Multiple news agencies are reporting that U.S. intelligence officials suspect Russian involvement in the development of mysterious illnesses that have befallen American diplomats. According to NBC News, 26 government workers at the U.S. embassy in Cuba became ill in late 2016 with concussion-like symptoms. Some of the workers had described hearing an odd sound prior to the illnesses taking hold, and initial theories were that some kind of sonic weapon was being used to harm the diplomats. When it became clear that something odd was happening, the United States withdrew most of its staff and their families from Cuba to prevent further harm. The Cuban government has consistently maintained that they had nothing to do with the illnesses.
By September 2017, the attacks had subsided, but began again in April of 2018. In addition, similar symptoms began showing up in employees at the American embassy in China. U.S. intelligence agencies have been researching the symptoms and possible causes since last year, and determined fairly quickly that sound waves alone would not cause the kinds of brain injuries the diplomats were experiencing. However, they have determined that the symptoms are consistent with microwave radiation poisoning. CNN reports that Beatrice Golomb, a professor of medicine at UCSD, wrote a report about the phenomenon and argues that microwaves are the most likely source. She also released an announcement through the university.
“Everything fits. The specifics of the varied sounds that the diplomats reported hearing during the apparent inciting episodes, such as chirping, ringing and buzzing, cohere in detail with known properties of so-called ‘microwave hearing,’ also known as the Frey effect.”
The Frey effect is named for Allan Frey, the scientist who first proved that microwaves can induce auditory illusions in human beings.
If this is a new type of weapon, it can be devastating and is difficult to detect. Microwave emitters can be made portable or disguised to look like other things. In addition, the weapon does not even have to be in the same building, as microwaves can pass through walls. It would just need to be aimed toward the target and could be in another building, or depending on the range of the weapon, it could even be used to attack individuals across international borders.
Gizmodo reports that U.S. intelligence agencies suspect Russian involvement for several reasons. Cuba and China are both Russian allies, which would simplify access to the embassies. Also, it’s a very sophisticated attack vector, and Cuba is not believed to have the technology to come up with a directed energy weapon on its own. Finally, communication intercepts collected by intelligence agencies point to Russia, though the agencies have not revealed what kind of signals intelligence they used to come to that conclusion.
U.S. officials stress that Russian involvement is just a theory, and that they do not have definitive proof that the Russians are behind the attacks.