Sonntag, 11. März 2007

What is Sniffex?

First, there are several different products using the name Sniffex. This site talks about the handheld device with a telescoping antenna that the builder claims will point to explosives upto 100 meters away. An internet search shows other unrelated products including an explosives detection vapor sensor and a radio protocol analyzer. The Sniffex described by this blog is produced by TASC Ltd in Bulgaria.

According to page 1 of the manual: "Sniffex has four major components: (Fig. 2)"
1. Antenna
2. Casing
3. Two pairs of magnets
4. Proprietary Component ("Container 19")

Page 11 of the manual further explains each component:

Telescoping Antenna – The antenna is the pointer for the device. When Sniffex® detects a nitrous oxide based explosive or a weapon that has been fired, the antenna “points” or rotates in the direction of the explosive or weapon. This rotation occurs as Sniffex® enters into an area containing an abnormally high concentration of nitrous oxide radicals.

Casing - The casing houses two pairs of magnets and “Container 19”. It also serves as an attachment point for the antenna. At the attachment point there is a hinge that allows the antenna to rotate freely.

Magnets – Two pairs of magnets inside the casing create a magnetic charge within the device. One pair is on either side of “Container 19”, which creates the conditions necessary for the interference between the magnetic patterns.

Proprietary Component - The proprietary component (“Container 19”) is a small cylinder contained within the housing component and between the two pairs of magnets. This is the component that separates Sniffex® from all other explosive or weapon detection devices. “Container 19” reacts with the nitrous oxide radicals when it comes into range and excites the radicals specific to the modulation of the magnetic field. The antenna is then able to find and point to the target.

Page 8 of the manual includes the following description of how Sniffex works:

Sniffex® uses a totally different approach. It detects the interference between the magnetic field of the earth, the explosive, the device itself, and the human body which allows the device to penetrate and locate even small amounts of explosives through concrete, soil, and metal barriers.

Sniffex® detects all types of explosives on the basis of the presence of nitrous oxide radicals. Sniffex® operates only when in contact with the hand because of the human body interface.

If you be so kind as to notice, there are NO electronic components within the device. There is also no power source such as batteries, capacitors, solar panels, etc. The antenna swivels freely. It just pivots either from gravity, the wind, or according to TASC, due to the "interference between the magnetic fields of the earth, the explosive, the device itself, and the human body."

Want to know more about the Sniffex? Try looking at the TASC website.

Click either one of these links to download the manual from the TASC site or their Czech dealer.

The Czech site below is now down. I hope that means they are out of business!!

Samstag, 10. März 2007

Did Sniffex Work When Tested By The US Navy?

James Randi has extensively talked about Sniffex over the past two years, as well as previous similar products.

In February, Randi posted some of a report showing the results of testing of the Sniffex by the US Navy.

Here is an excerpt from the report as provided by Randi:

The test objectives were to evaluate the vendor's claims concerning the device's ability to detect explosives. Testing was performed in a manner consistent with the specifications of the SNIFFEX, and was designed only to evaluate the device's principles of operation, not to test its limits. Thus, explosive weights were considerably more than the minimum detectable amounts (20 or more pounds vs. 0.1 pounds), while distances were kept well within the maximum delectable ranges (10-25 feet vs. 300 feet) and the vendor was given the opportunity to take multiple passes prior to making a determination vs. 2-3 as stated in their literature. As shown in Table 1, the SNIFFEX handheld explosives detector performed no better than random chance over the course of testing…

The SNIFFEX did not detect explosives. A summary of the results is shown in Table 2. Every effort was made to meet the vendor’s needs to allow the device to operate under ideal conditions…The vendor never suggested that the SNIFFEXs were malfunctioning during any test despite the fact that the devices were not correctly identifying the location of explosives…

On one occasion, the vendor wondered if the building was influencing the accuracy of the device, even though their device is purported to be able to detect explosives through most any barrier. In response to this, the operator proceeded to walk around the outside perimeter of the building while twenty pounds of TNT were inside. As he walked, the SNIFFEX indicated that explosives were present within the building as evidenced by a clear antenna deflection. [Randi comments: The vendor/operator had already been informed that there was an explosive target stored somewhere within that building.] However, as he was noting the positive indication of explosives in the structure, two explosives trucks containing a total of 1,000 pounds of explosives drove up behind him to a distance of approximately twenty feet away. The SNIFFEX failed to show any indication of this much larger quantity of explosives…

Based upon the observed test results,the SNIFFEX handheld explosives detector is not capable of detecting explosives regardless of the distance between the device and any explosives…

The antenna [on the SNIFFEX] is prone to deflection from slight breezes, magnetic influences, and improper handling. Furthermore the device is extremely susceptible to a well-documented phenomenon known as the ideomotor effect…


Randi has talked about Sniffex on several other occasions, explaining his well reasoned opinion that the product does not work as advertised.

What Do Experts Think About Sniffex, GT200, Alpha 6, and ADE651?

The US Department of Justice, National Institute of Justice published an excellent report about explosives detection equipment. It includes the following warning about devices like Sniffex, and refers directly to Quadro Tracker, which has now been renamed as: Scandec, MOLE, Alpha 6, ADE 100. They all seem to be the same product, just with different names. This is what the experts think of them.

The title of the document is: Guide for the Selection of Commercial Explosives Detection Systems for Law Enforcement Applications (NIJ Guide 100-99).

Pages 71-72 of the report include the following section:


From time to time, there are new devices that enter the market. Most companies make reasonable claims, and their products are based on solid scientific principles. Claims for some other devices may seem unreasonable or may not appear to be based on solid scientific principles. An old truism that continues to offer good advise is "If it sounds too good to be true, it probably is not true." If there are any questions as to the validity of a device, caution should be used and thorough research must be performed before a purchase is made. Money can be wasted and even lives may be risked. Although there may be other types of nonoperational devices around, dowsing devices for explosives detection have emerged during the past couple of years.

There is a rather large community of people around the world that believes in dowsing: the ancient practice of using forked sticks, swinging rods, and pendulums to look for underground water and other materials. These people believe that many types of materials can be located using a variety of dowsing methods. Dowsers claim that the dowsing device will respond to any buried anomalies, and years of practice are needed to use the device with discrimination (the ability to cause the device to respond to only those materials being sought). Modern dowsers have been developing various new methods to add discrimination to their devices. These new methods include molecular frequency discrimination (MFD) and harmonic induction discrimination (HID). MFD has taken the form of everything from placing a xerox copy of a Poloroid photograph of the desired material into the handle of the device, to using dowsing rods in conjunction with frequency generation electronics (function generators).
None of these attempts to create devices that can detect specific materials such as explosives (or any materials for that matter) have been proven successful in controlled double-blind scientific tests. In fact, all testing of these inventions has shown these devices to perform no better than random chance.

Mostly these devices are used to locate water and now are used extensively by treasure hunters looking for gold and silver. In recent years some makers of these dowsing devices have attempted to cross over from treasure hunting to the areas of contraband detection, search and rescue, and law enforcement. The Quadro Tracker is one notable example of this cross-over attempt. This device was advertised as being a serious technology with a realistic sounding description of how it worked (close examination showed serious errors in the scientific sounding description). Fortunately, the National Institute of Justice investigated this company and stopped the sale of this device for these purposes, but not before many law enforcement agencies and school districts wasted public funds on the purchase of these devices.

Things to look for when dealing with "new technologies" that may well be a dowsing device are words like molecular frequency discrimination, harmonic induction discrimination, and claims of detecting small objects at large distances. Many of these devices require no power to operate (most real technology requires power). Suspect any device that uses a swinging rod that is held nearly level, pivots freely and "indicates" the material being sought by pointing at it. Any device that uses a pendulum that swings in different shaped paths to indicate its response should also arouse suspicion. Advertisements that feature several testimonials by "satisfied users," and statements about pending tests by scientific and regulatory agencies (but have just not happened yet) may be indications that the device has not been proven to work. Statements that the device must be held by a human to operate usually indicate dowsing devices. Statements that the device requires extensive training by the factory, the device is difficult to use, and not everyone can use the device, are often made to allow the manufacturer a way of blaming the operator for the device’s failure to work. Another often used diversion is that scientists and engineers cannot understand the operation of the device or the device operates on principles that have been lost or forgotten by the scientific community.

In general, any legitimate manufacturer of contraband detection equipment will eagerly seek evaluation of their device’s performance by scientific and engineering laboratories. Any doubt that a device is legitimate can quickly be dispelled by making a call to any of the known agencies whose business it is to know about security-related technology.


Emphasis in original, in fact it is both bolded and underlined.

According to the TASC Ltd. website, "Sniffex® does not tell the operator the type of explosive detected. The device is easy to work with and light to carry. It operates when interacting with the human hand and slowly moving operator." The Sniffex rod must be held by a human hand to operate and does not require batteries or a power source other than the human body. Does this sound similar to the description of a dowsing rod as described by the National Institute of Justice?

Freitag, 9. März 2007

Is Sniffex Really The First Of Its Kind?

According to the TASC website, "Sniffex® is the first device of its kind that can detect explosives from distances of up to 100 meters, even when the explosive is hidden behind walls or metal barriers such as buildings or vehicles. It operates under big radio jamming while being absolutely safe to work with. Other products are only effective within a few centimeters of their target. Additionally, Sniffex® appears to be just as effective at finding fired weapons as finding nitrous oxide based explosives."

Is Sniffex really the first device of its kind? It is a handheld device with a telescoping antenna that freely pivots to point to the target material, explosives.

The Quadro Tracker was a handheld device with a telescoping antenna that would freely swivel, and point to the target material. It was exposed by James Randi more than a decade ago in 1995/1996, before the Department of Justice prosecuted the founders of the company.

In 1998 the DKL Lifeguard was a rod that allegedly could track people for search and rescue operations or during a manhunt. It too looked a lot like a dowsing rod. Here is a press release and the results of the testing by Sandia National Laboratories:

Next came the MOLE Detection System, which appears to be just a reincarnation of the Quadro Tracker. It had a freely pivoting antenna that the user would walk around with, and the antenna would point to the target material, such as explosives. Sandia National Laboratories tested the MOLE system in 2002 to see if it could locate explosives. How well did it work? See for yourself in another PDF file:

More on the Alpha 6, ADE 100, ADE 650, ADE 651 and MOLE
James Randi and his readers have now exposed even more renamed versions of the Quadro Tracker. If you will remember, the sellers of the Quadro Tracker were arrested in USA for fraud. The Alpha 6 Molecular Detector from SCANDEC and the ADE 100, ADE 101, ADE 650, ADE 651 from ATSC UK seem to be the same dowsing rods with new names.

UPDATE Time Magazine reported in 2002 on the United States Department of Energy wasting funds on dowsing rods. Government funds being wasted on dowsing does not seem to be a new problem, after all, we were warned about this fraud 90 years ago! "Further testing of dowsing...would be a misuse of public funds."
— U.S. Geological Survey report, 1917
Regarding the most recent spending: "The Inspector General's conclusion: 'Had a peer review been performed prior to testing, the Department could have avoided spending $408,750 on this technology.'",9565,231110,00.html

Do any of these look similar?

Quadro Tracker

ADE 650

DKL Lifeguard

MOLE Detector


Alpha 6

ADE 650 or 651

GT200 Detector

A mobile team will come to your home or business to detect explosives with an ADE 650!

Speaking of things looking alike, Is it only me, or does the ProSec logo look a lot like the DEA one?

If you are planning on buying Sniffex, an ADE 100, 101, 650, 651, an Alpha 6, or a MOLE tracker, you should consider conducting your own double-blind test. In a double-blind test, neither the user of the rod nor the observers know where the target object is hidden. This prevents the user from picking up unspoken clues from the observers.

Why Do Dowsing Rods Seem To Work?

Thanks to "Privacy Act" for the first comment to the blog.

To paraphrase his question - If the product doesn't work, why haven't the customers who have bought the Sniffex or other similar products complained? And if the Navy testing showed the product did not work at all, how can dealers keep selling them?

Here are some possible explanations of why people might believe the rod works, even if scientific testing has never shown that to be true:

What Information Is There About Sniffex?

I first heard of Sniffex thanks to Bruce Schneier and his security blog that had links to James Randi's site. Besides James Randi, who has talked about Sniffex? This site will be my way of collecting all of the good links to web sites I found about Sniffex and other similar items.

Some talk has also gone on about the company in the US that is selling Sniffex. The company itself has changed its name from Sniffex Inc to Homeland Safety International Inc. Previously, they used, but now use:
The stock was traded on the Pink-Sheets under SNFX and is now HSFI.

Stock charts, news, and SEC filings from HSFI / SNFX

More comments about SNFX/HSFI

UPDATE HSFI has claimed several times that in one case, the Sniffex device led to the recovery of evidence in a criminal case. Perhaps they should see this story about the Quadro Tracker dowsing rod and why the manufacturer asked police to lie about using it to find evidence.

According to a news article, Arsenal Co. in Bulgaria manufactured the first 100 Sniffex Units.

For anyone curious about the similar DKL Lifeguard product:

Here is an analysis of what was inside the DKL Lifeguard. Keep in mind though, the Sniffex has NO electronic components at all inside, so the analysis would be much easier. The only internal contents in Sniffex are two pairs of magnets and a container of some mystery substance, "Container 19" that the company claims is a trade secret. Of course another possible answer is that the Sniffex and DKL only seem to work, and really function like dowsing rods. Which seems more likely?

I hope you do not mind but I rearranged my posts to get them to work better on the blog page and to look more like a regular web site. Thank you for reading - LL

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