Jim McCormick promised his ADE-651 wand could identify anything, including bombs, simply by waving it around with the right RFID card inside. Yeah, totally fake, and now he's in prison. Too bad Iraq already spent $85 million on them. Updated.
Literally, the $40,000 (apiece) devices did absolutely nothing. Nada. Zilch. Experts think the insides contained nothing more than a dumb RFID card. Powered by nothing. Nope, not even a power supply. Just some snake oil, if that. $85 million!
Even worse, "inventor" McCormick was a firm, open believer in dowsing (as in, finding water with a stick), and that's what the device was based on. Dowsing!
The BBC ran an investigative report on the device, during which McCormick claimed, without breaking his stride, that the device could detect explosives up to one kilometer away. Video below (money shot at 7:30 when the insides are shown to be empty):
Now the money lost is bad, but the loss of life is worse. Immeasurable. Security personnel and Iraqi soldiers were using these powerless dowsing rod devices in the field to detect bombs at security checkpoints and who knows where else. Scores died with this murderous thing gripped tightly in their hands. Hundreds more when the security checkpoints, armed with these devices, failed to protect them.
Update: We ran the US's doubts on this device in November. This story confirms without a doubt that devices were fake, probably resulted in hundreds of deaths, and that McCormick, thankfully for the human race, has been arrested and is awaiting trial (although he's currently out on bail).
Update 2: The story gets worse. As some have pointed out below, the Iraqi government is standing by these useless devices, even after the BBC report and complaint were filed. [BBC, CrunchGear]
Update 3, February 23 2010: The story gets even worse. Iraq have finished their official investigations into the devices, and they will be keeping the wands in service. A government spokesperson acknowledged that many of the devices are, in fact, fake or ineffective and said that those would be removed from service. Still, the investigation's finding that the devices "generally work" means that resources will continued to be allotted to the wands, and the suspect devices will remain in use. [Yahoo]