The US now suspects Russian microwaves caused diplomats’ brain injuries

US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo has formed a task force to look into the incidents.
US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo has formed a task force to look into the incidents.
Image: AP Photo/Cliff Owen
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US diplomats and spies who suffered mysterious brain injuries in Cuba and China have seen many explanations for their problems: Sound weapons. Mass psychosisCicadas. Ultrasonic microphones.

And now, according to recent reports, microwave weapons operated by Russian agents.

In 2o16, US embassy workers in Cuba reported hearing chirping sounds before suffering headaches, memory and hearing loss, and difficulty sleeping. Physicians documented brain injuries in the victims, though these results have been questioned by other researchers. Similar symptoms were experienced by an embassy worker in Guangzhou, China, this year.

The New York Times reported on Sept. 1 that some physicians examining the diplomats, along with some government scientists, believe the injuries could have been caused by an attack with microwave energy. Under certain conditions, humans exposed to microwave energy report hearing audible sounds and suffering symptoms consistent with those reported by the diplomats.

At least one researcher isn’t convinced: University of Pennsylvania professor Kenneth Foster criticized the theory, writing that microwave energy sufficient to damage the human brain “would have to be so intense they would actually burn the subject.” He argued in favor of another theory proposed by a University of Michigan researcher, who was able to replicate sounds reportedly recorded by the victims, using interference generated between ultrasonic transmitters.

Such interference might be caused by electronic surveillance from outside an embassy interacting with jamming devices inside.

Today, NBC reported that officials suspect Russian agents are behind the incidents, though they are unable to confirm how or why. Government researchers are reportedly experimenting to determine if a microwave transmitter could have been used to induce the reactions alone or in combination with some other technology.

Russia competes with the US for influence in Cuba, and has been a major beneficiary of president Donald Trump’s skeptical policy toward Havana. The health problems at the embassy are often cited by opponents of normalizing relations as evidence of Cuba’s bad faith.