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posted by FatPhil on Thursday October 19, @01:06PM   Printer-friendly
from the hawkwind-fans dept.

The State Department has not provided further details about the medical condition of the affected staffers. But government officials have suggested anonymously that the diplomats may have been assaulted with some sort of sonic weapon.

Experts in acoustics, however, say that's a theory more appropriate to a James Bond movie.

Sound can cause discomfort and even serious harm, and researchers have explored the idea of sonic weaponry for years. But scientists doubt a hidden ultrasound weapon can explain what happened in Cuba.

"I'd say it's fairly implausible," said Jürgen Altmann, a physicist at the Technische Universität Dortmund in Germany and an expert on acoustics.

Once again, the New York Times gets it wrong. James Bond is not the movie genre they're looking for.

mrpg also brings us this less-critical AP report, What Americans Heard in Cuba Attacks: The Sound.


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  • (Score: 1, Insightful) by Anonymous Coward on Thursday October 19, @01:17PM (3 children)

    by Anonymous Coward on Thursday October 19, @01:17PM (#584526)

    You can levitate things with sound. You can transmit ultrasound across a room, then (via interference with itself and objects) have it turn into normal sound.

    So this is totally possible. Cuba does a surprisingly good job of spying on our tech companies and universities, so stealing some interesting tech from us would not be surprising.

    Cuba could also be a test site, willing or not, for a country like China or Russia.

    Another thing to note is that the sound might be just a side effect. Pulsed RF can interact with objects to make noise. The RF itself would cause plenty of injury.

    • (Score: 5, Interesting) by Ethanol-fueled on Thursday October 19, @01:45PM (1 child)

      by Ethanol-fueled (2792) Subscriber Badge on Thursday October 19, @01:45PM (#584535) Homepage Journal

      The spectral analysis of the sound itself [newsinc.com] resembles a "porcupine," peaking in amplitude around 7 KHz (which is approximately a musical microtone between A8 and Ab8, the very highest end of some electronic keyboards) it has been suggested to sound like "banging on a bunch of piano keys at once" which is consistent with the fact that those frequency peaks, being spaced so close together, would produce low-frequency beat-frequencies interacting with each other (and producing that "writhing, undulating" description from the victims). It is easy to see how such a sound could be disorienting at high pressure-levels and especially with a focused LRAD-style weapon.

      However, as others have already pointed out, the infrasound or ultrasound component hasn't been discussed, neither the potential interactions with objects or biological matter. Brain-waves are in the single and double-digits of Hertz and it is possible that the beat frequencies could be in that range (too lazy to run a time-series or spectral analysis on the actual sound, which is available online -- plus I don't want it rattling the precious few brain-cells I have left).

      • (Score: 2) by HiThere on Thursday October 19, @04:29PM

        by HiThere (866) on Thursday October 19, @04:29PM (#584640)

        I have my doubts that the sound provided is the actual sound, since the first time I heard the story it was referred to as a reconstruction of the sound. I suspect that there's a bunch of weasel words in the provided version that are getting stripped out in the news stories.

        Of course, that's not the only possibility. The feds could just be lying. The reported sound could be present as camouflage for some other attack. Etc. But I find the "sonic attack" theory quite difficult to swallow.

        --
        Put not your faith in princes.
    • (Score: 2) by driverless on Friday October 20, @12:29AM

      by driverless (4770) on Friday October 20, @12:29AM (#585014)

      It's actually not that far-fetched, the Scots have been using sound as a weapon for centuries.

  • (Score: 3, Interesting) by Anonymous Coward on Thursday October 19, @01:35PM

    by Anonymous Coward on Thursday October 19, @01:35PM (#584531)

    if the the "experts" had some biology background.

    It is actually a fairly common thing that certain electronic components fail and emit high decible high frequency noises. Happens a lot in certain expansion cards for computers. I had a fridge that went that way once. It is pretty excrutiating to have that noise around all the time.

    It isn't the tone that your measuring, which is why the "acoustic" expert isn't the guy to talk to. It is the the guy measuring human responses that matters.

    I totally expected that there would be a very public move to retract this. There is a whole industry in electronic harassment equipment, and we do have some stuff in our military inventory that is unclassified that is in this realm.

    My expectation is that there is a lot of it that is still classified, and in all probability a lot of it is being used against select members of the domestic population at any given moment. Which is why there is so much disinformation about this stuff. And why there will be a retraction.

    If you don't believe that the fed does evil shit to its own citizens covertly, you should watch the Discovery miniseries on the unibomber. The CIA took a 16 year old insecure boy, and turned him into a domestic terrorist, just to see if they could. It's all been declassified at this point.

    It is less important what happens to our diplomats, than making sure what our government is doing to its own population, remains a secret. I'm sure some guys in a sat control station somewhere shit a brick when our guys in Havana starting bitching about this. We've probably been doing it to the Cubans for decades.

    Who knows, maybe we just missed?

  • (Score: 3, Insightful) by lx on Thursday October 19, @02:17PM (18 children)

    by lx (1915) Subscriber Badge on Thursday October 19, @02:17PM (#584551)

    Mass hysteria.

    It is high time we find a new word for mass hysteria with a less negative connotation. Because these things happen a lot, usually in hostile situations and people get very defensive when you tell them that it was all in their mind. Calling them a bunch of hysterics on top of that doesn't help the situation.

    • (Score: 2) by UncleSlacky on Thursday October 19, @03:40PM (1 child)

      by UncleSlacky (2859) on Thursday October 19, @03:40PM (#584600)

      Mass hysteria has already been proposed as the most likely explanation:

      https://www.theguardian.com/world/2017/oct/12/cuba-mass-hysteria-sonic-attacks-neurologists [theguardian.com]

      • (Score: 3, Insightful) by driverless on Friday October 20, @12:36AM

        by driverless (4770) on Friday October 20, @12:36AM (#585019)

        Just looking at the text there:

        hearing loss, tinnitus, headaches and dizziness

        Three of those four would also be caused by sick building syndrome, which is much more plausible than mysterious sonic weapons. It's a 1953 brutalist bunker, it hardly seems like a model of good health.

    • (Score: 1) by khallow on Thursday October 19, @03:46PM (15 children)

      by khallow (3766) Subscriber Badge on Thursday October 19, @03:46PM (#584608) Journal

      It is high time we find a new word for mass hysteria with a less negative connotation. Because these things happen a lot, usually in hostile situations and people get very defensive when you tell them that it was all in their mind. Calling them a bunch of hysterics on top of that doesn't help the situation.

      No, I disagree. The new euphemism will quickly inherit the negative connotations of the old one (incidentally, sociology does use the euphemism "collective obsessional behavior"). Further, what's the point of "calling it what it is", using a bogus euphemism?

      And let's face it, no matter how you word it, mass hysteria does and should have some negative connotation. It's a failure mode of human cognition and means something isn't working right.

      • (Score: 0) by Anonymous Coward on Thursday October 19, @04:30PM (14 children)

        by Anonymous Coward on Thursday October 19, @04:30PM (#584641)

        "It's a failure mode of human cognition and means something isn't working right."

        (that is a pretty awesome turn of phrase btw.)

        While mass hysteria may be a factor, in which direction?

        There is confirmation bias in modern culture that the whole thing is irrational. Consider the source of the bias, and the merits of the bias, and at least I'm compelled to try and compensate for it somewhat. Which is to say that hysteria declaring it to be bullshit is as likely to exist as hysteria declaring it to be true.

        However, there are such things as a freq counters and wave form analysis software. Somebody complained. Somebody else looked into it. When the looked into it, they would have used tools to do that, and those tools would have produced data. So there is a guy somewhere who knows.

        That guy was almost surely not the guy who talked to the press. So the whole faf will flutter in the public consciousness for a while, and then be filed under "kook alert", when in fact something may have actually happened. Then it will reinforce negative confirmation bias, for the next case of battery by electronic harassment.

        Note that the development of in flight radar was concealed using stories about carrots. Today that wartime propaganda about it is still repeated as the old wives tale about carrots improving your night vision.

        Looking at all the kookery surrounding electronic harassment in the same light, gives a different view.

        • (Score: 1) by khallow on Thursday October 19, @06:05PM (13 children)

          by khallow (3766) Subscriber Badge on Thursday October 19, @06:05PM (#584698) Journal

          Note that the development of in flight radar was concealed using stories about carrots. Today that wartime propaganda about it is still repeated as the old wives tale about carrots improving your night vision.

          The "old wives tale" also happens to be true [nutrition.org]. The linked research article discusses the link between vitamin A which is in large concentrations in carrots (actually beta carotene which is transformed to vitamin A in the body) and improved vision, including improved low-light vision.

          • (Score: 2) by NewNic on Thursday October 19, @06:59PM (12 children)

            by NewNic (6420) on Thursday October 19, @06:59PM (#584754)

            The "old wives tale" also happens to be true [nutrition.org]. The linked research article discusses the link between vitamin A which is in large concentrations in carrots (actually beta carotene which is transformed to vitamin A in the body) and improved vision, including improved low-light vision.

            Your linked article says nothing of the sort. It discusses the link between a deficient diet and deficient vision. Not improved vision.

            • (Score: 1) by khallow on Thursday October 19, @09:33PM (8 children)

              by khallow (3766) Subscriber Badge on Thursday October 19, @09:33PM (#584908) Journal

              It discusses the link between a deficient diet and deficient vision. Not improved vision.

              Either way is fine. You would agree that not having deficient vision is an improvement over having deficient vision, right? When discussing a relative quality, there are numerous equivalent ways to describe it.

              • (Score: 2) by NewNic on Thursday October 19, @10:12PM (7 children)

                by NewNic (6420) on Thursday October 19, @10:12PM (#584938)

                No.

                In the context of the discussion, an improvement would have to be something better than normal.

                • (Score: 1) by khallow on Thursday October 19, @10:24PM (6 children)

                  by khallow (3766) Subscriber Badge on Thursday October 19, @10:24PM (#584947) Journal

                  In the context of the discussion, an improvement would have to be something better than normal.

                  And here, normal is a vitamin A-deficient diet. There's no point to this argument.

                  • (Score: 3, Touché) by NewNic on Thursday October 19, @11:05PM (5 children)

                    by NewNic (6420) on Thursday October 19, @11:05PM (#584972)

                    We know that, wherever you are, normal means deficient, but I don't think that the deficiencies are limited to your diet.

                    • (Score: 1) by khallow on Friday October 20, @02:51PM (4 children)

                      by khallow (3766) Subscriber Badge on Friday October 20, @02:51PM (#585245) Journal
                      Look, I explained my side. There's no reason for your monkey noises any more. You did this [soylentnews.org] before.

                      Like most of your "understanding", you are wrong.

                      House prices are still rising in the SF Bay Area. Do you think that happens because there is a net migration away?

                      You really represent the typical "low information voter", don't you.

                      You once again seized on a red herring (in the above example net immigration to California is completely irrelevant to whether more Californians are immigrating to Colorado and other nearby states than people from the rest of the US) and start ad hominem attacking. Here's your gold star for participation!

                      • (Score: 2) by NewNic on Friday October 20, @04:54PM (3 children)

                        by NewNic (6420) on Friday October 20, @04:54PM (#585305)

                        Am I starting to needle you? Good.

                        • (Score: 1) by khallow on Friday October 20, @05:33PM (2 children)

                          by khallow (3766) Subscriber Badge on Friday October 20, @05:33PM (#585333) Journal
                          When "needling" someone is more important than a good argument, maybe you should do something else other than SN for a while?
            • (Score: 0) by Anonymous Coward on Thursday October 19, @09:45PM (2 children)

              by Anonymous Coward on Thursday October 19, @09:45PM (#584917)

              Marijuana, however, does improve your night vision.

              • (Score: 2) by rylyeh on Thursday October 19, @10:01PM (1 child)

                by rylyeh (6726) Subscriber Badge <{kadath} {at} {gmail.com}> on Thursday October 19, @10:01PM (#584928)

                Mushrooms Really improve night vision!

                --
                don’t tell nobody, but I swar ter Gawd thet picter begun ta make me hungry fer victuals I couldn’t raise nor buy—
                • (Score: 2) by Pslytely Psycho on Friday October 20, @01:24PM

                  by Pslytely Psycho (1218) on Friday October 20, @01:24PM (#585211)

                  Peyote for the win!

                  --
                  The Trump Presidency, an attempt to make Nixon look respectable......
  • (Score: 2) by VLM on Thursday October 19, @02:21PM

    by VLM (445) Subscriber Badge on Thursday October 19, @02:21PM (#584553)

    There's an amazing nothing burger ness to the whole sonic weapon story. No names times places reasons evidence. Just "some dude was sonic wounded, trust me". Uh huh nobody from the .gov never told a lie, so sure LOL. Remember when there was endless speculation in the media about Trump and Russia? This sonic story is like that with 1000x less evidence and logic. The sonic story is beneath weekly world news level journalism, stories about Elvis sightings are literally higher class of journalism.

    My guess is something else is being covered up. As is usual with coverups the truth is probably less exciting than most would hope.

    Assuming there's any sonic truth at all, some idiot contractor was sent to install something like a LRAD sonic weapon as a non-lethal emergency crowd defense and after installation the moron (or perhaps a different moron) accidentally set it off during some embassy outdoor cubano sandwich (delicious sandwich BTW, I like them) picnic or BBQ or some thing and being a last ditch safety thing they can't pull AC power because the generator fires up to keep it running and its in a locked cage in a locked room so they can't hit the off button. And the ambassador is already an old deaf guy so he doesn't care and the people at the picnic and the staff and guards can't run for it because there's no riot so why run and the old guy in charge can't hear it so they gotta go home obedient, but deaf. And then there's a huge coverup because technically anti-civilian sound weapons aren't allowed in the lease or some crazy thing. I mean, given the choice of ending up like 10s Benghazi victims or 70s Tehran victims, going home deaf sounds like a great tradeoff, it can't be much worse than flashbang grenades anyway, but if some moron contractor plus or minus some moron guards accidentally set off a semi-illegal semi-secret weapon in peacetime, then its just a huge mess of coverup and ohshit.jpg memes and stuff like that.

    Or it has nothing to do with hearing, other than HIPPA means the docs will STFU and there's no obvious visual damage AKA nothing happened at all with respect to hearing or sound or sonic weapons, but there was a MAJOR bust related to sex crimes or drug use/smuggling or someone totally Fed up humint intel gathering and heads (with perfectly unharmed ears...) rolled and got sent home. Perhaps for the hollywood script, some Marine guard was fucking some high ranked officials unsatisfied trophy wife and before (or ... after?) the Cubans could find out and blackmail the guard into giving up the usual secret squirrel BS (because every horny E-1 buck private guard has the nuclear missile launch codez, LOL), someone in charge sent everyone home for a good old fashioned ass whipping about not getting into compromising positions in a foreign land. No one, and I mean no one, on any side, for any reason, has anything at all to gain by going public with anything other than "my ears are burning" content free cover story. Why'd you get sent home, private? He can't say he was fucking the asst ambassadors wife, but he can get away with "I wuz hit with a sonic weapon". Why'd you get sent home, asst ambassadors trophy wife? She can't say she was banging every horny young male with two legs because her husband can't get it up anymore, but she can get away with "Some classified sonic weapon" story that no one can prove or disprove. Internal security can't say they got sent home for not noticing and reporting the shenanigans because they were smoking cuban weed all day, etc etc etc.

  • (Score: 4, Interesting) by nobu_the_bard on Thursday October 19, @02:23PM (3 children)

    by nobu_the_bard (6373) on Thursday October 19, @02:23PM (#584556)

    What would the point of secretly attacking US diplomats with sound even be?

    If you really wanted to cause damage, and didn't care who reported what, you'd just fire an RPG at them or a car bomb or something. But the attacks weren't lethal anyway so what was that really the goal? Brain damage? They'll know to look for it though!

    If you really wanted to cause anonymous damage, there's surely less obvious ways you're capable of if you could do this deliberately. Poisons of various kinds, for example. Social engineering techniques could damage their position far more subtly. They might not even realize you did anything at all.

    I think it's more plausible this was some kind of accident, misunderstanding, or malfunction. Whose equipment it was, its purpose, and why it malfunctioned are more interesting to speculate about...

    • (Score: 2, Interesting) by Anonymous Coward on Thursday October 19, @03:49PM (2 children)

      by Anonymous Coward on Thursday October 19, @03:49PM (#584611)

      "What would the point of secretly attacking US diplomats with sound even be?"

      These sort of weapons are typically used to put the target under psychological stress. Typically this intended to encourage irrational behavior, which is useful for later exploiting during negotiations.

      As Cuba is probably involved in ongoing trade negotiations with the U.S. it is possible that either or both sides are using this sort of harassment against each other. It is a type of criminal battery. There have been cases tried in the U.S. related to electronic harassment.

      But it is extremely difficult to prove. Made even more so, but the years and years of disinformation intentionally injected into the public dialog. This is not a kook issue. It is a real thing. The predisposition to assume that is a kook issue, is because of disinformation intended to make it seem that way.

      • (Score: 1, Insightful) by Anonymous Coward on Thursday October 19, @06:24PM (1 child)

        by Anonymous Coward on Thursday October 19, @06:24PM (#584708)

        Causing stress is not the same as causing brain and other damage (as claimed in some reports). And if you accidentally cause brain damage, why would you keep doing it?

        Whatever it is there is little gain for Cuba to do such attacks and more to lose.

        It's much better to secretly spy on the diplomats. Wikileaks has shown that a number of diplomats have juicy secrets.

        • (Score: 0) by Anonymous Coward on Thursday October 19, @08:08PM

          by Anonymous Coward on Thursday October 19, @08:08PM (#584828)

          "Causing stress is not the same as causing brain and other damage"

          Actually stress causes high blood pressure, which can cause a myriad of problems including strokes. So yes it can. Though with things like this you have to accommodate the signal to noise ratio. If you get a kernel of truth your doing pretty good.

  • (Score: 0, Informative) by Anonymous Coward on Thursday October 19, @03:00PM (2 children)

    by Anonymous Coward on Thursday October 19, @03:00PM (#584567)

    One of those diplomats kept a fat liberal heifer under his desk. The sonic "attacks" were the sounds of her queefs.

    • (Score: 0) by Anonymous Coward on Thursday October 19, @03:02PM

      by Anonymous Coward on Thursday October 19, @03:02PM (#584571)

      help stamp out repetitive redundancy, totally and completely

    • (Score: 0) by Anonymous Coward on Thursday October 19, @04:57PM

      by Anonymous Coward on Thursday October 19, @04:57PM (#584662)

      Hey at least you found a job! So what if it involves sucking dick, gotta make the rent!

  • (Score: 0) by Anonymous Coward on Thursday October 19, @03:22PM

    by Anonymous Coward on Thursday October 19, @03:22PM (#584583)

    What about microwave attack? Jimmy open a microwave and turn it on ... you just walking by a 300W microwave will not burn you, but your brain is kind of more sensitive to localized heating.

  • (Score: 3, Interesting) by fishybell on Thursday October 19, @04:43PM (1 child)

    by fishybell (3156) Subscriber Badge on Thursday October 19, @04:43PM (#584653)

    I just listened to the sound, and to me it sounds just like a power supply that's gone bad.

    One of my first jobs I had two computers, one Mac, and one Windows. I had to unplug the Mac when I wasn't working on it because the noise it was making. It was barely audible, and took me several weeks to pin down, but it was literally nauseating.

    • (Score: 3, Funny) by DannyB on Thursday October 19, @07:04PM

      by DannyB (5839) on Thursday October 19, @07:04PM (#584760)

      Did anyone try playing it backwards to see if it was simply a backward recording of a Trump speech? That could explain the symptoms.

  • (Score: 5, Interesting) by Thexalon on Thursday October 19, @05:39PM

    by Thexalon (636) Subscriber Badge on Thursday October 19, @05:39PM (#584686) Homepage

    We know they exist because they were deployed in 2009 [youtube.com] against protesters at the G20 summit, and several other times since.

    That said, I doubt the Cubans would use them against the US embassy. Raul Castro has always been more moderate than his brother Fidel, and never been particularly inclined to pick a fight with the US. Particularly over something this stupid. And it's entirely possible that the national security state who has been trying to re-take Cuba for nearly 60 years saw a chance to make the whole thing up to get Americans ready to demand Bay of Pigs round 2. After all, those Cuban exiles in Miami who believe (probably falsely) they'd be able to take over if the US knocked out the Castro government are dying off, so it's now or never.

    --
    If you act on pie in the sky, you're likely to get pie in the face.
  • (Score: 2) by bob_super on Thursday October 19, @06:40PM

    by bob_super (1357) on Thursday October 19, @06:40PM (#584722)

    In unrelated news, markets observed a spike in trade relations between Cuba and Israel.

  • (Score: 1, Interesting) by Anonymous Coward on Thursday October 19, @06:50PM

    by Anonymous Coward on Thursday October 19, @06:50PM (#584734)

    If this was a sonic attack it would be an impressive bit of engineering.

    I have been in high noise industrial environments where double ear protection was required and while I have to admit that you do feel as if you have been through the ringer after being in such an environment for an extended period of time, I have never heard of mental impairment injuries being caused by sound.

    My experience is that industrial sites in the USA are very concerned about potential injuries, I can't even set foot on most sites for event a walk through without going through some form of safety training that identifies know hazards. While sound energy is a known hazard hearing loss has always been identified as the risk, no safety training I have sat through has ever identified mental impairment as a risk.

    I think the worst sound environment I have been in is a 3x1 combined cycle power plant where the steam turbine was down and they were dumping their entire steam flow to the condenser. The amount of thermal energy that was being dissipated in the condenser was mind boggling. Fortunately only a small portion this energy was being turned into sound, but a small portion of ~1000 MW is a lot of energy! After just walking around the plant you felt as if someone had been vigorously shaking you the entire time.

    The plant ran that way for ~3 weeks, no one was injured. I am sure that we were all being subjected to a very high level of sound energy across a wide spectrum. If the Cuba incidents are caused by a sonic weapon it must be highly focused and specifically engineered to cause harm.

  • (Score: 2) by kazzie on Thursday October 19, @07:24PM (1 child)

    by kazzie (5309) Subscriber Badge on Thursday October 19, @07:24PM (#584783)

    Surely Dr Robotnik should be able to identify a Sonic attack?

    • (Score: 3, Funny) by rylyeh on Thursday October 19, @10:08PM

      by rylyeh (6726) Subscriber Badge <{kadath} {at} {gmail.com}> on Thursday October 19, @10:08PM (#584933)

      I knew a Russian was behind this!

      --
      don’t tell nobody, but I swar ter Gawd thet picter begun ta make me hungry fer victuals I couldn’t raise nor buy—
  • (Score: 0) by Anonymous Coward on Thursday October 19, @07:45PM

    by Anonymous Coward on Thursday October 19, @07:45PM (#584807)

    Or a vile of "white powder" that normally arrives via mail envelope accidentally fell to the floor?

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