Dowsing For Death- the end of ATSC?

Many people regard magical beliefs as a bit of harmless fun and in most cases that is true. However, there are those who are prepared to take advantage of other’s gullibility. In 2009, I was shocked to discover that a British company ATSC Ltd had been selling bomb-detecting devices to security forces around the world. The devices were nothing more than dowsing rods, a supernatural practice believed to reveal the location of water and minerals that has been around for hundreds of years. Despite the claims of various associations and practitioners, dowsing is nothing more than a psychological phenomena known as the “ideomotor effect.” Simply put, when you are aware of the location of a potential target, you make imperceptible body movements that make finely balanced rods or pendulums point in the same direction. There is no evidence that these devices or the user can detect sources through supernatural powers. Nevertheless many people believe that dowsing works.

The founder of ATSC Ltd, Jim McCormick, had decided to exploit this belief. His sophisticated dowsing rod, the AED 651, did not only reveal water and minerals but could detect concealed explosives, narcotics, weapons, human bodies, illegal ivory and even truffles whether they were underground, underwater and even at a distance of 3 miles from a plane. The key to the system was “programmed substance detection cards” which each carried the “frequency” of the substance they’re supposed to detect. This was achieved by a technology based on “nuclear quadruple resonance.” According to their website

“ADE651® is the latest generation of long-range detector products offered by ATSC. As with other ADE™ substance detectors, it incorporates long-range electromagnetic attraction to enable the effective identification of even the most difficult substances including explosive and narcotic materials. Unlike other trace detectors, that are limited by the need to have actual physical contact with the item sampled, the ADE651® is able to detect programmed substances at long distances safely and without the need to have actual physical contact with the substance. As such, the ADE651® continues to set standards for the detection of substances. “

Clearly bulls**t but not if you think dowsing can work. The reason that the device hit the headlines in 2009 was that the New York Times revealed that the Iraqi authorities had invested $80million to use them at security checkpoints rather than conducting thorough searches of potential suicide bombers. As a consequence, thousands of lives were lost in Baghdad due to car bombers driving undetected through checkpoints.

The reason I got involved was that it turned out that Jim McCormick lived locally to me in Somerset. So I blogged about it, to help raise awareness. In the month I got involved over 1,000 had been killed. To my utter surprise, I received a comment from Mr McCormick  defending his actions and the device and issuing me an invitation to check out his device. This was an opportunity to expose a fraud that was too good to miss. Maybe he really believed the device worked but I was dubious. As a former police officer with connections to security forces around the world, I thought that Jim McCormick had cynically exploited desperate situations to profit.

When it became known that I was in contact with the elusive Mr McCormick the BBC Newsnight team contacted me and we set about trying to set up a sting to confront the fraudster. I corresponded with Jim via email to organize a meeting but he failed to show. In any event, we decided to go ahead with the broadcast in Jan 2010. The following day, McCormick was arrested and an export order ban was imposed.

That was nearly two and a half years ago. In the meantime, ATSC Ltd continued to trade with other countries not covered by the ban including Mexico. It looked like all our efforts had been to no avail. However, in February this year, I was visited by detectives from the Avon & Somerset police and asked to give a statement. Yesterday I got a phone to say that Jim McCormick was due in court to face six counts of fraud. I await the outcome but sincerely hope that this is not considered a simple lapse of magical thinking when it comes to dowsing but an act of deliberate profiteering that has indirectly cost thousands of lives.


Filed under General Thoughts

31 responses to “Dowsing For Death- the end of ATSC?

  1. Can I just put in a word for Techowiz here please. Without him this would never have happened. Lots of people have contributed mightily to the efforts to put end to the trade in fake detectors, and no one can criticise Bruce for publicing himself and his role in this, but should we finally see justice done, then I can only repeat, thank goodness for Techowiz. A very fine man indeed!

    • Anonymous

      Absolutely.. My role in this was minimal & Technowiz deserves full credit

      • I didn’t mean your role was minimal at all!!! Just Techo must get credited properly.

        Of course, Randi alerted us all to ADE651 first in 2008, which kickstarted the campaign here.

        Lots of questions still need answering, like why it took the Newsnight prog in 2010 to get Governemnet action, when we had warned the Defence elect Committee end 2008!

        Admire you having latched on to this and stuck at it! And that your professional/academic credibility helped a lot to show it was not just us cranks campaigning.. All best wishes.

  2. bob disdell

    At last,I actually as previously posted had a demo of this bogus equipment and it didnt work.It doesnt work,it cant work,its not based on any science unless magic is considered a science.Ask James Randi.
    I,ll be interested to see the outcome in court,book me a seat.
    Well done Bruce.
    Bob Disdell

  3. Rich

    Hi Bruce – you know me – I am a scientist who left teaching to become a builder . Once on a job there was nothing left to lose from trying dowsing to find the line of a blocked drainage pipe from a septic tank on a western island croft . So , in front of hopeful clients and with the customary bent coat-hangers (and a sceptic’s grin) , I put markers down when the wires swung around . Three passes on a 150m stertch yielded a straight line down to the stinging-nettles at the nearby burn (which I should have looked for first) .
    The scientist in me would not tempt me to use this to make my living , but that experience and the pragmatist in me now tells me it is a valid enough tool of last resort .
    Your guy was/is a trickster . By virtue of my background and training I’m still sceptical about dowsing – have you had any personal experience of it ?

    • Rich, Don’t try to muddy the waters! If you think dowsing is real check out ideomotor..Also see Randi ad nasueam and if you still think something in it get a double blind test set up and you will see it cannot and does not work! End of!

    • bob disdell

      Anyone who believes and can prove dowsing works,get in touch with James Randi and take the million dollar prize,dont just talk about it.
      It doesnt work,sorry.

    • bob disdell

      Take the million dollar challenge to prove that dowsing works,youll be rich.
      What is the problem,I think the James Randi foundation are awaiting your call.Let me know how you get on.
      Bob Disdell

  4. July 18 2012

    The following attended City of London Magistrates Court.

    Gary Bolton – GT200. Deferred a plea awaiting sight of prosecution files. September Bail date.

    Simon Sherrard – ALPHA6. Plead Not Guilty. September Bail Date.

    Sam Tree and Joan Tree – Quadro Tracker/MOLE/GT200/ALPHA6. Plead Not Guilty. September bail Date.

    Anthony Williamson – XK9. Plead Not Guilty. September Bail Date.

    Further info as possible.

    All best.


  5. Rich

    I was not going to bother to respond to posts that indicate my post had not been read/understood – it could get nowhere the long way .
    But it just happens we are on holiday on the same aforesaid island and , in the interests of science and for my own and hopefully Bob’s satisfaction , I will be repeating my dowsing exercise . Just so as there is no undue subliminal influnceI plan to walk with closed eyes and a companion who will tell me when the magic wires cross .
    I invite those interested to watch this space . For your information the relevant location is the crofthouse of Sithean on the Isle of Iona , Scotland . Having overflown the area on GoogleMaps I see I might be influenced by the disturbance of the field underfoot – it looks like a new drain might have been laid since 1989 (the shadow running north-by-east) from the L-shaped house to the burn) . I will let you know if this is too much of a hint .
    It is a little frustrating when one is told that what one has experienced was not real . It happened , I have not repeated it , but the dowsing really was successful on that occasion . Let’s see what happens this time …

    • bob disdell

      If you believe dowsing works,take the million dollars challenge and let me know when your doing it,I,ll be their no problem.

    • Rich, for the sake of all that is scientific, and has we have pointed out on many occsions to the ‘alleged’ fraudsters who sold the dowsing rods dressed up as detectors, it is irrelevant how many personal anecdotes you choose to tell us about. Past or future. If you submit to a properly controlled double blind test, and can show it works, then you are in for a million bucks. Easy! Or not? Let me just give you a hint though. No one. That’s NO ONE has managed so far.

      It is ludicrous that you peddle a bleief in dowsing when it has been shown to have such dangerous potential offshoots. let alone the false hope people like Chuck Christensen and Thomas Afilani have peddled in the U.S. for many years i.e there is a quick, cheap and easy way to untold riches, or even to find water! Now will you kindly either apply to the JREF Million Dollar Challenge, or stop bothering us! is that clear!

      • bob disdell

        What a breath of fresh air.110% correct.Theres two of us who will be present whhen you take the million dollar challenge.E mail me the date.
        Bob Disdell

  6. A Brief History of the Fake Explosives Detectors Campaign available now at:
    If you have not yet joined please do so!

  7. bob disdell

    Whats the latest news re Jim Mccormick,I understood he was due back in court on 19th July

  8. Peter Robinson

    Been trying to post an answer to your question Bob..Not sure why won’t register my comment. Feel free to email at and will fill in..

  9. Tina

    Why has it taken so long to get this to court when it was obvious that this was fraudulent and had the potential to lead to loss of life? I’m totally flabbergasted at the incompetence of those people who have known and had the power to stop him have done nothing till now. Surely being an ex policeman doesn’t give that much leeway.

  10. Bob

    Scientifically speaking, an unclaimed million-dollar prize neither proves nor disproves anything.

    • bob disdell

      True,but what a marketing tool,if you win the million dollar prize then untold riches would be forthcoming,thats if your device works.

    • Peter Robinson

      Correct. But it is a damn good way of weeding out frauds and conmen!

        • Peter Robinson

          To misquote you this is my tool of last retort. What the hell do you mean by Q.E.D. in this context? What could you possibly think has been demonstrated. Time and time and time again, in testing under proper controls, dowsing has failed. Look at the evidence, understand the ideomotor effect, give up useless personal anecdote, or submit your claimed ability to dowse to proper testing, and let’s see what happens.

  11. Rich

    Bob and Bob – there’s more to life than this . It’s not worth it !

    • Peter Robinson

      What a dumb comment! But then coming from someone who thinks dowsing works, despite all the credible evidence that it does not, maybe we should not be surprised.

      Given the loss of life associated with the ADE651, GT200 and other variants of the ‘dowsing detectors. you should seriously re-consider when contributing to a Skeptical blog discussion.

  12. Techowiz

    McCormick found guilty on all 6 charges, to be sentenced next Thursday the 2nd May.
    Justice at last.

  13. Peter Robinson

    Great News!!!!! Well done Techowiz!! And Bruce for helping expose this nonsense!!!

  14. brucehood

    Just arrived back in the UK to received the great news. Bravo to all involved in bringing this shameful business to an end

  15. Chris reed

    On the jury that convicted him

  16. Peter Robinson

    Even more good news now that Gary Bolton of GT200 infamy has been found guilty. Sentencing is delayed for reasons so far unclear, but let’s hope that Judge Hone gives him a ten stretch like McCormick. Maybe they can share a cell and compare notes on the good old first class days.

    We’re looking forward to the celebrations and hope you can be there Bruce!

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