Deaf Diplomats - Was it a Sound Cannon?
Andrew Wheeler posted on August 29, 2017 | 1572 views

Reports from American and Canadian diplomats at their respective posts in Cuba reported assaults by a covert sonic device that operates outside of our detectable decibel range. Diplomats described symptoms like hearing loss, nausea, headaches and balance disruption.

No one has claimed responsibility yet, so the sonic culprit is still unknown. It is a sober reminder that in our surreal age, sonic weapons are becoming more sophisticated. But sound has been used as a disorienting weapon for ages.

Sound waves are created by the vibration of an object which causes the gas, liquid or solid it passes through to vibrate. When we hear, it is our eardrums vibrating. The vibrations of our eardrums are interpreted by our brain as sound.

Sound travels through this chain reaction of vibrating air molecules in longitudinal waves. These waves change in pitch which is measured by frequency (the tone measures the quality of sound waves), but it is amplitude that determines a sound wave’s volume. Measured in decibels (dB), this is where the damage can be done to your ears. A normal conversation happens at about 60 dB, a lawnmower measures around 90 dB and most humans begin to feel pain at 130 dB.

Figure 1 - Ship's Serviceman 1st Class Scott D. Amberger aims a long range acoustic device (LRAD) at an incoming small craft from the amphibious command ship USS Blue Ridge (LCC-19) during a small boat attack drill. (Image courtesy of the US Navy.)
Figure 1 - Ship's Serviceman 1st Class Scott D. Amberger aims a long range acoustic device (LRAD) at an incoming small craft from the amphibious command ship USS Blue Ridge (LCC-19) during a small boat attack drill. (Image courtesy of the US Navy.)

Since we are human beings, we have harnessed sound for music -- and also transformed it into a weapon. Loud sound can permanently damage our hearing. New weapons called long range acoustic devices (LRAD) are being used by law enforcement and the military to disperse crowds with irritating sounds at decibel levels that can permanently damage your ears.

The LRAD can send out powerful sound waves at a maximum continuous volume of 162 dB, which is dangerous enough to cause permanent damage.

LRAD Corporation, which makes these sonic lasers, has many alternate applications other than weaponized functions like crowd control and enemy deterrence. For example, LRADs can be used as a bioacoustic deterrent for wildlife in a variety of places: Airports and airbases (to prevent birds from causing damage to aircraft), mining sites (to prevent birds from landing in hazardous waste areas), solar farms (creating a sonic fence to keep birds from messing up solar panels), and wind farms (yes, birds again).

LRADs Deployed by Humans against Other Humans

Shown here, apparently the first use in the US in 2009 (in Pittsburgh) to quell G20 rioting.

NYPD officers are seen here using an LRAD to disperse a Black Lives Matter protest in December 2015.


It was also purported to having been used against protestors at Standing Rock to prevent the Dakota pipeline project from moving forward.

The cruise ship Seabourn Spirit warded off Somali pirates using fire hoses and LRAD devices to keep from being boarded in a 2005 incident.

Using sound as a weapon is nothing new. Rock music was blared by US forces raiding Noriega’s compound until he surrendered. Soviet forces blasted tango music at night so Nazi invaders wouldn’t be able to sleep. The Vietcong blasted sounds of infants crying during the night to disorient US soldiers and also prevent them from sleeping.

Not all LRAD applications are harmful and offensive. Police officials in Ohio, after being hit by celebrations when OSU won the national championship in 2015, intend to use it to provide clear, audible communication over long distances, something they cannot get from their PA systems.

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