Skip to main content

Fake bomb detector maker made millions from trick

By Atika Shubert, CNN
updated 10:14 AM EDT, Thu May 2, 2013
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • James McCormick is the man behind the ADE 651 bomb detector
  • But the device is fake and contains "nothing inside," says Detective Inspector Heath
  • "He targeted countries where terrorism and violence was rife," Heath said.
  • McCormick made millions and spent his earnings on a luxurious lifestyle

(CNN) -- The ADE 651 stood for "Advanced Detection Equipment". And it certainly looked the part. Sleek black casing. A swivelling antenna that was said to detect everything from bombs to 100 dollar bills. A card that indicated what the device had found.

In video recorded by James McCormick, the man behind the skyrocketing sales of ADE 651, police in Niger can be seen using the device searching for explosives by a live minefield.

Just one problem: It doesn't work. British police say the ADE 651 is really the "Gopher" a novelty golf-ball finder with the label removed.

This device, independent tests show, has no better than a random chance at finding a golf ball, much less a bomb.

Maker of fake bomb detector gets 10 years in prison

"These devices contain absolutely nothing inside. There's no laws of science or physics that could make them work," Detective Inspector Edward Heath told CNN. "He is a conman. He uses sleight of hand, absurd sales tactics to actually con governments, officials, private individuals out of money to buy this device."

Dogs compete with tech to detect bombs

McCormick spent less than 18 months as an entry level policeman in the Liverpool area before becoming a salesman of radio equipment. With his sales patter and his brief time as a policeman, McCormick was a convincing pitch man.

In a training video to potential salesmen in India, McCormick can clearly be heard saying he "worked with explosives" during his time with the British police.

"He targeted countries where terrorism and violence was rife," Heath said. "They had such terrible problems with violence and terrorism, they were desperate for any measure to prevent them from happening. The countries that he targeted also didn't have proper testing methods or any scientific laboratories to make sure they worked. They very much took the trust of the person selling it. And James McCormick came across as an honest and reliable businessman. But in fact he was a con man."

It was the 'Made in the UK' label on the ADE 651 that tipped off British police. They found that McCormick had the components made separately in Britain, then assembled them himself at his office in an old dairy farm in Somerset, England.

Police investigators believe it cost him less than $60 to make each device. In at least one case, he sold them for as much as $300,000 a piece. He sold the devices to government agencies and private companies around the world.

But it wasn't just a good sales line that allowed McCormick, over a 10-year period, to become a millionaire from a fraudulent device. An Iraqi general has been jailed for procuring the ADE 651 through "unauthorized" channels. British police believe that McCormick paid off officials to buy the ADE 651 in bulk. Iraq's law enforcement agencies bought 6,000 of the devices to scan for explosives at checkpoints, many of them still in use today, potentially endangering lives.

It was a profitable business. His company made between $60 million and £80 million. He spent it on property, an $8 million luxurious historic home in Bath -- previously owned by Hollywood star Nicholas Cage -- with a swimming pool in the basement.

He also bought a million dollar yacht and holiday homes in Cyprus and Florida. Police are now trying to seize these assets.

"We will do our utmost to make sure that James McCormick never lives off the proceeds of crime," Heath said. "What we intend to do is make sure his assets are confiscated, so that he cannot live a life of luxury off his crime."

ADVERTISEMENT
Part of complete coverage on
This looks like a ghost ship, but it's actually the site of a tense international standoff between the Philippines and China.
updated 11:55 AM EDT, Sat July 26, 2014
The reported firing of artillery from Russian territory is a sign Vladimir Putin has escalated the Ukraine battle, says CNN's military analyst Rick Francona.
updated 4:46 AM EDT, Sun July 27, 2014
The young boy stops, stares, throws ammunition casings at the reporter's feet without a word.
updated 8:37 AM EDT, Sun July 27, 2014
A picture taken on June 28, 2014 shows a member of Doctors Without Borders (MSF) putting on protective gear at the isolation ward of the Donka Hospital in Conakry, where people infected with the Ebola virus are being treated. The World Health Organization has warned that Ebola could spread beyond hard-hit Guinea, Liberia and Sierra Leone to neighbouring nations, but insisted that travel bans were not the answer.
The worst ebola outbreak in history spreads out of control in West Africa. CNN's Michael Holmes reports.
updated 8:48 PM EDT, Fri July 25, 2014
Sure, Fido is a brown Lab. But inside, he may also be a little green.
updated 4:06 PM EDT, Thu July 24, 2014
ITN's Dan Rivers reports from the hospital where those injured by an attack in Gaza were being treated.
updated 9:03 AM EDT, Mon July 28, 2014
Photograph of an undisclosed location by Patrycja Makowska
Patrycja Makowska likes to give enigmatic names to the extraordinarily beautiful photographs she shoots of crumbling palaces.
updated 4:04 AM EDT, Wed July 23, 2014
When the Costa Concordia and its salvage convoy finally depart Giglio, the residents will breathe a sigh of relief -- and shed a tear.
updated 2:08 PM EDT, Fri July 25, 2014
Flight attendants are wearing black ribbons to show solidarity with fallen colleagues in "a tribute to those who never made it home."
CNN joins the fight to end modern-day slavery by shining a spotlight on its horrors and highlighting success stories.
Browse through images from CNN teams around the world that you don't always see on news reports.
ADVERTISEMENT