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Was it an invisible attack on U.S. diplomats, or something stranger? (nytimes.com)
64 points by farseer on May 18, 2019 | hide | past | favorite | 59 comments



I don't know what to make of this article. It showed no evidence to invalidate the original results of physical examination, while going on and on about it being a 'functional disorder' purely based on 'what ifs'. What is it reporting on? Even the original study [1] mentions, and excludes, the possibility of it being mass delusion.

[1] https://jamanetwork.com/journals/jama/fullarticle/2673168


Hey Ricardo, this is the author of the article. Not sure how carefully you read it. The editorial accompanying the JAMA paper, plus letters to the editor and analyses in other journals all criticized the original paper as not showing evidence of "brain damage." Leading physicists likewise say it's impossible for microwaves or ultrasound to cause brain damage. Plus, even if they had suffered actual concussions, most should have recovered in a matter of weeks at most. But while everything about the case is inconsistent with a physical attack, it's entirely consistent with functional or psychogenic disorders. You gotta check out the videos online of people with functional movement disorders to see how bizarre and powerful these things are. It's not like a kid whining at 8 am on a school morning, "I feel sick! I wanna stay home!" This shit is real and, as another person commented below, there are many cases in which fuel is added to the fire by well-meaning doctors and alarming press reports. The real "what ifs" come from the State Department insisting it was an "attack" based on zero evidence and despite at least six visits to Cuba by the FBI. Not that politics would ever enter into U.S.-Cuba relations.


Well, incase you'd like to push stories from sources that you're not a fan of to the bottom, I highly recommend this userscript, written by me! =)

https://github.com/vishaldpatel/HNLinkMover


So I'm guessing their chosen lede isn't very accurate?

> The real cause may be more surprising.


> The piercing, high-pitched noises were first heard by a couple of recently arrived United States Embassy officials in Havana in late 2016, soon after Donald Trump was elected president.

If it is a psychogenic thing, I wonder if that partially explains it. The embassy was opened and cooperation between US and Cuba increased during the Obama years. After Trump was elected, the writing was on the wall for the continued cooperation and the fate of the embassy. What was expected to be a fun and exciting post to a Caribbean, now turned into a dead-end position with everyone possibly soon shuffled back to desk jobs until the next reassignment.

And the suddenly everyone is shuffled to the SCIF, all huddled together, and they are told "we are under attack, something mysterious, possibly Russians is frying our brains. Also don't tell anyone about this". That's a lot of stress, uncertainty, and anxiety. It would put even the most cool headed people into a hyper-vigilant state.

I know someone who had a habit cough for a while. That's a very physical and real symptom that can affect someone quality of life quite bit. So as the article says, just because it is psychogenic doesn't mean it is benign, made up, and not serious.


> That's a lot of stress, uncertainty, and anxiety.

The resemblance with the acronym FUD is striking. The problem of FUD is indeed, that itself has an effect. FUD can lead to a desirable effect by the perpetrator(s).


"Psychogenic" seems like an awfully implausible explanation. Two dozen diplomats from two countries, with similar stories, with similar injuries as identified by a doctor - and it's psychogenic?

If I asked a thousand people on the street "Do you remember when you were debilitated by a strange noise and suffered mental problems for days afterwards?" What percentage would experience the psychogenic trauma? Is that the idea? That the diplomats just had this trauma "suggested" to them and therefore believe in it?


We had a case of this in schools near my town a few years back. It's hardly unheard of, and cases tend to snowball a bit, especially once rumor and news coverage gets involved.

https://www.cbsnews.com/news/mass-hysteria-outbreak-reported...

There's some significant skepticism/criticism of the claims of impairment and physical brain trauma:

https://jamanetwork.com/journals/jama/article-abstract/26970...

http://blogs.discovermagazine.com/neuroskeptic/2018/04/07/ba...


> Do you remember when you were debilitated by a strange noise?

You'd find a few percent of adults who can hear above the 17khz range who are plagued by buildings with bird deterrant signals. And professionals that can hear poorly made transformers used in fluorescent lights and major electronics.

Anecdotally, my worst cases were the home Depot bird deterrer in a garden center, that every 5 seconds I would wince and lose my balance and much peripheral perception. And in an accelerator cohort of 40 20-40 year olds, 2 of us had to hunt down the tv with a loud transformer in the open office room while being thought insane by the rest of our cohort.


The United States doesn’t have the monopoly on a category of weapons called Less Than Lethal(LTL).

There are a range of production LTL weapons that are used for riot control that use directed/focused microwave transmitters.

It’s not unreasonable to think that US adversaries have developed similar LTL weapons.

Many small/portable systems exist for use by the military/police/secret service to disrupt UAVs up to several kilometres away.

It’s within the realm of possibility that an adversary of the US is applying some form of LTL weapon in certain locales.

There is also a theoretical possibility a substance used to mark known/suspected intelligence officers could cause the reactions described.

This is based on the 80’s era KGB “Spy Dust” marking agent story.

Perhaps such substances have evolved in both capability and side-effects.


Another weird thing about this is the attacker perspective. Let's assume there was some sort of energy weapon/chemical agent. This went on for months. Wouldn't you as an attacker worry that the americans with all of their technology will detect it? Unless you have invented some sort of dark matter ray gun.

Also, physical assault against diplomats is quite a bridge to cross. The Russians are known to harass diplomats, but not in this way -

> Russian intruders had broken into their homes late at night, only to rearrange the furniture or turn on all the lights and televisions, and then leave. One diplomat reported that an intruder had defecated on his living room carpet.

https://www.washingtonpost.com/opinions/global-opinions/russ...


Alas, no. The entire recent incident is possibly an echo of what the Russians did to U.S. embassy personnel before[0]. My father worked for U.S. defense contractors in the 60s in a Washington office, and later his young secretary worked for years for the Dept of State in the U.S. embassy in Moscow. She eventually died of brain cancer.

Also, the Russians physically assaulted U.S. embassy personnel who were CIA under diplomatic cover. Right after 9/11, the CIA was on a heavy recruiting campaign so they gave permission for some former agents to tell some (general) stories. The CIA agent who first made contact with Victor Shemov[1][2], then a professor at Texas A&M, told us the story of that night. He had to shake his four man KGB tail, don a disguise, and meet Shemov. When he returned to the U.S. embassy, the KGB intercepted him and beat him to a pulp.

[0] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Moscow_Signal

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

[2] https://www.amazon.com/Tower-Secrets-Real-Life-Thriller/dp/1...


In the 50's or 60's the Soviets tried some passive listening devices that were basically reflectors hidden in walls. When they were hit with microwave radiation, the reflected beams could allow them to capture conversations. It's not out of the realm of possibility that Russian intelligence services have improved significantly on this concept in the last few decades. Or that they found a way to weaponize it.


And the americans discovered those microwaves.


I don't see any credibility in theories calling it an attack. The credible theories are ones looking at it as being an unwitting side effect of one or more things going on. Monitoring equipment. Equipment within the embassies. Environmental agents. Etc.


There is also a theory by this audio engineer that the sound is caused by the flag poles opposite the embassy building, which can start shaking with the right amount of wind, which could cause a sound with an infrasonic resonance frequency.

Link: https://eelcogrimm.tumblr.com/post/181905499356/cuban-duck


That sounds like the same kind of fantasy as shown in this article. The incidents happened at their diplomatic homes and hotels, not the embassy.


It's obvious it was crickets. Here is the "mysterious" sound: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ANykud9iE1A Here is the sound of Cuban crickets: https://entnemdept.ifas.ufl.edu/walker/buzz/492a.htm That is what the Cubans themselves said when they heard the recording: https://www.cbc.ca/amp/1.4375193


That is pretty convincing, even from a person with high frequency hearing loss! So Embassy persons heard crickets (in the walls or ceiling or somewhere) and then the conspiracy theories flowed like Spice from Dune... Very interesting. I'm saying it's crickets till proven otherwise!


It is unusual that there is no mention here of the theory that the sound was actually caused by crickets: https://www.theatlantic.com/science/archive/2019/01/sound-ha...


I was also surprised not to find that mentioned. But the article you linked to doesn't answer many questions. For example, has it been explained why the only people affected were inside the embassy? Presumably such crickets would be all over the area.


> For example, has it been explained why the only people affected were inside the embassy?

They hate our freedoms: our freedom of religion, our freedom of speech, our freedom to vote and assemble and disagree with each other.


Those are some hateful crickets.


Probably because it does not fit the narrative of the author.


Here's basically the same article from 9mo ago, basically experts that did not have all the info:

>…groups of doctors specialising in neurology, neuropsychiatry and neuropsychology described what they believed were major flaws in the study.

https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=17789011

edit: these things in past were accidents, it could have been one again, "Sonic attack" may have been two ultrasonic signals accidentally interfering, Mar 4, 2018:

https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=16515552


Someone deployed a miniaturized surveillance wind turbine.


I'm surprised gulf war syndrome wasn't mentioned in the article. What ever ended up being the consensus on that?


They send me a newsletter every year or so and there's no consensus beyond "well, they can't all be faking it". OK, that's a bit harsh -- they haven't really found a distinct cluster of symptoms that would suggest a single source à la Agent Orange but there's probably many contributing factors leading to differing sets of problems they're looking into.

Does qualify you for some free VA healthcare though...


"Free" unless you have insurance, which they will then happily overbill ad infinitum. I'm a Gulf War vet, and enrolled at the VA for healthcare. My private insurance (BC/BS) has reimbursed the VA for every single thing they have done for me.

The evidence for "gulf war syndrome" is underwhelming, but that is a long discussion. The specific diagnoses that can be accepted as service connected by the VA in relation to Gulf War service are all 'mystery diseases', like fibromyalgia and chronic fatigue syndrome.

Likewise, the links between Agent Orange and actual human illness 30-40 years later is ... tenuous. The "National Academy of Sciences" has found such links more likely than not for multiple conditions (diabetes, coronary atherosclerosis, multiple myeloma, etc) but the science backing these findings are a bit tenuous - "more likely than not" is not typically the standard of evidence required for a 'scientific finding'. But the VA is trying to 'do the right thing' and that may cost taxpayers $$$$$, but so it goes!


I know Nancy Klimas and her team in Florida do a lot of Gulf War Illness research. They liken it to being a relative of ME/CFS but I seem to recall they say it does differ in some pretty key ways that suggest it’s a distinct illness. ISTR they’ve found evidence of differences in cytokine levels and other markers of immune function in their research. I would investigate her work if it’s of interest.


How different would a small LTL weapon be to lets say a 5G antenna?


The office park I work in has 5G. Nothing changed.


are you talking about actual 5G or AT&Ts 5G-in-name-only, aka 5G-e?


Your sperm motility probably decreased


Only if you are resting them on the tower, in which case I suspect something else is at issue.


BPAs got there first.


Are memetic agents real now? I bet SCPs are a research subject at alphabet agencies.



> Are memetic agents real now?

They have always been real.



It's funny how many quotes in this article (not the article itself, but quotes from others) seem to imply that it being "psychogenic" makes the symptoms and experience any less real, painful and problematic to the sufferer. It's repeatedly contrasted with a "real" problem. As if having a psychogenic illness is some kind of weakness. It sure doesn't sound fun.


> As if having a psychogenic illness is some kind of weakness.

Having a mental illness is not a weakness. But the problem with the term psychogenic is history teaches us it probably doesn't exist, and if it did exist, we could never truly be confident of it.

Through the history of medicine we have had illnesses come up such as Multiple Sclerosis, that contemporary medicine at the time failed to understand, and falsely believing they somehow had good enough testing at the time that if they couldn't find anything wrong with someone then there could be nothing wrong, they label it a psychogenic problem. This happened over and over and over again. You'd think medicine would learn. On top of that psychology also over history has had this weird obsession with trying to fill the void in these cases, with big psychologists/psychiatrists seemingly trying to claim new territory in the name of their field.

The idea of the functional disorder presented in the story is testable in this case. (It doesn't make sense to me given the symptoms described but assuming it did). Take these patients, send them to this magical school that they said fixes people's functional disorders, and let's see if they recover. But please do not blame any of these people if they don't recover after this treatment, as is usually what happens when the labels functional disorder and psychogenic are applied. (You're not trying hard enough, you're not believing in the cure enough, etc.)

Conversion disorder is a particularly despicable label to give someone that for some reason some neurologist still do, usually because they can't just admit they don't know what's wrong. (See Jen Brea's story.)


Any kind of illness, including a mental illness, is a weakness.


If you want to play a game with literal definitions, maybe. The problem is that this phrasing implies fault and stigma. No one should be considered weak for this.


Let's agree to disagree, then. :)


This issue is so important that you will not get agreement to disagree from me on this. I hope you don't have to deal with a loved one, or god forbid your own self, suffering from a horrible illness to see how idiotic your opinion is, because in addition to not being the fault of the suffer it is not a lot of fun. Then some jerk like you will come along and make that sufferer feel worse. So if you have it in you, please be less of a jerk.


Personal attacks are not ok on HN, regardless of how right you are or feel you are. Even if someone else is being a jerk, responding in kind helps nothing. Would you mind reviewing https://news.ycombinator.com/newsguidelines.html and not posting like this here in the future?


>Then some jerk like you will come along and make that sufferer feel worse

That's absolutely ridiculous. Its absurd to deny reality to preserve people's feelings. One can acknowledge that mental illness is a form of weakness without treating people poorly. The problem doesn't come from the fact that people consider mental illness as a form of weakness, but from the fact that mental illness makes people less resilient to life's trials.

Pretending there's nothing wrong with being mentally ill doesn't do anyone any favors; in fact I'd argue it's worse than acknowledgement as it may discourage treatment at least as much as the current stigma.

I think the only one being a jerk here is you. Perhaps your definition of weakness needs adjustment, since you seem to conflate it with choice.


I'm afraid you misunderstand. If popular belief is that this happens to somebody because of weakness, or because they are weak people, people will resist talking about it and letting on that they show symptoms ("showing weakness") and there will be no treatment.

Then in real life, some people do react that way when people have the courage to admit to it, and if people are made to believe their symptoms are a character flaw, then again, no treatment, only people feeling bad.

I didn't make this stuff up, I've seen it happen.

And it doesn't happen to people from "their weakness". It is a very jerk move, and absurd, to go anywhere near that phrasing. Just as we don't get cancer or a broken leg from being weak people.


I understand your point. Still I disagree. I want to call things by their name even if calling them by their name might make people feel bad (not seek help, etc).


You say you understand it but I think you do not. If someone has cancer, do you say, "I guess a stronger person wouldn't have gotten that tumor"?

There are correlations with genetics that can make someone predisposed etc. but it is absolutely wrong thinking to say it happens because of "weakness", it is, however unfortunate, a natural part of the spectrum of human condition.


It isn't "you got cancer because you were weak", it's "getting cancer makes you weaker". There's a rather critical difference there.


Well according to your philosophy if you are suffering from a horrible illness you are not weaker, so there's no reason to feel bad about your illness. I wish I could wear that kind of rose-coloured glasses.


"weakness" is a bit of a judgemental word.


> Any kind of illness, including a mental illness, is a weakness.

That's too broad to remain true in all cases. You have to defined what is a weakness to what, or you're just making a meaningless laconic statement.

I have no aorta (due to a malformed aorta at birth). It's particularly good defense against an aortic dissection and guarantees no aortic aneurysm. If you have no arms or legs, good luck getting meta-carpal syndrome.

The point is that you've made a flippant comment with the misplaced expectation that it equates to wisdom.


Although other kinds of weaknesses can be temporary while mental illness is uniquely binary and permanent.


> mental illness is ... permanent

Disagree. Some mental illnesses are temporary.

For example some people will only have a single psychotic episode that will not recur: https://www.webmd.com/schizophrenia/guide/mental-health-brie...

I imagine a lot of mental illnesses that do not involve psychosis are sometimes this way too, but this is the one that came to mind where the temporary aspect is literally part of the name.

Other than that... People can respond well to treatment, and many of the disorders are episodic, with the episodes being temporary.


That's actually a permanent problem that only rears its head when the shit hits the fan. If the triggering stress was applied consistently the mental illness would be ongoing.


I think that says more about the nature of psychosis brought on by extreme stress than it does about the patient. The article says genetics can be a factor, but for this diagnosis in particular calling it a permanent attribute of the sufferer seems misguided. It seems naive to think that most of us wouldn't completely break down with the right amount of stress, maybe varying amounts for different people.




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