From Moscow to Havana: Secret Weapons and Diplomats

The “sonic attacks” in Cuba aren’t the first suspected instance of invisible attacks on U.S. diplomats.

On this week's episode of The E.R. Podcast, the panel discusses the "sonic attacks" on the U.S. embassy in Cuba.
On this week's episode of The E.R. Podcast, the panel discusses the "sonic attacks" on the U.S. embassy in Cuba.
On this week's episode of The E.R. Podcast, the panel discusses the "sonic attacks" on the U.S. embassy in Cuba.

Last year, U.S. government personnel in Cuba began complaining of a variety of health problems: hearing loss, dizziness, tinnitus, vision issues, and cognitive issues, to name just a few. Some reported hearing loud noises or vibrations, while others reported nothing before their symptoms kicked in.

Initially, some suspected “sonic attacks” — low- or high-frequency sound waves—targeting diplomats, but they couldn’t find any devices that could cause such symptoms. Cuban officials denied any involvement in the incidents, instead blaming crickets and cicadas for the ailments, according to the AP.

No, this isn’t just a chapter in a sci-fi novel. To unpack the historical basis for this invisible attack, the E.R. turns to the time of the Soviet Union and the infamous “Moscow signal,” microwaves aimed at the U.S. Embassy in Moscow for two decades, beginning in the 1950s. Foreign Policy spoke to two former American diplomats who served in Moscow during this time.

Last year, U.S. government personnel in Cuba began complaining of a variety of health problems: hearing loss, dizziness, tinnitus, vision issues, and cognitive issues, to name just a few. Some reported hearing loud noises or vibrations, while others reported nothing before their symptoms kicked in.

Initially, some suspected “sonic attacks” — low- or high-frequency sound waves—targeting diplomats, but they couldn’t find any devices that could cause such symptoms. Cuban officials denied any involvement in the incidents, instead blaming crickets and cicadas for the ailments, according to the AP.

No, this isn’t just a chapter in a sci-fi novel. To unpack the historical basis for this invisible attack, the E.R. turns to the time of the Soviet Union and the infamous “Moscow signal,” microwaves aimed at the U.S. Embassy in Moscow for two decades, beginning in the 1950s. Foreign Policy spoke to two former American diplomats who served in Moscow during this time.

Ambassador Jon Glassman is a retired career foreign service officer. While at the Department of State, Ambassador Glassman served in many countries, including Afghanistan. He also has served as the assistant to the vice president of the United States and as deputy assistant to the vice president for national security affairs.

James Schumaker is a retired foreign service officer with experience in the Soviet Union, Russia, Ukraine, Belarus, Afghanistan, and Yugoslavia. Glassman was chargé d’affaires in Kabul when the American Embassy in Afghanistan shut down in 1989.

Sharon Weinberger is FP’s executive editor for news. She is the author of The Imagineers of War: The Untold Story of DARPA, the Pentagon Agency That Changed the World. Follow her on Twitter: @weinbergersa.

Robbie Gramer is a diplomacy and national security reporter at FP. Follow him on Twitter: @robbiegramer.

E.R. nerds, we love hearing from you. Have episode ideas or comments? You can email us at ERpodcast@foreignpolicy.com.

 

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