Recent revelations that U.S. diplomats in Cuba were allegedly targeted with some kind of “sonic weapon” of mysterious origin appear even more alarming this week, as reports emerge that the victims had received diagnoses as serious as “mild traumatic brain injury,” beyond the previously reported symptoms such as hearing loss.
The acoustic attacks on ten or more U.S. and Canadian officials and their family members in Havana apparently began last fall and continued into the spring, leading to symptoms so severe in some cases that they had to leave their assignments in the country. “After months of investigation, U.S. officials concluded that the diplomats had been exposed to an advanced device that operated outside the range of audible sound and had been deployed either inside or outside their residences,” the Associated Press reported.
“We can tell you that on May 23rd the State Department took further action,” State Department Spokeswoman Heather Nauert said earlier this month. “We asked two officials who were accredited at the Cuban embassy in the United States to depart the United States. Those two individuals have departed the United States. We take this situation very seriously.”
The use here of the terms “diplomats” and “officials who were accredited at the Cuban embassy” could very well be references, on either side, to spies. It certainly wouldn’t be the first time such euphemisms were used. A U.S “diplomat” assaulted outside the American embassy in Moscow last year, for example, was actually a CIA agent.
That scenario may be less likely, however, — or maybe more — given that this is Cuba we’re talking about, where diplomatic relations with the U.S. have only been re-opened in the last two years. “Like virtually all foreign diplomats in Cuba,” the AP report notes, “the victims of the incidents lived in housing owned and maintained by the Cuban government.” U.S. diplomats in Cuba have also reportedly faced other forms of harassment including home break-ins and vandalized vehicles.
“We hold the Cuban authorities responsible for finding out who is carrying out these health attacks,” Secretary of State Rex Tillerson said earlier this month. Others, meanwhile, have questioned the “attack” narrative and urged caution about jumping to conclusions, suggesting that perhaps “this is more likely a surveillance effort gone wrong, than the use of an offensive sonic weapon.”
If it is an acoustic weapon, however, despite what some might find to be the apparent novelty of the idea, it would not require science-fiction technology. Perhaps the best known such weapon is the Long Range Acoustic Device or “sound cannon” that has been used by U.S. police during various protests and situations of civil unrest in recent years. Even beyond the LRAD and similar sound-based systems, though, the United States is actually a leading developer of all kinds high-tech firepower in the broader category that they fall under: so-called “directed energy weapons.”
There is, for instance, the Active Denial System from Raytheon — or the “pain ray,” as it is known. This nightmarish weapon, which induces a burning sensation in its victim, was shipped to Afghanistan several years ago but then shipped back without ever being used, apparently due to concerns over the public backlash that would ensue if it was (so they decided to test it out on L.A. County inmates instead).
Laser weapons also fit into the directed-energy category, as would the “electricity bombs” the U.S. is rumored to be dropping in Syria. Indeed, as one descends down the rabbit hole of classified military research and development, the things one finds that the government and its friends in industry and academia are working on — and have been working on for years — only get weirder and weirder. As one of his last actions in office, former U.S. President Barack Obama approved increased funding for directed energy weapons, and they appear to be a growth market.
The allegations of acoustic attacks on U.S. diplomats are gravely serious. While the facts available to the public are limited, it is important not to jump to conclusions. It seems within the realm of plausibility that whatever device caused these health problems did so as an unintended side effect of its actual purpose.
It is also unclear whether Cuba itself or another party is to blame. Russia — the country that much of the U.S. political establishment has pointed to as the culprit behind so many malicious machinations over the past year or so — has a reputation for using exotic and unconventional weapons, such as in the notorious decade-old case of Alexander Litvinenko’s polonium poisoning.
Truly, a subliminal sound cannon that can induce traumatic brain injuries is a gruesome weapon. If diplomats have been targeted with such a device, outrage is an understandable reaction. Yet if the U.S. is going to develop these kind of dystopian technologies itself, it should come as no surprise that others follow suit and create similar weaponry to that which we seemingly legitimize. Perhaps defense spending priorities are, in fact, worth reevaluating. After all — to quote an old saying from the days of simpler armaments — people in glass houses shouldn’t throw stones.