GT200: The dud bomb detector that cost Thailand 1 billion baht – and more
Although now synonymous with hoax, fraud and corruption, the GT200 was once considered a vital tool in the armory of security forces in many countries across the globe.
Those false hopes, triggered by claims of the GT200’s manufacturer, UK-based Global Technical Ltd, lured Thai authorities to spend more than 1.13 billion baht on purchasing 1,354 GT200 devices between 2005 and 2010.
Even Thailand’s most prominent forensic expert, Dr Porntip Rojanasunan, now a senator, supported GT200 procurement – a decision that has now returned to haunt her.
What is the GT200 exactly?
Launched in 2001, the GT200 was touted as a detector of explosives, narcotics and other illicit substances. Its manufacturer attracted buyers from Thailand, Saudi Arabia, Hong Kong, Indonesia, Mexico and elsewhere with false claims. The device was similar in construction to two other fake detectors, the ADE-651 and the Alpha 6.
The BBC reported that sales demonstrations of the GT200 would be rigged to succeed, with anyone skeptical of the devices publicly humiliated. Users were also instructed not to open the device as this could damage the “sensitive technology” inside.
Experts who finally opened the devices quickly concluded they were little more than empty boxes.
Assoc Prof Jessada Denduangboripant of Chulalongkorn University’s Faculty of Science was among the first in Thailand to question the devices. He likened the GT200 to a dowsing rod with no scientific validity and said any success from using it was the result of random chance.
“Its antenna swings not because of any magnetic function,” he explained.
Thailand’s fascination with GT200
The Royal Thai Air Force kicked off the GT200 trend in Thailand. It imported the device for use at Pattani Airport, which in turn attracted interest from the Royal Thai Army.
In 2005, the Army bought four GT200 devices along with 20 so-called sensor cards from a Thailand-based agent for 1.2 million baht per unit.
After the Air Force began using GT200 detectors in the insurgency-plagued deep South, other agencies showed interest in buying the device. The GT200 was credited for detecting explosives on many occasions in the deep South.
Thailand’s famous forensics expert Porntip gets ready for GT200 battle
However, suspicions about the GT200 rose in late 2009 when the device failed to detect a car bomb that killed one person and injured dozens in Narathiwat’s Sungai Kolok district. Two weeks later, skepticism surged after it failed to thwart another bomb attack in Yala province.
As doubt grew over the GT200 in Thailand, the UK government announced in January 2010 that the device was wholly ineffective and warned foreign governments against using it.
The Thai government led by Abhisit Vejjajiva assigned the Ministry of Science and Technology to conduct tests on the GT200. The results showed GT200’s success rate was no higher than random chance. Not surprisingly, the device also proved less effective than sniffer dogs at detecting explosives and drugs.
Critics described the huge budget spent on the GT200 as a “stupidity fee” – which was funded by taxpayers.
The Army also spent 7.5 million baht last year for tests on 757 of its GT200 devices, which were reportedly conducted to support its lawsuit against the supplier.
In the UK, several people were sentenced to jail over the GT200 and similar fake devices.
In Thailand, the National Anti-Corruption Commission (NACC) has ruled that nearly 100 suspects are guilty of disciplinary and criminal offenses over their roles in the procurement of GT200s. Most of the culprits were members of GT200 procurement or acceptance committees at various government agencies.
Porntip, who formerly headed the Central Institute of Forensic Science (CIFS), said her role was limited to defending CIFS officials who used the GT200.
“I didn’t say that the device was good,” she said. “But I understand that officials got peace of mind when they received a device that was used as a bomb detector overseas.”
No top military officers have been indicted for GT200 procurements.
By Thai PBS World’s Political Desk