The great cricket scare

No, this post is not about my favorite sport. Thanks to a private communication from Marcus Ranum, I became aware of this article that sheds some light on the mysterious affliction that affected US diplomats at its embassy in Havana, Cuba that I had written about before. This had led to all manner of wild speculations of high-tech sonic warfare being waged against the embassy personnel by Cuba, Russia, or China or some combination of those countries. None of those theories made much sense but when did the lack of evidence ever prevent a lot of breathless media speculation, especially when wrapped up in Cold War fears?

But now a researcher has said that the sounds that the diplomats heard may be due to a particular kind of cricket.

The mysterious wave of illness fuelled speculation that the staff had been targeted by an acoustic weapon. It was an explanation that appeared to gain weight when an audio recording of a persistent, high-pitched drone made by US personnel in Cuba was released to the Associated Press.

But a fresh analysis of the audio recording has revealed what scientists in the UK and the US now believe is the true source of the piercing din: it is the song of the Indies short-tailed cricket, known formally as Anurogryllus celerinictus.

“The recording is definitively a cricket that belongs to the same group,” said Fernando Montealegre-Zapata, a professor of sensory biology at the University of Lincoln. “The call of this Caribbean species is about 7 kHz, and is delivered at an unusually high rate, which gives humans the sensation of a continuous sharp trill.”

Glenn Greenwald says that US media, especially NBC and MSNBC, seemed to depend almost entirely upon CIA sources to relentlessly hype the claim that some incredibly sophisticated villains, likely from Russia, were behind the attacks on the embassy personnel.

None of these recent revelations constitute dispositive proof exonerating Russia or negating that an attack took place. It’s possible that all of those neurological specialists independently objecting to the U.S. government-commissioned study claiming “brain injuries” are simply overlooking clear evidence of neurological damage. It’s possible that unidentifiable, highly sophisticated, non-audible weaponized microwaves or electromagnetic missiles were the culprit, not the sounds identified by the U.S. spies or, as NBC calls them, “diplomats.” It’s possible that Putin and his mad KGB scientists have harnessed the ability to control male short-tailed crickets and cause them to emit brain-harming mating sounds on command and target them at Moscow’s enemies. All of this is possible.

But what is certain is that the sustained, flamboyant, uncritical, breathless, CIA-subservient reporting from NBC and MSNBC on-air personalities – pinning the blame for an obviously serious attack on a nuclear-armed power that it has spent two years attempting to depict as a Grave Threat to the U.S. with very few caveats or doubts – was reckless, dangerous and journalistically unethical. And it’s just the latest in a series of attempts by the U.S. media to scare the population about Russia by fabricating attacks launched by the Kremlin that never actually happened: from invading Vermont’s electric grid and using mainstream news sites to infiltrate American minds with Kremlin propaganda to hacking into C-SPAN to take over the airwaves and hacking elections systems in 21 states.

Thus far, not a single NBC or MSNBC reporter who hyped the Russia-did-it story – Ken Dilanian, Andrea Mitchell, Josh Lederman – has bothered to tweet these scientific findings that, at the very least, raise major doubts about the accuracy of their huge and highly consequential story that the repeatedly hyped. That’s how the U.S. media functions: sensationalistic stories produce massive benefits, while there are zero consequences, or even an obligation to acknowledge error, when they turn out to be doubtful of even false.

The severity of the symptoms claimed by the diplomats is still a puzzle, though, since there is no record of these crickets causing anything more than sleepless nights. How and why did some diplomats report symptoms so debilitating that they left the country? You can expect speculations to continue. What is inexcusable is for major media outlets to relentlessly escalate Cold War era fears with little evidence. We have enough trouble internationally as it is without adding these reckless speculations into the mix.


  1. bern says

    I think it is a Good Thing that no one has bothered to tweet about the crickets (or anything else, for that matter)…

  2. Pierce R. Butler says

    Greenwald seems to enjoy bashing his media colleagues/competitors more than he does reporting news.

  3. Michael Sternberg says

    If the health troubles of the afflicted are real, the cricket story can’t be all there is, and that leaves a sour taste about GG’s harping on the media.

    A recent New Yorker article about the Havana Syndrome covered the symptoms and consequences for the patients, and recent developments in US-Cuba diplomatic relations, such as there are.

  4. Mano Singham says

    Pierce @#4,

    What bothers Greenwald is that often these reporters (not all) relay information that their CIA, FBI, and other national security sources whisper in their ears without doing independent investigating. As he says, that is not reporting, it is stenography.

  5. Trickster Goddess says

    If it is actually an attack of some sort perpetrated by Russia/China/whoever, it begs the question of why? What geopolitical goal is advanced by causing some mild to moderate health problems to some embassy personnel? And is deploying some advanced secret weapon really necessary to achieve it?

  6. rq says

    Fernando was my TA in entomology! I’ve been following his papers, and it’s cool to see him finally demonstrating his new secret genetically altered Cuban weapons-grade Russian supersonic Chinese crickets.

  7. sonofrojblake says

    “an audio recording of a persistent, high-pitched drone made by US personnel”

    That could have been phrased better.

  8. a Lurker from Mexico says

    a persistent, high-pitched drone made by US personnel

    I’ve heard it, it usually goes “We have a responsibility to bring democracy to the world”, “We mustn’t get out of Syria/Afghanistan/Iraq/Libya”, “Socialism is dangerous”, though lately it’s become a constant “russiarussiarussiarussiarussia” hum. I hope they manage to fix that noise soon. It’s annoying.

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