Sonic Attack or Faulty Equipment

In August 2017, 16 employees at the US Embassy in Havana, Cuba reported symptoms of malaise including, sharp ear pain, dull headaches, vertigo, visual focusing issues, disorientation, nausea and extreme fatigue and cognitive problems. 

These symptoms occurred shortly after hearing strange sounds.

By the end of September 2017, The US State Department had pulled diplomats and their families out of Cuba saying 21 embassy employees had been injured.

In a US State Department Foreign Relations Subcommittee on Western Hemisphere hearing in January 2018 Francisco Palmieri, Acting Assistant Secretary of State for Western Hemisphere Affairs said, “there were 24 cases that were identified with symptoms and medically verifiable clinical findings of some combination similar to what you would see in patients “Having had mild traumatic brain injury or concussion but without any blunt force trauma.” He continued to state that “the pattern of injuries were most likely related to trauma from a non-natural source”.

Just this week Canada announced that it will join the US and downgrade its presence on the island. This follows several Canadian diplomat’s stations in Havana complaining of symptoms similar to those suffered at the end of 2017 by American Diplomats.

In a statement from Global Affairs Canada, “There have been no new incidents since the early fall of 2017. Diplomatic families who have returned to Canada, however, have continued to experience symptoms. The symptoms include dizziness, headaches and lack of ability to concentrate, amongst others. In some cases, the symptoms have appeared to lessen in intensity, before reasserting themselves.”

“In March 2018, the Department received the results of an environmental assessment of our diplomatic staff quarters in Havana, including tests of air and water quality. This assessment did not indicate anything that could point to a cause.”

No country or power has claimed responsibility for this “Sonic Attack” on either US or Canadian Diplomatic personnel in Havana, Cuba.

Cuba itself has denied any part of the “attacks”.

Todd Brown, State Department International Programs Diplomatic Security Assistant Director said that “among other things the embassy deployed recording devices in staff residences in an effort to better identify or capture the possible force behind the threat”. He continued, “The FBI has opened a case, and has since visited Havana several times and met with Cuban officials. They have interviewed victims and surveyed residences and hotel rooms; however, the investigation remains ongoing”.

Doctor Charles Rosenfarb, Medical Director State Department Bureau of Medical Services, stated “At this time we are unable to state whether or not the injury’s may result in adverse long-term consequences to the individuals’ future health or functional abilities.”

However, tapes from the embassy deployed recording devices were analysed by some very clever scientists; Kevin Fu, a University of Michigan Associate Professor of Computer Science and Engineering  and his associates, Wenyuan Xu and Chen Yan and in March this year, they published their findings; How We Reverse Engineered the Cuban “Sonic Weapon” Attack. Examining overlooked clues reveals how ultrasound could have caused harm in Havana.

This publication makes for interesting reading, as it introduces an alternative theory.

Rather than a Foreign Power creating a “Sonic Weapon” designed to cause harm to US and Canadian diplomatic personnel.

Could this simply be a case of faulty equipment? Could ultrasound be the culprit?

“On the face of it, it seems impossible. For one thing, ultrasonic frequencies, 20 kilohertz or higher, are inaudible to humans, and yet the sounds heard by the diplomats were obviously audible.

Our own research had taught us that ultrasound can compromise the security of many types of sensors found widely in medical devices, autonomous vehicles, and the Internet of Things. We also knew that ultrasound isn’t considered harmful to humans—for the most part. Misused, an ultrasonic emitter that’s in direct contact with a person’s body can heat tissues and damage organs

Fu theorized that the sound came from the audible subharmonics of inaudible ultrasound.

Subharmonics didn’t quite explain the video, though.

So, if it’s not subharmonics then, it’s intermodulation distortion

IMD is well known to radio engineers, who consider it undesirable for radio communication. Some composers and musicians have also used IMD to create synthetic sounds, combining audible tones to create other subliminal, audible tones.  

If the sources of the sound in Cuba were ultrasonic, what could they have been? There are many sources of ultrasound in the modern world. Ultrasonic emitters can be quite tiny.  On the internet we found electronics stores that carry high-power ultrasonic jammers that cause microphones to malfunction. One advertised jammer emits 120-dB ultrasonic interference at a distance of 1 meter. That’s like standing next to a chainsaw. If a signal from that calibre jammer were to combine with a second ultrasonic source, audible by-products could result.

While the math leads us to believe that intermodulation distortion is a likely culprit in the Cuban case, we haven’t ruled out other null hypotheses that may account for the discomfort that diplomats felt. For example, maybe the tones people heard didn’t cause their symptoms but were just another symptom, a clue to the real cause. Or maybe the sounds had some sort of nonauditory effect on people’s hearing and physiology, through bone conduction or some other known phenomenon. 

Even if our hypothesis is correct, we may never learn the definitive story. The parties responsible for the ultrasonic emitters would have already figured out by now that their devices are to blame and would have removed or deactivated them. But whether our hypothesis is correct or not, one thing is clear: Ultrasonic emitters can produce audible by-products that could have unintentionally harmed diplomats. That is, bad engineering may be a more likely culprit than a sonic weapon.”

If their hypothesis is correct, and the diplomats have been unintentionally harmed during a spying operation it once again emphases the need to ensure that premises are properly swept, and the correct TCSM equipment is used.

International Procurement Services (IPS) is a trusted supplier of security solutions and has worked with Government Agencies, International Companies and High Net Worth Individuals for more than 25 years. Their core business is the supply of REI equipment, and the only UK company authorised to offer training on REI TSCM equipment. IPS have a large and up-to-date inventory of electronic countermeasures equipment. Taking full advantage of this inventory, International Procurement Services Ltd maintain a ‘sweep’ team of trained specialist engineers who are equipped with the very latest electronic countermeasures equipment including the OSCOR BLUE, TALAN, ANDRE and ORION 3.3W Non-Linear Junction Detectors with which to search for all forms of transmitters and illicit intrusion devices.

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