The steady trickle of information about the strange case of attacks on US diplomats in Cuba through alleged "sonic devices" continues. On Thursday, the Associated Press released what it claims are recordings of the sounds that diplomats heard before experiencing mild brain damage and hearing loss. And you can listen to them!
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According to multiple reports from the AP and some reluctant statements from the US State Department, diplomats stationed in Havana were repeatedly attacked by "an advanced sonic weapon that operated outside the range of audible sound" in various locations including inside their homes and at a hotel. The exact details of the situation have continually shifted as more victims have been revealed and a variety of circumstances and symptoms have been reported. The audio recordings released today constitute the most solid public evidence from the incidents yet.
The AP reports that these recordings were what led investigators from the US to suspect that a "sophisticated sonic weapon" or "sonic wave machine" was being used against the diplomats by a malicious party that still has not been publicly identified. From the report:
The recordings from Havana have been sent for analysis to the U.S. Navy, which has advanced capabilities for analysing acoustic signals, and to the intelligence services, the AP has learned. But the recordings have not significantly advanced U.S. knowledge about what is harming diplomats. Officials say the government still doesn't know what is responsible for injuries to its personnel, but the U.S. has faulted Cuba for failing to protect American diplomats on its soil.
Not all of the victims (of which the State Department has acknowledged at least 22) complained about hearing the sounds. Those who did hear something described "a deafeningly loud sound similar to the buzzing created by insects or metal scraping," that seemed to be isolated to specific areas of the room. When the AP played recordings of the sound back to some of the victims, they confirmed that it was the sound they heard. So far, there's been no definitive proof that the sound was connected to whatever caused the symptoms experienced by the diplomats. And those symptoms have varied from victim to victim, covering a wide range of maladies, including "hearing loss, dizziness, tinnitus, balance problems, visual difficulties, headaches, fatigue, cognitive issues and sleeping difficulties."
Played through standard speakers or headphones, the audio should be no more dangerous than any other recording. Even if those frequencies were present, experts have cast doubt that ultrasound (high frequency) or infrasound (low frequency) could be reasonably weaponised in a way that would be consistent with what the State Department has said about the victims. "The physics don't add up," one official with knowledge of the situation told the AP.
Spectrum analysis of one recording revealed around 20 or more different frequencies. "What it is telling us is the sound is located between about 7,000 kHz and 8,000 kHz," Kausik Sarkar, an acoustics expert and engineering professor at The George Washington University told the AP. "There are about 20 peaks, and they seem to be equally spaced."
One theory for the attacks has been that microwaves or radio waves were used in the attacks, and there has been some precedent for that kind of tactic, but it wouldn't produce a sound. Still, the sound could just be a form of psychological warfare. "None of this has a reasonable explanation," Fulton Armstrong, a former CIA official said in September. "It's just mystery after mystery after mystery."
What is certain is that the situation is rapidly deteriorating the fragile new relationship between Cuba and the US. Despite Cuba's repeated denials that it has had nothing to do with these incidents and no knowledge of who is responsible, the US has dramatically cut its staff in Havana, asked Cuban officials to leave Washington, DC, and warned American travellers that it might not be safe for them to visit.