Tag Archive: James Hamblin

As protests grow, will Trump’s threatened military force include NextGen sonic weapons?

LRADs deployed in Ferguson, Missouri, Aug. 2014 | Photo credit: Loavesofbread licensed under CC BY-SA 4.0

by David M. Sykes, Vice Chair, The Quiet Coalition

Weaponized sound is not new to police and military commanders, as this research paper from the journal Science and Global Security points out. There are good examples of weaponized sound going back many centuries, though they’re generally considered to be “non-lethal weapons.” Not harmless, but not deadly. And they’ve being used against protesters in the U.S., as shown in the photo from Ferguson, Missouri, shown above.

Eric Niiler, writing for History.com, provides a good historical summary of the subject, and includes a photo of a long range acoustic device, or sound cannon, deployed by police during a Trump rally in 2017 in Anaheim, California to deter potential mob action. But we’re much more likely to read about tear gas and pepper spray and water cannons and rubber bullets than this kind of high tech gear.

The article also reaches all the way back to the Israelites blaring trumpets at the walls of Jericho.

Do sonic weapons get used often? Yes. Niiler writes about recent appearances with which we’re all familiar:

Police units used LRAD devices at an Occupy Wall Street rally in 2011 and in Ferguson, Missouri, in 2014. They are currently deployed on naval ships to deter smaller boats from approaching. More than 20 countries are now using the LRAD. Israeli Defense Forces have used it to break up Palestinian protests, Japanese whaling ships have repelled environmental groups and several cruise ships have used it to fight off pirates in places like the Horn of Africa or Indian Ocean. Most recently, mysterious attacks on the US Embassy in Cuba appeared to be sonic in nature though no publicly available reports have disclosed understanding of what actually happened there.

And where there is weaponized sound, there are health concerns. This 2017 post by James Hamblin in The Atlantic is a very interesting overview on the health aspects of sonic weapons.

David Sykes chairs several professional organizations in acoustical science: QCI Healthcare Acoustics Project, ANSI Committee S12-WG44, the Rothschild Foundation Task Force on Acoustics, and the FGI Acoustics Committee. He is lead author of “Sound & Vibration 2.0” (Springer, 2012), a contributor to the NAE’s “Technology for a Quieter America” and the GSA’s “Sound Matters,” and co-founded the Laboratory for Advanced Research in Acoustics at Rensselaer Polytech. A graduate of UC-Berkeley with advanced degrees from Cornell, he is a frequent organizer of professional conferences in the U.S., Europe, Asia and the Middle East.

“Health attacks” by inaudible sonic waves are real

Photo credit: Tess Watson licensed under CC BY 2.0

James Hamblin, The Atlantic, writes about the attacks on American and Canadian diplomats in Cuba in his article, “What Are Sound Weapons?” Hamblin starts his piece by describing the incidents which caused several Havana-based diplomats to suffer headaches, balance issues, and even severe hearing loss. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, Hamblin notes, refered the to incidents as “health attacks.” And the AP reported that “U.S. officials concluded that the diplomats had been attacked with an advanced sonic weapon that operated outside the range of audible sound and had been deployed either inside or outside their residences.”

The weaponization of “energy waves with frequencies outside the range that the human ear can detect” is not new, writes Hamblin, and the health effects from exposure to inaudible sonic waves are real. Hamblin shares the story of residents of Kokomo, Indiana, who in 2001 experienced “annoyance, sleep disturbance, headaches, and nausea.” The U.S. National Institutes of Health investigated the matter but “couldn’t pin down the cause of the Indiana residents’ symptoms as infrasound.” The report, however, “did confirm that infrasound can cause fatigue, apathy, hearing loss, confusion, and disorientation.”

In the end, U.S. officials don’t know if Cuba is responsible or some third party, with the suggestion offered that the actor could have been “Russia, China, North Korea, Venezuela, or Iran.” But Hamblin adds that the attack is hardly sophisticated, as “[n]oise-induced hearing loss affects around one in four people,” although the source of noise is more mundane for most of us: loud concerts, shooting guns, and everyday failures to protect our hearing. Says Hamblin, “fascination with this sort of attack can be a reminder that it is worth arming ourselves in daily life against the more quotidian forms of sonic weaponry.”