Bloomberg BusinessWeek reports: Few of the tales of graft and theft that emerged from the Iraq War—U.S. troops being sold $45 six-packs of soda or entire pallets of vacuum-sealed U.S. currency disappearing into the night—can match that of James McCormick, whose exploits were so preposterous they would seem purely comic if it weren’t for their lethal consequences. The ADE 651, and similar devices sold by McCormick over the decade or so he spent in the explosives-detection business, owe their existence to Wade Quattlebaum, president of Quadro in Harleyville, S.C. At the beginning of the 1990s, Quattlebaum—a sometime car dealer, commercial diver, and treasure hunter whose formal education ended in high school—began promoting a new detection technology he called the Quadro Tracker Positive Molecular Locator, which he claimed could help law enforcement agencies find everything from contraband to missing persons. Quattlebaum said he originally invented the device to find lost balls on the golf course but had since refined it to locate marijuana, cocaine, heroin, gunpowder, and dynamite by detecting the individual “molecular frequency” of each substance.
The Tracker consisted of a handheld unit, with an antenna mounted on a plastic handgrip, and a belt-mounted box slightly smaller than a VHS cassette, built to contain “carbo-crystallized” software cards programmed, Quattlebaum said, with the specific frequency of whatever the user wished to find. No batteries were necessary. The Tracker was powered by the static electricity created by the operator’s own body; when it found what it was looking for, the antenna automatically turned to point at its quarry. Prices for the device varied from $395 for a basic model to $8,000 for one capable of locating individual human beings, which required a Polaroid photograph of the person to be loaded into the programming box. Quadro’s golf ball-finding variant, the Gopher, was available by mail order for just $69.
That Quattlebaum’s gizmo operated independently of any known scientific principles didn’t hurt sales. By the end of 1995, distributors across the U.S. had sold about 1,000 Quadro Trackers to customers including police departments in Georgia and Illinois and school districts in Kansas and Florida. When Ronald Kelly, the agent in charge of the Federal Bureau of Investigation’s office in Beaumont, Tex., learned that a local narcotics task force had bought one, he attended a demonstration in which a Tracker was used to find a brick of cocaine. He wasn’t impressed. “I paid reasonable attention in eighth grade science,” Kelly says now. “I pronounced this bulls—.” [Continue reading…]