SRI tested the
with the Quadro,
The James Randi Challenge
|By Raan Young|
James Randi has helped deal a lethal blow to one more unscrupulous company. The Quadro Corporation of Harleyville, South Carolina had been making extraordinary claims for their Quadro Tracker, essentially a high-tech dowsing stick, which they were selling to police agencies and school districts around the country. Pro Facto’s assistant editor, Raan Young, was tracking the Quadro escapade on Randi’s internet newsgroup as things began heating up for Quadro in mid-December. By mid-January the FBI closed the Quadro company. Below are the plot’s twists and turns as compiled, with some editing, from Randi’s email posts.
[In December Randi writes...]
Today I mailed out very specific, individualized letters to 19 persons who have been named and quoted by the Quadro Corporation of Harleyville, South Carolina, as endorsing their “invention,” a supposedly high-tech dowsing stick that was first described in the year 1538 (and didn’t work then, either). This device has been sold to school systems and police departments all over the U.S.A., despite the fact that the prestigious Sandia Labs in Albuquerque, New Mexico, took one apart and discovered there is nothing inside it at all. It’s a chunk of black plastic with a telescoping radio antenna sticking out of it, nothing more. It costs about two dollars to make and sells for just less than $1000.
Sandia Labs have now been threatened with legal action, and their lawyers, before pulling their heads back into their shells, have issued a “safe” edict instructing scientists there not to discuss their findings nor to release their official written report. The First Amendment is once again subject to the intimidation tactics of those to whom Truth is the greatest enemy. (Apparently, the news from Sandia got out before the Dome of Silence descended. The city of Albuquerque had intended to invest $200,000 in the Quadro gimmick, but decided against it when the facts became known.)
The 19 persons who receive my letter will be therein informed of my offer to pay the challenge prize (now at $495,500) to the first who can support their endorsement. The Quadro folks were notified on November 27th, 1995, that I am offering this prize money to any of Quadro’s staff or distributors, any purchasers of the product, or any person Quadro might care to designate. It appears that Quadro has chosen not to communicate this happy news to anyone! Perhaps these 19 chosen individuals should ask Quadro why they have failed to inform them? Surely Quadro believes the Tracker really works!
Anyone who believes that a dowsing-stick can locate guns, drugs, explosives, missing persons, treasure, stolen cars, U.S. currency, and golf balls (I’m serious!); and do it from 2,000 miles away, through metal and brick walls, will want to become very friendly with these 19 chosen individuals, because one of them will soon be half-a-million richer - if that belief is correct!
And, just as a footnote to this ridiculous scenario, I’m now told that Wade Quattlebaum, the “inventor” of this wondrous Quadro toy, showed up four or five years ago at Sandia Labs and announced that he had a device which would detect explosives, no matter how well concealed. Ever willing to examine a claim, and in the true spirit of science, Sandia scientists put him to the test. It was a resounding flop, and Quattlebaum told the researchers that he would work on it some more, then return. He never came back.
[time passes ...]
I’ve received a response from one of the persons to whom I offered the $500,000 prize vis-a-vis the Quadro QRS 250G Tracker device. This is Interquest Group, Inc., of Texas and California, a reputable and well-known company that trains dogs for use in contraband detection. Their former “endorsement” of the device, as printed in the Quadro publicity material, quoted Vice President Michael Ferdinand as saying, “Using the Quadro as a stand-alone unit certainly locates the drugs...” and, “Since I discovered the Quadro unit, I have introduced it into my K-9 teams with great effect. In fact, I am now helping schools to acquire their own units...”
But after Interquest personnel attended the mandatory training session in Harleyville, S.C., and had the device examined by Southwest Research Institute (SRI) in San Antonio, Texas, the tune changed. Says Ferdinand now, “We, too, fell victims to the hustle of the ‘Quadro Tracker’.... We now recognize that the entire training mission was staged ... based upon the conclusions of [the SRI] report and our inability to achieve any form of consistent results with the product, we disassociated our company from the Quadro Corporation. At present, we remain some $10,000 in the hole as a result of our encounter with the Quadro Corporation as well as sustaining a certain degree of damage to our otherwise flawless reputation ....”
The SRI lab report stated it’s conclusion that, “the tracker is not functional and the operating principle suggested by the manufacturer is scientifically highly questionable at the very least. Both analyses support the suspicion that the tracker is a fake device.” SRI tested the two “training samples” sold to Interquest with the Quadro, and found nothing inside but “epoxied scrambled dead ants.” This led them to add to their report that “we think the tracker is a fake device.”
[time passes, again ...]
A phone call came in today from another victim of the Quadro hoax. Corporal Billy Johnson, a K-9 officer with the North Charleston police department, was quoted by Quadro in respect to the use of the device in finding drugs, as saying, “There is no doubt that the Quadro Tracker can do everything the dogs can do, and from a much greater distance.”
Corporal Johnson never said any such thing. In fact, his department has not purchased the Quadro product, nor do they intend to do so. The quotation is simply a lie.
And an article from a Houston, Texas, newspaper on the Quadro indicates that Malcolm Roe, V-P of Quadro, just may be preparing an “out” for himself. Said Roe, “We don’t sell [the device.] We let people come and buy it.” But Roe hints at an “advanced,” “Phase Two” tracker yet to come. “In the first case we’re using molecules; in the second case, we’re using photons. But it’s a little scientific, and there are a lot of people who can’t come to terms with it.”
I agree with that last statement. Corporal Johnson in South Carolina, Officer Steve Lassater in Texas, and Michael Ferdinand in Texas can’t understand why Quadro invented their endorsements, either. Maybe there’s something here that’s a bit deceptive?
[things start to heat up ...]
As some of you may know, on Friday morning, January 19, the FBI Economic Crimes unit closed in on the Quadro Corporation in Harleyville, South Carolina. They seized their merchandise and records, and arrested the officers of the corporation. They were charged with fraud and wire fraud. On Saturday, the FBI sent out a bulletin to their branches. In part, it read:
“A device marketed to law enforcement agencies nationwide, the Quadro Tracker...is a fraud. All agencies should immediately cease using the device if used as a basis for probable cause.”
Those last eight words interested me. The major fear, it seems, is that a bust made using the Quadro could be nullified because this is not a properly approved means of investigation and not a basis for an arrest. I’ll go further: The thing doesn’t work at all.
[approaching a boil ...]
Today I was informed that the FBI had obtained an injunction against the Quadro Corporation advertising, selling or promoting their stupid and useless toy.
And, I was called by the boss of U.S. Customs agent Don Plybon, one of those persons Quadro advertised as endorsing their “invention.” Why I didn’t hear from Plybon himself, I’ll never know. Perhaps he is not allowed to admit he was wrong. Quadro had published a quotation from Plybon in which he related an account of a “positive for gunpowder alert” the stick gave him when pointed at a Russian plane at Charleston, SC, airport. The customs agent, said the Quadro ad, decided that “the plane was loaded with used guns.” But when they then unloaded the cargo and searched the plane, they found nothing. So, says the ad, they “checked the grease on the ramp” and decided that, since the Quadro couldn’t be wrong, there must have been “something in the grease” that made it “alert.” What really happened?
When the boss has to call me to tell me to stop challenging his employee, I begin to wonder... In any case, Quadro has been warned to stop using agent Plybon’s name in the advertising they can no longer send out.
Hard to believe, but the Quadro QRS 250G Tracker story gets bigger by the minute. In the last two days I’ve handled some 200 plus messages here on the internet about the subject, the media have tied me up on the phone, via fax, and in person, and there seems no end to how incredibly silly the whole Quadro operation is. Try this on for size:
The FBI, during their raid on the Quadro Corporation headquarters in Harleyville, SC, entered the “secret research facility,” as Quadro president/founder Wade Quattlebaum called it. There they were shown how the “signature cards” - which are said to be tuned to the “molecular frequency” of the substance being sought - were prepared. I hope you are seated as I describe this.
To prepare a “carbocrystalized signature card” tuned to cocaine, the white-gloved Quattlebaum took a Polaroid photo of the substance. That photo was then taken to what appeared, to the uninitiated person, to be a Canon copier. In actuality, explained Quattlebaum, this was an “electromagnetic frequency transfer unit.” Science marches on. An enlarged photocopy of the Polaroid photo was made, which “extracted the molecular structure and its subsequent frequency emission from the photo.” That piece of paper was then cut into tiny squares, one of which was inserted into the plastic “signature card” chip. Et le voila!
But there’s more! Aware that some competitor might cut open the plastic chip and discover this high-tech secret, and sure that foreign governments would want to steal this technological leap, Quattlebaum cunningly changed over to making the photocopies on black construction paper, so the image could not be seen...
To turn to a cheerier development, I must tell you of an article in the November, 1993, issue of Coonhound Bloodlines, a journal with which not many of us will be familiar. Under the “Product Review” section, an author named Steve Fielder wrote a five-page analysis of the Quadro QRS 550 DL Tracker, a variation on the regular model, designed by the geniuses at Harleyville to locate lost coon dogs. Mr. Fielder, after trying three months to use the toy, did a most perceptive, penetrating and sensible investigation, and concluded, in part, “It is my opinion that ... as long as the user knows where the [target] is, he will be totally convinced that the unit works... I believe that the user can unconsciously influence the movement of the antenna. The unit is intricately balanced and can be moved from right to left with the slightest tilt of the hand.”
And there, from a non-scientist who has the good sense to examine the device carefully and without bias, is the “secret” behind the success of the Quadro Corporation in selling their products.
Mr. Fielder, my compliments. You have done what numerous highly-educated academics, chiefs of police, school principals and journalists have found to be beyond their abilities. It’s called “common sense,” and it is not taught at schools.