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Brain abnormalities found in victims of US embassy attack in Cuba (theguardian.com)
170 points by random_moonwalk on Dec 6, 2017 | hide | past | web | favorite | 87 comments

This is such a fascinating (and disturbing) situation. And quite mysterious. High frequency ultrasound is used routinely in medicine and has never been shown to change brain tissue. Infrasound has some effect on tissue but its probably overstated. (the infamous 'brown note' [1]. Other sonic weapons rely on volume/amplitude. None of this seems to be the case here.

Another really interesting point is the description of the hyper localized nature of the sound -- present in one part of the room and not another. Its really hard to localize a sound signal, as anyone who has worked with parabolic speakers can attest. Yes, there can be focal points, but the sound definitely drifts out to the surrounding areas to a significant degree. One example of hyperlocalized sound perception is Lamont Young's 'Dream House' installation in NYC [2] Although not captured in video documentation, there are distinct and significant microtonal shifts that are easily perceptible as you move through the space caused by standing waves produced through the interaction of the tone generators and the architecture. But this happens within the context of a loud drone that fills the whole room. Not at all what is described by the diplomats and family members.

I hope they can get to the bottom of this and I hope that more information is made public.

[1] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Brown_note [2] https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=WC6bhnu5Luc


This is the best bet I've seen since this story broke.

If this is true there's a way we can block the effects...

> In 1962, Allan H. Frey discovered that the microwave auditory effect, i.e., the reception of the induced sounds by radio-frequency electromagnetic signals heard as clicks and buzzes, can be blocked by a patch of wire mesh (rather than foil) placed above the temporal lobe.

I'm ready http://static.tvtropes.org/pmwiki/pub/images/weirdalfoil_232...

White matter is the deep part of the brain. Microwaves wouldn't penetrate more than a couple cm.

Personally I think something much more benign is probably the answer. Maybe someone introduced drugs into their food/water? Sometimes a noise is just a noise.

I don't know, if this is some kind of sophisticated multiple-beam system using constructive interference (https://xkcd.com/1922/), it might have more penetrative ability than you'd assume.

Yeah, the descriptions they offer remind me of the few times I've “heard” meteorites plunging through the atmosphere: https://www.theguardian.com/education/2003/oct/23/research.h...

Hey rootw0rm, all of your comments are autodead. Not sure what you did to deserve it, but this comment is additive here. Contact the admin to have rights restored.

Just go to the comment click "vouch" and it will go through.

There is an actual recording of these sounds. Microwaves inducing sounds into a humans perception and at the same time inducing it in recording equipment does not seem plausible.

There is also an easy way to test whether the sound is actual sound conducted in air or the effect of microwave exposure: ear plugs.

If its a high frequency wave, then you would "hear" it with the skin and other tissue on your head rather than your actual ears. Earplugs wouldnt really help.

How it works: you can hear a high frequency wave if its modulated at audible frequency. If it's switched on and off at a relatively low frequency, you can sense the presence and absence of the high-frequency vibrations. Those waves are poorly absorbed from the air, but once they make it into the body they are transmitted much more easily by tissues besides bone. So your ears are not much better than the rest of your skin, which acts like a funnel for sound, diverting it to your cochlea.

Did you hear the recording? That's entirely the range of sounds that good hearing protection dampens.

There's an actual recording of signals inducted in wires - either from soundwaves moving a magnet in a field (sound picked up by a mic), or inducted by in the wires by electromagnetic radiation, surely?

I agree it might be unlikely that one signal might induce sound in a human that sounds like the sound a recorder might record - but I don't know. I just know that it's trivial for radiation to fool sound equipment (eg: cell phone signal too close to a speaker/mic/amplifier).

However, if this is a sophisticated weapon, there might be two signals: high power that target humans, lower power that target recording equipment?

Exactly what I was thinking of too. The company that created MEDUSA (WaveBand Corp) was awarded a DoD grant in 2005 for a 3m^2 "Millimeter Wave Profiling Deployable Dosimeter".


ultrasound is completely capable of not only affecting brain tissue, but destroying it.

as with anything else: it's about the amount of energy you put into it.

Focused ultrasound would be completely capable, and share the quality of being perceptable in the targeted region, and absent elsewhere.


But generating that much energy requires a huge piece of equipment. For example, the unit used for the ablative technique you linked to is quite large and works only at very short distances.

[image of device] https://www.israel21c.org/wp-content/uploads/2013/03/insight...

What about multiple devices where their respective waves converge at a specific point?

Ultrasonic waves are attenuated at a rate of 3-180 dB/m[1] (100-1000 kHz waves). So at 10 m a 150 kHz wave will have decreased in amplitude by over 300x. There's no amount of transmitters that can make up for the attenuation at high frequencies. It's not even possible for devices operating above a couple hundred kHz or farther than 10-20 m. A 500 kHz wave will decrease 200 dB over 5 meters, taking it from a shockwave (ie the pressure between pulses is vacuum) to undetectable. You'd need a transmitter strong enough to disintegrate organic material[2] but even the best detectors on earth won't hear it from across a road.

[1]: http://www.ktu.lt/ultra/journal/pdf_50_1/50-2004-Vol.1_09-A....

[2]: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sonication

That makes more sense to me, but still, the energy requirements would be huge. Given Cuba's electricity infrastructure (and probably even without that) I think you would be looking at 3 or more big pieces of equipment that require very large, very heavy, batteries. It seems like that would have been very conspicuous.

It'd be awfully difficult to precisely position and aim multiple transmitters discreetly.

Yes, but at which frequencies, power and more important, acoustic coupling with the skull?

Check out "parametric speakers".

Amazon has an assembled kit for sale: http://amzn.to/2AxtPBS

Also, more info from soundlazer.com, here: http://www.soundlazer.com/what-is-a-parametric-speaker/

Also, reminds me of the MacGyver (original) episode "Soft Touch"- where a Columbian drug cartel tortures a federal agent in a garage using high-decibel noise.

Ultrasound does damage brain tissue.

It has been studied in China, where evidently it was considered ethical to do so. Search terms: China ultrasound study

What this does to the population's average mental ability and sanity is an interesting question. Autism is suspected.

Can something activate the perception of the sound in the brain, maybe a high intensity ultrasound or another frequency that with enough intensity would activate the hairs in the inner ear or the nerve signals. For something to cause brain damage through the skin and skull bone it would have to be pretty intense I would imagine...

I believe they have an audio recording of the sound, suggesting it's not purely a brain activation/attack.


Yes, microwave energy can do pretty much exactly what you're saying, and perhaps other forms of radiation could directly activate nerves as well. It's also possible that if the brain damage includes auditory processing then it could be phantom sounds. It's too many options, too little evidence, but microwaves seem like a good culprit. It doesn't seem too far-fetched that such a system could induce something like a "recording" as well, or that recording could be coincidental.

If they had devices in the embassy which required maybe intersecting "beams" of microwaves to power up and transmit, and something went wrong...

I think it's interesting that this was immediately framed as an "attack," with of course the implication being that the Cuban government attacked American diplomats, since Cuba has so much to lose from attacking diplomats and literally nothing to gain.

The perpetrators are repeatedly performing an activity that hurts specific targets. It's hard not to consider this an attack.

I agree that it's probably not Cuba itself doing it though. My own suspects, based on nothing but wild speculation, is that this is Russia, rogue elements in Cuba, China, or the CIA testing experimental technology.

Why would Russia, China, or CIA test it on American diplomats though? They all have access to plenty of people on whom they could test this, in a way that no one would have ever heard about it. Supposing it is some kind of weapon, by testing on American diplomats they just revealed its existence.

To be clear I only meant "testing" to apply to the CIA. I imagine the other groups would be using it as part of some operation.

As for why I imagine the CIA is testing this, the CIA has experimented on unwitting American citizens and servicemen with drugs and poisons in the past[1], so it's not outside their ken to do such a thing.

Perhaps the CIA is testing their new stealth harassment/assassination/mind reading tool and wants to test it on realistic targets but also not risk exposing the device to a hostile party. With US intelligence agencies perpetrating and investigating attacks on realistic targets, it may make a good test environment.

I'm not saying I believe it is the CIA, obviously I have no evidence and this is just speculation. I'm just saying I'd consider them as suspects.

1 - http://healthland.time.com/2012/03/23/the-legacy-of-the-cias...

... aaaand you are now in a list of people that the CIA wants to know more about!

Cuba has been a long time ally of Russia, and Russia has been aggressively trying to reassert their power on the world stage.

The other thing is, that a large part of the spy game is that intelligence agents often work out of embassies. The way the game is played is that as long as intelligence personnel stay in their lane, there's no trouble. The US has spies working out of embassies around the world, and foreign intelligence services have spies working in embassies in DC.

But for an adversary like Russia, maybe they would try to attack people on diplomatic passports if they knew there were some way to make it untraceable or covert. Cuba might do the same if they felt they could thwart US spying.

Note that there was also an alleged incident like this at the US embassy in Uzbekistan:


State Dept. denies it, but if there is an intelligence angle to this, denials would be standard.

And it's worth mentioning the possibility that even though the current Cuban leadership might not have allowed external entities to try this, elements within the government, or powerful elements within the society, might benefit from a reversion to the previous status quo.

For context, read up on Obama expulsion of Russian "diplomats", and subsequent events leading up to current Mueller investigation.

To track news minute-by-minute:


I was just reading an article about how Justin Trudeau connected with North Korea through Cuba. Maybe North Korea is involved.

Actually in this case, the US has been impressively measured in its response toward Cuba when it comes to framing it as an attack by the Cuban Government.

The US Government has so far never said or implied that it was the Cuban Government. For at least two reasons: it's obvious they have a lot to lose, and it's questionable whether they have the capability to pull off that attack.

It's very reasonable to frame it as an attack. It was highly targeted at US embassy staff (and one Canadian was harmed I believe). I've seen no major media sources pushing the line that it was likely Cuba.

I agree. Sometimes it's interesting to look at the difference between what the media is actually saying vs what people think the media is saying.

True. But it's also possible that this a deliberate attack carried out by an actor other than the Cuban government.

Like some other government that has historically carried out anti-US operations in Cuba..

That was a rejected proposal.

(There are probably all kinds of crazy military proposals that get rejected)

Going to war with Spain over the USS Maine's magazine detonation of unknown cause.

Though that outcome falls more on Hearst and Pulitzer.


That's one possible theory about an event that happened in the 1890's.

My memory of reading Bamford's book was that it was an APPROVED proposal, which was made obsolete by the Cuban Missile Crisis. The DOJ approved that plan, and many of the people involved in that are still on the scene today. But, I read that book a decade or more ago so maybe I'm misremembering.

Exactly how many people involved in a scheme during the early 1960’s would still be “on the scene today”? If one of the coauthors of the plan was a 20 year old intern who had a long government career, that person would be 75 today. “Many of the people” involved seems unlikely.

Or ginning up something to beat the drums of war like the USS Madox[1] or USS Maine[2]. I think it would be hasty to rule out something like Operation Northwoods[3] given the current president's position on Cuba.

[1] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Gulf_of_Tonkin_incident

[2] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/USS_Maine_(ACR-1)

[3] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Operation_Northwoods

Maybe you should read some books about Cuba, the USSR, their leaders, and the twentieth century Communist movement.

I'm aware of the history of Cuba's opposition to the US after the revolution, but the Cold War has been over for 25 years and all signs point to Cuba attempting to rebuild solid relations.

Cuba seems to be cooperating with the US during the investigation. Perhaps it was a false flag attack?

Doesn't "false flag" in this scenario indicate the US did this to its own diplomats, in order to frame Cuba (to what end?). I think it's much more like that's it's a third party, either without Cuban knowledge or a don't-ask-don't-tell type of thing. Probably without Cuban knowledge. As others have said, Cuba has very, very little to gain from something like this and a lot to lose.

It doesn't have to be the US. It could easily be Russia or some other country wanting Cuba to take the fall for the attacks

Well, it's not the first time the US tries something in those lines. [1]

[1] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Operation_Northwoods

there was no flag involved

This story is weird and getting weirder, but the important context is how eclectic electronic surveillance is common at diplomatic facilities. It’s possible if not probable that the injuries were a side effect of some other weird electronic espionage effort, rather than the direct objective.

I wonder if the injuries are consistent with the "microwave transmitter" theory that's been floated.

You'd think that anything involving non-ionizing EM radiation would produce symptoms consistent with...cooking.

It would be, although it can still be pretty weird. Damage can obviously occur far below "cooking" temperature, and it would happen below the surface- in the fattier part of the brain.

However you'd expect damage to the eyes first, since they have virtually no blood flow and are extremely vulnerable to heating. I think its way more likely that drugs are the cause of any negative effects, and while sound might have been involved it's probably related to something else.

While the media continues to spread bold claims and sensational articles lacking any facts, a Cuban panel of scientists has concluded the diplomats likely experienced a "collective psychogenic disorder". Stress can change the ratio between white and grey matter in the brain. Currently, there exists only one single publication of the report. [1]

I'd also expect the crowd at HN to be better educated than to jump to quick and baseless conclusions. Almost all comments assert a form of attack happened, acoustic and whatnot, despite the lack of details, the crowd's inexpertise in the field, and doubting comments made by actual experts (see Joseph Pompei, Jürgen Altmann). Speculating and guessing isn't very useful.

That said, I've visited Cuba and the respective areas (Atabey and Miramar) where the diplomats usually reside and it's a mystery to me how anybody could carry such an operation without anybody noticing any suspicious activity. The area is inhabited by ordinary Cubans and houses tend to be relatively close to each other. To get an idea here is an American diplomat holding a Yard sale before leaving the country: http://cdn.havanatimes.org/wp-content/uploads/2017/10/Yard-s...

[1] http://www.sciencemag.org/news/2017/12/stressful-conditions-...

There's a longer version of this AP report that includes the below quotes. The fact that there were cases of two people in a room where one heard the sound and the other did not was something I had not seen mentioned before. It was a question I had been curious about and would seem to indicate something different going on - rather than an acoustic weapon unexplained by current science that affects some people but not others.

> U.S. officials told the AP that investigators have now determined:

> — The most frequently reported sound patients heard was a high-pitched chirp or grating metal. Fewer recalled a low-pitched noise, like a hum.

> — Some were asleep and awakened by the sound, even as others sleeping in the same bed or room heard nothing.

> — Vibrations sometimes accompanied the sound. Victims told investigators these felt similar to the rapid flutter of air when windows of a car are partially rolled down.

> — Those worst off knew right away something was affecting their bodies. Some developed visual symptoms within 24 hours, including trouble focusing on a computer screen.

I still can't help but think all of this are sleep paralysis symptoms. Not being able to focus on a screen sounds like they became drowsy by something?

I remember when I took alimemazine once I had severe sleep paralysis. I heard a loud buzzing sound and the day after I felt extremely drowsy.

But in the end all we can do is speculate, which is fun I guess. Maybe all of this is really nothing and they're just finding anomalies because they're looking for them.

I too have experienced buzzing and grating sounds and vibrations during sleep paralysis, or during a false awakening. It happened frequently in college when my sleep schedule was broken.

I'm skeptical. Part of me thinks that this is mass hysteria.

> As Cuba works to limit damage to its reputation and economy, its government has produced TV specials and an online summit about its own investigation.

I guess if is deliberate, it might be interesting to look who would benefit from it? It hurts American diplomats but it also hurts Cuba's position. Would stand to benefit from Cuba looking bad or from hurting the improved relationship between Cuba and US.

There was talk of using something like a passive listening device, say something embedded in the walls or furniture that's not powered but has to be activated with a ultrasound beam. Something like The Thing (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Thing_(listening_device) but miniaturized?

What's interesting is that we don't even know if this is a screw-up or intentional (and it could be both since multiple parties are involved). It really doesn't seem like an acoustic effect (as raised in the article) and may well be a modulated microwave since that would correspond both to the locality of the "noise" and brain effects. Or it could simply be very high powered.



I fully expect a barrage, but based on your question, cui bono... Russia needs to keep the US separate from Cuba. They want the client state that provides a physical base and influence in the US backyard. Why now is another question, but perhaps because they thought they could get away with it now.

The problem with this analysis is: what does Russia gain by doing this with a sonic mystery weapon? If Russia wanted to divide the US and Cuba by attacking diplomats, wouldn't a sniper be simpler and less obvious? Or paying some Cuban Nationals to physically attack diplomatic staff? Or just use of any known weapon/tool.

Mystery weapons allow for all sorts of deniability. With snipers and stuff there's always a pretty clear starting point for investigators to (attempt to) trace back to the source. That's much harder with this mystery weapon. It's possible that whoever is using has determined that keeping US/Cuba relations frosty is high enough priority to use their 'secret' weapon.

Russia definitely comes to mind as a country who'd benefit from this.

It could be that these were unintended side effects of something else they were trying to do.

Perh they were testing some new surveillance or countersurveillance tech but things didn't work out as planned, snafus and of course they got outed by the obvious effects or side effects.

It would be hard to believe the resulting effects were deliberate. The actions yes, but not how they worked out.

Venezuela, China and the Russia come to mind.

Cuba is an incredibly undervalued asset. They have a well educated population, resources and are a political gateway to Latin America, which is an incredibly valuable, undervalued market. When Cuba finally opens up the economy, they are going to be an incredibly strategic target for all of the global power blocs.

North Korea seems to be more likely. If you want to make a statement you can attack an embassy from a country that is both communist and also sanctioned. The implication of the demonstration is that this could be deployed within the US. NK can’t wage a conventional war, but they can wage a guerrilla war against US citizens around the world.

Pure amateur speculation here, especially given the lack of facts, but I wanted to bring up these two studies here on white matter changes.



Could be possible an unknown infectious vector altering gene expression on the central nervous system?

This story just gets weirder and weirder.

Could something like this alter human behavior? Maybe the goal wasn't to cause damage or to attract this much attention but was instead meant to induce erratic behavior or something.

(I'm venturing into tin-foil-hat-zone here because this article is really lacking any facts or details about the incident)

Note that the AP claims to have a recording of the sound believed by some to be the cause: https://apnews.com/88bb914f8b284088bce48e54f6736d84

> A closer examination of one recording reveals it’s not just a single sound. Roughly 20 or more different frequencies, or pitches, are embedded in it, the AP discovered using a spectrum analyzer, which measures a signal’s frequency and amplitude.

Did anyone try decoding it? GMSK, FSK, BPSK, ASK?

AP filtered—sorry, "enhanced"—it to remove background noise before posting it to Youtube, where it's encoded with lossy compression. So if there was any signal embedded in it, there's a decent chance it's been obliterated.

Sure. What a bad coincidence. But let's trust them, as it might be a weapon of mass destruction /s

Sounds like crickets you typically hear in Cuba.

Russia or US intelligence looking to influence the US-Cuba relationship?

Sounds like they were poisoned

I think its ridiculous that this is being voted down. Heres the situation:

1. Diplomats are experiencing weird physical symptoms.

2. Diplomats are claiming to hear a noise.

Yeah, its suspicious, but there still isnt much tying the two together besides the fact that they happen around the same time. Even if they are related, thats still not a good reason to believe 2 is causing 1- its just as plausible to believe there is some kind of surveillance causing the noise and a drug related attack is also being carried out. IMO (and I have experience with high frequency in-air sound) its far more likely than a sonic or EM attack causing the symptoms, but it is at least as plausible.

Based on what?

Maybe CIA were testing their new weapon? Diplomats working in Cuba would be the perfect subjects of those tests. CIA would be able to question the victims about the experience and get access to medical records without raising suspicions.

I find it difficult to believe that the CIA would authorize an experiment that causes brain damage in our own active diplomats.

That's absurd. Why would they target diplomats when they could use criminals in foreign countries, or Guantanamo Bay detainees? Why use useful diplomats?

Because that is the only way to be able to interview the subjects about how they experienced it without raising suspicions.

That's a really weak answer. It's more absurd than logical. You can interview criminals and prisoners just as easily.

Again, these weren't active diplomats. This was more of an act of racism and terrible ethics by the experimenters.

But the backlash from it caused several changes to the law and the formation of commissions to regulate this kind of behavior.

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