Security theater in Pakistan

All over Pakistan, there are nonsensical attempts at security theater. The theater part is done very well, with people roaming around with machine guns, concrete barriers, and lots of ways to make the lives of people miserable in an attempt to really impress those whose lives are made miserable by the security – but the actual security part gets forgotten somewhere by the wayside in all the theater.

Drive to any Pakistani airport, and security will be busy scanning all entering vehicles using a thin metal stick. What do thin metal sticks have to do with finding bombs? Nothing at all, but that is not a question the Interior Ministry of Pakistan would ever ask, especially when the person importing the metal sticks (which are now being made in Pakistan) is likely a friend of a friend of a general/politician somewhere. The sticks certainly add a lot of theater and delay, thus accomplishing what seems to be the main aim of security in Pakistan.

There is corruption everywhere in Pakistan, but how do you go about buying tens of thousands of dowsing rods for millions of dollars? Even in a corrupt country like Pakistan, at least part of the functionality is delivered. Schools might not run, and teachers might not teach, but schools are built and teachers paid. What kind of a institution or person buys an instrument which they know won’t work and thousands will die because of it?

The Iraqi government has spent $85m on the ADE-651 and there are concerns that they have failed to stop bomb attacks that have killed hundreds of people.

…Iraq paid around $40,000 for each device.


How much is Pakistan paying? The BBC article mentions the same company selling useless detectors for 40,000 dollars to Iraq was also selling them to Pakistan.

The ADE-651 detector has never been shown to work in a scientific test. There are no batteries and it consists of a swivelling aerial mounted to a hinge on a hand-grip. Critics have likened it to a glorified dowsing rod.


Science doesn’t worry the security establishment in Pakistan. Saving lives bothers them even less. Making money however, is really important and that’s the crux of the story.

In 1999, the FBI put out another alert: “Warning. Do not use bogus explosives detection devices.”


If people in the US were buying and using bogus devices, then no wonder Pakistan is too. For my public service of the day I will send a copy of this memo, the BBC’s article and a short covering note to Rehman Malik, the guy in charge of security all over Pakistan.

The British have banned exports of this fake metal detector – because it kills peoples. The Pakistan’s government reaction? Build the same junk here!

Somewhere deep in the pits of the ISI and the Pakistan Interior Ministry, the two institutions in charge of security all over Pakistan, there must be someone who has studied high school Physics and knows this whole thing is a blatant fraud. Maybe no one there has, or they’ve forgotten – in which case they could just watch the Feynman lectures.

There are many ironies in this whole story, not the least being that for dowsing to work you have to use magic – something which somehow doesn’t quite fit into what’s kosher in Islam and even require Rehman Malik to make good on his promise of killing the next blasphemer he met.

The US has been on a rampage against using devices which don’t work, so I have to fit in this gem from an Iraqi general, who could be the cousin of Pakistani ones:

“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.”


Of course he does, because generals know best. Especially those in third world countries. This same general went on:

Checking cars with dogs, however, is a slow process, whereas the wands take only a few seconds per vehicle. “Can you imagine dogs at all 400 checkpoints in Baghdad?” General Jabiri said. “The city would be a zoo.”


Speed and making money is a higher aim then actually working or being true. Whether education, security or government, General Jabiri perfectly encapsulates the ideals and values of much of Pakistan.

There are many other questions raised by the equipment used by security forces around Pakistan – like what good is the selection and tendering process for important equipment the government uses? If the UK doesn’t let you import your favorite magic wand does that make you think about magic and it’s effectiveness or do you ask someone else to build you a magic wand? If you ask a company to build a road and it builds a dirt track do you reward it with another project? So many more questions and nobody in the government to ask them…

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