Cuba and the U.S. have a long history of antagonizing one another. Eisenhower targeted Castro with coup attempts and following the Bay of Pigs and Cuban Missile Crisis, these morphed into assassination efforts. The CIA went at Castro with such frequency that there was no questioning the agency’s intent, though there were doubts about its efficiency.
A combination of James Bond and the Keystone Cops, CIA assassination attempts employed exploding cigars, explosive-laden seashells, a diving suit coated with deadly fungus, and a poison pen. After repeated failures, the agency was reduced to trying to humiliate Castro by making his beard fall out, and it failed to manage even this clean-shaven caper.
Castro lasted through 10 U.S. presidents and survived a largely ineffective embargo that included prohibitions on Americans from traveling to Cuba. Then there were the trips in the other direction. The most well-known resulted in the Elián González saga, during which right wingers developed a sudden concern for residency rights of undocumented immigrants.
Toward the end of the Obama administration, U.S.-Cuba relations thawed, the countries resumed diplomatic ties, and the travel ban was largely rescinded. The freeze soon resumed, however, as President Trump put most of the travel restrictions back in place. There was also a mysterious mass sickening of U.S. State Department employees at the embassy in Havana. Whether there was a connection between these two events is the focus of this post.
There were suggestions that the illnesses resulted from Cuba deploying a supersonic weapon. While not specifying what type of attack, White House Chief of Staff John Kelly used that word and blamed it for the sickness surge. The State Department’s website reads, “Over the past several months, numerous U.S. Embassy Havana employees have been targeted in specific attacks.” Consequently, the department recalled nonessential personnel and expelled 15 Cuban diplomats.
There have been 22 confirmed illnesses, but a secret supersonic weapon would be an unlikely cause. More likely culprits would include toxins, bacteria, or viruses, as certain strains of all these can damage hearing, which is among the reported symptoms, along with tinnitus, headaches, and dizziness.
The Guardian entertained another possibility. Reporters interviewed neurologists who said that a definitive diagnosis is impossible without having access to the stricken diplomats, but they said perhaps a “functional disorder” could be effecting nervous system functioning. The newspaper quoted neurologist Mark Hallett, who said it was possible for 22 persons to be impacted by the same disorder, especially when they work close together in a high stress environment.
Meanwhile, the AP obtained audio tapes of high-pitched whistles, which some workers said they heard through cellphones or from their computer. Yet the recording reveals nothing about the source, its potentially deleterious effect on the human body, or its relationship to the sicknesses. Of relevance, the report noted that not all sickened Americans heard the strange sounds. And acoustics experts have said that it is highly unlikely that the range of symptoms reported could have been caused by any kind of supersonic weapons. They said they were unaware of any sound that could can cause physical damage when played for a short duration at moderate levels through normal workplace equipment like a cellphone or computer. This works against the idea that an auditory assault is causing issues related to hearing, cognition, vision, vertigo, and sleep.
It’s true that the Navy uses long-range blasts to target terrorists and pirates, that the Army uses them at checkpoints, and police employ them to disperse crowds. But these weapons work because of their high volume and cacophony. If such a device were targeting U.S. diplomats in Cuba, there would be no mystery about it. It would be loud and proud. Those intent on finding a Havana connection have speculated the answer may lie in a sinister device that is producing sounds beyond the human hearing threshold.
This would include the possibility of infrasound, which emits extremely low frequencies. It can cause feelings of unease in people and many times when persons reported sensing ghostly presence, infrasound was proven to be the culprit. Ultrasound is another possibility. At the other end of the spectrum from infrasound, ultrasound is too high to be heard by people, but it can still cause damage. However, even if Cuba succeeded in developing a secret supersonic weapon, physics laws would make it unlikely that the device could harm victims from a great distance. Ultrasound has limited range, gets weaker as it travels, and would be further hampered in a humid climate. Moreover, a beam of ultrasound would probably be repealed by a building’s exterior.
An ultrasound-emitting device planted inside a building might be close and powerful enough to cause harm to occupants, but it is unlikely that an army of these emitters could be implanted without being detected. And even if this happened, it still wouldn’t explain most of the symptoms U.S. diplomats are reporting.
So in summary, the idea of supersonic weapons being responsible is about as likely as Castro’s 2016 death being the result of the CIA finally succeeding.