5 Reasons Experts Are Skeptical of Cuban 'Sonic Attack'
The US military has tried and failed to weaponize sound
By Kate Seamons,  Newser Staff
Posted Oct 9, 2017 8:03 AM CDT
In a Friday, Sept. 29, 2017 file photo, staff stand within the United States embassy facility in Havana, Cuba.   (AP Photo/Desmond Boylan, File)
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(Newser) – Experts have been baffled as to what left US diplomats stationed in Cuba with symptoms ranging from mild traumatic brain injury to hearing loss. While some have described it as a potential "sonic attack," the AP and New York Times have spoken with experts who, as the Times puts it, think that's a far-fetched idea more befitting of a "James Bond movie." Here are five reasons why:

  1. Our military does employ sound as a weapon—to keep pirates away, for instance—but these long range acoustic devices aren't sneaky: They're loud. So that effectively cancels them out as a potential cause, as some diplomats reported hearing nothing.
  2. So then how about the kind of sound humans can't hear? There are two possibilities, and the first, the low-frequency infrasound, was dismissed in a 2002 US government report. It noted the military had been unable to weaponize it (thanks to hard-to-wrangle wavelengths) and that all it really caused was "annoyance."

  1. That leaves us with the high-frequency ultrasound, which when powerful enough can break up kidney stones. But there are holes with this concept, as the military ostensibly discovered: They stopped researching ultrasound weapons two decades ago.
  2. One big limitation is related to how ultrasound travels. In order for it to be damaging, long distances, which would reduce its strength, are out. Walls—both a building's exterior and interior—would interfere with the waves. So something small and close, like a device inserted into bedding, would be a more likely culprit. But the FBI found nothing in its sweep of the rooms belonging to the affected.
  3. One more nail in the sonic coffin: It could in theory cause many of the symptoms, but concussions aren't one of them. "Brain damage and concussions, it's not possible. Somebody would have to submerge their head into a pool lined with very powerful ultrasound transducers," a psychoacoustics expert tells the AP.
The Times has speculation from the experts it spoke with about other possible causes, like toxins.

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