Mysterious sounds and scary illnesses as political tools

Lisa Diedrich and Benjamin Tausig write: President Trump has long signaled his desire to reverse President Barack Obama’s normalization of relations with Cuba, so it’s no surprise that his administration has begun to do just that by withdrawing most employees from the United States Embassy in Havana.

But a part of the justification for the move — the reports that embassy employees were victimized by a “sonic attack” that caused a range of physical symptoms — fits a troubling pattern. It’s just the latest example of the way Mr. Trump has attempted to harness vague, unspecified threats to inspire fear and advance his political agenda.

The Associated Press first reported on Aug. 10 that State Department employees had been targeted by these attacks. According to the spokeswoman Heather Nauert, they caused “a variety of physical symptoms.” It was also reported at this time that the State Department had already retaliated for these attacks by expelling two Cuban diplomats from the United States on May 23.

Since then, much of the news coverage of the incident has turned to a discussion of technical questions about sonic weaponry. A few articles quote experts who are skeptical, to put it mildly, but a majority of the coverage has accepted and even reiterated the State Department’s explanation wholesale.

The truth is, the sort of sonic weaponry that might cause the concussions and persistent memory loss that the State Department claimed to have found in its diplomats doesn’t exist, as far as experts in this field know. “Nothing about this story makes any sense to us,” said a marketing director of a firm that manufactures acoustic devices, quoted in Wired. To imagine that such weapons have not only been covertly developed but also were then somehow hidden near the embassy is even more fanciful, for a variety of logistical and technical reasons. The fact-checking site Snopes.com provided a review of scientific data on sound and sonic weapons, concluding that it was false to claim that such weapons could be responsible for what happened to the United States diplomats in Cuba. Yet, this has not stopped the reverberation of sonic-weapon rumors. The press has continued to amplify the story, and the Trump administration has carried on with its narrative, even issuing a Cuba Travel Warning based on the “specific attacks” that it says targeted embassy employees. [Continue reading…]

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