November 5, 2010:
Earlier this year, the Iraqi government gave into foreign, and domestic, pressure and agreed to investigate the purchase of $85 million worth of ADE 651 explosives detectors. Now it's been revealed that, as American and British experts claimed, the device was worthless. Many Iraqi security personnel came to the same conclusion, but continued to "use" them to reassure the public, and not antagonize their bosses.
Iraqi officials bought thousands of these hand held devices last year, for up to $60,000 each. But the British manufacturer is being prosecuted in Britain for fraud, when it was discovered there that the ADE 651 is a scam. The device contains useless components, and repeated tests showed that it could not detect anything. Apparently a large chunk of the money Iraq paid for the ADE 651 was kicked back to the Iraqi officials who approved the sale. The ADE 651 is very cheap to make, and the manufacturer made a huge profit even after paying the bribes. No one in Iraq tested the ADE 651, they just took the government's word that the device worked, and it is still being used.
But it wasn't just bribes that made the ADE 651 survive over a year of use in Iraq. Arabs, more than many other cultures, believe in magic and conspiracies. After the September 11, 2001 attacks in the United States, many Moslems again blamed Israel. A favorite variation of this is that, before the attacks on the World Trade Center, a secret message went out to all Jews in the area to stay away. Another variation has it that the 19 attackers (all of them Arab, 15 from Saudi Arabia) were really not Arabs, but falsely identified as part of the Israeli deception. In the United States, some Americans insist that the attack was the work of the U.S. government, complete with the World Trade Center towers being brought down by prepositioned explosive charges. While few Americans accept this, the Moslem fantasies are widely accepted in the Moslem world. Even Western educated Arabs, speaking good English, will casually express, and accept, these tales of the Israeli Mossad staging the attacks, to trick the U.S. into attacking Afghanistan and Iraq. Americans are shocked at this, but the Moslems expressing these beliefs just shrug.
American troops arriving in Iraq go through a real culture shock as they encounter these cultural differences. They also discovered that the cause of this, and many other Arab problems, is the concept of "inshallah" ("If God wills it.") This is a basic tenet of Islam, although some scholars believe the attitude preceded that religion. In any event, "inshallah" is deadly when combined with modern technology. For this reason, Arab countries either have poorly maintained infrastructure and equipment (including military stuff), or import a lot of foreigners, possessing the right attitudes, to maintain everything. That minority of Arabs who do have the right attitude towards maintenance and personal responsibility are considered odd, but useful.
The "inshallah" thing is made worse by a stronger belief in the supernatural, and magic in general. This often extends to technology. Thus many Iraqis believe that American troops wear sunglasses that see through clothing, and armor vests that are actually air conditioned. When they first encounter these beliefs, U.S. troops think the Arabs are putting them on. Then it sinks in that Arabs really believe this stuff. It's a scary moment.
However, many troops learn to live with, and even exploit, these odd beliefs. Troops at one base discovered that they weren't being attacked much, because many of the locals believed that the base was surrounded by a force field, so the troops would casually make reference to their force field, when they were outside the wire and among the locals. This reinforced the force field myth, and made the base safer. Other troops would invent new fantasies, like a pretending that a handheld bit of military electronics was actually a mind reading device. That often made interrogations go a lot quicker. Not all Arabs believe in this stuff, and those that didn't and worked for the Americans, often as an interpreter, could only shrug their shoulders when asked about it.
This easy acceptance of fantasies is exploited by leaders throughout the Middle East, and the Moslem world in general. But in the case of the ADE 651, its use allowed several terrorists to get through thick security to kill hundreds of people. Leaders who know better, and build on these fantasies as a way to maintain their control over the population. The additional deaths do not bother these leaders either. It's the way things are done in some parts of the world. The problem is a dirty little secret in the Moslem world, that leaders and academics don't even like to discuss it openly, much less with infidels. But it is real, and you can read all about it in the local media, or overhear it in the coffee shops.