Sonic Attacks on U.S. and Canadian Diplomats in Cuba; a Kremlin Op?

CNN: Sonic attacks in Cuba hit more diplomats than earlier reported, officials say.

My last stint as a Crimebuster, was with Mikhail Lesin, a Kremlin Hit, a Theory, Part 1, continued in Part 2, finishing with Mikhail Lesin Takeaway. The articles attracted more attention than you know. So let’s try again. The salient points of the CNN article are, quoting,

  • “…Cuban officials have taken the attacks seriously, even saying that Cuba has a greater national interest in determining who was behind the incidents….This summer, Cuba took the unusual step of allowing FBI agents and members of the Royal Canadian Mounted Police to travel to Cuba to investigate the attacks, and Cuba has increased security around diplomats’ residences.”
  • “Canada, which did not break relations with the Cuban government after the 1959 revolution, has deep commercial and diplomatic ties to the island.”
  • “… ‘It’s more likely that people in the Cuban security forces might have done a favor for friendly intelligence services without having cleared it all the way up the chain of command.'”

This is very good analysis. To this can be added,

  • The use of the weapon was unselective, The U.S. and Canada do not share a world identity. The harassment of Canadian targets weighs strongly against political purpose,because it dilutes dispute.
  • It  strongly weighs towards a scientific experiment.

The perception of Canada tends much more towards neutrality, even among those nations to which the U.S. appears an implacable enemy. The distinction has become much sharper during the Trump Administration. Far sighted diplomats of adversary nations anticipate, with pleasure, the dissolution of NAFTA, with the prospect of a further untethered Canadian trade policy.

Quoting (CNN) US embassy employees in Cuba possibly subject to ‘acoustic attack’,

“The employees affected were not at the same place at the same time, but suffered a variety of physical symptoms since late 2016 which resembled concussions. “…

(CNN) “Investigators searched diplomats’ homes but did not find any devices capable of carrying out the acoustic attacks and are still puzzled by the source of the disturbances, US officials said.”

So it’s high power, can focus on small areas, and hard to find.  The inability to find a device suggests an external energy source, exciting a  gadget or structure inside the dwelling. For an early example of a Soviet bug (not a sound maker) that used this principle, see The Thing.  But there are ways, in theory if not practice, to project a concussive beam.

Simultaneous hearing loss and concussive damage do not correspond well with a single attack frequency. Concussive damage without direct contact with the skull requires very high power.  This is top-tier physics, not a Cuban creation.

  • Cuba is a “green field” testing ground for futuristic weapons. Because Cuba is not a technically sophisticated nation, this unconventional weapon use is not anticipated. Objective effects are isolated.

This resembles a controlled medical experiment. In early testing of a vaccine, it is helpful  to have a test population that has never been exposed to the pathogen. This simplifies the test, because it removes subjects that have preexisting immunity to what the vaccine is supposed to protect from.

A sonic weapon is of interest to any state that desires a deniable method of harassment, either for social control of dissidents, or to impede operations of a foreign legation they consider challenging to control. The two obvious candidates are Russia and China. The CNN article also posits  North Korea, Venezuela, and Iran. Russia and Iran share the greatest history of extraterritorial “special action”, but Cuba is a long way for Iran to go for quality of science.

Cuba is devoid of natural resources coveted by China. During the Communist era, China did not project influence to the Western Hemisphere. There are no historical ties. North Korea lacks practical purpose  or capability for foreign use of a nonlethal weapon against a group.

But Cuba-Russia ties , though disrupted by the disintegration of the Soviet Union and Russia’s repudiation of communism, retain a personal connection between defense and security apparatchiks. Individuals on both sides, who were active then, are still available to make connections now. To preserve these aging connections, they must be used.

Until the pending expulsions are effective, the U.S. legation in Moscow has outnumbered the Russian legation in D.C. by about three-to-one.  The Russian point of view is: Most of them are spies. Of course, if you rent a car, drive around, look at things, and talk to people, even if you’re not wearing a rubber mask, you’re a spy. Perhaps in consequence, or perhaps inevitably, U.S. diplomats in Russia have been seriously harassed for a long time. See Moscow Rules: American Diplomat beaten in Moscow, Tit-for-Tat Expulsions., and Washington Post: Russia is harassing U.S. diplomats all over Europe. For psychological harassment of the type mentioned by the Post, see Fiona Hill, Putin’s Apology; Analysis Part 4; KGB Culture.

So why not test sonic harassment in Moscow? It’s not a green field. Diplomats in Moscow are on edge, hyper aware. Every form of harassment has both objective and subjective effects. In a Moscow test, it would be impossible to separate the two. Cuba tests offer quality of science.

The open source conclusion is that this was a controlled experiment by Russia. The primary intent was not to exacerbate Cuba-American relations. That would have been gravy.

This is not the first time acoustic weapons have figured in the dark world of Havana espionage. This has echoes of  the experience of British MI-6 agent James Wormold, who encountered a device that emitted a howl described as similar to a vacuum-cleaner. Wormold’s story, for which he deserves a star somewhere or other, is the subject of Graham Greene in Our Man in Havana.







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