Scientist Floats Simpler Theory on Cuban Mystery Ailments

Penn prof says cause may have been inadvertent emissions from ultrasound 'spytech'
By John Johnson,  Newser Staff
Posted Sep 7, 2018 8:55 AM CDT
In this 2015 photo, a US flag flies at the U.S. embassy in Havana, Cuba.   (AP Photo/Desmond Boylan, File)

(Newser) – Microwave weapons? That's the latest theory being floated to explain the mysterious ailments suffered by staffers at the American embassy in Cuba. But now a pioneering scientist in that field thinks the idea—based on a principle called the microwave auditory effect—is bogus. Kenneth Foster is a professor of bioengineering at Penn who explained the auditory effect in a 1974 study. At Scientific American, he assesses what's known about the Cuban ailments and lays out why it's "wildly implausible" that microwaves are to blame. For one thing, any such weapon powerful enough to cause brain damage would almost certainly burn the victims, too, and that didn't happen. Instead, Foster suggests that a much simpler explanation is likely.

"It is reasonable to guess the sounds were inadvertently produced by ultrasound devices, possibly even spytech, but without malicious intent against the embassy personnel," he writes. Foster cites this earlier investigation from the AP revealing the sounds that the victims are believed to have heard, and he says the sounds are consistent with ultrasound devices interacting with each other. It makes sense to him that the Cubans might have been trying to listen in on Americans with these relatively common gizmos. "The incidents occurred about the time of the 2016 US election, and the Cubans undoubtedly were desperate for intelligence about US intentions." A Cuban scientist, meanwhile, agrees that the microwave theory is far-fetched. "First, it was sonic weapons, now microwave," he told CNN. "What's next, kryptonite?"

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