The concept of a microwave attack might sound like pure science fiction. But think again. Researchers now believe that microwave weapons are likely to blame for the mysterious symptoms affecting dozens of U.S. embassy workers since 2016.
The Mystery Attacks on US Diplomats
It sounds like the plot line of a movie: diplomats in Cuba being struck with hearing loss, dizziness, nausea, headaches, and brain injuries. A web of intrigue involving FBI investigations, suspected spies, and theories about advanced weapons.
Yet none of this is fiction. Reports of these mysterious health problems began surfacing in August 2017. It was revealed that multiple US embassy staff in Havana had, since late 2016, reported hearing strange noises followed by the onset of concussion-like symptoms.
All of the incidents happened in the diplomats’ homes or in hotel rooms.
Up until now there have been 26 reported cases in Cuba, with additional reports of similar incidents in China this year.
The phenomenon lead to a breakdown in U.S-Cuban relations, though to date there’s been no conclusive evidence as to who or what is responsible.
Could a Microwave Attack be to Blame?
A variety of theories have been put forward since news of the incidents broke. These have ranged from mass hysteria to viral infections to ultrasonic weapons. Many of the explanations have since been ruled out.
In September 2018, the New York Times ran a major story uncovering the latest theory to be supported by scientists and researchers: microwave attacks.
The article cites Dr. Douglas H. Smith, lead author of a study that examined 21 of the affected diplomats. According to the Times, Smith “said in a recent interview that microwaves were now considered a main suspect and that the team was increasingly sure the diplomats had suffered brain injury.”
Mark Zaid, a prominent Washington lawyer representing nine of the U.S. diplomats, has also supported the theory. “We certainly have circumstantial evidence that it is microwaves,” he said in an interview. “The (National Security Agency) had admitted to us that there was at least one country that was using microwaves as weapons against U.S. personnel.”
So if a microwave attack is now the dominant theory, the next question to explore is: how would such a weapon work?
How a Microwave Weapon Would Function
Microwaves are a form of electromagnetic radiation. They’re a pervasive part of everyday life: we use them in wireless networks, satellite communications, cellphones and medical devices. They’re what you use to heat up food and open your garage door by remote control.
Yet the idea of weaponizing microwave beams is not new.
Russia’s Defense Minister announced back in 2012 that direct-energy and wave-energy weapons were “part of the state arms procurement program for 2011-2020”. The U.S. military have themselves been working on direct-energy weapons — such as those using microwaves and electromagnetic radiation — for decades.
As for why researchers think such a weapon could be responsible for the incidents in Cuba, it has to do with something called the Frey effect.
The Frey effect (also known as the microwave auditory effect) would explain why the diplomats all reported hearing unusual, directional noises at the time of the attacks. First documented by Allan H. Frey in 1961, this effect describes a phenomenon whereby our brains interpret microwaves as sounds.
Though no actual sound waves are present, microwaves hitting the head around the temporal lobe are perceived as sounds — a kind of auditory illusion. This could explain why some diplomats reported covering their ears yet experiencing no reduction in sound volume.
Given that, in this scenario, the microwaves would have been highly targeted, it’s also a logical theory as to why other bystanders didn’t hear the same sounds. In short, they were all in the victims’ heads.
A leading researcher into the Frey effect, Dr. James C. Lin, has produced a scientific paper exploring the validity of microwave weapons in the Cuba attacks. Lin concluded that symptoms reported, including nausea, dizziness, and damage to brain tissue, could also be plausibly attributed to high-intensity microwave beams.
Beyond the Thermal Effect
A common argument against stronger regulations for electromagnetic radiation exposure is that such radiation is only harmful to humans when it induces a thermal effect.
What is thermal effect? Just as a microwave oven heats food, certain levels of microwave power can heat human tissue, leading to damage. The thermal effect of holding a cellphone directly to your head, for example, is well established and documented. Many regulators and wireless companies contend that, at levels of EMF insufficient to induce the thermal effect, EMF is harmless to humans.
But, as this microwave attack episode demonstrates, the physiological effects of electromagnetic radiation on humans go far beyond thermal effect. Even at levels insufficient to heat and cook your tissue, electromagnetic fields — like those emitted by cellphones, smart meters, and wifi networks — can and do impact human health.
The diplomatic episodes are a perfect demonstration of this fact. Regardless of whether microwave weapons are proven to have been deployed in Cuba, evidence shows that such weapons do exist.
The fact that the microwave theory is a plausible one, supported by lead scientists and researchers on the case, points to one thing: Electromagnetic radiation has the power to seriously harm human health — even from a distance, and even at levels lower than regulations permit.