ARD experiment proves: doping test bottles can be copied

Ein kopiertes BEREG-KIT, wie es in Pyeongchang eingesetzt werden soll.

Doping sample bottles not tamper-proof

ARD experiment proves: doping test bottles can be copied

In late summer of 2017, the ARD Doping Editorial Team began an experiment: one of our journalists consulted experts, and within a few weeks, he had found a way of swapping out the contents of doping control bottles. A facsimile of the glass bottle used is sufficient to manipulate urine samples.

And making such a copy is easier than was assumed, for both the type that is currently in official use until the end of January 2018, which was the same for the Summer Olympic Games in Rio, and for the latest generation of these bottles, which is slated for the Winter Games in Pyeongchang. First, we replicated the version that was used in Rio.

Step 1: order and print replacement bottles 

Browsing through the catalogues of glass manufacturers, it’s easy to find a bottle constructed like the doping control containers: it’s a square 100 ml bottle with a special thread. These standard bottles have minimal differences depending on manufacturer, but these are barely visible. The rest can be done with any screen printer that can deal with coffee mugs: it only needs to print rounded rectangles onto the bottles, in the right kind of orange and blue.

Links Kopie, rechts Original. Die Originaldeckel passen auf unsere nachgekauften Flaschen.

This is handy for fraudsters, as the bottles can be mass-printed. Individual test numbers for each sample bottle are lasered onto the coloured labels afterwards. The barcode sticker is also easy to copy with a standard barcode printer. All of it can be done anywhere, since the required laser engraver and printer fit into any van.

Step 2: separate the lid from the original bottle

Links bedruckte Ersatzflasche (Kopie), rechts das zersägte Original. Gut für Fälscher: Der Deckel ist wiederverwendbar.

We had a glass expert saw open an original bottle from the official testing kit, through the neck of the bottle just below the lid. The rest is child’s play for anyone who can make glass instruments: due to the natural properties of glass, they only need to spot-heat the remains of the lid with a hot flame. The remaining glass immediately shatters into tiny slivers. Now, you simply remove the shards and clean the lid, which leaves you with a completely undamaged original cap. Surprisingly, this lid is reusable and fits a purchased replacement bottle, just like our copied bottle. The tools our glass expert used are also available in a convenient size. They too would fit into any van.

Manipulating urine samples

If you have your replacement bottles, you’re ready to manipulate official doping samples: forgers need to know the test number of the urine sample to be copied, which they print onto two replacement bottles and label these, then fill with clean urine samples. Now, they need to access the original doping sample, saw off the lid and remove the glass remains. The original cap then seals the copied bottle. All of this possible with mobile tools and, more importantly, it can be done in just a few minutes, as confirmed by our glass instrument maker, printer and product experts. Even if this sounds complex, this way would probably be much faster and less complicated than the manipulations that happened in Sochi in 2014.

New generation can be copied, too

Eine frisch hergestellte Kopie des Sicherheitsdeckels der neuesten Generation, mit Hologramm.

A new doping test kit arrived in the autumn of 2017. It was developed to prevent manipulations like in Sochi: the BEREG-KIT Geneva, supplied with a new safety cap with a hologram and other hidden security features, as its manufacturer, Berlinger Special AG in Switzerland, emphasises.

A product expert commissioned by the ARD Doping Editorial Team dismantled several of these lids. Her brief analysis shows: the lids consist of commercially available plastics, standard colours, the hologram is printed on, and there is no chip built in. Our expert says: "Let me put it this way: faking a banknote, that’s difficulty level ten. This lid here, that’s maybe a 0.3."

Dieses Blanko-Kit können Fälscher in zwölf Minuten beschriften. Fertig ist die Kopie einer offiziellen Doping-Probe der neusten Generation.

She copies the lid for us within a few weeks, and adding the bottles we purchased, she makes up blank kits that match the latest generation of sample kits, only lacking the seven-digit number. Then, our expert is able to copy any original kit in just twelve minutes by adding the test number to the lid, reprinting barcodes and lasering the seven-digit test number onto labels for the A and B samples. This, too, can be done in a van.

When we asked lab technicians and experts to tell the difference between original and copy, all of them confirmed: the copy of the latest doping control bottle, including the lid, would have been categorised as an original in the lab, and nothing conspicuous would have been reported. The problem is that only when a laboratory reports an issue, does anyone, for example the manufacturer, take a closer look at the bottles. As long as only the manufacturer knows the secret security features and can check these, copies can be smuggled into the labs without being noticed there.

Mass-produced copy costs around six euros

B-Probe - Was ist Original und was ist Fälschung? Kaum zu unterscheiden.

The weak point of our fakes are the replacement bottles. They differ in some small ways from the original bottles, which can be detected on closer examination. But we found a way to overcome even this weakness: we sent a 3D scan of the latest bottle to a Chinese glass manufacturer. And got an offer back promptly: we can order 150,000 bottles immediately, for just 14 US cents a piece.

Nobody checked whether the bottle was protected by manufacturing rights or copyright. In mass production, a copy of the latest doping bottle, including the lid and labels, costs little more than six euros in the end. Such copies are a threat to the doping control system, because for laboratory technicians, these fakes are likely indistinguishable from originals by visual inspection. Even if the manufacturer has integrated tamper-proof features into bottles and lids, the labs know nothing about these and are unable to check the bottles for them. 

red | Stand: 29.01.2018, 09:06