The sensation of a continuous sharp trill

Tuesday, January 8th, 2019

The US embassy in Havana halved its staff when diplomats came under sonic attack:

The mysterious wave of illness fuelled speculation that the staff had been targeted by an acoustic weapon. It was an explanation that appeared to gain weight when an audio recording of a persistent, high-pitched drone made by US personnel in Cuba was released to the Associated Press.

But a fresh analysis of the audio recording has revealed what scientists in the UK and the US now believe is the true source of the piercing din: it is the song of the Indies short-tailed cricket, known formally as Anurogryllus celerinictus.

“The recording is definitively a cricket that belongs to the same group,” said Fernando Montealegre-Zapata, a professor of sensory biology at the University of Lincoln. “The call of this Caribbean species is about 7 kHz, and is delivered at an unusually high rate, which gives humans the sensation of a continuous sharp trill.”

Scott Adams adds his hypnotist perspective:

If you tell a hundred random people they were attacked by a sonic device, twenty will have symptoms. You can test it without the noise.


  1. Kirk says:

    It would seem that the idea that the enemy doing this might have chosen to mask their attack by mimicking a naturally occurring source wasn’t considered…

    I’ve read a bunch of the available news reports on this stuff in China and Cuba, and while this is a possible explanation, it doesn’t explain the fact that nobody was suggesting a sonic attack to most of the victims until after they reported symptoms… Which calls into question the whole idea of it being a mass-hysteric psychosomatic thing.

  2. Wan Wei Lin says:

    Weaponized crickets? More likely what Kirk said…weaponized cricket audio.

  3. Ezra says:

    NONE of the other diplomatic missions ever once in many decades experienced the crickets and the damage to the hearing and brain? This is all brand new and ONLY coincides with the opening of the American diplomatic mission in Havana? Of course.

  4. Kirk says:

    There’s always been a distinct trend in US health care: If the government might be at fault, it’s “all in your head”. Ask any of my friends who were exposed to whatever the hell it was that was behind what they used to call “Gulf War Syndrome”.

    I don’t know what the hell was going on with that whole deal, but psychosomatic ideation does not, to my knowledge and reading of the pertinent literature, include such things as actual chemical burns being produced by semen, which is a symptom that more than one wife reported. Independently, and without having been “influenced” by contact with other victims.

    Some of that crap was no doubt opportunistic “Let’s get on the gravy train…” BS; however… I saw enough genuine effects in terms of really weird cancers cropping up, about like the early days of AIDS, that I remain convinced that there was something real going on with the majority of those guys.

    I also know for a fact that there was a release of chemical agents when we blew up the munitions dumps in Kuwait and Southern Iraq; one of my friends from my days in Germany was on some of those missions, and about 8 years after the fact, he was showing me some of his pictures from the Gulf War. Now, in the interim? He’d been medically discharged due to what they were describing as “Gulf War Syndrome”; he had a full-blown set of symptoms, and blamed the government for it all… Only thing was, we’re going through those pictures he had, and I’m like “Uhhmmm… Eddie? That pallet of shells you’re posing with, that you had wired up with C-4? Those are marked as chem weapons, bud… What the hell were you thinking?!?!?”.

    Dude literally had photographic evidence that a bunch of what he wired for destruction and then blew were chemical rounds, Sarin by the markings. Probably others. And, what was bad about that? He and I had been through the same training in Germany back during the mid-1980s about how to recognize all that crap so that if we were ever called in to deal with it, we’d know what we needed to call in the experts for, with regards to UXO. I remembered it; he didn’t.

    Later found out that there had been a bit of a misunderstanding between EOD and the guys at CENTCOM; CENTCOM had sent what little EOD assets they had out to check the captured ammo dumps, and I forget what the actual technical wording was, but they basically ordered the EOD guys to survey those sites for things like booby-traps. Doctrinal terms used differentiate between “Look for booby traps” and “See if it’s OK for us to blow this up…”. EOD did precisely what they were asked to, and checked for booby traps; Big Army, in the guise of CENTCOM, thought that meant that EOD had checked those dumps for risks, and then the Wiley E. Coyote types on staff at CENTCOM issued orders to the Combat Engineer units to go blow everything up. Which they did–Some of those blasts set records for size, in terms of man-made non-nuclear detonations.

    Unfortunately, nobody giving the orders grasped that EOD had never said anything like “Yeah, it’s safe to blow up…”, and the guys like my friend who were on-scene doing the dirty work…? Well, not too many of them had ever gotten the UXO recognition training in the first place, and they weren’t that switched-on about that stuff in the first place. Most of them were focused on “Make big bangs!”, and getting things done so they could get out of the desert and go home.

    And, so we basically contaminated ourselves. EOD has always blamed the Engineer community for that incident, and the Engineers are sorta oblivious to what happened–CENTCOM sure as hell didn’t want to admit culpability, either.

    It’s one of the issues you run into with small, specialized communities in the military–They have well thought-out doctrine and use technical terms in specific ways that people outside that community find counter-intuitive. And, if you’re Joe Blow, Staff Officer Extraordinaire, you often just don’t know that there’s a difference. You ask for one thing, get another, issue orders based on that, and… Disaster ensues. Happens all the damn time, and also takes place in civilian life.

  5. Felix says:


    Would that Sarin (or whatever) in your buddy’s pictures be some of those non-existent WMD’s?

    And semen burns? WTF!

    Your stories are sure interesting.

  6. Alistair says:

    The whole Cuba thing is covered in weirdness. There’s prima facie evidence of something, but we need to stay open-minded here. We haven’t seen a sonic weapon before. Extraordinary low probability priors really do require extraordinary evidence.

    And there’s still the matter of agency and motive. We agree Cuba is a least trying to play nice at the highest level here, right? The leadership currently have nothing to gain from antagonising the US and a lot to lose. So we’re left positing some rogue Cuban agency or third party, which doesn’t help much.

    Good point on GW syndrome though; that battlefield was a mess of carcinogens which were handled carelessly.

  7. Alistair says:

    Kirk makes a good point above that is worth expanding on.

    In complex systems like the military, the failure modes can be so diffuse it’s not really any one persons “fault”, when something like his described chain of events happens. A series of small mistakes and misunderstandings can add up to a big one.

    The real blame lies with the idiot who designed the system with weak procedures in the first place.

  8. Kirk says:


    The Gulf War stuff was before the UN WMD sanctions, so it wasn’t really part of that whole “WMD in Iraq” fiasco. Which was a creation of the media–Saddam had WMD in Iraq after the sanctions, and there were over 500 “incidents” of discovery/use between 2003 and 2006 that the media just ignored. You also had the travesty where the NYT started pumping up a non-existent story “scandal” during the early 2010′s about how the Army and CENTCOM were covering up soldiers getting injured by exposure to the chemical weapons that were being found in Iraq during the occupation… The ones they’d spent nearly a decade denying the presence of. How that didn’t create cognitive dissonance in the journalists covering both stories, I’ll never know, but my speculation would be that when there is nothing to do cognition with, dissonance ain’t gonna happen.

    The semen burning skin thing was a (reportedly) common symptom of Gulf War Syndrome. Mechanism unknown, but sex partners of men who’d developed the syndrome reported up to second-degree burns from exposure to semen from their partners. I suppose it could have been psychosomatic, but I ran into a lot of cases where I was hearing “I thought I was the only one!!!” from the ladies whenever the issue came up. If I had to guess, it was probably from toxins in the body producing allergic reaction. One couple I knew had to basically stop having sex, because it was quite literally killing her–Every time they did it, even with a condom, the resulting reaction her body had would basically cause her to bleed like she was having a miscarriage. The doctors called it an allergic reaction to her husband… Funny thing was, he never developed any symptoms of GWS, except that.

    I’m completely unsure what was really going on with that whole deal, but I would lay long odds on it being not one specific causative agent, but multiple ones whose symptom expression just happened to generate what we’re identifying as the GWS complex. I know of a bunch of cases where the guys that had been there developed some really unusual cancers and other bizarre illnesses. I think the actual etiology was probably something that suppressed immune response and/or distorted it such that bizarre things started happening that would normally be kept under control.

    Whole thing could have been stress-related, with a bit of a push from the chemical cocktail that everyone got exposed to–You don’t live next to an oil well fire for months on end, and have zero effect on your health to show for it.

  9. Kirk says:

    Re: Alistair’s post of January 10, 2019 at 7:57 am,

    Little more detail on that whole “Let’s blow up the ammo dumps” thing.

    Now, you have to take what I say as being entirely apocryphal, and based on third-party reports I got from guys who were reportedly on the scene when all that went down. The EOD (Explosives Ordnance Disposal) guys take on the issue is coming out of a community that before the Gulf War was considered a very geeky backwater of technical expertise that quite simply did not have much at all to do with what the cognoscenti chose to call “warfighting”, or in plain English, combat. EOD didn’t have a place at the table in the Tactical Operations Centers, ‘cos all they did was deal with geeky crap like damaged ammunition and the then-limited problem of UXO (UneXploded Ordnance, meaning enemy and friendly munitions that didn’t go “BANG” when they were supposed to after being fired at someone… As opposed to the other end of the EOD business, which is dealing with damaged/malfunctioning stuff that hasn’t been fired as of yet…).

    There was also a lag there; it wasn’t like the CENTCOM sent the Engineers out to blow all that crap up right after EOD made their survey report; it was more like “Oh, we have to pull out of Southern Iraq; be a good idea not to leave behind all that captured ordnance… Where was that report we got in from EOD last a couple of days ago…? Oh; they didn’t find anything to worry about…”. The trouble was, and I don’t think it ever got clarified, but the initial tasking to EOD was one that had the EOD guys thinking they were supposed to be checking those captured dumps for booby-traps and sabotage (which they did find some of, and dismantled…), and their report back to CENTCOM was read as “Nothing dangerous was found”. At that time, some of the terminology EOD used was not well-known, and if you read the reports they submitted carefully, you’d have known they weren’t passing judgment on whether it was OK to blow that stuff in place the way they ordered the Engineers to go and do. Coupled with the fact there weren’t enough EOD guys to go around (their mission was not seen as being all that big a deal, before the Gulf War, and they were a tiny, tiny community without much “tactical relevance” to the rest of the Big Army types…), and the fact that EOD didn’t have any presence at all in the CENTCOM Operations Center, well… Yeah. It was a “Lessons learnt the hard way” thing. First the EOD guys knew that the guys at CENTCOM had issued the orders to the Engineers to blow everything up came while they were out dealing with the massive amounts of UXO on the battlefields, and trying to get control of all the crap that people were finding on the roads. Friend of mine who was an EOD technician remembered hearing a major blast, looking up, and seeing this huge cloud of God-alone-knows-what coming towards him, and thinking “Shit, we missed something…”. He went to MOPP-IV, full chemical protection, just as soon as he saw it, knowing what was in those dumps. When he found out that the Engineers had been ordered to go in and blow it all up, well… Yeah. Not a happy camper–But, he had the grace to admit that it wasn’t the Engineer’s fault, but the way the system was structured. EOD in the US system isn’t something that comes out of the Engineer branch, the way it is in the UK, for example; instead of being a part of “battlefield services”, it’s under “Ordnance” and was seen more as a logistical issue, dealing with damaged/malfunctioning ammo back along the logistics trail. This cultural difference in organization is a part of why all this miscommunication happened–In the UK, the Engineers are over the EOD guys, and since the Engineers are a part of the food chain in the maneuver commands, EOD issues are dealt with as a part of all that. In the US, EOD was Ordnance, and the Ordnance guys barely have any presence in the maneuver Operations Centers–They’re all way back up higher in the food chain, like at Corps and Army levels, and even then…? Their part of the whole thing isn’t something that the Operations guys pay attention to or consult–Logistics issues are handled kinda like specialized consultants, brought in as needed. Most of the Ordnance guys were more concerned with getting ammo forward, building up supplies, and at the time all this was going down, trying to get stuff turned back in for retrograde operations. They had precisely zero idea of the impact of EOD on that whole thing–EOD was, at the time, an afterthought.

    In short, it was a genuine blind spot. Maybe one that should have been foreseen, but since it was an area that had never been a really major problem before, well… Yeah.

    This is one of the reasons I find military history and operations so fascinating–Just trying to trace out the how/why of things happening the way they do is amazingly complex. I don’t think the whole “Let’s blow up all this Iraqi ammo thing…” would have happened in the UK, because the way they structured EOD as being an Engineer thing would have gotten those guys a place at the table, making the decision to blow all that crap in place. In the US, because EOD was an Ordnance function, well… In the dynamics of how things work in a headquarters, things fell through the cracks.

    Nowadays, there’s an EOD cell in every headquarters, the branch is bigger, and has more experience at integrating into tactical operations. There’s still a lot of dissension, because EOD does not want to fall under the Engineers, and they want to remain under Ordnance. Things are working out a lot better in practice, so we’ll probably see them stay there.

    It’s all part of the complexity of modern military operations, and the fact that this stuff is so esoteric and “inside baseball” is something that ought to concern the general public. The media literally “knows nothing”, and can’t report this stuff in any way that enables the public and most law makers to even begin to understand what the hell is going on when the various factions in the military start arguing over seemingly unimportant things like who is responsible for managing EOD…

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