BANGKOK – The Royal Thai Army has a history of using the same counterfeit bomb detectors that were reportedly used by security forces at the Pakistani airport attacked by armed militants on Sunday.
Ten Taliban commandos, armed with suicide vests, grenades, and automatic weapons, made it past checkpoints at Karachi’s Jinnah International Airport late Sunday night and waged an extended battle against security forces that left at least 28 people dead.
According to The Guardian, the security officers who guarded the outer perimeter of the airport used versions of the fake bomb-detecting device sold by a British businessman to Thailand several years ago.
James McCormick and his company sold thousands of the phony detectors at extortionate prices to countries such as Iraq, Pakistan, and Thailand.
Mr. McCormick, who was convicted of fraud and sentenced to 10 years in jail, claimed the devices could detect a wide range of substances, such as explosives or narcotics, by analysing molecular components from a distance. Mr. McCormick's company told customers that the long dials attached to the detectors would swing and point to any suspicious materials.
In reality, the devices were completely ineffectual and based on $20 golf-ball finders that Mr. McCormick had purchased in the United States.
For several years, Thai soldiers used a version of Mr. McCormick's phoney bomb detectors, called GT200, in the southern border provinces where separatist unrest has claimed more than 6,000 lives since the latest wave of violence broke out in 2002.
According to media reports, the Thai army started buying the detectors in 2008. Similar versions of the detectors, called ALPHA, were also purchased and distributed to the Royal Thai Police for drug searches.
It is estimated that the GT200s cost Thai taxpayers more than 630 million baht and led Thai security forces to arrest innocent individuals, while letting a number of people with real bombs pass through checkpoints undetected.
Following the news of massive bomb attacks in Baghdad in late 2009, where security forces employed devices similar to the GT200 to search for car bombs, skeptics in Thailand started to question the validity of the detectors.
Jessada Denduangboripant, a scientist at Chulalongkorn University, spearheaded a movement on social media that called for a scientific test of the GT200 devices. After initial resistance, the Thai authorities conceded and conducted the test in early 2010. The result established the GT200's accuracy to be as good as random chance.
Then-Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva eventually ordered the suspension of GT200 devices across the country. However, top army leaders and security officials continued to defend the devices long after the test.
Among them was Central Institute of Forensic Science director, Pornthip Rojanasunand, who told the press that the scientific test that debunked the GT200 did not matter because the devices "were not scientific tools" in the first place.
“GT200 is not scientific either, it depends on the operators. The officials of the CIFS have used it with great efficiency,” Ms. Pornthip was quoted as saying in February 2010.
Ms. Pornthip, a vocal supporter of the protests against the previous government, is reportedly being considered for the job of Minister of Justice in the future army-appointed interim government. Ms. Pornthip recently told the press she is willing to accept the job, if offered.
Gen. Prayuth Chan-ocha, army chief and leader of the National Council for Peace and Order, also defended the GT200 as late as 2013.
“So far the army has used it and it works. Maybe it’s confidence,” Gen. Prayuth told Thai media in July 2012.
In an interview to the press in 2013, Gen. Prayuth asked the public to stop criticizing the devices, and admitted that some security officers still used GT200 in their field operation "because there is no alternative."
No official has ever been held accountable in court for purchases of GT200 bomb detectors.
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