"Sonic Attacks" at the US Embassy in Cuba - Mass Hysteria?

M Bornong

Senior Member.
I'd like to know how many of the injured showed this damage?

Mick West

Staff member

Mick West

Staff member
It's all rather vague:
So what are "changes" to white matter? Is a "change" the same as "damage"? How is it measured? What are they comparing it against? Your white matter "changes" when you learn a new skill (like music, or juggling) or are simply exposed to novel situations.

It's very hard to say without any context or numbers. It's also very hard without comparison to another similar population. It might even be impossible, as many of the symptoms, even including changes in white matter, might after arisen in some cases due simply to the idea that they were being zapped, and the intense worry and scrutiny that came thereafter.


New Member

Considering that these incidents in Cuba left "US officials there with physical symptoms that one official said includes potentially permanent hearing loss", I would assume that any alteration would lean more towards "damage" than "change."

Also from the article above, "In the autumn [of 2016], officials said the affected diplomats and their spouses began to experience symptoms of hearing loss so severe and puzzling that an investigation was launched, and it was determined that they were at risk. They were allowed to leave Cuba, the officials said.

No children were affected, but at least some of the adults who were are believed to have suffered permanent hearing loss, according to the officials."

These seem like serious ailments, and not something that is usually attributed to learning to juggle. I know how to juggle. I never once lost my hearing because of learning to juggle.


Senior Member.
as many of the symptoms, even including changes in white matter, might after arisen in some cases due simply to the idea that they were being zapped, and the intense worry and scrutiny that came thereafter.
yup. Changes are noted in PTSD. Besides, how would they know what the white matter looked like BEFORE the alleged sound incidents? Are brain scans required for all employees?

Mick West

Staff member
These seem like serious ailments, and not something that is usually attributed to learning to juggle. I know how to juggle. I never once lost my hearing because of learning to juggle.

That's not the point. They detected " changes to the white matter tracts". They did not say what the nature of that change was, nor did they correlate it with the people who had hearing loss


Senior Member.
More on Cuban panel conclusion in Science magazine today:

Mick West

Staff member
Interesting, I'd missed the "cicada" theory, but it actually got reported back on Oct 27 on Cuban TV:


And in fact it was described as "similar to cicadas", presumably by the people who heard it, well before that, like in the 14 Sept 2017 Guardian article:
We have Cicadas here, and they do indeed have a bizzare high-pitched noise that's very difficult to locate. The noise varies from a grating buzz to a high pitched whine. Here's a high pitched one:
Source: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=bu2TunA2Pyw

And a close up, somewhat different sound:
Source: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=b3PRkwixQnQ

Part of the difficulty to tracking a single cicada (a trait shared by crickets and frogs) is that they tend to stop when you move - combined with the non-directional nature of the sound means you have to move a bit, wait, then see it it got louder. I once spent half an hour tracking one that was just 40 feet away.

So what it a couple of the cases were just people with a cicada in their room?

A huge problem here is discounting of explanations because they do not apply to all case, combined with taking aspects from one case (like a clinical diagnosis of "brain damage") and applying it to all cases.

Mick West

Staff member
Mixed messages in congress:


So Rubio still says it's "an attack", just maybe not a sonic one.
I am not in the habit of posting to online blogs, but in coming across this one, I have to say, the remarks by Mick West are very insightful and informative. I have just posted an updated assessment of the 'sonic attack' episode on my Psychology Today Blog, after watching the Hearings by the Senate Foreign Relations Committee.


Take away the 'mild brain trauma' and 'white matter track changes' - both of which did not happen to everyone,and you are dealing with a small sample size to begin with, and you have a classic textbook case of mass psychogenic illness. Many common conditions can cause white matter changes. As for concussion symptoms, this is an odd medical description. I remain confident that this is mass psychogenic illness.

Dr. Robert E. Bartholomew
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Active Member
So what it a couple of the cases were just people with a cicada in their room?
or directly under their bed? and cicadas can be really loud! imagine them in a nearly closed room with reflective walls and there is no wonder that someone gets confused by that noise.

when you were last time with joe rogan on his podcast and he'd played that soundsample, my first thought was "oh, sounds almost like a bad recording from a cicada".

Henry Crun

New Member
Suggestion that the effect was caused by intermodulation distortion between two ultrasound devices used for (for example) motion detection or eavesdropping.


A technical report from the University of Michigan offers a stunningly simple theory for the source of the Cuban “sonic attack”: a pair of eavesdropping devices too close to each other and tripping the ultrasound that ironically was supposed to make their presence quiet.

More importantly, it might not have been done with malicious intent.

“It doesn’t prove it’s the cause,” Kevin Fu, an associate professor at the University of Michigan and one of the co-authors of the study, cautioned. “It’s a correlation. But to us, it seems like a strong correlation.”

Looks like a study of the ages of people who were affected could be useful, with older people less sensitive to high audio frequencies.


New Member
A new theory emerges:

This theory seems fairly compelling. I would have liked the NYT to interview a skeptical scientist or two, though.
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Mick West

Staff member
NBC News follows up on the microwave theory, pointing the finger at Russia:

The state department remains convinced these are real attacks.

The incidents appear to have stopped over winter, when cicadas don't sing, and resumed in the spring.

[/ex]By September 2017, it appeared the attacks had stopped. But then new incidents were reported in April and May of 2018, leading to two new confirmed cases.

One of the new cases, a worker sent to Havana on temporary assignment to fill a vacancy, was hit within just a few hours of arriving in the country, two individuals briefed on the incident told NBC News[/ex]

The "Russia did it" theory takes a hit with incidents in China:

So I'm still going with mass hysteria as my #1 explanation. When they say "diagnosed with brain injury and symptoms consistent with the Cuba cases" this sounds just like the usual constellation of symptoms that everyone has from normal life and getting older. Hearing loss, vision changes, fatigue, aches and pains, etc. Someone hears a buzzzing from a cicada or some electrical equipment or something. They are worried about energy beam attacks, they tell someone, a doctor asks them if their hearing has changed, they think about and notice a slight ringing in their ears which has always been there, but not noticed until now. Same with other symptoms.


Active Member
So I'm still going with mass hysteria as my #1 explanation.
and that seems about right; a new paper strongly suggests a very loud cricket-species searching for mates:





New Member
Hello all,

First time poster but I have been fascinated by this story.

This latest person went to the embassy late last year.

I have a few questions and was curious if anyone can answer.

Can Mass hysteria affect one person elsewhere? How would that work in the China case?

No interview with the person but here is the mother's interview

Unsure if this was mentioned in forum (there was another incident reported in Uzbekistan which was quickly shut down by the State department but the reporter still stands by that reporting.

Just as another very hypothetical question - could the actual sound if the cicada actually be used as the actual weapon - if there was some way of directing the sound at the people?

Thank you for your discussions above
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New Member
The Havana Syndrome Part 1: Why Canadian diplomats have accused their government of abandoning them

The reported managed to interview in anonymity 3 of the diplomats and a brief review of what they experienced

As a silly aside - there seems to be mention of ultimate frisbee a few times - is that truly a thing for diplomats.

Diplomat Allen is first mentioned and the build up to the interview in the article starts

This is what happened to them though I will state the the first line below mentions winter of 2017 - according to my timeline I have that should be 2016 as if begins round there and also makes sense with what the diplomat says below

There is a little more saying that the children were told to stay in Canada whilst Allen and wife came back

Diplomat Davies

Mrs. Davies was diagnosed as having damage to her vestibular system and is hypersensitive to light and noise, suffered from headaches, dizziness and muscle twitching that would last for days. She has to wear special glasses because of sensitivity to light which is similar to the mother of the diplomat from China.

Diplomat Baker

That is a bit more detail; about what the people experienced. I'll talk more about Part 2 in next post

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New Member
Havana Syndrome, Part 2: How a dog’s brain may help solve the mystery of Canadian diplomats’ Cuban nightmare

To me this is more interesting. Initially there is talk about the brain injury that was diagnosed - now I know that that topic is a bit contentious. In the article they talk to Michael Hoffer

Again he is adamant that
Diplomat Allen had three Shih Tzu dogs and this is the bit that I am more intrigued by

To me and this is my personal opinion - this ties in to the Chinese incident. In the interview with the female diplomat's mother she mentions that her dogs were also seemingly affected.

To conclude there is a little more re the diplomats

Now I do have some figures which state the percentages of those that still have permanent effects but I need to find that study first I think before I start throwing numbers at you.

Unsure if this helps or just muddies the waters more and I hope I haven't made any errors

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New Member
Finally this is more what i have taken from the above and would like clarity on

My understanding from the interviews is that it would seem that most thought they were the only ones affected. So can different people start experiencing these similar effects in isolation? I know that mass hysteria fits and the more likely answer though the diplomats dispute this as do those that have studied them. But can this hysteria happen in that way or do you interpret what they say differently?

What about the dogs? I must admit I focus on this perhaps too much but the dogs being seemingly affected would indicate to me something else but again i'm no expert in this and if there are other studies that suggest otherwise that would be interesting.

The biological side - I know that the americans didn't send in the CDC untii very late - August 16th according to what I have found (think this was mentioned in a cspan hearing)

Unsure about the Canadian side of things - but are their any biological (molds, etc) that could account for these sort of symptoms?

Finally just to touch upon the more fantastical side of it - does this lean more towards the strangely side of the story or less to you?

Kind Regards

Thanks for the patience
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Mick West

Staff member
Kids get nosebleeds (which can run in the family.) People experience health problems as they got older. Shitzus have seizures.

To an individual, their health problems are very significant, and they want to ascribe a significant cause to them. But a series of anecdotes is not evidence of some kind of coordinated attack.

David Coulter

Senior Member.
There is an interesting analysis of this in the NYT today (18/5/19). https://nyti.ms/2JnhN3r

"Mass hysteria" is not an accepted term by the neurology experts - it is called "functional disorder".

A couple of quotes summarize discussions in this thread:


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Z.W. Wolf

Senior Member.
People tend to think of "radiation" in intuitive terms; or, really, feel about it in an intuitive way. It's simply something bad. Associated with sickness. Like black magic, it causes you to get sick in mysterious ways.

In analytical terms microwave radiation is non-ionizing , and could not cause capillary or cell damage... unless you were literally cooking. Your flesh would literally have to be heated to over 200 degrees. You would notice.

But what about ionizing radiation? Could there be an X-ray or Gamma ray weapon? I don't know. But the whole scenario doesn't seem plausible to me.

More down to Earth, these symptoms sound a lot like tick or mosquito borne encephalitis, which wouldn't be surprising in a place like Cuba. If not that, how about a half a hundred other tropical diseases, parasites, molds, and whatever.
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Z.W. Wolf

Senior Member.

Little yappy dogs barking incessantly for no reason. Wow, that is strange.

Agent K

Active Member
"Havana syndrome: Exposure to neurotoxin may have been cause, study suggests"

Mick West

Staff member
A detailed article on the current state of the story. Basically, there seems to be considerable dispute, with many people claiming the government is not taking things seriously enough, along with claims of political maneuvering.


Agent K

Active Member
(National Academies) Report Points to Microwave ‘Attack’ as Likely Source of Mystery Illnesses That Hit Diplomats and Spies

The most probable cause of a series of mysterious afflictions that sickened American spies and diplomats abroad in the past several years was radiofrequency energy, a type of radiation that includes microwaves, the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine has concluded in a report.

The conclusion by a committee of 19 experts in medicine and other fields cited “directed, pulsed radiofrequency energy” as “the most plausible mechanism” to explain the illness, which came to be known as Havana syndrome, though they said that they could not rule out other possible causes and that secondary factors may have contributed to symptoms, according to a copy of the report obtained by The New York Times.

The report, which was commissioned by the State Department, provides the most definitive explanation yet of the illness that struck scores of government employees, first at the U.S. Embassy in Havana in 2016, and then in China and other countries. Many of the officers suffered from dizziness, fatigue, headaches, and loss of hearing, memory and balance, and some were forced into permanent retirement.

C.I.A. officers visiting overseas stations also experienced similar symptoms, The Times and GQ magazine reported in October. The officers were traveling to discuss countering Russia covert operations with foreign intelligence agencies, a fact that adds to suspicions that Moscow is behind the episodes.

Though couched in careful, scientific language, the new report reveals strong evidence that the incidents were the result of a malicious attack. It attributes the illnesses to “directed” and “pulsed” — rather than “continuous” — energy, implying that the victims’ exposure was targeted and not the result of more common sources of microwave energy, such as, for example, a cellphone.

It also said the committee found the immediate symptoms that patients reported — including strange sensations of pain, pressure and sound that often appeared to emanate from a particular direction, or occurred in a specific spot in a room — were more consistent with a directed “attack” of radiofrequency energy.

The committee considered other causes, like chemical exposures and infectious diseases, but said they appeared unlikely.

The report said that the variability of the incidents, which appeared to affect people in different ways, left open the possible influence of “psychological and social factors.” And it said that some of the victims may be experiencing a condition called “persistent postural-perceptual dizziness,” a nervous system disorder that produces a prolonged feeling of vertigo or unsteadiness.
Moscow has denied any role, and Gina Haspel, the C.I.A. director, has not concluded the Kremlin was responsible. But some C.I.A. analysts who are Russia experts, diplomats and scientists contend that evidence points to Moscow, which has a long history of experimenting with the technology.

The report does not point to a perpetrator, though it mentions “significant research in Russia/U.S.S.R.” on pulsed radiofrequency technology, as well as the exposure of military personnel in Eurasian communist countries to microwave radiation. The Soviet Union bombarded the American Embassy in Moscow with microwaves in the 1970s and ’80s. In a 2014 document, the National Security Agency discussed a microwave weapon used by a hostile country, which people familiar with the document said was Russia.
The report by the National Academies also contains a stark warning about the possibility of future episodes, and the U.S. government’s ability to detect them, or to mount a response. The fact that American government employees reported afflictions not only in Cuba and China but also in Russia and other countries raises questions about how widespread the incidents may be.

The report is here
An Assessment of Illness in U.S. Government Employees and Their Families at Overseas Embassies | The National Academies Press (nap.edu)


The report said that the variability of the incidents, which appeared to affect people in different ways, left open the possible influence of “psychological and social factors.”

That is to say: the incidents are compatible with mass hysteria (mass conversion disorder, or mass psychogenic illness would be more appropiate terms).


New Member
Getting to the NAS report takes an unnecessary number of clicks, so I attached it here.

I've been following this story since it first broke in 2017. I also thought mass hysteria was the likeliest explanation, so I was eagerly awaiting the NAS report to see what they had to say about it. As it turns out, what they say is that they have insufficient data to say anything:

These key characteristics of mass psychogenic illness have strong parallels with outbreaks of infectious diseases and have been investigated successfully using similar rigorous epidemiologic methods since the 1960s (Knight et al., 1965), including detailed examinations of index cases and subsequently affected individuals, contact tracing, and careful investigation of the environments in which the events occurred (Bartholomew et al., 2012; Boss, 1997; Cole et al., 1990; Knight et al., 1965). As described in Section 3, the committee noted two constellations of signs and symptoms, one of them acute, occurring at the onset of some cases with more distinct and unusual features, and the other chronic, occurring later in the course of these cases or with subacute onset in other cases. However, in the absence of patient-level data, the committee could not identify index versus subsequent cases. Furthermore, the committee received no epidemiological evidence about patterns of social contacts that would permit a determination about possible social contagion. Without access to these data, a retrospective diagnosis of mass psychogenic illness is considered to be speculative at best and subject to necessary criticism (Jacobsen and Ebbehøj, 2016, 2017; Jansen et al., 2016). Thus, the committee was not able to reach a conclusion about mass psychogenic illness as a possible cause of the events in Cuba or elsewhere.

In general, the NAS report is disappointing. They were not given patient-level medical data, and the results of many other investigations were kept secret from them:

The committee faced a variety of challenges in responding to these requests (see Section 2). In particular, much of the detail and many of the investigations performed by others were not available to it, either because they are classified for reasons of national security or restricted for other reasons (e.g., internal department deliberations, protected health information, etc.). Thus, the committee had only limited amounts and kinds of information.

This makes me question how seriously the government is taking the investigation. With these restrictions in place, the NAS committee couldn't do any original research and were limited in the hypotheses they could test.

What do we think of the NAS' finding that directed, pulsed RF energy could cause the symptoms? I haven't looked through the citations yet, but if anyone's interested, here are the relevant citations with context:
There are multiple possible mechanisms for non-thermal RF biological effects, including apoptosis and cell oxidative stress (Barnes and Greenebaum, 2018; Ilhan et al., 2004; Salford et al., 2003; Steiner and Ulrich, 1989; Zhao et al., 2007).RF-induced, non-thermal cell membrane dysfunction (Ramundo-Orlando, 2010) can occur from coherent excitation (Fröhlich, 1988) above 1 GHz due to a variety of effects including electroporation, metabolic changes, pressure fluctuations, and voltage gated calcium channel disruption (Pall, 2013, 2016).
Military personnel (in Eurasian communist countries) exposed to non-thermal microwave radiation were said to have experienced headache, fatigue, dizziness, irritability, sleeplessness, depression, anxiety, forgetfulness, and lack of concentration, as well as internal sound perception for frequencies between 2.05-2.50 GHz (Adams and Williams, 1976). The review by Pakhomov and Murphy noted that many of the studies from the former Soviet Union were flawed in one or more ways, but that some were well done, replicated, and credible.
Pulsed RF effects on the nervous system can include changes to cognitive (D’Andrea, 1999; Lai, 1994; Tan et al., 2017), behavioral (D’Andrea and Cobb, 1987), vestibular (Lebovitz, 1973), EEG during sleep (Lustenberger et al., 2013), and auditory (Elder and Chou, 2003) function in animals and humans, though many RF exposure characteristics (carrier frequency, pulse repetition frequency, orientation, power densities, duration of exposure) complicate direct comparisons of different experiments (D’Andrea et al., 2003)
In 1961, Alan Frey identified a new, RF-induced auditory phenomenon in both normal and deaf humans that became known as the “Frey effect” (Frey, 1961) (see Appendix C). The areas near the ear were most sensitive to these RF exposures; modulating the RF energy could produce a variety of effects including the perception of “buffeting of the head” or pressure on the face/head without dizziness or nausea, a “pins and needles sensation,” and a sound described as a “buzz, clicking, hiss, or knocking” within the head for RF frequencies between 0.4-3 GHz, depending on pulse width, pulse-repetition frequency (PRF), and peak power density (Frey, 1962).


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