It was revealed on Wednesday that officials from the United States’ Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) may have been attacked with a sophisticated microwave weapon while visiting Australia late last year.
According to a report in America’s GQ magazine, the two officials were in their Australian hotel rooms when they heard ringing in their ears and became nauseous and dizzy — symptoms consistent with Havana syndrome.
The two CIA officers, one of whom was among the agency’s highest-ranking officials, reportedly felt it again in their hotel room in Taiwan.
What is a microwave weapon?
It’s a type of direct energy weapon, which aims at a target with highly focused energy in the form of sonic, laser or microwaves.
While the lines are blurry between all three, the one likely used in the alleged attack is a sonic weapon, or a long-range acoustic device.
Jai Galliott, a former naval officer and director of values in defence and technology at the University of New South Wales, said sonic weapons were capable of causing some form of lung and liver damage at a certain decibel rating.
“[It’s] been proven that exposure to continuous low frequency for an extended period of time can have other effects on the brain, in terms of potentially affecting brain tissue.”
Do these weapons really exist?
Dr Galliott said they “most certainly” do.
But questions still exist whether there is a weapon that’s effective in getting through the walls of a building or through certain types of glass.
He told the ABC the technology has been around since the 1970s and became more prominently discussed in the late 1980s.
But not much is known about how the technology is weaponised because it comes from high-level national government bodies, like the Department of Defence or the CIA.
“It’s not particularly complicated technology, it’s more about how they use them [and] the effect that they have once wielded [that’s more unknown],” he said.
What does it look like?
They’re known to be quite big.
Dr Galliott said the machines he has seen, and is aware of, are quite large because of the energy required to operate them.
He said it needs a good power outlet or a facility for them to operate, or mounted on top of large vehicles which have separate energy sources like on Humvees or ships.
“It’s quite feasible that there would be smaller versions, but they’re probably not going to be the kind of things you can put in your pocket,” he said.
How about Havana Syndrome?
The first case known was suffered by American diplomats in Cuba in 2016 when employees at the US embassy in Havana claimed they were targeted by a covert sonic weapon.
Unexplained brain injuries involving a dozen US officials who have travelled to Cuba, China and Russia since then have been known as the Havana Syndrome.
Their symptoms included headaches, nausea, bloody noses and mild brain injury.
Many reported hearing grating like noises, or sudden pressure and vibrations.
The incidents reported have also been confined to specific rooms.
So is the Havana Syndrome a real disease?
It’s still largely unproven.
Dr Galliott said the symptoms CIA officials claimed to have suffered “ring true” with what he knows about former cases.
According to a New York Times report US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo recently said the Government was still yet to determine what caused the debilitating afflictions that first began in Cuba.
And there are also sceptics.
Robert Bartholomew a medical sociologist and senior lecture at the Department of Psychological Medicine at the University of Auckland in New Zealand, said the most plausible explanation to the symptoms was pesticides.
He co-authored a book about Havana Syndrome and said the sounds recorded by the State Department are a “mating call for the Indies short-tailed cricket”, which other scientists have also claimed.