In late 2016, U.S. diplomats in Havana began to report ear pain, dizziness, confusion – and some showed symptoms of mysterious brain injury.
The diplomats said that their symptoms occurred after they repeatedly heard a high-frequency noise. The State Department withdrew half its embassy staff, and several studies concluded that the high-frequency noise was generated by a sonic weapon. A new study argues that the high-frequency noise was created by local crickets.
In late 2016, U.S. diplomats in Havana began to report ear pain and other symptoms from a high-frequency noise, leading the State Department to withdraw half its embassy staff, and expel Cuban diplomats in retaliation (see “Microwave weapons suspected as cause of U.S. envoys’ illnesses,” HSNW, 4 September 2018; Tim Golden and Sebastian Rotella, “The sound and the fury: Inside the mystery of the Havana embassy,” HSNW, 16 February 2018).
A new study by two biologists, however, assessed a purported recording of the noise and said it matched the mating song of the Indies short-tailed cricket found around the Caribbean.
The New York Times reports that the specific cause of the diplomats’ ailments was outside the scope of the study, with the researchers not ruling out that the diplomats suffered an attack by a sonic weapons at another point.
“While disconcerting, the mysterious sounds in Cuba are not physically dangerous and do not constitute a sonic attack,” said the study by Alexander Stubbs, a graduate student at the University of California, Berkeley, and Fernando Montealegre-Zapata, a professor of sensory biology at the University of Lincoln in Britain.
“Our findings highlight the need for more rigorous research into the source of these ailments, including the potential psychogenic effects, as well as possible physiological explanations unrelated to sonic attacks,” they wrote.
The researchers say that the Cuba incident has parallels to the 1981 yellow rain incident, when the United States accused the Soviet Union of deploying in Southeast Asia deadly chemical weapons—which some researchers later concluded to be droppings from bees.
In the Havana incident, the researchers studied a recording made by a U.S. government employee which was sent to the U.S. Navy for analysis and was later published by the AP.
The researchers compared the Cuba recording with data from the Singing Insects of North America database run by University of Florida entomologist Thomas Walker, who found that the Indies short-tailed cricket had the fastest wing stroke rate of any known cricket that calls continuously.
The cricket’s calling song matches the recording in “duration, pulse repetition rate, power spectrum, pulse rate stability, and oscillations per pulse,” the study said.