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Things That Go Boom in the Night

Advanced techniques can help you detect all manner of explosives.

June 30, 2010  |  by Tim Dees - Also by this author

Bunk Technology

Many excellent detection devices exist. But potential purchasers of new technology are wise to beware of something that seems too good to be true. This is especially true of explosives and narcotics detectors. In 1993, the Quadro Corporation of Hadleyville, S.C., sold the Quadro Tracker Positive Molecular Locator to around 1,000 police departments and school districts in the United States at prices ranging from $400 to $8,000.

Users placed a sample of the substance to be detected into a "locator card," which was then inserted into a "card reader" attached to the device, which had a swiveling antenna. By moving the antenna, the operator was led to the target substance. The more advanced, expensive models were said to be able to find almost anything-weapons, narcotics (ingested and otherwise), golf balls, missing children, jewelry-using only a Polaroid photo of the substance or item to be found.

However, when the FBI examined the device, it found the device was essentially hollow, the components were not electrically connected to one another, and the antenna came from a transistor radio. The whole mechanism was essentially a high-priced dowsing rod.

Operating on the "if it worked once..." strategy, several other vendors have produced similar worthless devices for explosive detection, called variously Alpha 6, GT200, Sniffex, and ADE-651. The latter device was sold to the Iraqi government as a bomb detector as recently as last year. After some disappointing and literally shattering experiences, in January 2010 the British government banned the device for export and arrested the company director for fraud.

Inexpensive high-technology explosive detection solutions are still elusive. Unless you have a large budget, your best measures for now may be specially trained dogs, conventional hazardous device procedures, and if all else fails, blow the thing up. 



Allen-Vanguard Inc.

(contraband detection Equipment, metal detectors, inspection cameras)

Visit Allen-Vanguard Online

American Science & Engineering

(x-ray bomb Detection equipment) 

Visit AS&E Online

Criminalistics, Inc.

(bomb handling equipment) 

Visit Criminalistics Online

Field Forensics Inc.

(on-the-spot testing for trace explosives)

Visit Field Forensics Online

Garrett Metal Detectors

(metal detectors)

Visit Garrett Metal  Detectors Online

Icx Technologies

(Raman spectroscopy)

Visit Icx Technologies Online

The Mako Group

(prodder kit, trip wires)

Visit The Mako Group Online

Morphix Technologies

(gas detection)

Visit Morphix Technologies Online

Morpho Detection

(IMS, CT scanners)

Visit Morpho Detection Online


(contraband detection)

Visit SAS R&D Online

Smiths Detection


Visit Smiths Detection Online

SpectraFluidics, Inc.

(Free-Surface microFluidics (FSF) and Surface-

Enhanced Raman Spectroscopy (SERS))

Visit SpectraFluidics Online

Vidisco Ltd.

(X-ray inspection)

Visit Vidisco Online


(portable video equipment, inspection cameras)

Visit Zistos Online



Visit Criminalistics Online


Visit SecureSearch Online



(bomb awareness training aids)

Visit SecureSearch Online


Visit Tripwire Online


U.S. Explosive Storage

Visit U.S. Explosive Storage Online

Tim Dees is a retired police officer and the former editor of two major law enforcement Websites. He can be reached at [email protected]

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