Mysterious attacks on US embassy staffers in Cuba, China came from microwave weapon

It appears that researchers have finally solved the mystery of how embassy staffers in Cuba and China became suddenly ill with symptoms of brain injury. What was thought to be some kind of "sonic" weapon turns out to have been weaponized microwave radiation.

New York Times:

The medical team that examined 21 affected diplomats from Cuba made no mention of microwaves in its detailed report published in JAMA in March. But Douglas H. Smith, the study’s lead author and director of the Center for Brain Injury and Repair at the University of Pennsylvania, said in a recent interview that microwaves were now considered a main suspect and that the team was increasingly sure the diplomats had suffered brain injury.

 

It appears that researchers have finally solved the mystery of how embassy staffers in Cuba and China became suddenly ill with symptoms of brain injury. What was thought to be some kind of "sonic" weapon turns out to have been weaponized microwave radiation.

New York Times:

The medical team that examined 21 affected diplomats from Cuba made no mention of microwaves in its detailed report published in JAMA in March. But Douglas H. Smith, the study’s lead author and director of the Center for Brain Injury and Repair at the University of Pennsylvania, said in a recent interview that microwaves were now considered a main suspect and that the team was increasingly sure the diplomats had suffered brain injury.

“Everybody was relatively skeptical at first,” he said, “and everyone now agrees there’s something there.” Dr. Smith remarked that the diplomats and doctors jokingly refer to the trauma as the immaculate concussion.

Strikes with microwaves, some experts now argue, more plausibly explain reports of painful sounds, ills and traumas than do other possible culprits — sonic attacks, viral infections and contagious anxiety.

The medical effects on the brains of embassy personnel can be explained by exposure to microwaves, including the strange noises staffers reported hearing.

Instead of an actual sound, the Times added, victims could be suffering auditory delusions from microwave radiation exposure—a phenomenon called the Frey Effect, named after 83-year-old scientist Allan H. Frey. Concentrated microwave radiation, when directed at the signal-processing auditory cortexes of each of the brain’s human temporal lobes, can trigger the perception of audio even in deaf people. One key piece of evidence: Some staff who heard the noises said that they could not stop it by covering their ears.

Frey told the Times that Russian personnel were interested in developing technologies that could exploit these effects on humans, dubbing them psychophysical and psychotronic weapons. (At one point, he added, Russian intelligence personnel escorted him to a lab where they were building some.) However, U.S. researchers have claimed they could use the Frey Effect to beam intelligible signals (i.e. language) directly into the heads of test subjects, the paper wrote. The Pentagon build a terrifying weapon called the Active Denial System, which causes burning sensations on skin, using related technology.

The mystery of who is responsible remains. Could Russia or China have carried out these "experiments" without the knowledge of the Cuban government? And what about our embassy in China? Absent hard proof, we have to assume that a technologically advanced adversary was to blame. That could only be Russia or China -- either one of which could have had the approval of the Cuban government to attack our embassy. Even if Cuba didn't give official approval, they might have been aware of the attacks and didn't care to warn us.

This is a frightening weapon, made doubly so by what it might be used for some day.

Russia, China and many European states are seen as having the know-how to make basic microwave weapons that can debilitate, sow noise or even kill. Advanced powers, experts say, might accomplish more nuanced aims such as beaming spoken words into people’s heads. Only intelligence agencies know which nations actually possess and use such unfamiliar arms.

You would hope we've developed our own microwave capability and, if we figure out who attacked our people, return the favor. In the end, the only deterrence to such a weapon is a credible threat to use it ourselves.