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The Military Idle Technology

Iraq Swears By Dowsing Rod Bomb Detector 652

Posted by samzenpus
from the one-man's-junk-is-another-man's-junk-science dept.
jggimi writes "According to the New York Times, more than fifteen hundred remote sensing devices have been sold to Iraq's Ministry of the Interior, at prices ranging from $16,500 to $60,000 each. The devices are used for bomb and weapon detection at checkpoints, and have no battery or other power source. Sounds great, but according to a retired United States Air Force officer, Lt. Col. Hal Bidlack, they work on the same principle as a Ouija board — the power of suggestion. He described the wand as nothing more than an explosives divining rod. Even though the device has been debunked by the US Military, the US Department of Justice, and even Sandia National Laboratories, the Iraqis are thrilled with the devices. 'Whether it's magic or scientific, what I care about is it detects bombs,' said Maj. Gen. Jehad al-Jabiri, head of the Ministry of the Interior's General Directorate for Combating Explosives."

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Iraq Swears By Dowsing Rod Bomb Detector

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  • Now you know (Score:4, Insightful)

    by Sean (422) on Wednesday November 04, 2009 @09:19PM (#29989214)

    where those billions and billions of dollars went.

    • by quenda (644621) on Wednesday November 04, 2009 @09:33PM (#29989396)

      On the plus side, these devices would have been just as effective at locating Saddam's WMDs as any other detectors.

  • by geekoid (135745) <(dadinportland) (at) (yahoo.com)> on Wednesday November 04, 2009 @09:19PM (#29989218) Homepage Journal

    they shouldn't be allowed to have the bomb. On the plus side, there an easier target.

    Maybe I should sell them my ballistic missile protection rock. Only 10 million dollars, and if you are hit by an ICBM contact me for a full refund.

    • by quenda (644621) on Wednesday November 04, 2009 @09:31PM (#29989372)

      they shouldn't be allowed to have the bomb.

      Hmm ... you do realise that's Iraq with a Q, not with an N? The country with the nuclear weapons^Wpower program is next door.

    • by interkin3tic (1469267) on Wednesday November 04, 2009 @09:41PM (#29989478)

      Right, because we're so much smarter than the Iraqis. We have never had dumb/superstitious people in charge of our military. Therefore they can't handle nukes and we can. /sarcasm

      I'd argue that mutually assured destruction is dumber than what we're seeing here. Both are pretty shocking, but "magic bomb detector" risks at most several soldiers' lives, not, you know, everything.

      In case you forgot, our leaders were the ones that relied on MAD. With all our eductation and logic, that is what we came up with. If this is the dumbest thing Iraq is doing coming out of Saddam's rule, with little recent history of competent leaders, they're doing pretty well. I wouldn't want them to have nukes, but we're not people who should have nukes either.

      • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

        The case of the good Lieutenant Colonel Gary Brandl: "But the enemy has got a face. He's called Satan. He lives in Fallujah. And we're going to destroy him." should probably be mentioned....
      • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

        by Anonymous Coward

        You can't argue with results. Even if you would say that without the MAD doctrine we would have survived without major issues, it's impossible ot argue conclusively against that MAD didn't not work.

        • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

          by Anonymous Coward

          Confirmation of the success of MAD could only come from the testimony of people who could and would confirm that they did not launch nuclear attacks against (US/USSR) due to fear of massive reprisal.

          Either way, MAD is an idea, and it's one that works, at least in theory. If it worked in practice, it saved a large percentage of the world population from annihilation.

          It's f'ing retarded to liken it, in any way, to bomb diving rods in Iraq.

          • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

            by kevinNCSU (1531307)

            I'd say even less then that. Even relatively minor things such as border disputes or small scale conflicts require far more thought and consideration of worth if both sides are packing enough nukes to wipe out the other and claim to be willing to do so.

            Someone wouldn't have needed to otherwise be willing to commit the other country to nuclear holocaust for MAD to have worked. Someone would have just needed to think more carefully before taking any action to provoke the other side on any issue that might h

      • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

        by sjames (1099)

        The thing that's a problem is the price tag! If they want to use dowsing rods, fine. It's not like the U.S. Army didn't try it too, but couldn't they just raid a dry cleaner?

      • by commodoresloat (172735) * on Thursday November 05, 2009 @12:37AM (#29990900)

        Agree, but MAD is hardly the best example... in fact, it actually makes a lot of sense, despite the fact that it is, indeed, mad. But look at some of the more ridiculous weapons exercises and theories funded by the Pentagon over the years -- who the hell else would come up with the idea of an anti-ballistic missile system based on a satellite and powered by a nuclear explosion? Or even more ridiculous stuff like the gay bomb [cbs3.com]. The Pentagon and intel agencies actually spent millions on "psychic warfare" projects at one point; one of the projects allegedly included a plan to develop some sort of time-travel based ABM device -- zap the enemy's missiles back in time so they can explode harmlessly in the past. Seriously. If the Iraqis are spending only $60k apiece on divining rods they are getting off cheap.

        • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

          by bendodge (998616)

          Although the American military budget funds a lot of nonsense, you have to admit that we get an awful lot of really cool side effects.

        • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

          by interkin3tic (1469267)

          Agree, but MAD is hardly the best example...

          Yeah... I must be badanalogyguy in disguise. Not the best comparison (by far), I just wanted to point out that while the Iraqis are doing stupid things with bomb detectors, we were setting up a situation where we and Russia would do much stupider things with much bigger bombs, so implying we can be trusted with those same bigger bombs but the Iraqis can't is absurd.

        • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

          by gad_zuki! (70830)

          The US military has a research arm that gets it wrong sometimes, but we're not seeing psychic soldiers reading the minds of terrorists in the field or anything. We're not deploying the gay bomb anywhere. If anything, its sometimes interesting to hear some out of the box ideas. Look at the success of the predator drone, which is an old idea and one scoffed at for a long time.

          The difference here is that Iraq is buying these things and using them instead of tested methods. They are letting guys with cars full

        • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

          by Chris Burke (6130)

          The Pentagon and intel agencies actually spent millions on "psychic warfare" projects at one point;

          Personally I think the Pentagon's deeply credulous and well funded search for psychics to be better proof of their non-existence than the unclaimed Randi Foundation prize. You can claim Randi is biased against the existence of psychics (and of course this makes their powers not work). But these guys really, really wanted to find actual, no bullshit, no cold-reading, honest-to-God psychics. And they didn't.

      • by gtall (79522) on Thursday November 05, 2009 @07:37AM (#29993128)

        Let's rewind time a bit; suppose Einstein's advice was followed and the U.S. didn't build the bomb. No Hiroshima or Nagasaki as testament to its effects. It is known the Soviet Union was working on their own as was Germany. After the war, both the Soviets and the U.S. rushed to grab German scientists. So even if the Soviet Union wasn't working on it during the war, they'd have been working on it after. And they were led by that great humanitarian, Stalin. Hmmmm....what would a Stalin do with nukes knowing no one could retaliate...I give up, I cannot guess...

        Let's assume that Stalin gets a case of Empathy and decides not to nuke his enemies, even the real ones. Roll time forward a bit. Iran decides it needs nukes to get out the Kill-the-Jews vote in Islam. The U.S., having eschewed nukes because they were bad, would surely have pressured Israel into no nukes as well. There is no stopping Iran from getting a nuke, they need it to help bring back the Mahdi and well, y'know, there are still some undead Jews.

        Then there are those nice N. Koreans who are about as well adjusted as a squirrel after his third cup of coffee. Would you like L.A. with that holocaust or just a bit of self-indulgent sugar?

      • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

        by mino (180832)

        We have never had dumb/superstitious people in charge of our military.

        If you want examples of stupidity and superstition in the US Military, I wouldn't look at MAD. Read The Men Who Stare At Goats [wikipedia.org], detailing the Army experiments to try and kill goats with thought power, 'remote viewing' to spy on enemies, and the idea of creating psychic peace soldiers [wikipedia.org]. Scary scary stuff.

  • Oblig (Score:4, Funny)

    by interkin3tic (1469267) on Wednesday November 04, 2009 @09:21PM (#29989244)

    I am interested in purchasing your bomb-repelling rock.

  • Confirmation bias (Score:4, Insightful)

    by gad_zuki! (70830) on Wednesday November 04, 2009 @09:23PM (#29989274)

    Sure, it finds bombs, but youre spending hours wandering around and forgetting about the time you didnt find a bomb.

  • by Jahava (946858) on Wednesday November 04, 2009 @09:26PM (#29989298)

    But the device works “on the same principle as a Ouija board”

    So in effect, this device will justify my search of anyone that I feel has a bomb. Even if I know it's bogus (and I'd not be surprised if the Iraqis do know this), it permits me to search anyone I want just because I feel they may have a bomb. I'd not be surprised if there was some correlation between suspicious-looking-folks and folks-with-bombs, so the power of unbounded searching is probably (somewhat) effective.

    On the other hand, if they really do believe that these devices work, then the bombers may share those beliefs. That, also, could deter bombings.

    Either way, it's a win for Iraq ... well, if you don't care about human rights and the millions of dollars.

    • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

      by ShakaUVM (157947)

      >>On the other hand, if they really do believe that these devices work, then the bombers may share those beliefs. That, also, could deter bombings.

      This Israeli guy I know, big biomechanics guy, has worked on gait-analysis systems for Israel. You see, a guy who has a bunch of explosives strapped to his waist walks differently from someone normally. The system flags people down as they go through a checkpoint, and get searched and wanded more extensively than the normal line. When I asked him why they d

  • by Megane (129182) on Wednesday November 04, 2009 @09:26PM (#29989304) Homepage
    Even a stopped clock's minute hand is right 24 times a day.
    • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

      by selven (1556643)

      And a clock going backwards is right 48 times a day (ie. twice as accurate!)

  • Works very simply (Score:5, Insightful)

    by jpmorgan (517966) on Wednesday November 04, 2009 @09:26PM (#29989318) Homepage
    It works on a very simple principle, that is used in many devices sold today: the company that makes them probably kicks half the price back to the official who authorized the purchase.
  • by phantomfive (622387) on Wednesday November 04, 2009 @09:28PM (#29989346) Journal
    It may still have a benefit if the terrorists also have such a blind belief in the technology. If they know there are bomb detectors at the gate, they will be less likely to try to sneak a bomb through.
  • Bugs Bunny (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Dan East (318230) on Wednesday November 04, 2009 @09:29PM (#29989354) Homepage Journal

    Anyone see the Bugs Bunny cartoon [youtube.com] (@6:40) where he was working on an assembly line during WW2? He had a little hammer that he would tap bombs with to see if they were good or not. Of course one after another was a dud, until finally...

    I guess if your divining rod detects a suicide bomber... then what? They detonate? I guess it is 100% effective in that case. Bomb detected.

    • Re:Bugs Bunny (Score:5, Interesting)

      by c6gunner (950153) on Wednesday November 04, 2009 @10:36PM (#29989930)

      I guess if your divining rod detects a suicide bomber... then what? They detonate? I guess it is 100% effective in that case. Bomb detected.

      Checkpoints are designed to minimize damage from a ... erm ... "premature detonation". The guy with the wand might get splattered pretty good if he's right up close, but everyone else makes it out just fine. It still sucks for the guy who's swinging that thing, but it's a loss in the bad-guys book because they can't afford to trade men on a 1 to 1 basis. There's only so many crazy people who'll strap a bomb to themselves.

      Also, suicide bombers have been known to change their minds when confronted with such a situation. It's one thing to kill dozens of your enemies (even if they're civilians shopping for groceries) for the Glory of Allah - quite another thing to kill yourself and, if you're lucky, only take out one poor $2-per-hour rent a cop.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday November 04, 2009 @09:31PM (#29989382)

    Here in the U.S., a great many of our police departments and even federal agencies spend millions on a technology that is equally ridiculous and unprovable in any sort of peer-reviewed scientific study: Lie detectors. If we can have our lie detectors, then surely the Iraqis are entitled to their bomb sniffing dowsing rods.

    The proponents of these devices, when confronted with the undeniable technical worthlessness of them, inevitably retreat to the claim that the actual benefits come from the psychology of having people being "investigated" by the devices believe that they are actually capable of something, and then watching their reactions.

    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by binarylarry (1338699)

      True, but lie detectors do actually measure things. Heart rate, etc. They're not accurate, but they're not magical either.

      This is completely retarded, instead of the lie detector's mostly retarded.

      Something I learned from P&T:B.... Clench your ass muscle to fool lie detectors.

    • by nmb3000 (741169) <nmb3000@that-google-mail-site.com> on Wednesday November 04, 2009 @10:23PM (#29989828) Homepage Journal

      No post about polygraphy is complete without a link to antipolygraph [antipolygraph.org].

      For anyone interested, the site has a lot of great information, including a free book [antipolygraph.org] that goes into intimate details regarding how polygraphs are operated and how their results are interpreted to mean either "truth" or "lies". They even have the operator's handbooks and interpretation guides for giving an examination and information on how to "beat the box".

      Very interesting stuff -- doubly so for anyone who might sometime be in a position where taking a polygraph is required for a job or security clearance.

    • by ceoyoyo (59147) on Wednesday November 04, 2009 @10:24PM (#29989840)

      A quick search suggests that polygraphs normally outperform random chance. By how much seems to be highly variable.

      It appears the scientific evidence is that polygraphy is not sufficiently sensitive or specific to be useful as legal evidence, but there's a big difference between a functional but inaccurate technique (i.e. one that outperforms guessing) and one that doesn't.

      • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

        by dbIII (701233)
        The modifying factor you are looking for is the operator listening to test subjects speaking and picking the obvious lies. I think that you would get exactly the same success rate if the lie detector wasn't even plugged in.
        Also consider the history of the lie detector - it was adopted at a time when the FBI was infamous for being corrupt and taking kickbacks. Also consider the inventor, not an expert in any feild at all related to it but simply the guy that wrote the "Wonder Woman" comics.
        It is a scam, on
        • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

          by ceoyoyo (59147)

          You think. The few reasonable controlled studies that have been done tend to disagree with you. Polygraphs perform fairly poorly, and probably perform better under laboratory conditions than they do in the wild, but they do appear to do better than chance, under controlled conditions.

          Sorry, the ad hominem attack on the inventor doesn't really carry any weight, being a logical fallacy and all.

  • by 93 Escort Wagon (326346) on Wednesday November 04, 2009 @09:32PM (#29989392)

    Dear General Jehad al-Jabiri,

    You may be surprised to hear from me. I am Mrs. John Mutube, former wife of the late general in charge of Nigerian counterterrorism forces. Upon his death I was amazed to discover 15000 (FIFTEEN THOUSAND) special BOMB DETECTION RODS. As my party has fallen out of favor, I find myself destitute. So I am offering you full possession of these BOMB DETECTION RODS for only the cost of shipping. Since the devices are heavy, I must ask that you pay for postage so I can deliver you the rods. Send either money order or credit card particulars to

    Mrs. John Mutube
    123 Mutube Street
    Benin, Nigeria

    I look forward to your successful counterterrorism endeavor.

    I am, yours truly,

    Mrs. John Mutube

  • by sabernet (751826) on Wednesday November 04, 2009 @10:05PM (#29989722) Homepage
    The dowser explodes, thereby simultaneously indicating where the bomb was and disposing it.

    What? Too soon?
  • Seen this before! (Score:5, Interesting)

    by mr100percent (57156) on Wednesday November 04, 2009 @10:30PM (#29989888) Homepage Journal

    Michael Shermer, famous Skeptic, gave a TED speech [ted.com] on "why people believe strange things." He actually brought one of those detectors out on stage, and said that US public schools were buying it as a marijuana detector, and paying hundreds of dollars for it. Looking at the image in the article, it appears to be the same device.

  • by adamchou (993073) on Wednesday November 04, 2009 @10:50PM (#29990046)

    I don’t care about Sandia or the Department of Justice or any of them,” General Jabiri said. “I know more about this issue than the Americans do. In fact, I know more about bombs than anyone in the world.

What this country needs is a good five cent microcomputer.

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