“It may seem the stuff of sci-fi novels”

This Associate Press report is almost two weeks old, but it reinforces my impression that the alleged ‘sonic attacks’ on the U.S. embassy in Cuba are imaginary:

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.

“None of this has a reasonable explanation,” said Fulton Armstrong, a former CIA official who served in Havana long before America re-opened an embassy there. “It’s just mystery after mystery after mystery.”

As I said yesterday, sonic weapons are not a plausible explanation for the range of (often contradictory) reports and health complaints of the affected diplomats.

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…

And no single, sonic gadget seems to explain such an odd, inconsistent array of physical responses.

“Brain damage and concussions, it’s not possible,” said Joseph Pompei, a former MIT researcher and psychoacoustics expert. “Somebody would have to submerge their head into a pool lined with very powerful ultrasound transducers.”

So two weeks ago, AP was saying that a sonic weapon was implausible. Sources like The Houston Chronicle and McClatchyDC, however, continue to credulously refer to ‘sonic attacks’. CNN was still reporting sonic attacks on September 23rd, a week and a half after AP called that idea implausible. That is recklessly irresponsible.

The Chicago Tribune at least tones it down to “attacks”, in quotes:

Secretary of State Rex Tillerson is meeting with Cuba’s top diplomat, U.S. officials said, as the United States is seeking answers about mysterious “attacks” on its diplomats in Havana.

It should be in quotes, because at this point, we don’t know that there have been any attacks!

What we have is a wide range of health complaints by American and Canadian embassy personnel. That’s it. The range of health complaints is so broad, and so variable from person to person, that a single cause is unlikely.

The plausibility of any kind of attack is further weakened by the fact that some of the ‘victims’ were Canadian. Cuba has had diplomatic relations with Canada since 1945. Cuba frigging loves Canada. There’s a damn Labatt’s in Cuba!

So there’s zero plausibility to the ‘sonic weapon’ explanation of the diplomats’ health complaints. There’s very little plausibility to any kind of Cuban attack on embassy personnel at all. Yet our foreign policy is being affected by this nonsense. McClatchy DC reports,

The White House does not believe the Cuban government is behind the mysterious sonic attacks against U.S. personnel but plans to pull American staff out of Havana as the number of cases climbs, according to multiple U.S. sources familiar with the investigation.

“No one believes that the Cubans are responsible,” said one source, echoing comments from others who are closely involved in the situation. “All of the evidence points that they’re not.”

Stop calling them sonic attacks! There are no sonic attacks; it’s bullshit that has been debunked multiple times. If “No one believes that the Cubans are responsible,” then why are we pulling diplomats out of Cuba?

I have an idea. Presidential candidate Donald Trump promised to roll back Obama-era warming of relations between the United States and Cuba. Some people in Cuba got sick, for reasons we don’t understand. Maybe it was the water. Maybe it was the fucking heat.

It doesn’t really matter what it was; what matters is what it probably wasn’t, namely an attack by the Cubans. Whatever it was, press outlets from CNN to the New York Times credulously reported that the health complaints were likely due to a weapon no one had ever seen, no one had ever used, and no one who knew what they were talking about actually believed in. Their irresponsible lack of skepticism gave now President Trump the perfect excuse to do what he intended to do all along.

Would it be so surprising if President Trump decided to strike while the iron was hot and start breaking diplomatic ties with Cuba while the press was reporting mysterious high-tech weapons being turned on embassy personnel? I’m not even suggesting dishonesty on the part of the President; he’s never struck me as having a particularly skeptical mindset. Why would he ask hard questions when the media was telling him what he wanted to hear?

But the likelihood remains that United States foreign policy is being affected by a story that is almost certainly bullshit. The Cubans have no reason to attack U.S. and Canadian embassy personnel, and they probably don’t have a sonic weapon to begin with.

AP again:

It may seem the stuff of sci-fi novels, of the cloak-and-dagger rivalries that haven’t fully dissipated despite the historic U.S.-Cuban rapprochement two years ago that seemed to bury the weight of the two nations’ Cold War enmity.

The stuff of sci-fi novels is exactly what it seems like. Science fiction is exactly what it is.



  1. says

    The stuff of sci-fi novels is exactly what it seems like.

    It sounds like it was lifted from a Preston & Child novel. There was one where the villain took over a light/sound/visual show at a museum to induce actual brain damage through light and sound.

  2. Nemo says

    If “No one believes that the Cubans are responsible,” then why are we pulling diplomats out of Cuba?

    It’s possible to believe that the Cubans aren’t responsible, while still believing that the U.S. embassy in Cuba is under attack, by… somebody. Or even just that it’s an unsafe place to be. (I’m not saying I believe that.)

    • Matthew Herron says

      Nemo, you’re right, but at least as recently as Tuesday, WaPo was reporting sonic attacks as a reason to consider closing the embassy. I suspect (but don’t know, of course) that this is going to turn out to be some combination of real but unrelated conditions, confirmation bias, and stories growing up the chain of communications between the diplomats and the reporters.

    • someguy says

      Americans, maybe? The same ones that were bombing tourist hotels a few years back? The ones who live in Miami and don’t have any interest in normalizing US/Cuba relations?

  3. militantagnostic says

    I wonder if any of the mysterious concussions were the result of doing something stupid (probably while drunk). Jumping on the sonic bandwagon would provide a good excuse.

  4. StevoR says

    Didn’t Mythbusters test the idea of the supposed “Brown note” type sonic attack and debunk it in one episode?

    Also if Cuba has Sonic attacks that’s a pretty impressive thing for them to get a certain video game hedgehog on side!

  5. says

    Last night Cuba turned invisible and flew into my window and made me sterile. I know it was them because when I felt sterile I looked out the window, and they were across the field having congress with the devil.

  6. tomocar says

    Well… sonic weapons are a real thing you know: https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sonic_weapon. These devices use ultrasound so they can be much smaller and cheaper than a sub-sonic system. Think of the screeming high frequencies in some music, increase the frequency to above 20kHz and you can’t hear it but it still hurts your ears and if loud enough it can certainly cause deafness and I don’t know what else. Also high frequencies are much more directional than low frequencies (you only need one sub-woofer for your stereo system). Ultrsound could be focused quite narrow with a small hand-held transducer, and aimed at a target.

    • Matthew Herron says

      Fair point; I didn’t mean to suggest that sonic weapons are fictional. Cuba’s magic sonic weapon, which sometimes makes audible noises and sometimes doesn’t; causes tinnitus, concussion, brain damage, ‘problems concentrating or recalling specific words’, nosebleeds, permanent hearing loss, nausea, and headaches; and travels through walls with no problems but can be focused to part of one room…that I do mean to suggest is fictional.


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