Montag, 28. Januar 2008

Has Anyone Else Tested Sniffex?

Below is a report contributed by a resident of the United States Of America who set up and observed double-blind tests of Sniffex with Paul Johnson, the CEO and president of Homeland Safety International, which sells Sniffex in the U.S.A. The contributor included video of some of the testing to document the facts and conclusions of the report. The contributor also strongly urged Homeland Safety Intl. to stop selling the Sniffex device after it failed the testing. Note: I did not include Appendix 2 of this report since the same excerpts from the US Navy testing of the Sniffex are posted farther down in this Blog.



A Report of a Test of the Sniffex Explosive Detector (as sold by Homeland Safety International)

Executive Summary

In April 2006, I tested the Sniffex explosive detector at a convention demonstration. In two separate double blind tests using first one ounce of gun powder and then three ounces of powder and four bullets (loaded 9mm cartridges), Sniffex was unable to find the explosives. When the experimenters knew the location of the same target items in advance, they found them easily. The President and CEO of Sniffex and his sales manager performed the tests and neither had a credible explanation for the failure. They did not respond to suggestions to retest nor to requests to suspend sales pending further testing. They continue to promote Sniffex for explosive detection and even mine field clearing. My tests are consistent with internet reports of U. S. Navy tests in which Sniffex was unable to detect hundreds of pounds of high explosive at close range. Reliance on Sniffex to detect explosives in any setting could be extremely dangerous to life and property.


I first became aware of Sniffex when I received an email solicitation to purchase their stock. The idea of a small, easily deployed, explosive detector was attractive but I started to wonder how it could possibly work. The explanation on the Sniffex web page did not make sense scientifically so I decided to purchase or otherwise get access to an instrument to test it. I exchanged emails with Lee White, Vice President for Sales, and found out that he planned to demonstrate the product April 26-27, 2006 in Anaheim at Seventh Annual California Safety and Security Conference, mostly for emergency response and law enforcement. Conference web link:

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Materials and methods

Before attending the conference, I prepared some test samples from a powerful (“smokeless”) gun powder intended for reloading shotgun shells and magnum cartridges. The manufacturer provided this description of the gun powder: “Hodgdon H110 is the spherical powder that screams "no wimps, please!" It delivers top velocities with top accuracy in the 44 Magnum …”

I prepared 20 plain manila envelopes (2 sets of 10) identified only by numbers. I placed an ounce of table salt in 9 of the envelopes of each set. In the tenth envelope, I placed an ounce of the gun powder. The salt and gunpowder were weighed out into identical small plastic bags before being put into the envelopes. After I was done, I was unable to tell which envelope held the gun powder making this a double-blind experiment. I also prepared two “control” envelopes, clearly marked as to content, one of which had salt, the other gun powder. To avoid any possibility of contamination the salt and the gun powder samples were prepared separately with fresh supplies so that neither had any contact with the other.

I documented the experiments with still photos and video clips. All experiments were done in public spaces (the convention hotel’s hallways and demonstration areas) and the camera was clearly visible to everyone.

Tests and Results

I met Paul Johnson and Lee White at their display booth. Both were extremely cooperative. Their local representative, Ernest Greisser of Buena Park, CA, was demonstrating Sniffex and with it, he was “detecting”, without fail on every attempt, four 9mm rounds of ammunition, borrowed from a police officer and placed in a closed steel box on the demonstration table. This demonstration was so persuasive that one of the attendees exclaimed “Oh God!” after seeing it.

I described the proposed double blind test and Mr. Johnson and Mr. White both agreed it was a good idea. They then took two Sniffex instruments into a long hotel hallway. I gave them the control envelopes which they placed 15-20 feet apart. They had some initial difficulty detecting the gunpowder but after about ten minutes, they showed me a clear deflection of the Sniffex antenna towards the envelope. There was no similar deflection for the salt.

We then spread the first ten envelopes in the same hallway about 15 feet apart—a distance which the Sniffex people said was the best. Both Mr. White and Mr. Johnson tried for almost 45 minutes to detect the envelope with the gun powder. Finally they selected three envelopes from which to choose and spent another ten or so minutes scanning those with the Sniffex. They then selected one envelope which they said contained the gun powder. It contained salt.

We repeated the test with the second set of envelopes and neither participant could get a clear indication of which envelope held the gunpowder. Someone, I don’t recall who, suggested trying the bullets (9mm ammunition) that seemed so easy for Sniffex to detect in the public demonstrations earlier. I decided to make the test even easier by putting all three ounces of gun powder which I had with me into the same envelope with the bullets to provide them the largest amount of explosive target that I could. For this test, each of the nine other envelopes contained two packets of salt.

At this point, the Sniffex people requested that we move to another hallway, which we did. Both Mr. Johnson and Mr. White, each with his own Sniffex instrument (2 different instruments) tried to detect the envelope containing both the gun powder and bullets. After almost an hour more, they gave up and admitted they could not locate the explosive. Neither Johnson nor White had any explanation for why they could not detect 3 ounces of explosive material and the same four bullets they had easily detected when they knew the location in advance. Both acknowledged that the Sniffex instrument had failed this test.

Subsequent letter and email correspondence
(See Appendix 1) In the course of the next several months, I communicated with Paul Johnson and Lee White by email and letters sent by certified mail. I explained the risks of promoting an explosive detector which did not appear to work at all. Mr. White acknowledged the failure and referred the issue to the device’s inventor who responded only with:

“The quantity of nitrous oxide ions in powder is very small and that might be the reason you missed it. You can try to make more tests with this powder. “

At almost the same time as I received this bizarre reply, Sniffex was promoted in Paul Johnson’s interview on specifically for the detection of landmines. The Sniffex instruments which I tested obviously can not detect landmines reliably. The amount of explosive used in my tests, 3 ounces of high power smokeless reloading powder, is more than similar explosives contained by many types of land mines and could be used to make potent short range antipersonnel or mail bombs. I specifically warned Mr. Johnson of this in a final letter to which I received no reply.

I reviewed the patent for the operating principle of Sniffex and to my examination, it makes no sense. Mr. White explained to me that the instrument has no batteries or other power source except for the “human electric field”. That makes no scientific sense either. If there is any electronic circuitry in the device, it would require a power source. If there is no circuitry, it’s difficult to see how the device might possibly work. Searching the internet and the scientific literature, I could find no scientific papers which explained or tested the operating principle and not a single, properly designed, double blind study demonstrating that Sniffex works. In fact, I located a U.S. Navy report (see Appendix 2) which clearly states that Sniffex did not work in Navy tests, even with extremely large quantities of various types of high explosives for which its use is specifically advertised.

I provided a sample of the powder to Mr. Johnson at the meeting. Later, I offered assistance in retesting Sniffex as well as suggesting that the company provide a sample of the device to a national laboratory such as Sandia. I have seen nothing to suggest that the company has followed any of those suggestions. Instead, they continue to market Sniffex worldwide as an effective explosive detector. In my opinion, this course of action is both irresponsible and extremely dangerous.

Current promotion of Sniffex

Sniffex is currently promoted on the company’s web site in a manner which defies scientific sense:

“The energy source in Sniffex creates an excite signal, unique for this method of detection. A two-point interference field has a line of prominence along an axis between the source signal and the target material. Using this approach of detecting an interference field pattern an operator can identify the presence of nitrous oxide radicals. Determining the line of prominence gives direction to the material; and its location is achieved through triangulation. Two or three measurements from different directions are required for precise location of a target. In addition to being able to detect explosives in open areas, Sniffex can penetrate concrete as well as metals structures, containers …”

And is still said to detect gunpowder. It is still advocated for these extremely dangerous applications: land mine detection, building searches, military and police patrols, crowd security, and aircraft luggage and cargo. Such advocacy in the light of the lack of objective evidence I found for Sniffex’s efficacy is, in my opinion, extremely and incredibly irresponsible. Absent more tests, I suggest that the inventor or sales people should publicly demonstrate Sniffex in a live minefield if they wish to refute the above information.

Appendix 1 – Correspondence and emails

4/28/2006 EMAIL Lee White to me:

It was nice meeting you at the convention. I'm glad you came and we had achance to meet. However, I am very bothered at not being able to locate oreven determine the presence of the substance you brought, not to mention thefour bullets. Can you give me the ingredients or common name for the substance you had in the envelope? I need some answers from the inventor as to why wecould not find it.Thank you again. If this had been a demo for a large company or government, we would not have passed muster. I will forward his comments to you.
4/28/2006 EMAIL to Lee White

Hi Lee.

I also enjoyed meeting you and Paul. Of course I was disappointed with the inability of the Sniffex device to detect the gunpowder and bullets. On the other hand, I appreciate your patience with the long test and your considerable work and effort. To answer your question about the disposition of the powder and bullets, I gave Paul one of the three sample packet of gunpowder we had used, overwrapped twice in plastic so it would not spill out. He gave me a signed receipt for it on his business card. I had forgotten about the bullets (!) but he remembered and we retrieved them together from the sample packets. Last I saw of those, he had them in his hand when we parted company. I will keep the remaining two powder packs used in the test in my refrigerator in case some sort of further tests of them are needed in the future. The bulk bottle of the powder will be disposed of by the local Fire Department.

Here is more information about the test material. It is Hodgdon Pistol Powder, Type H110. The bottle I bought looks exactly like the photo below from the manufacturer's web site at

Here is more information from my work notes: The bottle of powder was unopened fresh stock from a local gun store purchased about week before the meeting. The samples of smokeless gunpowder which we used in the tests weighed about an ounce or roughly 28 grams each. I weighed them out with a postal scale. The bottle label recommends that a single .357 Magnum cartridge should contain 13.5 grains of powder. The conversion factor from grains to grams is 0.0648 so that would be 0.87 grams of powde per bullet. Thus, if I did the math right, the one ounce samples each had the same amount of powder in them as more than twenty-five .357 Mag bullets. As you recall, in the last trial we did, we used three ounces of this powder as well as the four bullets Paul had borrowed from an officer. That package also was not detected by Sniffex. Smokeless powder is a nitrocellulose based explosive, sometimes with the addition of nitroglycerin. If placed in a strong rigid container and ignited with a primer or detonator, the contents of the package that we tested would have been enough to cause a very strong, dangerous explosion. Please let me know if anything above is in error.

I am very concerned that your company may not have adequately tested Sniffex and/or that quality assurance in its production is insufficient. It is my professional responsibility to urge you to determine the problem and to correct this situation at your earliest opportunity. Remember that people will rely on the instrument to detect highly dangerous items and substances which can easily kill them as well as endanger their security and property. For this reason, pending a full understanding of why Sniffex did not work in our tests, it is my opinion that you must consider a suspension of sales and a recall for re-testing of at least an adequately representative sample of the devices you have already sold. The test we did was performed with sufficient samples of a completely generic nitrocellulose-based explosive as well as actual bullets. We used multiple instruments and operators. In our double blind tests Sniffex did not work at all. Despite that, it appeared to work flawlessly when demonstrated to the conference participants using sample bullets in a location known to the operator. The materials Sniffex failed to find in our tests are exactly the ones your advertising states that it can. Taken together, all of this suggests the possibility of a serious problem with the basic methodology. What that problem may be is outside of my expertise but I can assure you that there is a problem and you must determine what it is.

I strongly urge you to get Sniffex tested by a major qualified government laboratory using formal, properly controlled, DOUBLE BLIND tests similar to but more extensive than the ones we did together. To be completely reliable, as a life support type of product like this one needs to be, those tests must be REPRODUCIBLE and done by several different organizations. After that, the results of the tests should be published in refereed scientific journals. Paul mentioned that he had contacts at Sandia National Laboratories and possibly at the Oak Ridge National Laboratory. Either of those well respected institutions would be an excellent place to start for a good next test and additional advice.

I am also sending this information and advice in the form of a registered mail letter to Paul in order to fulfill any professional liability I might have incurred from participation in the tests. Please let me know if you need any additional information about the materials and methods we used.

Again I thank you for your courtesy and cooperation and I wish things had turned out differently. Please keep me informed of your progress. I would be especially interested to know what you find out about why the tests failed and what you are able to do by way of correction.

5/9/2006 Follow-up email to Lee White:

Hi Lee,

I wonder if you and Paul had a chance to get back to the inventor or otherwise determine why the tests we ran with Sniffex and gunpowder didn't work better. I'd also appreciate the references you offered to people who are currently using Sniffex for mail screening. I'd like to get their impressions of how it's been doing for them. I've been very busy but as soon as I can, I'll summarize a description of the materials in the tests we did and the test itself. I will send that to you by email as well as by snail mail to Paul.

5/15/2005 Letter to Paul Johnson by certified mail/return receipt, copy to Lee White by email:

Mr. Paul Johnson
Sniffex, Inc.
5215 North O'Connor Blvd. Suite 200
Irving, TX 75039

Dear Paul,

It was good to meet you and Lee yesterday in Anaheim and I appreciate the opportunity to give the Sniffex instrument a thorough "double blind" test with smokeless gun powder and bullets. Unfortunately, I must conclude that the Sniffex instruments shown to me yesterday can not detect these items.

As you will recall, I left with you one of the samples of the powder used to do the test and I promised to send you its exact description. The material we tested is Hodgdon Pistol Powder, Type H110. You can find an image of the item, packaged the way I purchased it, here:

The samples of smokeless gunpowder which we used in the tests weighed about an ounce or roughly 28 grams each. As an example, the bottle label recommends that a single .357 Magnum cartridge should contain 13.5 grains of powder. The conversion factor from grains to grams is 0.0648 so that would be 0.87 grams of powder per bullet. Thus, if I did the math right, the one ounce samples each had the same amount of powder in them as more than twenty-five .357 Mag bullets. As you recall, in the last trial we did, we used three ounces of this powder as well as the four bullets you had borrowed from an officer. If placed in a strong rigid container and ignited with a primer or detonator, the contents of that package could have caused a very strong, dangerous explosion. That package also was not detected by Sniffex.

I hope that you will thoroughly investigate the issues raised by this test. I am sure you recognize that your detector is sold like a life support device meant to protect life and property. People will, as result of the claims made by your company in person and in advertising, entrust their safety and security to the use of Sniffex . I would be remiss if I did not strongly urge you not to sell more of these instruments unless and until they can be shown to work properly. You may also want to recall and retest at least a good sampling of instruments which have already been sold.

When lives are at stake as they are here, you and your company have a responsibility to insure with certainty the reliability, accuracy and specificity of the instrument as well as it's production quality assurance. All instruments of this type should be able to consistently pass multiple, independent, double blind tests by different organizations. You mentioned that you had considered requesting testing to be done by Sandia National Laboratories. In my opinion, that would be an excellent choice.

Thanks again for the effort and best wishes for determining and correcting the problems. I would appreciate it if you can keep me informed about your progress.

5/23/2006 Email from Lee White:

I have just received your certified letter and read through it. I would agree with your assumptions if my only experience with Sniffex was based off the demo Paul and I did in Anaheim. I have been waiting for an email from you so that could get the ingredients of the powder and pass this along to the inventor to get an explanation.

I see on this letter that you had sent it to me on the 28th of April. I never received this email. It is possible I deleted it without having read it as we do not have a spam filter on our company email and therefore, we receive many spam emails on a daily basis.

Anyway, I have sent the inventor the website and the description that you provided to me for this powder. I will send you his response when I receive it.

Thank you for your time and I too am looking to get to the bottom of this issue.

5/26/2006 Email from Lee White:

Here is the response I received from the inventor.

The quantity of nitrous oxide ions in powder is very small and that might be the reason you missed it. You can try to make more tests with this powder.

6/30/2006 Email to Lee White:

Hi Lee,

Any more information about the reasons for the results we got when we
tested Sniffex? How concerned are you and Paul about those results?
Are you doing double blind tests and if so, how is it going?


8/20/2006 Final letter to Paul White

Dear Paul,

I have heard no further explanation from you or your company about why your Sniffex instrument was unable to detect 3 ounces (about 90 grams) of powerful smokeless powder and four bullets in the double blind tests we conducted at the Anaheim meeting last April. I also have no explanation of why the device seemed to work perfectly with those same bullets alone when the operator knew where the bullets were located.

I just listened to your interview on in which you offered to sell or donate Sniffex instruments specifically for the detection of landmines. I am very worried about this. Landmines vary in the type and amount of explosive they contain but many employ the same or similar explosives as the ones in smokeless powder. Most anti-personnel mines hold even smaller amounts of explosive than those we tested (down to 30 grams). There is thus no reason to think that Sniffex can detect landmines because in our tests it could not detect 90 grams of smokeless powder plus four bullets.

You will recall that we did the tests very carefully. We tested twice with ten samples and once more with nine. We used two different operators and two different Sniffex devices. The test envelopes were spread apart as you requested (more than 15 feet distant from each other). Each time the test was done, the operator pointed to an envelope containing table salt rather than the one containing the explosive or the explosive and bullets.

I am extremely concerned that if you allow this instrument to be used in the detection and removal of land mines, the operators will be injured or killed. In my professional opinion, stated to you twice before by email and registered US mail, it is UNCONSCIONABLE to allow this to proceed until you can show, in public, and with proper controls, that Sniffex works in double blind tests. In our tests, conducted with your unconstrained participation, there was no evidence whatsoever that Sniffex can detect explosives. I asked you repeatedly to provide additional tests, additional evidence, a copy of the EMRTC tests and a complete explanation of why our tests failed. All I received in return was a brief and very lame excuse from the inventor who, according to an email, wrote back that we should try again with larger quantities of powder. The amount of powder we tested exceeds the amount that is found in most land mines.

My concern has reached the point where I believe, pending an adequate response from you, I am compelled to take further action to protect lives. I will look for a professional journal whose audience is the explosive detection community and I will send them a letter report about the experiment. I will publish this letter on the internet, along with a detailed account and photos showing how the tests were conducted, the results, and the full text of our correspondence. I will be pleased to include on the web site any additional comments you may have at this time.

I would also be pleased to repeat the double blind tests with you or one of your representatives at a mutually convenient time and place with the press and independent scientists present. If you agree to the additional tests, we can use as large an amount of powder as you need and any type of explosive you prefer, consistent with safety. I have a contact at the ATF who could provide or arrange for the test explosive.

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