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Medicine Government United States Science

Victims of Mystery Attacks In Cuba Left With Anomalies In Brain Tissue (arstechnica.com) 233

An anonymous reader quotes a report from Ars Technica: American victims of mysterious attacks in Cuba have abnormalities in their brains' white matter, according to new medical testing reported by the Associated Press. But, so far, it's unclear how or if the white-matter anomalies seen in the victims relate to their symptoms. White matter is made up of dense nerve fibers that connect neurons in different areas of the brain, forming networks. It gets its name from the light-colored electrical insulation, myelin, that coats the fibers. Overall, the tissue is essential for rapidly transmitting brain signals critical for learning and cognitive function.

In August, U.S. authorities first acknowledged that American diplomats and their spouses stationed in Havana, Cuba, had been the targets of puzzling attacks for months. The attacks were carried out by unknown agents and for unknown reasons, using a completely baffling weaponry. The attacks were sometimes marked by bizarrely targeted and piercing noises or vibrations, but other times they were completely imperceptible. Victims complained of a range of symptoms, including dizziness, nausea, headaches, balance problems, ringing in the ears (tinnitus), nosebleeds, difficulty concentrating and recalling words, permanent hearing loss, and speech and vision problems. Doctors have also identified mild brain injuries, including swelling and concussion. U.S. officials now report that 24 Americans were injured in the attacks but wouldn't comment on how many showed abnormalities in their white matter.

Victims of Mystery Attacks In Cuba Left With Anomalies In Brain Tissue

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  • Fraud (Score:2, Insightful)

    by Bruce Perens ( 3872 )

    No matter how hostile and immoral in their spying the Cubans and Russians might be, there is so little factual basis to this story, and it's so absurd that no radiation is sensed, etc., and people have visible brain pathology.

    Extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence. There isn't any.

    • Re:Fraud (Score:5, Insightful)

      by SuperKendall ( 25149 ) on Wednesday December 06, 2017 @10:48PM (#55692845)

      Extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence. There isn't any.

      Doesn't a fair number of people with similar and rare brain abnormalities constitute exactly that? I wasn't sure myself if anything was really going on, but this fact makes it seem much more compelling that something real was going on.

      Put it the way - why do you have reason to doubt what they are all saying?

      • by guruevi ( 827432 )

        First of all, it's a claim that they have experienced issues and that there is brain damage by some unspecified doctors. Until the actual report comes out and someone actually peer reviews it, there isn't much that you can say about it.

        Second, some white tissue abnormalities is normal in humans, especially those with a more physical background will have more abnormalities. I don't see a claim of lesions, concussions, or traumatic brain injury in the news article, only, again the unspecified field doctors di

      • There always was, always is and always be doubt in all that mattes (in this case, science).

        That's how material knowledge work.

    • Re:Fraud (Score:5, Interesting)

      by mlyle ( 148697 ) on Wednesday December 06, 2017 @10:52PM (#55692871)

      A specific claim like "it was a sonic weapon used by the Russians" might require extraordinary evidence.

      But if there's a bunch of people in one place, and then there is credible evidence that they've all got an unusual injury-- isn't it a bit natural to draw the inference that the unusual injury may have been caused by a factor related to that place-- whether deliberate harm, accidental consequences of espionage, or some unknown pathogen, etc.

      • I think you can add to your list of criteria for credibility: multiple sources. Not just one group that explicitly works with the state department.

        • Okay, Canadians AND Americans got affected. There're your multiple sources, not in a single state department, but across more than one (that is a multiple.) Now shut the fuck up or produce certifiable proof of medical expertise... oh wait, you aren't a fucking doctor!

      • > A specific claim like "it was a sonic weapon used by the Russians" might require extraordinary evidence.

        Sure it does. They might as well write it was done by USG, testing some new weapon.. it holds the same amount of credibility as the "Russians did it" popular spin, if not more, considering what the USG is capable of [wikipedia.org].

        Until they have evidence (and no, an "IP address" is not evidence) , everybody will choose to believe in some of these stories, most will think Russians did it because they are guil
        • Oh oh, of courrse an IP adress is evidence!
          The question is what you can prove with it!

          My router has a static IP adress, if you get packets from that adress, you know they come from my rooter. That is pretty solid evidence.

          What you don't know is: who behind my router has sent the packages.
          And what you also don't know: was the router active at a certain time, or was it deactivated and somone else temporarily used my IP adress 'somehow'.

          Nevertheless you have a solid starting point to start further investigatio

    • by mark-t ( 151149 )

      Considering there is zero precedent for any kind acoustic phenomenon to cause symptoms like this, I'd suggest that the allegation that it was a sonic weapon is no less of an extraordinary claim than anything else that might be proposed.

      I don't know what it is... Nobody who's investigated this has any idea what it is, because these symptoms have never been seen before.

      I'm not claiming that anything extraordinary happened here either, only something unknown.

      • Considering there is zero precedent for any kind acoustic phenomenon to cause symptoms like this

        Considering they have brain abnormalities it seems like whatever happened may not have been acoustic. It could be what was "heard" was a side effect of trauma to the brain, which would also explain why some people heard nothing if the brain was affected in differing locations.

        • by Rei ( 128717 )

          I've considered that possibility, and it's always struck me as realistic. But it would also require that this be wrong [businessinsider.com].

      • by sjames ( 1099 )

        I would think very narrow beams of microwaves would be more likely than ultrasound.

        • This is what I was going to suggest as well. A silent weapon which fires at the speed of light, completely silent, only requiring direct line of sight. And a low intensity might cause damage without causing detectable pain at the time of the attack... (?)
      • Re:Fraud (Score:4, Interesting)

        by Rei ( 128717 ) on Thursday December 07, 2017 @02:58AM (#55693559) Homepage

        There was zero precedent for people being killed by bullets until the gun was invented and used to shoot people.

        In many ways, what is described strongly resembles ultrasound except that ultrasound reflects from density gradients (and thus, for example, the skull). A signal with multiple carriers however sounds like a more interesting possibility, as then you can get harmonics between the two waves at frequencies which are much better transmitted into the body. You'd also get second and third and so forth harmonics, which is exactly the sort of pattern you see in the embassy recording [businessinsider.com] believed to be of the attack.

        But that's just a hypothesis.

        • by ve3oat ( 884827 )
          Are you talking about "harmonics" or "heterodyne products" (some call it mixing products). Multiple combinations of sums and differences?
          As in x +/- y
          x +/- 2y
          y +/- 2x
          2x +/- 3y
          2y +/- 3x
          etc etc
          It might be just a hypothesis but please explain more clearly.
      • Considering there is zero precedent for any kind acoustic phenomenon to cause symptoms like this
        Do you live behind the moon or under a rock?
        We have sound effect weapons since the 50s ... most wales, Orca, Dolphine can stun small enough prey with as an ultra sonic pulse ...

        There are infra sonic riot control weapons that make every one womit in its influence area.

        • by mark-t ( 151149 )

          I didn't suggest that acoustic phenomenon could not produce debilitating results, not did I suggest that sonic weapons don't exist. I said there are no known kinds of acoustic phenomena that can produce the precise combination of symptoms that are being seen here. Especially the brain damage.

          Are there things that can cause this kinds of damage? Obviously... but caused by sound? Not so much.

          I have been saying it ever since this story broke... it is a mistake to presume it is a weapon until you can

    • by AHuxley ( 892839 )
      Some continuous wave radar device that can "illuminate" a target system for recovery of "off net" information was lost?
    • Why, precisely, is it immoral to spy on the Russians and Cubans? Do you think they don't spy on us? Everybody spies on everybody, sometimes it's the only way to really know if you can trust each other.

      Considering these mystery weapons, we need to up our spying.

    • by pikine ( 771084 ) on Wednesday December 06, 2017 @11:51PM (#55693073) Journal

      There is a plausible explanation for this mysterious attack. Currently, Microwave guns [wikipedia.org] that are being used for riot-control have their frequencies tuned to be absorbed by the skin, but you can lower the frequency (longer wavelength) to make the microwave penetrate deeper, literally frying the victim's brain. When the microwave cooks the auditory region, the victim hears a phantom sound.

      There is no actual recording of the sound. What the AP released is just a synthesized simulation of what it might sound like to a victim under attack.

      • Also, I'm not sure if the tinfoil hat has ever been accurately prescribed as a remedy, but in this case the US could ask the embassy workers to wear it as a precaution. It would actually be effective against microwave guns if it were the true cause.
        • And even if it didn't work, it would look totally awesome.

      • by Rei ( 128717 ) on Thursday December 07, 2017 @03:04AM (#55693583) Homepage

        There is no actual recording of the sound. What the AP released is just a synthesized simulation of what it might sound like to a victim under attack.

        That's not at how the AP described it [apnews.com].

        The Associated Press has obtained a recording of what some U.S. Embassy workers heard in Havana in a series of unnerving incidents later deemed to be deliberate attacks.

        The recordings from Havana have been sent for analysis to the U.S. Navy, which has advanced capabilities for analyzing acoustic signals, and to the intelligence services, the AP has learned.

        Yet the AP has reviewed several recordings from Havana taken under different circumstances, and all have variations of the same high-pitched sound. Individuals who have heard the noise in Havana confirm the recordings are generally consistent with what they heard.

        “That’s the sound,” one of them said.

        The recording being released by the AP has been digitally enhanced to increase volume and reduce background noise, but has not been otherwise altered.

        Anyway, I wouldn't be surprised at all if the US figures out exactly how the attack works, but don't disclose the fact. If the US says "We've confirmed it and have reproduced a weapon which causes these symptoms", then every government on Earth will attempt to do the same.

        • Not just that, but if they confirm that Cuban agents attacked US diplomats at a US embassy, that is an act of war on US soil, and demands a response. I don't think we really want to go down to Cuba and wipe them out, but that is what the evidence would demand, even if it was only a rogue wing of Cuban intelligence that actually committed the attack.

      • No idea abiut the recording, but there are two ways to produce perception of sound: fake signals in your nerves, that is what you suggest, or side effects in your head from the damage, which would be real sound you hear.
        Just touch your head with a microfone, and it will record that same sound your, if it is real sound.

    • I have no real opinion about the topic (don't know enough about the story), however this is wrong:
      Extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence.
      Evidence is evidence, regardless how mundane, and regardless how extraordinary the claim is. That is a basic principle of science and law.

  • Soviet tech? (Score:3, Interesting)

    by duke_cheetah2003 ( 862933 ) on Wednesday December 06, 2017 @10:45PM (#55692839) Homepage

    Cuba was under the protection of the USSR for quite some time. I imagine they could have been testing and developing some kind of new technology and now the Cubans have it? A lot of experimental stuff was tried all throughout the Cold War by both sides.

    Be interesting if we ever learn what caused this. Normally I'd discount such bizzare reports as silly, but a lot of people were affected by this. So I think something was definitely done to them.

    • by rtb61 ( 674572 )

      My guess the weapon they deployed was this one, after the US started complaining initially https://www.youtube.com/watch?... [youtube.com] and the Cubans decided to troll them and imagine all sorts of shit.

    • by Rei ( 128717 )

      The US sounds pretty convinced that the Cubans didn't do it - and Trump has no love for Cuba. I'd wager that the US intelligence has recordings of Cuban officials in private being confused as heck about what's going on and scrambling to figure it out, or something similar.

      If Cuba didn't do it, then it's someone who wants to throw a wrench into recently-warmed Cuban-American relations.

      • Im not surprised, the whole thing seems a bit too "Dr Evil" for it to be real.

        My guess is that there might have been some sort of contaminant or environmental factor thats caused a neurological disorder. There are all sorts of brain injuries that can cause ringing sensations.

        Shit, for all we know the whole building came down with a particularly nasty stain of Toxoplasmosis from the embassys house cat.

    • by AmiMoJo ( 196126 )

      It might actually be Russia doing it. These days their main foreign policy objective seems to be to destabilize other countries and drive wedges between nations.

  • Control group? (Score:4, Insightful)

    by RhettLivingston ( 544140 ) on Wednesday December 06, 2017 @10:51PM (#55692867) Journal

    I'm not going to propose that there is no mystery here, but when probing something this mysterious and examining people as intensely as they are likely examining these individuals, I'd want to go with a setup that tests both people who were there and people who weren't. I'd also want to hide the identities from those reading the scans.

    No human would be without anomalies if tested intensively enough.

    • No human would be without anomalies if tested intensively enough.

      Yes but a group wouldn't have identical anomalies. Also everytime you go to the doctor do you take a healthy person with you and when the doctor asks you to say "aaaah" do you then say you won't believe him that your throat is red until he checks the control group?

      If I touch water and find it is wet, do I also need a control group? When do I get to fall back on the past experience of what the brain looks like, what a normal throat looks like, or what my hands feel like when they aren't touching water?

      • On /. you always need a controll group. Because without it is oooouuuu not science!
        A few years ago I posted my counterexample: you have 50 parachutes, 25 are placebos, the other 25 are real.
        Both groups don't know in which group they are, we simply later check who landwd with a placebo and who landed with a real chute.
        Obviously without the placebo group we never would know if the real chutes realy work ...

        • On /. you always need a controll group. Because without it is oooouuuu not science!

          You're fucking right it isn't.

          Obviously without the placebo group we never would know if the real chutes realy work ...

          And that is 100% correct. But unless you are a homocidal maniac, you would use dummies instead of real people.

  • by iggymanz ( 596061 ) on Wednesday December 06, 2017 @10:57PM (#55692893)

    I read the list of major infectious diseases in Cuba and see several that attack brain/nervous system and some of which can even cause "brain alteration"

    could this "attack" be a natural pathogen? It's the first thing that came to my mind reading the mass media hysteria over it, and after looking at all the interesting nasties that are in Cuba....

    • by cyn1c77 ( 928549 ) on Thursday December 07, 2017 @02:14AM (#55693427)

      I read the list of major infectious diseases in Cuba and see several that attack brain/nervous system and some of which can even cause "brain alteration"

      could this "attack" be a natural pathogen? It's the first thing that came to my mind reading the mass media hysteria over it, and after looking at all the interesting nasties that are in Cuba....

      Only if you believe that it could trick the person into hearing the noise while in a very specific location in their room (like their bed), but then have the noise stop as soon as they moved away from their bed.

      And it only applies to US embassy workers in Cuba.

      I am going to go with the infectious disease called "Terrorism."

      • Those reported sounds could just be people suddenly paying attention because of suggestion and fear after hearing about others. Try paying attention yourself and have fun listening to your own body, ringing in ears, transformer buzzings, slightly malfunctioning flourescent bulb screaming (yes, some do make high pitched noise and they shouldn't), etc. as you wind down for the evening and then lay in bed tonight.

        Until biopsy is done on brain tissue I'm voting for pathogen. And note no biopsy done to date,

    • In 1945 our ambassador in Moscow was given a passive RF bugging device [wikipedia.org] designed by Theremin himself. It was exposed in 1952. Optical passive spying devices such as the laser window bug are also well-known. For that reason, I would expect that electromagnetic/sound/optical wavelengths around embassies and their staff are all monitored. So, it's not that.

  • by RhettLivingston ( 544140 ) on Wednesday December 06, 2017 @11:05PM (#55692937) Journal

    I have wondered from the first time I read about these embassy attacks if someone was playing with a device that utilizes the "microwave auditory effect" that this wired article was discussing in 2008 [wired.com].

    Perhaps they were attempting to project voices into their heads and had some sort of tuning issue that caused it to have a range of other effects.

    • by Rei ( 128717 ) on Thursday December 07, 2017 @03:18AM (#55693621) Homepage

      Wow, that article is eerily similar to what's been described.

      This one uses the so-called "microwave auditory effect": a beam of microwaves is turned into sound by the interaction with your head. Nobody else can hear it unless they are in the beam as well.

      There are health risks, he notes. But the biggest issue from the microwave weapon is not the radiation. It's the risk of brain damage from the high-intensity shockwave created by the microwave pulse.

      But if it does prove hazardous, that does not mean an end to weapons research in this area: a device that delivered a lethal shockwave inside the target's skull might make an effective death ray.

      Such a device had apparently already been built and tested by the US. The interesting thing to me is that the sound comes from a shockwave of the beam interacting with the body of whoever is in the beam; it's not a hallucinatory effect of the brain damage. That would mean that interactions with other objects (including microphones) in the path of the beam could also result in recordable sound, which would explain the recordings that are being analyzed.

    • Just clicked this article to share the same information, I'd bet a lot of money this is what the unknown attackers are using.
      It would be so easy to disguise the equipment as well.

    • The US has been monitoring electromagnetic radiation around embassies and diplomats since the Great Seal Bug was exposed in our Moscow embassy in 1952. Known spy technology using RF, UV/infrared (as in laser window bugs), ionizing radiation (x-rays, etc.) would be monitored. US is also pretty good at detecting chemical agents, other physical attacks. Maybe less good at Prion infection as in CJD/BSD.

  • by swell ( 195815 ) <jabberwock&poetic,com> on Thursday December 07, 2017 @12:39AM (#55693219)

    Motivation: Who would be motivated to cause this? Does anyone benefit from it?

    Dispersion: Have no Cubans suffered from similar symptoms? Has anyone bothered to check?

    Location: Were all affected families living in the embassy? What other areas were 'attacked'?

    The 'white matter' test evidence seems weak, just as the entire story is vague. Until our own government is honest about what they've found, it just seems like another conspiracy theory. The kind of vague rumor they create when they are contemplating an offensive action against a country.

  • by Aryeh Goretsky ( 129230 ) on Thursday December 07, 2017 @02:19AM (#55693431) Homepage

    Hello,

    CBS News reports that the same type of attack may have occurred on USAID workers in Uzbekistan; https://www.cbsnews.com/news/u... [cbsnews.com]

    Regards,

    Aryeh Goretsky

  • Some US athletes were claiming that they were robbed at gun point in Rio during the Olympic Games. It was a big story in the media.

    Until it was proven irrevocably by the organizing side that they were just lying brazenly.

    I guess that at least some part of the American people believe that they are kind of exclusive, much cleverer than others. And that they can get away with about any lie. My point is that one has to look for irrevocable evidences as soon as one hears such unusual claims.
    • It's Occam's Razor really. If the alternatives are (a) an elaborate conspiracy involving alien technology, unknown scientific principles and probably time travel or (b) a few people are lying to cover up an in house experiment gone wrong, sanity would suggest choosing the latter. (At the risk of being labelled a Russian Sock Puppet/Troll).
      • > (At the risk of being labelled a Russian Sock Puppet/Troll)

        The American government has been caught doing abhorrent things surreptitiously often enough that you're more or less a fool if you accept what they say without independent corroboration.

        Iraq/WMDs are the first thing that comes to mind (along with the babies and incubators propaganda), but there are plenty of other things that at one time would have people thinking you were late for your tinfoil hat fitting that we now know actually happened.

        IF

    • I would like to correct the wording of my previous post above. It should be definitely - a part of people. Probably, a small part.

      Because, the only general thing which could be said about American people is that they are all different. Undoubtedly there honest individuals among them.
  • too much country music.
  • ... entirely. Mass hysteria has effects that can be bizarr and creepy to the utmost extent. And as far as we know, nobody is fully immune to it. For one, mass hysteria does spread similar to a disease. Because you need to meet people who have fallen prone to the hysteria for it to spread. Or you need to be primed by some detailed description of it in an environment that emphasises the fact that the effects have a "real" cause.

    That scientist find "alterations in brain tissue" could be simply because they were looking for them.

    Note: I'm not ruling out some sort of weapon, but right now mass hysteria seems more plausible to me. The story has all the ingredients.

  • Ate there any correlation to the Otto Warmbier injuries?
  • Why would Cuba want to irradiate the American diplomats? It wants the good trading relations with the US as far as I know.

    It is rather seldom that a crime is being committed without a motive.
  • Do you think that, since they don't know what's causing these symptoms, perhaps they could lay off calling it an attack? You know, until they have some evidence. Or is it now US foreign policy to characterise everything that they don't understand that affects US personnel as an attack?

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