More Cuban science fiction

Sound cannon

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It’s not even good science fiction. Good science fiction may require suspension of disbelief, but it should at least be internally self-consistent. Here’s part of the story from CNN:

Investigators continue to examine the circumstances surrounding as many as 50 attacks that may have involved the use of an acoustic device, a US official has told CNN.

The device was so sophisticated, it was outside the range of audible sound, the official said. And it was so damaging, the source said, that one US diplomat now needs to use a hearing aid.

Now multiple news sources report a cell phone recording of a mysterious high-pitched sound, for example The Independent:

The high-pitched frequencies are believed to have injured at least 22 diplomatic staff, who suffered problems with hearing, cognitive function, vision, balance and sleep.

Wait, I thought it was “so sophisticated, it was outside the range of audible sound.” Get your story straight, will you?

The experts consulted by the major news organizations continue to agree on the impossibility of sonic attacks as an explanation for the symptoms reported by embassy staff. Business Insider:

Experts maintain that there’s no known sonic device that could produce these sorts of effects and be undetectable and sometimes inaudible.

There isn’t an acoustic phenomenon in the world that would cause those type of symptoms,” Seth Horowitz, a neuroscientist who wrote the book “The Universal Sense: How Hearing Shapes the Mind,” previously told Business Insider.

Sonic weapons exist, but for the most part they are “highly visible and easy to avoid,” according to Horowitz.

And these particular symptoms are quite severe.

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

Most of the news sources agree that these sounds, in the 7-8 kHz range, couldn’t cause any damage unless they were played at much higher volume levels. But they’re in love with the sonic weapon story, so they bend over backwards to fit the recording into that narrative. Here’s AP:

Those frequencies might be only part of the picture. Conventional recording devices and tools to measure sound may not pick up very high or low frequencies, such as those above or below what the human ear can hear. Investigators have explored whether infrasound or ultrasound might be at play in the Havana attacks.

And Business Insider (in an article that, to be fair, mostly pretty skeptical):

It’s possible that the devices used to capture this recording didn’t catch whatever it was that caused harm, particularly if that damage was caused by the use of very low or high frequencies, also known as infrasound or ultrasound.

Know what else is possible? That there was no infrasound or ultrasound. No article that I’ve seen actually reports evidence of such frequencies, and neither is a plausible explanation anyway (see Cuba’s “magical sci-fi sound gun”No means, no motive, and no suspect, and, for that matter, the quotes above). This is a spectacular example of motivated reasoning: the recordings aren’t consistent with a sonic weapon, so let’s speculate into existence some stuff they didn’t record that would be evidence of a sonic weapon, if it was there.

Aside from Business InsiderThe Guardian is one of the few news sources actually applying some skepticism:

The state department has described the incidents as “attacks”, saying they began at the end of last year with the last recorded incident in August.

But US and Cuban investigations have produced no evidence of any weapon, and the neurologists argue that the possibility of “functional disorder” due to a problem in the functioning of nervous system – rather than a disease – should be considered.

I want to be clear that I’m not saying The Guardian‘s diagnosis of ‘mass hysteria’ is right; as I’ve said before, I think the most likely explanation is

some combination of multiple real but unrelated conditions, distortions in the telephone chain from alleged victim –> embassy supervisor –> unnamed ‘US official’ –> reporter at AP, and possibly psychosomatic complaints arising from the conviction that there IS some kind of attack going on.

The State Department is convinced that some kind of attack took place, so you can bet that anyone who was there is being asked to recall any health complaint, no matter how minor. Naturally any health complaint the embassy staff can recall is going to be shoehorned into the attack narrative. In contrast to The Guardian‘s and Business Insider‘s more skeptical takes, ABC (“Total number of US victims in Cuba attacks rises to 24“, Oct. 21) and Washington Post (“Two more U.S. officials confirmed injured by mysterious attacks in Cuba“, Oct. 20) are still utterly failing to question the attack narrative. Since no actual evidence of any attack has ever been presented, this is unforgivably irresponsible.

This is, to my surprise, the sixth time I’ve written about this nonsense, so I’ll summarize:

  1. There is no evidence that U.S. embassy officials in Cuba were subjected to any kind of attack. There are a bunch of reported symptoms that are not clearly related and mostly subjective. The symptoms are consistent with lots of other explanations; the only reason they’re being attributed to attacks is assertions by unnamed government officials. To my knowledge, none of these assertions are backed by evidence.
  2. The explanation that was originally proposed, and that is still being propagated by some news organizations, is ridiculous. Expert after expert tells the news organizations that the reported symptoms can’t be explained by sonic weapons, but most of them just aren’t listening.
  3. The recently reported recordings of annoying noises in the 7-8 kHz range are not evidence of sonic attacks; they’re not even consistent with sonic attacks.
  4. Some news organizations have backed off of the ‘sonic attack’ claim; others continue to repeat it without qualification. Very few are questioning whether any kind of attack occurred at all. Given that there is No means, no motive, and no suspect, continuing to assume that a crime took place is irresponsible.

AP reports that the recorded sounds

…have been sent for analysis to the U.S. Navy, which has advanced capabilities for analyzing acoustic signals, and to the intelligence services, the AP has learned.

I have no doubt that the U.S. Navy has advanced audio analysis capabilities, probably among the best in the world. I predict that one of two things will happen. Either we will never hear the results of the Navy’s analyses, or they will show that the recorded sounds have nothing whatsoever to do with any kind of sonic attack.


  1. says

    Yeah, Cuba is struggling as always, desperately trying to recover from one hurricane before the next one hits, trying hard to keep the population fed, clothed, provided with health care, but actually they spend huge resources on developing some super powerful, super secret weapon to fuck with two dozen US officials. They’re not even using it to kick the occupiers out of Guantanamo…


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