Thai army still uses fraudulent bomb-sniffing GT200 device

Originally published at Siam Voices on July 22, 2012

Last week we reported on the reaffirmed faith for the GT200 bomb-sniffing device by Thai army chief Gerneral Prayuth Chan-ocha, despite having been proven bogus numerous times for years. But scientific evidence has not deterred Thailand’s armed forces and several other government agencies from continuing to use an overpriced piece of plastic with a dowsing rod at the end that is less reliable in detecting explosives or other substances than a simple coin flip (we’re talking about less than a random chance!)  – and probably as effective as this ‘upgrade’ with ‘locally sourced materials’ crafted by ‘Thai ingenuity’ as depicted in this Thai viral video from 2010 mocking the original dowsing-rod at the height of its controversy:

After the devastating results of the scientific tests ordered by administration of the then-prime minister Abhisit Vejjajiva in early 2010 – a substantial loss of face for many officials involved – and despite foreign media coverage criticizing the device (spearheaded by the BBC “Newsnight” program, literally taking apart the gadget and highlighting the dirty business behind it), the controversy unsurprisingly died down in the following months and years with hardly any inquiries or consequences.

The hot issue was brought up again this month when the UK-based distributor of the ADE-651, a device that has been mostly sold in the Middle East and that is essentially the same to the GT200 or the equally bogus Alpha 6, has been charged for fraud. This also has turned the spotlight on the Thai army and whether or not anything has changed in the past two years. The result is sobering, yet unsurprising, as the Bangkok Post has found out:

Military personnel in the southernmost provinces will keep using the controversial GT200 bomb detectors until they are replaced with other instruments.

Supreme Commander Thanasak Patimaprakorn said yesterday he had seen the effectiveness of GT200 detectors in finding explosives. He said during testing before buying, the equipment was found to be effective.

“I did not mention if the equipment is worthy or not but I’m saying that the procurement of the equipment was done carefully,” he said.

Army sources said most of the 757 GT200 detectors which were bought by the army remain operational, “except those that are out of order”.

“The GT200 detectors are now used as supporting equipment for operations, not the main ones. But the army has never ordered anyone to stop using them,” the source said. “It’s better to use the GT200 than to have nothing.”

Soldiers continue to use GT200 in South“, Bangkok Post, July 21, 2012

We have already covered the stunning reaffirmed faith by army chief General Prayuth Chan-ocha into the bogus GT200 and confirmed its usage in the deeply troubled Southern border regions – here’s his endorsement again:

“I affirm that the device is still effective. Other armed forces are also using it,” the army chief said. (…) The army chief said the GT200 has proven to be effective in the army’s operations in the past. But he would respect any scientific test if it proves otherwise.

Use of GT200 ‘will continue’“, Bangkok Post, July 14, 2012

As mentioned earlier, there are at least 13 government agencies utilizing the bomb-detecting bogus dowsing-rod as well, including the Central Institute of Forensic Science (CIFC) – headed by the nationally well-known forensic scientist Pornthip Rojanasunand, who has lost nearly all credibility as the national proponent for scientific evidence by backing the GT200 even after the proven ineffectiveness. Now it seems, according the aforementioned Bangkok Post report above, that her agency and the Office of the Narcotics Control Board (ONCB) have dropped the its usage.

Also, the Department of Special Investigations* (DSI) has started to investigate the procurement process of the about 1,000 devices on behalf of complaints received by the ONCB and other agencies – the CIFC has not filed a complaint according to Pornthip, as their procurement process has been found ok by the Office of the Auditor-General. So far, it has found out that the products were “overpriced and ineffective and bidding contests for their procurement might have been rigged.” It will also consider to take legal action against the UK-based manufacturer and seller of the GT200.

In a related development, Defense Minister Sukumpol Suwanatat was yet another one to state his unbroken faith into the bogus device (with Prayuth and Supreme Commander Thanasak Patimaprakorn the other two) while totally disregarding solid evidence saying otherwise and at the same time also (perhaps unwittingly) revealing where this stern insistence comes from:

“Many bombs were found using the GT200 detectors but if the findings say otherwise we’ll have to see who’s lying,” ACM Sukumpol said. “Today if we don’t use the GT200 what other detectors will we use? The Defence Ministry and I continue to look for alternative devices when travelling abroad,” he said. (…)

The minister said the air force was the first to procure the GT200 detectors when he was the air force chief-of-staff. The detectors were tested in front of army commanders.

Defence minister insists GT200 works“, Bangkok Post, July 19, 2012

To repeat again what I said last week: we’re talking about an empty plastic shell with a dowsing-rod that is supposed to detect explosive substances and drugs, for which the Thai army and government agencies have spent millions of Baht, only for its uselessness – unfortunately many times literally – to blow up in their faces.

The evidence is more than two years old now and overwhelmingly rock-solid. Its reputation is being questioned worldwide and the UK has banned the export of this deceptively dangerous tool, that has probably cost numerous lives instead of saving them. Meanwhile, the situation in the deep South remains dangerous as yet another bomb explosion occurred on Saturday in Narathiwat province, injuring eight civilians.

*What needs to be mentioned as well is that the DSI acts according to whichever direction the political wind is blowing, as the inquiries into the deaths of the 2010 protests pre- and post-election have shown.

Saksith Saiyasombut is a Thai blogger and journalist currently based in Hamburg, Germany. He can be followed on Twitter @Saksith and also on his public Facebook page here.