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Mystery of Sonic Weapon Attacks At US Embassy In Cuba Deepens (theguardian.com) 215

An anonymous reader quotes a report from The Guardian: The blaring, grinding noise jolted the American diplomat from his bed in a Havana hotel. He moved just a few feet, and there was silence. He climbed back into bed. Inexplicably, the agonizing sound hit him again. It was as if he'd walked through some invisible wall cutting straight through his room. Soon came the hearing loss, and the speech problems, symptoms both similar and altogether different from others among at least 21 U.S. victims in an astonishing international mystery still unfolding in Cuba. The top U.S. diplomat has called them "health attacks." New details learned by the Associated Press indicate at least some of the incidents were confined to specific rooms or even parts of rooms with laser-like specificity, baffling U.S. officials who say the facts and the physics don't add up.

Suspicion initially focused on a sonic weapon, and on the Cubans. Yet the diagnosis of mild brain injury, considered unlikely to result from sound, has confounded the FBI, the state department and U.S. intelligence agencies involved in the investigation. Some victims now have problems concentrating or recalling specific words, several officials said, the latest signs of more serious damage than the U.S. government initially realized. The United States first acknowledged the attacks in August -- nine months after symptoms were first reported.

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Mystery of Sonic Weapon Attacks At US Embassy In Cuba Deepens

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  • Not Cuba (Score:5, Interesting)

    by Dan East ( 318230 ) on Friday September 15, 2017 @10:43PM (#55207803) Journal

    I commented on this story in the past, and I'll say it again now. It doesn't make any sense that the Cuban government is doing this. They are a dictatorship, and if they didn't want US diplomats there, or didn't want to try and reconnect with the US, then they simply wouldn't do it. For them to try and injure US diplomats makes no sense at all. I believe this is being done by some 3rd party nation to try and cause problems between the US and Cuba. Why? Because they want to maintain the status quo (the US and Cuba not having diplomatic relations) because they stand to gain either financially and / or in regional influence and power. Several South American countries, as well as Russia, come to mind...

    From an excerpt from a 2016 article discussing the US restoring some relations with the Cuban Government:

    As if that wasn’t remarkable enough, this has occurred with Cuban-Russian relations at their strongest since the demise of the Soviet Union. Russian prime minister Dmitry Medvedev has visited Cuba twice since February 2008 while Vladimir Putin visited in July 2014. Meanwhile Raúl Castro has been to Moscow three times in recent years. Can these two relationships really keep improving in parallel?

    http://theconversation.com/cub... [theconversation.com]

    • Re: Not Cuba (Score:5, Insightful)

      by Jeremi ( 14640 ) on Friday September 15, 2017 @11:20PM (#55207923) Homepage

      The real mystery isn't who did it, but how. There's always somebody nefarious; but this particular somebody seems to have invented a weapon that nobody else has even thought of.

      • Maybe a neurotoxin in the water? Nerve damage may cause people to hear phantom noises.

      • but this particular somebody seems to have invented a weapon that nobody else has even thought of.

        Targeted sonic weapons were thought of a long time ago. There are examples in science fiction literature from before WWII, and even hack writers like Ayn Rand used the idea in one of her trashy dime novels (Atlas Shrugged).

        • if you bothered to read the details they don't believe it is a targeted sonic weapon as the physics combined with the brain damage mean it is likely something else.
      • Creating sound in a specific, limited physical location through constructive interference is a well explored topic.
      • If only there were some kind of device that could accurately capture and record soundwaves, even those outside of normal human hearing.

      • A microwave beam modulated with an audio signal could match these symptoms. Cuban intelligence (or Russian) could be beaming a highly directional microwave signal through the embassy, where it bounces off stuff, and the reflected signal has a doplar shift carrying the room audio. A low power signal tuned to water would look like a leaky microwave if detected (or actually be one?), and could use any liquids in the Embassy as a microphone.
    • Re:Not Cuba (Score:5, Interesting)

      by ShanghaiBill ( 739463 ) on Friday September 15, 2017 @11:24PM (#55207927)

      It doesn't make any sense that the Cuban government is doing this.

      Yes it does. People have this weird blindspot where they readily accept that their own society has factions, but are far more willing to believe that their adversaries are monolithic. Obama opened up relations with Cuba, and there is opposition to that by hardliners in America. But there is also OPPOSITION IN CUBA, because they have their own hardliners, who see Raul's opening to the imperialists as a betrayal of the ideals of the revolution. Some of those rejectionist hardliners are in powerful positions, and it is likely that they are doing this to sabotage relations between America and Cuba, and possibly even get rid of Raul and the Castro dynasty.

      • Re:Not Cuba (Score:4, Interesting)

        by quantaman ( 517394 ) on Saturday September 16, 2017 @02:02AM (#55208367)

        It doesn't make any sense that the Cuban government is doing this.

        Yes it does. People have this weird blindspot where they readily accept that their own society has factions, but are far more willing to believe that their adversaries are monolithic. Obama opened up relations with Cuba, and there is opposition to that by hardliners in America. But there is also OPPOSITION IN CUBA, because they have their own hardliners, who see Raul's opening to the imperialists as a betrayal of the ideals of the revolution. Some of those rejectionist hardliners are in powerful positions, and it is likely that they are doing this to sabotage relations between America and Cuba, and possibly even get rid of Raul and the Castro dynasty.

        Alternately this was a surveillance operation gone awry, they were trying to spy on the diplomats using some kind of ultrasonic imaging device and screwed up. Either the tech was way more dangerous than they thought or the operators miscalibrated it.

      • by Uberbah ( 647458 )

        ut there is also OPPOSITION IN CUBA, because they have their own hardliners, who see Raul's opening to the imperialists as a betrayal of the ideals of the revolution. Some of those rejectionist hardliners are in powerful positions, and it is likely that they are doing this to sabotage relations between America and Cuba, and possibly even get rid of Raul and the Castro dynasty.

        You seem to have this weird capitalist blindspot, where you think such people couldn't go for a conventional bombing/poisoning/assass

    • Re:Not Cuba (Score:4, Insightful)

      by AlanObject ( 3603453 ) on Friday September 15, 2017 @11:37PM (#55207963)

      It doesn't make any sense that the Cuban government is doing this.

      From the looks of it even U.S. officials don't believe that the official Cuban government has anything to do it. I have even seen stories about Cuba willing to accommodate an FBI investigation. That would have been unthinkable in the not too distant past.

      However there are a few parties around that are absolutely livid over the idea of relations between U.S. and Cuba being normalized. My money is on it turning out to be U.S.-based Cuban group whose families hated Castro for one reason or another possibly in partnership with counter-revolutionaries still in Cuba.

      Less likely is someone in Cuba who thinks Raul Castro is betraying the Revolution by engaging with the U.S. But it is possible.

      Could it be some rogue operation from some die-hard cold-warrior types either in some U.S. agency or an alumni of one? That would be too stupid to be believable if it weren't for the example of Oliver North and his ilk. I hope it isn't that.

      • Re:Not Cuba (Score:5, Interesting)

        by Kjella ( 173770 ) on Saturday September 16, 2017 @06:07AM (#55208965) Homepage

        However there are a few parties around that are absolutely livid over the idea of relations between U.S. and Cuba being normalized. My money is on it turning out to be U.S.-based Cuban group whose families hated Castro for one reason or another possibly in partnership with counter-revolutionaries still in Cuba. Less likely is someone in Cuba who thinks Raul Castro is betraying the Revolution by engaging with the U.S. But it is possible.

        Those people exist. But who of them would think we hate that, let's create a secret sonic screwdriver to give US diplomats hearing loss and light brain damage. I mean whatever is creating this must have gone through a pretty big R&D project with a non-trivial chance of failure. It must have been tweaked and tested pretty well to both be strong enough to cause damage and weak enough to remain stealthy for quite some time. That sounds to me like a secret intelligence/military program, not some ragtag rebels. Even if they stole a prototype, somebody would know and using it correctly would not be easy - look at the rebels in Eastern Ukraine who couldn't tell the difference between military jets and a civilian airliner.

        The second thing that doesn't add up is motivation, if you're trying to sabotage US-Cuba relations you'd better not look like a third party trying to do just that. You'd try to discredit or frame Cuba, you might stage some blatant attack like a car bomb or poison their food to say the US is not wanted but this FUD? Let's be honest, diplomats are an archaic leftover from when they were trusted emissaries and negotiators because getting instructions from home took days and weeks. Even if they pulled out physically, the US could maintain normal diplomatic relations virtually. You'd only need a booth to handle physical matters, though you could probably move most things like visa applications online too. The actual embassy is today mostly for show.

        My guess is that this is an intelligence project gone wrong. This is supposed to be a form of scanner, picking up on something trying to punch through some countermeasures that are in place and causing long term damage that wasn't caught in testing. To me that's by far the most plausible explanation for why this would exist and why they'd target diplomats in particular. I mean there are probably other ways you could damage economic ties, tourism or whatever that could damage relations but only diplomats would have political information of any real value. Everything else seems a bit contrived, like you could but it wouldn't really make any sense.

        • by mikael ( 484 )

          Why place the transmitter/scanner right next to the diplomats bed? Wouldn't that be the place the diplomats keep a mobile phone at all times? The Russians used microwaves in conjunction with a RFID type activated microphone and membrane concealed inside a wooden carving.

          If it were microwaves, he would have heard a crackling sound and his hair looking as if he was hit by static. That happened to people walking past Google's office in London.

      • My guess is Russia. Russia and the US have long argued over Cuba. They're probably the only ones in the world besides us who have developed the technology to do this sort of thing. Remember that HAARP project that people are always theorizing over? Russia has their own. The only people who might know more about RF than Russia would be us.

        • My guess is Russia.

          The technology involved is not that exotic. The argument against it being Russia is that the operation seems too amateurish and botched. That just doesn't fit with what we know of Russian covert ops. Of course they could have intentionally made it seem that way but the intended purpose in that case seems wholly obscure.

          If the intent was to drive a wedge (further) between the US and Cuba then the effect of the discovery that it was not Cuba that carried out the attack then the operation will have the opp

      • by Xest ( 935314 )

        Consider Russia as a likely culprit, not because of the tide of anti-Russian paranoia in the US right now, but simply because of the politics of it.

        The US has in the last 9 months (since this started happening) expelled more and more Russian diplomats from it's soil and denied it access to a number of it's buildings in the US that were typically used as listening stations. The US/Russia tacitly accepted these in each others countries as it meant they had less secrets from each other and built trust post-col

    • You're assuming the Cuban government is one monolithic entity. There might be a faction of the government that wants to mess with Cuban-US relations.

      A huge chunk of their GDP, roughly 20%, comes from assistance from Venezuela. Thawing US relations might be a threat to that income stream. Then again, Venezuela might see thawing US-Cuban relations as a threat, as well, though I don't think a Venezuelan attack on US diplomats in Cuba would happen without someone in the Cuban government, at the very least, know

    • Excellent point. When there is a crime committed, the police will ask who benefits from it. Who benefits from Cuban diplomats being attacked and maimed?

      Also, what countries are willing to commit outlandish and almost comic book esq plots against people they don't like? The KGB springs to mind, with their strange assassination techniques that they have employed in the past. (Look up details on their radiation poisoning of people. Rather than just hit somebody with a car when they walk across the street, t
    • by taskiss ( 94652 )

      You think that the entire Cuban regime is of one mind about things? It would be quite remarkable if you were correct.

  • what goes on in some people's minds and the underlying cause for it - assuming this is human activity - to cause this kind of injury to someone.

    • It's just experemental weapons testing by a third party. The oppertunity to disrupt relations between the US and Cuba is just the icing on the cake.
      Personally, my bet is on NK or China.

      • by no-body ( 127863 )

        It's just experemental weapons testing by a third party. The oppertunity to disrupt relations between the US and Cuba is just the icing on the cake.
        Personally, my bet is on NK or China.

        Well, if that's the case - experimental, injuring unrelated people - pretty sick. Fits right into the current state of affairs.

        • Experimental weapons testing has almost always targeted "innocents". Quite often their own soldiers or citizens. Go ahead and read about some of the atrocities the US government has (then) secretly committed against US citizens in the last century. It'll break your heart.

          • by no-body ( 127863 )

            Experimental weapons testing has almost always targeted "innocents". Quite often their own soldiers or citizens. Go ahead and read about some of the atrocities the US government has (then) secretly committed against US citizens in the last century. It'll break your heart.

            It still needs a certain frame of mind, callousness and lack of empathy - just think of torture - enhanced interrogations - "allowed" under certain circumstances, and the permission comes from where? This goes for "civilized" areas where laws supposed to exist, like the USA.

            OK, and then there was this: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/... [wikipedia.org]

            How early does it start in a human?

  • by bill_mcgonigle ( 4333 ) * on Friday September 15, 2017 @10:52PM (#55207837) Homepage Journal

    This time the CIA is on the receiving end and it's the Communists' fault.

    Fifty points to Slytherin for irony.

  • Cripes, it's not all that big a secret. Here you go - https://www.wired.com/2007/06/... [wired.com]

    What doesn't make much sense is why it's being done. Keeping the embassy staff on edge must look like a good idea to someone of significant power in Cuba because putting the requisite technology together isn't something that average Cuban could do.

    • by Nemyst ( 1383049 )
      You say that like it's a done deal, but that doesn't explain the brain damage, which a sound projection device would be unlikely to be able to cause.
      • I wonder if there was actual sound involved, or if that was just a symptom of nerve/brain stimulation, for example by radio or microwave stimulation.

        Even if it were sound, it seems to me that strong enough intensity pressure waves could indeed cause cell damage as they passed through the skull - especially if there were infra-/ultra-sound involved, so that the "agonizing sound" was actually a fringe effect of much louder inaudible sounds.

        • by Nemyst ( 1383049 )
          I'd expect that pressure waves strong enough to cause cell damage would also most likely cause damage to the environment, especially since you can rarely completely eliminate constructive interference everywhere but the targeted location. There'll be other points in the area that would get similarly strong pressure and that'd be enough to shatter fragile glass or cause vibrations. A microwave attack could be more plausible, but I don't know how they'd be able to set all of that up without someone noticing.
          • by ceoyoyo ( 59147 )

            The ultrasound devices are fairly tight beams. The microwave ones probably are too, and it doesn't take much energy to shake up someone's brain, if you're depositing it effectively on the inside.

            If you got a constructive node in a wall it might shake some dust loose. Your chances of hitting something fragile would be pretty small.

            If you took that DARPA device that's designed to communicate over a kilometre and aimed it at someone's head from the other side of a hotel wall....

      • Audible sound can damage nerves in the ear. Ultrasonic waves might be audible if they're powerful enough to drive the ear (or the air) into nonlinearity, but if the subject moves his head away from a local maximum or just turns his head to that the waves don't enter his ear well then they become inaudible. Perhaps the ultrasonics can cause localized heating in the ear's nerves and damage them, without being audible.

        Deep brain damage? The shape of the skull might focus the ultrasonic waves.

        A good argument ca

      • by MrL0G1C ( 867445 )

        There seems to be an assumption by many that only one method is being used by the perpetrators. It is of course quite possible that both neurotoxins and sonic devices are being used.

      • by mikael ( 484 )

        Brain damage is usually caused by burst capillaries. Which is due to high blood pressure. That's either the blood vessels being constricted, or the heart pumping at super high pressures. Alternatively, the water in the blood could have been cooked by microwaves, causing them to burst.

  • CBC also has a story (Score:5, Interesting)

    by Target Drone ( 546651 ) on Friday September 15, 2017 @11:12PM (#55207893)
    CBC recently had a story [www.cbc.ca] on the 5 Canadian diplomats and families affected. They also speculated that since Canada has better relations with Cuba it's unlikely the Cuban government is behind this. The story also mentions that since Russia has a large diplomatic presence in Cuba, has been known to harass foreign diplomats and also has the know how to possibly develop this kind of high tech weapon that they are a possible suspect.
    • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

      by Anonymous Coward

      If true, this has to be one of the dumbest operations ever greenlit. Diplomats are well-accustomed to espionage efforts, and its pretty much de rigueur for all the big nations to play Spy-vs-Spy. Embassies regularly sweep for bugs and such.

      But using energy weapons on the personnel? It's cartoonishly bad. Such a terrible idea I have difficulty attributing it to anyone, including North Korea. Any nation could scrape up much better [disposable] live test subjects if needed.

      Energy weapons on US diplomats is ask

    • Canada has better relations with Cuba it's unlikely the Cuban government is behind this

      Thought experiment: Why would the Cuban government do this?

      1. Get rid of diplomats? They can do that anytime they want.
      2. Don't like the renewed ties with USA? They can do this anytime they want.
      3. Don't like US politics interfering? They are a dictatorship, also see 1.

      Initially a lot of people claimed Cuba, but it just makes no sense.

    • by afxgrin ( 208686 ) on Saturday September 16, 2017 @06:58AM (#55209089)

      The microwave auditory effect [wikipedia.org] is well known and I have serious doubts that any government funded program would publish the exact details of any progress on weaponizing it. The public knowing exactly how these devices work would decrease the effectiveness if they're actually trying to make targets feel like they're hearing voices in their head not just blast their hearing with noise.

      I'd expect the intensities involved would likely be high enough to harm the device operator unless they were remotely situated from the transmitter site. You'd want a high power output to provide the device range and effectiveness through walls and windows. As a consequence the operator being in the vicinity of the transmitter would still get effected by side lobes from the transmitter.

      The Russians claimed [nbcnews.com] to be working on such a device in 2012 probably in response to the US Navy contracting a company to develop a microwave auditory weapon [wikipedia.org].

  • worms (Score:5, Funny)

    by nnet ( 20306 ) on Friday September 15, 2017 @11:59PM (#55208031) Journal
    I'm going with mind altering cat parasites.
  • But somebody has really showed their hand.

    What neato tech!

    I doubt a western nation would burn such hot shit abilities to screw with a couple diplomats unless there's a bit of Tom Clancy style shit going on in the background.

    And who else was checked into the hotel at the time? I bet there's a pretty limited range.. any remote device would have been found already. Search the housekeepers.

  • For American diplomats who may worry that they have no protocols in place to survive sonic attack:

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=go0JMX3zNeA

  • by LostMyBeaver ( 1226054 ) on Saturday September 16, 2017 @01:08AM (#55208237)
    This is a US Government installation. They almost certainly are using Cisco or Aruba Wireless. Of course, they never buy the cheapest model either.

    Let's talk Cisco for a moment. Cisco delivers a technology known as "CleanAir" which Aruba also has for the most part. It's designed for site survey and is able to scan large chunks of the 2.4Ghz and 5Ghz spectrum.

    Turn the feature on... then look at the map and see if there's microwave near by. It will assign pseudo MAC addresses to unknown signals and attempt to identify them by radio pattern.

    Now, if CleanAir isn't picking it up, then install some spectrum analyzers.

    As others had mentioned... you don't need to transmit audible signals into someones head to make them hear it. You simply need to transmit signals which trigger the mind to believe they are audible. Microwave and others are perfectly capable of having this effect. In fact, some people believe that the reason why some people claim to be susceptible to wireless networking is because it causes a ringing like tinnitus. Of course like Tinnitus (which I recently began suffering... Merry Christmas 2016) it's not possible to diagnose properly.

    As for targeted signals.... all frequencies can be targeted. It's not as if there's something somewhere which says audio absolutely must be as close to isotropic as possible. Any frequency can quite easily be targeted.

    As a cheap but effective example... sound showers are an example of this.
    • As others had mentioned... you don't need to transmit audible signals into someones head to make them hear it. You simply need to transmit signals which trigger the mind to believe they are audible. Microwave and others are perfectly capable of having this effect. .

      Here is a citation [wikipedia.org] (I didn't believe you, TBH).

    • What's a sound shower?

  • I'm glad no one ever oversells a story with a catchy headline...
  • Visit New York New York® Las Vegas hotel. Visit the Cirque show. Visit the bathrooms associated with the show. Listen to the strange voices you hear. But, only you can hear it. This is done with modulated ultrasonic sound waves, a shaped reflector, and your ears.

    And if the State Department people are so dumb they cannot turn around and sleep with their feet where their head would normally be to escape something specific to where the head normally rests, they have earned their headaches. And, yes, I bel

  • North Korea? (Score:4, Informative)

    by whodunit ( 2851793 ) on Saturday September 16, 2017 @04:08AM (#55208685)

    Gee, what if there was a country that has high tensions with the United States right now and is also obsessed with attacking, injuring or harming the United States as a matter of ideological zealotry, and actually has a goddamned physical embassy in Cuba to base agents out of? [wikipedia.org] Gee, I fuckin wonder.

    • Re: (Score:2, Interesting)

      by Anonymous Coward

      I wonder if they tested this same technology on that young American prisoner who died of severe brain damage...

  • symptoms that have no plausible organic basis;
    symptoms that are transient and benign;
    symptoms with rapid onset and recovery;
    occurrence in a segregated group;
    the presence of extraordinary anxiety;
    symptoms that are spread via sight, sound or oral communication;
    a spread that moves down the age scale, beginning with older or higher-status people;
    a preponderance of female participants

  • some teething problems when building a mind probe.
  • We live in a world where virtually everyone has a camera and audio recording device on them at all times. It's no coincidence that people's willingness to believe in UFO reports, for example, has dropped sharply.

    Even if some of this is outside the hearing range, any phone should be able to record at least *something*.

    Not a single piece of recorded evidence? Count me as extremely skeptical.

  • Does this now point out that tinfoil hatters may not be conspiracy nutters that they are depicted as? Kind of makes you wonder.
  • Everyone has probably heard stories (urban legends) about gaslighting high-strung couch potatoes with adjustable rabbit ears who are too addicted to sports or sitcoms for their own good.

    (I once tried this on my younger siblings using an antique frequency generator wired to a small yagi under my bed—we lived on an isolated hilltop acreage—but it only caused minor snow and zigzag patterns, despite being just one room away; we generally had bad reception anyway, and they found the effect unremarkab

  • I see in the national news last night (Friday) that the Cuban Premier honestly admitted they don't know what's going on. And they invited the FBI to send down teams to investigated (although no idea if the FBI teams are still there). AND they invited the US State Department to join them in a bilateral investigation. Which invitation, naturally, the State Department didn't even bother responding to.

    Sure sounds like they're innocent. Unless there's some rogue agency doing this, of course. The Cubans have

  • Soviets used to do this as far back as the 80s....

    They get a group to assault a targeted person, torture and interrogate the victim, then pay the group to keep quiet and the result is they have a group of spies for life. /scopolomine is a awful drug.
  • Would not surprise me if it is some disease.

  • .... point to a conspiracy theory as being the most probable cause.

    Sure, nobody seems to know what happened or how or why, but the most you can do at this point is try and be watchful to see if it happens again, and hopefully be prepared enough for it to take measurements and from that, isolate a cause.

    Past events for which the only existing record is human recollection, regardless of the number of people who appear to have been affected, cannot be objectively scrutinized and there is no scientifically

  • Sounds to me like old-school resonate microwave cavity spy bugs gone awry.

    My guess is modern variants use extremely focused transmitters to avoid detection and idiots who installed them were not thinking placing transmitter in path where people would be dwelling for prolonged periods of time resulting in RF enriched brain cells of surveillance targets.

  • This is a commercial product, focused, phase differential modulated ultrasonic flat panel speakers.
    Been a niche market toy for years.
    Now it's used as a torture device?
    Well call Beyonce, she needs more through-wall exposure

My idea of roughing it turning the air conditioner too low.

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