asked him about the detector, he laughed, saying it was a big hoax. He told us that the army had tested one machine, and upon opening it, found nothing more than what you might find inside a child’s toy.
It is worth noting that the BBC aired an investigation into this type of “antenna” detector, enlisting the help of experts from Cambridge University and specialized laboratories. The results revealed, according to the report, that the device is completely ineffective, and the cost of the materials it contains is worth no more than a few dollars.
Given that what we are dealing with here are explosives that are intended to cause the mass murder of innocent civilians, it is worth noting that most explosives experts recommend using the tried-and-true method of the bomb-sniffing dog.
This article is an edited translation from the Arabic Edition.