Zimmer maintains that the U.S. military has investigated the possibility of using sound as a non-lethal weapon, and such weapons have been used by the Navy to ward off pirates and by police for crowd control. “But these weapons work because they are insufferably loud, and if one were used against diplomats in Cuba, there would be no mystery about it.”
Therefore, speculation has turned to the use of a device that produces ultrasound, which is sound outside the range of human hearing, because its frequencies are too high. But there are various difficulties with an ultrasound device explanation of the events at the U.S. embassy in Cuba. Ultrasound cannot travel long distances, and it would not be able to penetrate the walls at the U.S. embassy. These difficulties could be overcome by using a big weapon, “a massive vehicle topped with a giant sound cannon,” but this would be easy to detect. If a smaller devise were placed inside the building, the interior walls would block the waves. Moreover, ultrasound would not produce the mild brain injury that is among the various reported symptoms. The ultrasound devise explanation does not make sense, given the facts that have been presented.
As a result of the lack of plausibility of an ultrasound device, Borger and Jaekl suggest the possibility of a psychogenic explanation, also known as mass hysteria. They quote Robert Bartholomew, author of books on mass hysteria: “None of this makes sense until you consider the psychogenic explanation.” And they cite Mark Hallett, the head of the human motor control section of the U.S. National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke and president of the International Federation of Clinical Neurophysiology: “From an objective point of view, it’s more like mass hysteria than anything else. . . . There are a very large number of individuals that have relatively vague complaints. . . . If it is mass hysteria, that would clarify all the mystery. . . . These people are all clustered together in a somewhat anxious environment, and that is exactly the situation that precipitates something like this. Anxiety may be one of the critical factors.” They also cite Jon Stone, a neurologist at the University of Edinburgh, who observed that the outbreak may have started with one or two people with headaches or hearing problems, and it spread to others in a high-stress atmosphere.
No one should think that Cuba is a hostile environment for U.S. diplomats in Cuba. Neither the Cuban leadership nor the Cuban people is hostile to people from other countries, including diplomats from the United States. To be sure, there is tension, as a result of the fact that some members of the U.S. diplomatic staff have been directly involved in supporting “dissidents” in Cuba, in violation of Cuban laws. But even with respect to this situation, Cuba protests such interference in Cuban affairs and calls for respect of international diplomatic norms, but it has not taken action against those engaged in such activities, even though Cuban intelligence services know which diplomats are involved.
However, inasmuch as Cuba is a focal point of confrontation between savage neoliberal capitalism and the Third World project of national and socialist liberation, and given that the U.S. blockade of Cuba has been condemned by the world, a post in Cuba is possibly one of the more stressful assignments for U.S. diplomatic personnel. And the election of Trump may have created a more stressful situation. For U.S. diplomats in Cuba, there emerged with Trump’s election a number of questions, for which there was no immediate answer. What would the policy of the new president be with respect to Cuba? What posture should a staff member adopt with respect to Cuba before representatives of the new administration? What does the election of Trump mean for one’s diplomatic career? There are reasons for thinking that the U.S. embassy in Havana has been a stressful environment since November 2016, which is when the State Department first heard of the “attacks.”
The positing in The Guardian article of a psychogenic explanation emerges from the fact the sonic weapon claim is viewed as nonsensical. But rather than a psychogenic phenomenon, there is the possibility that the entire affair is a politically-motivated construction. Inasmuch as disinformation campaigns generally include truth in some details, we would suspect that the story was not constructed out of nothing. Perhaps there were a few cases of a mysterious illness, and the construction of the sonic attack story was convenient politically. As Cubans would say, they made a storm out of a glass of water.
Perhaps we will learn more about this strange affair in the future; perhaps not. But we can be sure that there is no reason to doubt Cuban insistence that it has no responsibility in the affair.