Havana Sonic Attack Weapon — Let’s Build It! Part 1

We’re not actually going to. This will be informed speculation, guided by open source physics and electronics. But perhaps it will inspire some young budding Dr. Evil to a lifetime of work. It all depends on your idea of fun.

Let’s consider the general shape of the package:

  • Futuristic. Eventually, all surfaces will be active. The attack vehicle  could be the wall paper itself, containing printed circuits and patches of active material that transform electricity into sound. With the huge area provided by wallpaper, it is actually possible to contemplate powering it by radio waves. The time is not yet.
  • Practical. It could be something quite prosaic, hidden in a hot water heater. Metal pipes are efficient conductors of ultrasound. It could be powered without easily detectable connections. By disconnecting some of the plumbing from “ground”, the pipes themselves could carry a low voltage, high amperage supply. I am confident this has been done one time or another.
  • Sound cannon. The use of sound as a projectile has attracted interest since about 1900.  But why would sound work at all? Sound carries energy. All weapons other than CBW work by transferring energy to the target in a way to make it stop working.

We will focus on the sound cannon. The portable nature of this hypothetical device, and the multiple locations of the attacks, conform with the inability of the F.B.I. to locate the source.

How much energy is required? It turns out that it’s not the amount of energy that counts, but how it is delivered. If you walk down a flight of stairs, your foot pads absorb the slight shock of each step. But if you fall down, you hurt yourself. The effect increases rapidly with height. Two flights is nothing for your feet. Try jumping off the roof and let me know. A pistol bullet has less energy than a medium firecracker. So the delivery is more important than the total.

Nuclear radiation provides another insight. The total energy in a lethal whole-body dose of gamma-rays is less than the energy in a cup of coffee. But it is delivered in a range of frequencies called the “ionizing band”, which knock electrons loose from atoms. The victim feels nothing, yet it kills.

One form of air disturbance, the pressure pulse of a bomb blast, lethally ruptures the lungs. But inconveniently for the designer, it takes a lot of energy to create the pulse. Our designer would like a solution that uses minimal energy to fry a brain. The press has recently served up a bunch of experts who assert this is impractical. Havana Sonic Attacks — Addendum for techies only, refers to Russian references in a Polish paper, “Effects of Ultrasonic Noise on the Human Body – A Bibliographic Review”, which imply it is eminently practical.

The Russian references indicate that the unintended spillover of industrial devices such as ultrasonic welders can, with prolonged exposure, cause the effects reported to afflict the Havana diplomats. The first thought of an engineer is, if this is accidental, can one do “better” by design?  “Better” is quoted because many engineers would not consider this fulfilling work. It strikes me as something that would take as cold a heart as Dr. Evil, or Gordon Gekko in Wall Street,  to pursue without internal conflict.

So let’s be Dr. Evil for this article. The object is to scramble the brains of John Doe with a compact, practical, portable device. This implies a ultrasonic beam, that can project to a target some moderate distance away. With sound, distances are meters, not miles.

Through tragic lack of imagination, the “experts” cited by the press (hopelessly naive CNN video)  are stuck with the most prosaic of assumptions:

  • The beam has a single frequency.
  • The energy is delivered continuously.
  • The device is big and bulky.

Their thinking is stuck in a tiny box. Let’s think outside the box:

  • The beam can be composed of a complex combination of multiple frequencies with multiple effects and enhancements. A complex, time-varying waveform.
  • The intensity can change rapidly, for specific purposes and optimizations: penetration, resonance, efficiency.
  • Since the device does not deliver continuous power, it can be small and compact.

Since the device must deliver a complex waveform, forget about the “experts” who say this gadget can be built by anyone with modest engineering talent with off-the-shelf parts. It cannot. Your first stop will be to the funding office. Ask for $50M.  You’ll need at least one specialist in each of these:

  • Physics,  hydrodynamics of compressible fluids.
  • Ultrasonic transducers, experience in both piezoelectric and magnetostrictive types.
  • Antenna theory, someone who transferred into ultrasonics.
  • State-of-the-art ceramics fabrication. This is not pottery at the neighborhood art center.
  • Control theory and heuristics.
  • Electrical engineering,  Class-D amplifiers.
  • Electrical engineering, power supplies.
  • Software engineering, real time and wave tables.
  • Software engineering, user interface.

This is a lot of work, but in the end, you’ll have the satisfaction of pointing it at a CNN “expert” and asking, “How much do you want to bet this doesn’t work?” If you interest flags, remember, glory awaits the next Dr. Evil.

To be continued shortly.










Why the Russian Consulate was Closed – Espionage?

Edit: See end.

Reuters: U.S. to search Russian consulate in San Francisco, says Moscow. Quoting,

“The American special services intend to conduct searches on Sept. 2 in the general consulate in San Francisco, including in the houses of employees who live in the building and who have immunity,” the spokeswoman, Maria Zakharova, said.

Families, including children and toddlers, had been told they would have to leave the building for 10-12 hours, she said.

Termination of diplomatic status of the building renders it accessible to search. So  “retaliation” is at least partly an excuse. The abruptness of the closure order facilitates a search for something that cannot be quickly  destroyed, eradicated, or moved. Since code books and cryptography devices are easily destroyed, what is it? What can’t they remove in a diplomatic bag?

In December, the consulate was implicated in espionage. (SF Gate  December 29, 2016) Russian diplomats in San Francisco among those told to leave U.S. Quoting,

The State Department didn’t immediately identify the diplomats being expelled or say how many were working in San Francisco. All 35, department officials said, “were acting in a manner inconsistent with their diplomatic status,” which is political-speak for spying.

Start Google Earth on your computer and zoom in  on the consulate. The imagery is recent and of revealing quality. The  The roof of the Russian Consulate is at an altitude of 231 feet. There are structures on the roof that rise to 246  feet. Such structures are typically “machine rooms”, holding A/C, elevator, and perhaps a water tank. But what if there is something else?

Zoom out, and  slowly move your cursor south-southwest towards San Francisco Bay. The altitude declines all the way down to the bay. When you’ve reached sea level, continue your course, and you’ll hit San Jose, the heart of Silicon Valley, 44 miles distant. The consulate has what is called “line of sight” access, unobstructed by hill or buildings, perfect for a tight microwave beam, or perhaps a laser.

As we know from watching spy movies, we would like to set a trap to catch the industrial spies in the act. But perhaps this has not been fruitful. Perhaps the Russian communications links are asymmetrical, with the Russians receiving return messages from their agents by other routes, such as the venerable dead drop.  Or perhaps agents operate their stealth-burst radios from mobile platforms. Counterespionage is a highly intellectual game with many strategies. One of them is,  if you’re not winning, change the game. By forcing the adversary to change tactics, it may become more vulnerable.

So it appears to be more than a game of tit-for-tat. It could be as complicated as tic-tac-toe. Sergey Lavrov, I will have to wait to hear you laugh.

Edit: (Reuters)Russia hands note of protest to U.S. over plans to search trade mission. Quoting,

The ministry called the planned “illegal inspection” of Russian diplomatic housing an “unprecedented aggressive action”, which could be used by the U.S. special services for “anti-Russian provocations” by the way of “planting compromised items”.

Sergey Lavrov, get a hold of yourself. Are you suggesting we would bug your building? Perish the thought! We would never do a thing like that.  We would never stoop so low. You know us better than that. We’re you’re  friends. But if you worry anyway, here are removal instructions.

Thank you, Maria Zakharova, for your explanation of the San Francisco smoke. Quoting,

“In relation to this, the windows could be closed, the light could be turned off, the water could be drained out, the heating appliances could be turned off, the garbage could be thrown away, essential services could be turned off and many other things,” she wrote on social media.

I thought somebody left some Rice-a Roni, the San Francisco Treat,  on the grill too long. If you haven’t tried it, it’s a wonderful change from potatoes.



Just a reminder — Looking for a gig (U.S. Expels More Russian Diplomats; try Rat Psychology Instead)

The web counter implies some interest in the applications of B.F. Skinner’s operant conditioning  to diplomacy. I thought of the idea while contemplating rats being tickled — and laughing. I hen began to imagine –  strictly in my imagination –  Sergey Lavrov  laughing.

If you enjoy the writing, the broad assemblage of information, and perhaps  even the humor, I’m looking for a gig.

I am within range of NYC.  Email: contact at this domain name.

U.S. Expels More Russian Diplomats; try Rat Psychology Instead

Bloomberg: U.S. to Shut 3 Russia Diplomatic Sites But Expel No Staffers, with 48 hours notice. (NY Post) “Spokeswoman Heather Nauert said the move brings the US and Russia into “parity” — with each having three consulates in the other country.”

Reuters: Russia pledges ‘harsh response’ to U.S. tit-for-tat measures. “Lavrov, addressing Russian students, complained that the United States had only given Moscow 48 hours to comply with its demands and hinted that Russia might look at ordering further reductions in U.S. embassy staff.”

It was a polite game of tit-for-tat, but for some reason, the latest tit-for-tat seems taken by the Russians as a bitch slap when it should have been taken as a mere….you know.  How will it all end? Like a game of strip billiards?

If the initial tat was the meddling by Russians in our domestic affairs, then by my count, the most recent tit evens things up, and requires no retaliatory tat by Russia. If, on the other hand, the integrity of the mathematics is important to Russia (and their contribution to mathematics is illustrious), then they may not be able to accept the implication that theirs was the initial tat, setting off a chain of tats and tits,  leaving our relations in tatters.

Perhaps the F.B.I. reached a conclusion similar to my own in Sonic Attacks on U.S. and Canadian Diplomats in Cuba; a Kremlin Op?, but with greater authority, that the Russians fried the brains of U.S. diplomats in Cuba. That could explain why the diplomats were given only 48 hours to pull up stakes.

There are always hidden stakes. The San Francisco consulate could have been particularly useful for industrial espionage.  CBS has the best picture, “Black smoke pours from chimney at Russian consulate in San Francisco”, of smoke coming out of the consulate as the Russians burn their secrets. But suppose there are activities of the Russians  that you would like to discourage? Would you train a lab rat this way? Or your dog?

Of course not. You provide incentives and disincentives. Two names are associated with this idea, Edward Thorndike and B.F. Skinner, who coined the term “operant conditioning.” According to Skinner, if an organism can be trained at all, it can be trained by operant conditioning. And all the complexities of what it might be thinking can be avoided. Every undergrad psychology major takes a course in this,  called  “rat psychology.”

Henry Kissinger’s concept of linkage has close analogy. It  Incentivizes the actions or restraint desired by U.S. foreign policy. It depersonalizes a bit of diplomacy, replacing it with benefits and costs that the other party can judge for themselves. See Linkage as a Foreign Policy Technique for the Trump Administration.

Operant conditioning contains an implied corollary: A foreign policy action should never be taken because it makes us feel good. If it does, we should worry about the purity of our motives.  The only acceptable reason should be the advancement of a policy goal, by a means that can be clearly elucidated in a logical, emotionless fashion.

The purity of our motives is very suspect, because we are deeply annoyed with the Russians. They have very little feeling for why. According to Skinner, it’s not an obstacle.





Havana Sonic Attacks for Super Techies Part 2

More bedtime reading for super techies only.

We continue from Sonic Attacks on U.S. and Canadian Diplomats in Cuba; a Kremlin Op?, followed by   Havana Sonic Attacks — for Super Techies Only, and Havana Sonic Attacks — Addendum for techies only.

Since the ultrasonic microphone has very limited use, and none at all interior to a dwelling, what replaces it? Since you’ve seen lots of spy movies, you know that hidden microphones can be tiny. But they need a connection by wire, or by radio waves. The bug hunter clears a space by scanning for those waves. In the old days, this required time-consuming tuning and listening. The Great Seal Bug operated for years, and was discovered only by accident. But advances in scanning have been matched by advances in bugging.

The wires can be in place for other purposes, carrying the bug’s signal invisibly.  The possibilities have multiplied with advances in technology. Nothing is straightforward.  Ruses are infinite. Think of every possibility, and you haven’t. Your reasoning cannot be trusted. Harry Caul, a specialist in the trade, was himself bugged, yet unable to find the bug in his own apartment.

Sometimes you just have to demolish the building. (LA Times 1991) Senate OKs $130 Million to Demolish Bug-Riddled U.S. Embassy in Moscow : Appropriations: But with the House calling for ‘top-hatting’ the structure, dispute still is not resolved. The Cuba housing is owned by the Cuban government. What chance is there that it isn’t already wired for hi-fi sound?

So the ultrasonic mike,  fingered by CNN “experts” as the source, described by the Google patent, is irrelevant. But ultrasound might be used by a bug in place of radio to transmit what it picks up. (PDF) Recent Developments in Covert Acoustical Communications  describes experiments with a Lenovo laptop that suggest this is possible. But by description of the Havana victims, the intensity was orders of magnitude more powerful than required by an information link.

(CNN) Sonic attacks in Cuba hit more diplomats than earlier reported, officials say, offers an important clue. Quoting,

Other attacks made a deafeningly loud sound similar to the buzzing created by insects or metal scraping across a floor, but the source of the sound could not be identified, the two US officials said.

This is very significant. The sound source could not be located. The normal methods and cues  of sound localization failed:

  • Intensity. Where is it loudest? Walk to it.
  • The (pdf) precedence effect.
  • The pinnae, the part of the ear hanging on your head, changes the sound as you twist your head, in a way the brain uses to locate the source.

That the sound could not be localized suggests it was generated by a method not found in nature. One such method is mixing of multiple ultrasound frequencies on surfaces inside the room. This is an indication of very high power, because the method is very inefficient.

But occasionally, there is a need to eavesdrop on a room that has not been wired for sound. Might the sneaks then resort to a squealing, brain-damaging ultrasonic mike? It’s actually possible that a device, not the design of Google patents, could be designed to detect the vibrations of a window pane. But the Russians had a much better solution by the late 1930’s, courtesy of Léon Theremin, the Russian who lived in NYC for a while, married a ballerina, and is known for his spooky musical instrument.

It was called the Buran.  It used a beam of infrared light, almost invisible to the eye. The beam was projected as a narrow spot onto a window. Some of the light bounced off. The window vibrations caused the spot to jiggle. The jiggles were detected (converted into electricity), amplified, and taped. This simple explanation is not enough for a workable device. There is a dearth of open source.

The modern replacement is the laser mike, for which there is a plethora of detail. Start with a small Maksutov telescope, such as a Questar. Be sure to pick the enhanced silver mirror coating. In place of the eyepiece goes a device about the size of a fist, called an interferometer, which has three more gadgets hanging off it, a laser an attenuator, and  a detector. This combo:

  • Sends a laser beam to the target
  • Receives the bounced beam and makes an exquisitely sensitive comparison, “the difference”,  with the original laser beam.
  • Sends the difference to a detector.

Depending upon your budget, you can add options like

  • Tunable laser.
  • Cooled detector.
  • De-noising software.

Unlike sound, which is rapidly absorbed by air, light goes much longer distances, miles in clear atmosphere. So if you’re having a tryst in a mountaintop eyrie, you may wish to protect yourself from Harry Caul  with Amazon’s Laser Mic Surveillance Defeater Laser Countermeasure Surveillance Protection Device for only $55.99 free shipping.

It’s a buzzer, shaking the window pane. Could it be nulled out? If the subjects of this privacy invasion have left some glasses or plates in view, it might be possible to acquire a reflection, rendering the window-shaker ineffective. Draw the blinds. Are you safe? Don’t bet on it. When there’s a will, there’s a way. I haven’t discussed all the options.

The takeaway: In the open source history of surveillance, there is no recorded occasion of a “bug” making noise, with one exception: the telephone with the noisy line. Those were real, when a “tap” was the attachment of an actual copper wire  to  a plain old POTS line. No longer.

The takeaway:  As the cause the Havana sonic attacks, a malfunctioning bug is completely implausible. If the attacks were not a case of mass hysteria, if they were real, as in causing physical harm, they were intentional.

More bedtime reading later. But first, check under the bed. Then,

a theremin lullaby from Carolina Eyck

N. Korea Missile over Japan; Kim Jong Un’s Fakeout Move

The basis of an open source prediction is weak compared to fact. Part of it is a little like French cooking; the art making of a sumptuous meal from unimpressive ingredients.

The goal is to analyze information available to everybody to extend beyond the obvious.  One could be skeptical of one’s own resources so as not to try. The opposite pull, “there has to be an explanation”, leads to cobbling together with weak logic, actually subtracting value from the open sources, instead of adding.

The question of this post is, “What is Kim Jong Un Thinking?” It seems that by widespread variation of human talent, there are three groups who will naturally have different views of Kim Jong Un:

  • Have no theory of mind. This group includes the psychopath, and people with mild tendencies towards Aspergers syndrome. To this group, Kim Jong Un is a black box.
  • Aren’t full time empaths, but are somewhat receptive to explanations of how other people think.
  • Those who obsess with cognitive empathy, like myself.

A proposition: Kim Jong Un engages in multiple strategies that are successful for him. It may not seem rational to us to execute people with an antiaircraft gun, but in a Darwinian North Korea, it seems, so far at least, to be a successful survival strategy. It allowed him to consolidate his inner circle among an elite that did not initially acknowledge an inherited mantle. This suggests that his strategy towards the Trump administration may be similarly complex.

The most plausible elements, inherited from his father, are:

  • Keep them talking
  • Never relinquish an asset.
  • Project the madman, in speech and deed.

But there’s room for plenty more. Kim Jong Un has plenty of time to think. Echoing “there has to be an explanation”, he has to be thinking something. We know he likes basketball, which is known for the fakeout.

I first noticed this during the IARPA “Forecasting World Events” program, when Kim moved some truck mounted missile launchers to the coast. We can assume he gave the order for the missiles to be elevated to the firing position.  The question was, would he fire a missile? With the whole world watching, he returned the missiles to horizontal.  From this Switzerland schoolboy who loves basketball, I thought I recognized a finger gesture, and a fakeout.

The recent face off between Kim Jong Un and the Trump Administration followed this sequence:

  • Warnings by the U.S. of the possibility of military action if North Korea continues to progress towards operational ICBM capability. The threat has been made in association with nuke and/or missile testing, but with a somewhat crumbly “red line” that has been an intermittent weakness of U.S. diplomacy for many years.
  • The usual dire threats of nuclear catastrophe by North Korea towards the U.S.
  • Verbal posturings from the Trump Administration that have tended to alternate between the strike option and diplomacy. The most recent of these is a definitive statement (WP): a strike option is ready to go.
  • In response, Kim threatened to (The Hill) target the vicinity of Guam with a missile attack of an unspecified nature. (Splash, explode, or EMP?)
  • The Trump Administration implied this would trigger the strike option.
  • Kim deferred the Guam strike.

Superficially, it appears a U.S. “win”,  with Kim backing down. But he changed the narrative, the story of the strike threshold, making it contingent on a strike on Guam. In public dialog, it transforms this:

  • Strike North Korea to disrupt their missile/nuke program.


  • Strike North Korea in retaliation to a hostile act.

In this war of words, the Trump Administration telegraphed the punch to China, which was forced to react with a definition of their foreign policy interests, forbidding first-strike against the North. Quoting (Reuters) Chinese paper says China should stay neutral if North Korea attacks first,

“If the U.S. and South Korea carry out strikes and try to overthrow the North Korean regime and change the political pattern of the Korean Peninsula, China will prevent them from doing so.”

So the article headline obscures the real message from China. The sheer extent of verbal posturings by the Trump Administration has provided to  Kim Jong Un what computer malware specialists call “attack surface”, the part of the adversary susceptible to attack. With computers, it’s code. In foreign relations, it’s  the war of words , with real effects.

On January 17, 1900, Theodore Roosevelt penned a letter to the governor of New York, with a sentence that has stood the test of time: “Speak softly, and carry a big stick”. It’s a  principle of what is now called “Big Stick Diplomacy.”

It isn’t one of the world’s great ideas. But regardless of what you think of Roosevelt’s foreign policy, he was a success in his own time. Wherever current events lead, “Speak softly…” will remain available to future statesmen.







Havana Sonic Attacks — for Super Techies Only

With the Houston deluge, this is not the time for a serious post. If you’re curious enough to want more detail on how I thought about the Havana attacks, this is bedtime reading — for super techies.

My reaction to the initial report, by CNN on August 14, was the possibility of a case of mass hysteria. Wikipedia lists remarkable incidents, but mass hysteria need not be remarkable. It can be quite subtle. Numerous incidents involve faux “outbreaks” of a disease. It tends to occur in small, closed social communities, of which English-speaking legations in Cuba are an obvious example.

Perhaps a member of of this group came down with an undiagnosed inner ear infection, leading to a sense of pressure and tinnitus. Suppose the tenure of this individual began before the thaw. This person may have suffered Cuban harassment at that time, of the tire-slashing and super-gluing kind. “Justifiable paranoia” occurs. As the saying goes, “Even paranoids have real enemies.” Under conditions of tension and isolation, this could be enough to spark hysteria. And the medical findings? Preexisting conditions.

So I did not go at it as if it was real. It might have all petered out. But the reports persisted, with larger numbers of affected individuals. The F.B.I. has the expertise, and external consultants have no doubt been employed, to address the above. Although it is worth noting, mass hysteria has occasionally fooled experts, at least for a while.

So, assuming it is real, what is it? The Guardian consulted a  real expert, Tim Leighton, who thinks ultrasonics would be difficult. Quoting,

Leighton, who has studied the safety of ultrasound and measures to avoid its potential adverse effects on humans, said he would like to see more “prosaic possibilities” such as drugs or poison ruled out before being persuaded of the sonic weapon theory.

Leighton thinks a weapon that can work at a distance would have to be car-sized. I disagree. Another expert, Cleveland, refers to commercially available technology. Quoting,

Cleveland said that building an ultrasound emitter would not be hard. “You can buy transducers on the internet that emit these frequencies,” he said. “Anybody with a bit of engineering background could put one together.”

At that level, yes. But basic physics and some antenna theory suggests that it is possible to do much better. To do so would require the resources of a top-tier state, of which there are only a few. The mathematics of electronically scanned radar, at which the Russians are very good, is a good jumping off point. It also requires advanced materials science and condensed matter physics, so it is in no way easy.

Cleveland is correct that the effects could conceivably be produced by low doses of something not thoroughly studied in the West, like the Novichok toxins. But I chose to key off the F.B.I. theory that this was sonic. It’s the only reasonable choice for open source analysis. And there is one reported characteristic of the attacks that conforms with neither Cleveland’s off-the-shelf parts, or poison.

This was noted in (CNN) Sonic attacks in Cuba hit more diplomats than earlier reported, officials say. Quoting,

Other attacks made a deafeningly loud sound similar to the buzzing created by insects or metal scraping across a floor, but the source of the sound could not be identified, the two US officials said.

This is highly significant. We know that sound and light are both waves. Light can travel in a vacuum. Sound requires air. If you hold two flashlights, one in each hand,  and cross the beams, they pass through each other without influencing each other. This is because, in the normal world, the vacuum is linear.

The same is almost true with sound, but not quite. In normal circumstances, sound mixes up with sound to make new sounds. This is because air is not linear, and neither are the objects it encounters. Since 2000, this has been exploited in two ways:

So we see that multiple frequencies of ultrasound can create audible sounds, and a single frequency of ultrasound can retrieve audible sound  from a somewhat distant person. That an ultrasonic, ultradirectional microphone is possible is probably the cause of theories of CNN “experts”:

There are other possibilities, including environmental factors, said experts like Sharon Weinberger, a journalist, and the author of “The Imagineers of War: The Untold Story of DARPA.” Others, such as former Foreign Service Officer James Lewis, point to the possibility of human error, in particular a surveillance operation gone wrong.

The implication is that a microphone using an ultrasonic beam was maladjusted or broken, causing the “attack.” But the patent describes a microphone of very limited and specific use, when the monitor and the subject are separated by unobstructed air. Under that circumstance, and only that, does the microphone have an advantage over other directional microphones. Perhaps because of this stringent limitation, this design is not offered on the open market. It has no use interior to a dwelling.

There’s more, but there are more days of deluge. So I will supply more bedtime reading another night.




Indonesian militants planned ‘dirty bomb’ attack – sources

Reuters:  Exclusive: Indonesian militants planned ‘dirty bomb’ attack – sources.

The conclusion, that a “thorium bomb” is not very effective as a “dirty bomb”, is correct. Quoting,

But experts cast doubt on their expertise, equipment and chances of success.

This is more tentative than necessary, the normal reaction  towards information of an unfamiliar nature.  The word “doubt” can be replaced with “certain to fail.”

If the planned bomb had gone off in a busy public space, the area would be safe for transit as soon as a normal cleanup were completed, the same kind of cleanup required by any terror bombing. There is more thorium in the granite of many public buildings.


“It could burn anything and make it hard for people to breathe.”

Thorium shares a property of some other elements: a fine powder burns spontaneously in air. A dust cloud can explode  like flour. So the addition of thorium to the mix could increase the “bang”, with some of the properties of a very small  thermobaric weapon. But TATP is uniquely unsuitable for this combination.  There are easier ways. Let’s skip the details.

This misdirection of terrorists, apparently from the association of thorium with atomic energy,  keeps them from more serious mischief. The dirty bomb threat is real.

Havana Sonic Attack; CNN Consults “Experts”

CNN: Was Cuban sonic attack a weapon, or an accident?

This is Bad Journalism. The three reporters reached out to individuals they describe as “experts”. But they aren’t experts. They are just people the three authors can talk to.

With the Information Explosion has come increasing specialization. A hundred years ago, a well-rounded liberal arts education implied that you would be able, in some minimal way, to grasp the fundamentals of our universe and society. If nothing else, your liberal arts heritage would make possible an unbroken chain of who-to-ask. If you didn’t understand something, you knew enough to find who would.

This fundamental ability, to “know who knows”, has become a casualty of the Information Explosion. Increasingly, people don’t know what they don’t know. This self-awareness deficit seeds a chain reaction, reaching out to people who don’t know either.

If it’s not your job to root out information, it’s just being dull and narrow. There have been ignoramuses  as long as people. But ignorance to the point of not knowing who to ask is fatal to the purpose of a reporter.

The first thing these reporters should have asked themselves, as a self-check is, “Do I know for sure what it means to be an expert on this subject?” Let’s put down the sterling definition first:

An expert on the subject of sonic harassment is someone whose job it is to design equipment, teach the operation of it, or to counteract the effects. Their job descriptions:

  • Design: An engineering physicist, or applied physicist, engaging in the cross-discipline of physics and engineering used to design actual devices.
  • Teach: A support specialist provided by the manufacturer to train clandestine operators. The operators themselves do not qualify as experts. They don’t know enough.
  • Counteract: A person whose job it is to ferret out and nullify all manners of clandestine electronic attack.

How does this compare to the list of cited “experts”?

  • Dr. Hung Jeffrey Kim, neurologist. The neurologist typically  has encyclopedic  knowledge of neurological problems and the relationship with pathology. He is expert at noninvasive diagnosis by clinical signs. Typically, he has little knowledge of physics. He knows little about acoustics beyond the basics of sound pressure level presented to the ear, and localization of sound. Mathematics:  undergraduate level. If I’m wrong, I’ll be happy to discuss with Dr. Kim.
  • Dr. Scott Masten, toxicologist. Toxicology is about chemistry, not physics. Knowledge of this  subject is limited to generalities.
  • Sharon Weinberger, journalist. The CNN journalists cite another journalist as an “expert”?   Technical knowledge: negligible.
  • James Lewis, former foreign service officer. Technical knowledge: negligible. He may not know this.

What happened? Why did the CNN journalists reach out to people who are not experts, and anoint them as such?

  • The CNN criteria is to bang out an article as fast as possible, without spending too much time on it. Make four phone calls, and you’re done.
  • Unlike sometimes socially distant scientists and engineers, the CNN “experts” are socially approachable.
  • Because their technical levels are little higher than the reporters, they won’t encounter the feared gobbledygook. CNN’s journalists can understand them easily, because they have the same limited vocabulary relevant to the subject.

Have people with expert backgrounds really become unapproachable? Or are we more impressed than we should be by  job titles, “Dr.”, “diplomat”, or “journalist”? Maybe a little more time with someone approaching the criteria of a real expert, coffee and doughnuts instead of the quickie phone call? CNN, try it.

Or has the Information Explosion deprived CNN’s journalists of the self-awareness of what they don’t know, and who to ask?

It would be interesting to compare the reasoning of the CNN article with the two I’ve written, Sonic Attacks on U.S. and Canadian Diplomats in Cuba; a Kremlin Op? and Havana Sonic Attacks — Addendum for techies only.

But it simply isn’t possible. It’s beyond the ken of the CNN reporters. Tragically, they don’t know how important their deficit is. If they did, it would become unimportant, because they would find the right people to ask.

CNN: know what you don’t know. Raise your standards.





Havana Sonic Attacks — Addendum for techies only

For techies only. 

A paper of the Central Institute for Labor Protection, Poland, (pdf) “Effects of Ultrasonic Noise on the Human Body – A Bibliographic Review”, is so highly relevant, an addendum is required. In Sonic Attacks on U.S. and Canadian Diplomats in Cuba; a Kremlin Op?, I wrote,

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.

A directed energy sonic weapon could take the form of a wave packet projector, an array of broadband piezo transducers working off lookup tables and adaptive algorithms. The report of concussion-type symptoms suggests a  packet pulse rate at the resonance the cranial cavity.

The problem with the above is that because of impedance mismatch between air and human tissue, very little energy  of the beam would enter the skull, not nearly enough to produce observable changes in brain tissue. But reminding us that symptoms, functional change, and pathology are not the same thing, the above paper provides a loophole. Quoting,

Workers using ultrasonic devices suffered from functional changes such as neurastenia, cardiac neurosis, hypotension, heart rhythm disturbances (bradycardia) and adrenergic system disturbances [32]. Studies showed that exposure to sounds with a frequency of 21 kHz and level of 110 dB for 3 h daily for 10–15days caused functional changes in the cardiovascular and central nervous systems [35]. Workers exposed to noise emitted by ultrasound devices suffered from increased neural excitability, irritation, memory problems and difficulties with concentration and learning [34].

Roshchin and Dobroserdov indicated that lev-els of 90–110 dB within the range of lower frequencies (21kHz) and 110–115 dB within the range of higher frequencies (40kHz) constituted the limit of occurrence of functional changes [36].

This is an assertion that sonic devices of reasonable power can cause  micro-structural changes in the brain, significant to neurological functioning, but with different pathology than normal concussion. This solves the major hurdle in explanation of the Havana events . Devices achieving these levels, either beam forming packet projector, or externally powered passive gadgets, are feasible.

And who are the authors of [35 and [36]? They  happen to be Russian:

35. Il’nitskaia AV, Pal’tsev IuP. [Combined
action of ultrasonics and noise of standard
parameters]. Gig Sanit. 1973;(5):50–3. In

36. Roshchin AV, Dobroserdov VK. [Reactions
of the human auditory analysor to the effect
of high frequency acoustic oscillations].
Gig Tr Prof Zabol. 1971;15(12):3–7.



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