Over the past two years there have been increasing reports of supposed “sonic injuries” among US diplomats. First in Cuba and more recently in China. Controversial implications are that the US officials may have been maliciously targeted by a “sonic weapon” in host countries. However, a more likely explanation is that the alleged victims are the result of US attempts to create “super spies”.
The number of American diplomats reportedly suffering from suspected “sonic injuries” is increasing, with 11 officials evacuated earlier this month from China. Initially, the mysterious incident was reported at just one US consular location in the city of Guangzhou. Now the suspicion of brain injuries has spread to American diplomats stationed in Beijing and Shanghai.
Some 250 US diplomats in China are reportedly undergoing neurological medical tests to ascertain if they have succumbed to the same kind of brain trauma diagnosed in other colleagues. A study of 21 diplomats evacuated from Cuba found last year that they had incurred brain injuries, but, it was diagnosed, not from physical impact to their heads.
Typically, the symptoms reported include cognitive impairment, visual impairment, hearing of strange sounds, dizziness and sleeplessness.
US doctors have so far been confounded by what may have caused the apparent injuries. Last week, the State Department said that ongoing investigations had not established a causal link to the cited medical problems among diplomats.
However, previously President Donald Trump had explicitly blamed Cuba for being responsible for the reported injuries to diplomatic staff. Trump’s accusation has no evidential foundation. The Cuban government denied having any involvement in presumed sonic attacks on American envoys. It has offered to assist any US investigation. Nevertheless, the evacuation of US staff from Cuba and Trump’s accusations have set back the recent detente in relations between the two Cold War foes which former President Obama had embarked on.
With regard to China, the US has been more circumspect in dealing with the reported cases of apparent sonic injuries, refraining from accusing Beijing of malicious activity. China has previously dismissed any suspicion of sonic attacks as “inconceivable”. Beijing has also hit out the US State Department issuing “health warnings” to its staff in China because such notifications convey an implication of wrongdoing by the host country.
In the context of Trump’s escalating trade war with China, there is the danger that reported cases of injury among diplomats could be politicized by Washington, thus adding to the already acrimonious relations.
Some factors so far missing from the subject need to be addressed. First, it seems strange that the mysterious brain injuries are only reported by US diplomats. No other country has reported similar incidents among their diplomatic staff.
Secondly, the American brain-injury cases have happened in two countries which could be deemed as politically sensitive. Why have similar cases not been reported among staff based in territories belonging to allied nations?
Thirdly, when US staff are described as “diplomats”, as they invariably are in Western media reporting, we should perhaps be more precise than this innocuous-sounding terminology. If we think of the personnel as “spies” then a more skeptical inference comes into play. Especially, given the sensitive nature of the two countries involved. If the concerned US staff were indeed serving as spies that raises the question about what sort of training and preparation programs they were subjected to ahead of their assignments.
The speculation that Cuban and Chinese state agents could have used some kind of sonic weapon to attack US diplomats is more in the realm of science-fiction fantasy. Both countries deny any such activity. There is no such weapon known to exist. Also, the US doctors who examined the diplomats evacuated from Cuba could not find any casual explanation. The absence of an external source for the injuries appears to be the official US position too, according to the State Department last week.
Significantly, the US doctors studying the Cuban cases said that all the individuals may have undergone a common experience related to their brain injuries.
Rather than speculating about a foreign agency being responsible for the injuries among American diplomats, or rather spies, perhaps the focus should be put on their own side. Were these individuals subjected to some form of hi-tech training run by the Pentagon or the CIA?
It is known that the Pentagon’s Defense Advanced Research Project Agency (DARPA) is investigating brain stimulation devices to greatly enhance learning ability in subjects.
DARPA, as recently as last year, reported the successful use of trans-cranial Direct Current Stimulation (tDCS) devices to boost the cognitive skills among experimental monkeys. It was claimed that subjects given treatment from such devices strapped to the head would later display a significant increase in learning and intelligence compared with control individuals receiving no treatment. DARPA reported a 40 per cent increase in learning ability among macaque monkeys subjected to the brain stimulation device.
One of the lead doctors in the program is quoted as saying: “In this experiment, we targeted the prefrontal cortex [of the brain] with individualized non-invasive stimulation montages.”
The researcher goes on to explain: “That is the region [of the brain] that controls many executive functions, including decision-making, cognitive control, and contextual memory retrieval. It is connected to almost all the other cortical areas of the brain, and stimulating it has widespread effects.”
Please note the parting caveat from the Pentagon-contracted scientist, viz., “stimulating has widespread effects”.
On the positive side, the Pentagon is evidently searching for a way to boost intelligence and learning in humans. This is by no means a new pursuit. For decades, American military intelligence agencies, as well as Hollywood science fiction, have been in thrall to the idea of harnessing the human brain and exploiting ever-higher levels of intelligence. The CIA is known to have run various drug programs and hypnosis – the notorious MK-ULTRA – as early as the 1950s and 60s. The holy grail was to find “super spies” and “super assassins”.
So, the history of the Pentagon and the CIA conducting systematic experiments in order to produce high-performance in humans is well documented.
We also know from recent Pentagon research that it is indeed using electronic brain stimulation devices to greatly enhance the cognitive performance among monkeys. It is therefore conceivable that the Pentagon has conducted unpublished research experiments on human subjects as well.
On the negative side, the sought-after higher intelligence may very well come with unforeseen injurious side-effects. Note again the Pentagon researcher above saying that stimulating the prefrontal cortex of the brain could have “wide-ranging effects”. These effects, in addition to increased intelligence and learning skills, could include deleterious consequences. Especially because the target area of the brain is crucial for the control of “executive functions”.
It is not disclosed by the Pentagon if its brain devices had any injurious impact on the experimental monkeys.
We also do not know the precise work assignments of the affected “diplomats” in Cuba and China. Were there any routine secretarial staff among the reported casualties, or were they all “field staff”, that is, most likely involved in sensitive spying tasks?
It seems unlikely that the Pentagon or affected staff would ever go public in declaring that they were subjected to some form of brain-stimulation device. In any case, the staff could be easily silenced through warnings over career prospects and future earnings or health insurance cover. It may be more convenient for the Pentagon to foment the suspicion of “sonic attack” by foreign agents. That scapegoating could have serious impact on international tensions, especially between the US and China over its trade war and territorial disputes in the South China Sea.
Nevertheless, despite the unknowns, from what we do know already, it seems a plausible posit that the recent upsurge in brain injuries among US diplomatic staff may have been caused not by “sonic attacks” in their host countries, but by their own superiors at the Pentagon or CIA conducting some form of clandestine program to create “super spies”.