Faulty Bomb Detection in Thailand
A Statement from Working Group on Justice for Peace (WGJP) forwarded by the Asian Human Rights Commission
2 November 2009
The device known as GT200 has been used by the Thai military to detect explosive materials and has drawn greater controversy with time as serious doubts of its effectiveness amount among human rights organizations, civil society, and the scientific community.
GT200 is widely used by the Thai Army throughout the southern border provinces as an explosive substance detector with more than 200 devices circulating among the military forces. Other agencies using the device are the Directorate of Armament under the Airforce, the Naval Ordnance Department, the Navy, the Royal Thai Police, the Central Institution of Forensic Science under the MOJ, the Office of the Narcotics Control Board, and the Provincial Electricity Authority.
The device consists of 3 main components: the handling machine, the antenna and several sensor cards which need to be inserted in the device and can be adjusted to detect a variety of substances. It is claimed that the device is able to detect most explosive and narcotics substances as well as other substances such as humans, gold, ivory, poison, currency and tobacco.
The device is being manufactured by Global Technical Ltd., in Kent, UK (http://www.globaltechincal.co.uk) and distributed throughout Southeast Asia by Electronic K9 Singapore Private Limited., from Singapore (http://www.e-k9.net) and in Thailand by Avia Satcom Co., Ltd. The cost per device is approximately 900,000 THB.
GT200 is considered an important device by the security forces in their counter-insurgency operations to help them detect bomb-making substances in the southern border provinces of Thailand. However, on several occasions the device is known to have shown false-negative and false-positive results which then lead to serious damages to the lives and freedoms of the local population as well as security forces.
Recently, the GT200 showed false negative results on 6 October 2009 at a bombing near Merlin Hotel, Sungai-Kolok district, Narathiwat province which caused one death and several injuries, as well as on 19 October 2009 during a bombing at the Pimonchai market, Muang district, Yala. During these two incidents, officials were called beforehand to check a car and motorcycle under suspicion. The device was not able to detect any dangerous substances. The bombs exploded a few minutes after the examinations.
Last year, on 7 November 2008, three border patrol police officers were killed when a bomb exploded as they were investigating a suspicious object in Panareh district, Pattani. Again, GT200 was used to detect the bomb substance but the device showed negative results.
The device is also known to show false positive results. A villager, an active campaigner on the Tak Bai issue, informed that GT200 was used to check her house at which time the device incriminated the top of a coconut tree. One of the soldiers found a plastic bag with vegetable oil inside. Recently, at a raid at Saengtham Islam Vittaya School, Bachao district, Narathiwat on 12 October 2009, teachers and students from a private Islamic school were invited for questioning when the device pointed them out as carriers of explosive substances. Moreover, the cases of the death in detention of Imam Yapa Kaseng as well as the 4-month vocational training camps which was brought to court in late 2007 were also a result of incrimination by GT200. The results of the device were used as evidence to detain hundreds of people.
The Army and those in favor of the device claim that the effectiveness of the device depends on the knowledge and physical readiness of the user. They claim that due to the user being exhausted or not trained well, the device might not work correctly.
The operation of the device is causing a lot of suspicion among scientists in Thailand for several reasons. According to them, the procedure of finding suspicious objects is not based on a reliable scientific method. Besides, GT200 is not being used by credible international organizations. The manufacturer claims that it is used in the UK and the Netherlands Armies but both countries have denied this. A similar device with the trading name MOLE had been tested by US authorities who concluded that the device was fraudulent and prepared to sue the company. MOLE is believed to be a predecessor of GT200 (other names such as Sniffex, Squard, etc. have also been used for similar products).
The following concerns were raised by the scientific community regarding the use of GT200:
1) The reading device is ambiguous and subjective. There is no clear indicator. The result reading is vague (just a direction or area). Therefore, during searches of larges spaces, gunpowder or explosive elements can always be detected in a war zone; drugs could always be found at a border checkpoint.
2) It is vague enough to excuse the authorities’ ineffectiveness in operations. Due to the extreme sensitivity of GT200, in the case of a false positive error (device says yes, but nothing found), authorities can claim that the object of interest was hidden or covered, or the scene was badly contaminated. If a false negative result turns out, they are able to blame contamination or the operator.
3) Making a comparison to Quija Boards, scientists point out that the operator’s experience and knowledge can affect the outcome of the reading, either voluntarily or involuntary. Known as an ideomotor effect, people make motions unconsciously as in reflexive responses to pain, and this in then can influence the reading of the device.
4) To test this kind of bias-prone device, a testing method called double-blind testing is needed where the operator must not know the position of the hidden sample nor have been in contact with someone who does. The test must be conducted several times as to eliminate the probability of chance. One US government agency who tested this device found that only in 6 out of 20 tests the results were correct. However, it is believed that the security forces in Thailand are not testing this device according to this scientific method.
The purchase of this device has been made under the category of ‘secret budget’ which gives unaccountable authority to the Thai Military without need of approval from Parliament. Falling under national security requirements, the Military does not need to justify the purchase. WGJP received information that the Army has planned to purchase another 222 GT200 devices to be used for newly established troops located in Pattani. Knowing of the inaccuracy and sensitivity of the device, putting this device into the hands of inexperienced officers, will only result in further grievances.
While WGJP certainly welcomes the professionalization of military operations using highly effective technology in order to combat violence and crime, the GT200 should no longer be used in their operations due to its inaccuracy and lack of proper handling. Not only does it fail to save lives, but it is causing serious human rights violations as arrests are made based on evidence only stemming from this device. For these reasons, WGJP requests the Thai authorities:
1. To arrange for a scientific testing method called double-blind testing in order to test the accuracy of the device and prove its accuracy and effectiveness. Civil society and scientists must be able to witness the testing and have access to results.
2. To not rely on the faulty GT200 device in their detection of explosive substances as it puts the lives of the population as well as security forces at greater risk.
3. To refrain from using the GT200 as sole evidence and justification for arrests.
4. To reform its armament purchase policy to include greater transparency and accountability. The purchase of weapons, armaments, etc must entail a transparent process with checks and balances and access to information by the greater public.