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That Cuba "sonic weapon"... article in NYTimes

Jay Rose

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Today's NYT has an article about the neuro damage suffered by US diplomats in Cuba and their families, and subsequently reported by some Canadian diplomats.


Their reporter -- who doesn't seem to know much about acoustics or hearing -- is basically selling a story of mass hysteria.  Evidence includes a history of isolated cases of individuals with psychosomatic ailments, quoting researchers who say "well, we didn't see changes in brain structure", and psychiatrists who say "the brain has powerful effects on the body, and brains can be triggered by non-physical events". And of course it quotes Cuban officials who say "it wasn't us". Conclusion: the damage couldn't be man-made, because in the past few years we haven't found someone to blame, and this psych explanation is convenient.


The acoustic science is limited to examples like shopping malls playing high frequency noises to discourage kids. Even simple physical possibilities, like crossed ultrasonic beams intermodulating in the victims' ears, are ignored. And the possibility of natural physical causes isn't mentioned at all.


Obviously I'm not convinced. I don't believe this is a conspiracy or government cover-up; more a case of "we don't know, it's not in our department, so it must be one of the other things we already know about." Thoughts?




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It’s really hard to say. From my own experience with powerful ultrasounds (as I think I mentioned on another post, I helped a friend test a proof of concept of non linear demodulation of ultrasounds) the sounds would have been demodulated when the beams collided with the outer walls. So, ultrasound carried sounds would have been heard mostly outside the building.


Microwaves? Maybe I’ve watched too many movies (or being a ham operator I tend to think in these terms) but I guess that embassies, especially the US embassies, have well equipped radio listening posts. So I am sure they monitor the electromagnetic spectrum pretty thoroughly. Moreover, if powerful microwave beams were aimed at the building I guess it would have damaged sensitive equipment.


Jay, we didn’t try crossed ultrasound beams, but we tried with a single AM modulated beam (I think the carrier was on 40 KHz) was effectively demodulated when colliding with a wall or even a human body due to nonlinear effects when changing the propagation medium. For example, if aiming at your back you heard the voice right behind yourself. 


Surprisingly a good HiFi amplifier was enough to make it work (my old Nad 302) with about 25 W of output power. We also used an array of ultrasonic transducers as a loudspeaker. It worked at a distance of several meters. 


If it was ultrasound I can only imagine something like beaming the building with near infrasonic frequencies carried by ultrasounds, making the whole building vibrate and causing some progressive “annoyance” effect leading to stress in the long term. We all know how irritating persisting sounds can be. 


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