Over the past few weeks there has been a lot of “noise” about the sounds heard in the American Embassy in Havana, Cuba.  This week Hearing International will take a close look at this issue and even play the Associated Press’s recording of the sound alleged to be heard in the embassy, creating a severe loss of hearing among a group of US diplomats that were posted in Cuba last year.

The Story And the Allegations

According to Zimmer (2017) the story goes something like this.  A scientific enigma lies at the heart of a strange confrontation between the United States and Cuba.  According to the State Department, nearly two dozen diplomats at the American Embassy in Havana have been stricken with a variety of mysterious medical symptoms, including hearing loss and cognitive difficulties. These attacks began last December but it took a couple of months before embassy officials could put a pattern to the symptoms. According to some reports, it was a delay in the announcement of these noises that now makes these noises news almost a year later after they began. Most of the embassy employees reported headaches, dizziness and hearing loss, tinnitus, and at least six were flown to the University of Miami Hospital this year for diagnosis. After concluding that embassy staffers were the victims of a stealth attack, the department withdrew nonessential personnel from Havana and issued an advisory urging Americans not to visit Cuba. While many of the attacks were generated at the Capri Hotel in Havana, some workers were attacked in their homes as well.  In retaliation for this sonic attack, the Trump administration expelled 15 Cuban diplomats from the United States. While the State Department has not provided further details about the medical condition of the affected embassy staffers, government officials have suggested anonymously that the diplomats may have been assaulted with some sort of sonic weapon. Of course, Cuban officials vehemently denied any involvement in the health incidents saying that, “Cuba has never, nor would it ever, allow that the Cuban territory be used for any action against accredited diplomatic agents or their families, without exception”.  

The Noise

The Associated Press (AP) has obtained a recording of what some U.S. Embassy workers heard in Havana in this series of unnerving incidents which were later deemed to be deliberate sonic attacks. The recording, recently released by the AP, is the first disseminated publicly of the many recordings of mysterious sounds that led investigators initially to suspect a sonic weapon.  Some of the victims heard what they thought to be cicadas, crickets, or other annoying sounds.  Some reported that they were exposed to vibrations prior to the noise, and while others felt that the noise was localized to their beds, keeping them from sleep.  The noises are now being analyzed by the US Navy and continue to be a mystery as to their origin.  After those exposed left the country the symptoms seemed to be reduced and often disappeared. Click on the picture at left for a video describing the noises.

Could it Be?

Thompson (2017) indicates that, “While acoustic weapons can certainly cause pain and hearing loss, most experts agree it’s impossible to focus such a weapon that precisely. Many of the reports describe the painful sounds as localized to one room or even part of one room, which is almost certainly not possible”.  He further reports, “Moreover, many people report symptoms such as memory loss and concussions, which would require exceptionally powerful weapons to produce. Former MIT researcher Joseph Pompei, psychoacoustics expert and inventor of sound machines that highly direct sound told the Associated Press that “Brain damage and concussions [from an acoustic weapon are] not possible. In his words, “Somebody would have to submerge their head into a pool lined with very powerful ultrasound transducers.” 

Even with the recordings of the sound, the symptoms suffered by the embassy workers do not add up to the scientists.  Audiologically, pyscho-acoustically and simply logically,  it does seem to be a bit interesting that the real experts in focusing sound do not feel that these sounds could have been created and focused toward the embassy workers to the extent that they would cause the symptoms indicated by the embassy workers.  To them, it may have been somewhat possible to fill a hotel, such as the Capri, with sounds but locating them to the beds and to the homes of the workers seems a bit suspect.   

So the jury is still out as to what really caused the workers’ illnesses, but at the moment the cause of these symptoms by a directed sound seems to be a myth.

 

 

 

References:

Bostwiki (2017). Cuba Attacks: The Sound (EXPLAINED!).  YouTube.com  Retrieved October 24, 2017.

Thompson, A. (2017). Who and What Is Attacking U.S. Diplomats In Cuba?  Popular Mechanics. Retrieved October 24, 2017.

Zimmer, C. (2017). A ‘Sonic Attack’ on Diplomats in Cuba? These Scientists Doubt It.  New York Times: Science.  Retrieved October 23, 2017.

 

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