A new form of hostility and warfare comes to be surfacing in the world with the Trump administration on Tuesday sounding an alarm about probable sonic attacks against its citizens after a US government employee in China reported unusual “sensations of sound and pressure,” and, on his return to America, was diagnosed with a mild traumatic brain injury.
The case, the first that Washington has reported out of China, is reminiscent of a wave of so-called “sonic attacks” on US diplomats in Cuba that resulted in the withdrawal of a large number of American personnel, including many who complained of symptoms like hearing loss, dizziness, tinnitus, visual difficulties, headaches and fatigue.
American officials said no other case had been reported from China but “the US government is taking these reports seriously and has informed its official staff in China of this event.”
“While in China, if you experience any unusual acute auditory or sensory phenomena accompanied by unusual sounds or piercing noises, do not attempt to locate their source. Instead, move to a location where the sounds are not present,” a health alert issued by the US Embassy in Beijing said, urging people with medical issues to consult a doctor.
The sole incident from China surfaced when a US government employee deployed in Guangzhou reported “subtle and vague, but abnormal, sensations of sound and pressure” between late 2017 through April 2018. The person was sent back to the United States and diagnosed with Mild Traumatic Brain Injury (MTBI) on May 18.
Both in the Cuba case and the current one, US officials are leery of ascribing it to the “sonic weapon” theory that is already making the rounds on social media, but the State Department said it is taking this incident very seriously and is working to determine the cause and impact of the incident. The Chinese government too has assured they are also investigating and taking appropriate measures, a State Department official told news agencies. Cuban investigators had earlier dismissed US suspicions of a sonic attack as “science fiction.”
The latest development arrived amid a ripple of mistrust between US and China illustrated by President Trump suggesting that Beijing was to blame for North Korea’s sudden backing away from the Singapore summit with US. Although he professed personal friendship with China’s President Xi Jinping, Trump said North Korea came emboldened to toughen its stand after its leader Kim Jong-un recently visited Beijing.
Trump has also been blowing hot and cold on China on the trade problem, sometimes praising Beijing for its stand and sometimes lambasting it for exploiting what he sees as US munificence.
“Our Trade Deal with China is moving along nicely, but in the end we will possibly have to use a different structure in that this will be too hard to get done and to verify results after completion,” he tweeted on Wednesday in course of another day of erratic messaging, including one which just said “WITCH HUNT!” – apparently a reference to his latest theory that a Obama administration-deployed “spy” had infiltrated his Presidential election campaign.
Sonic weapons – the use of high-power sound waves to disorient or incapacitate a person, and in extreme causes to cause death – are part of police and military arsenal in some countries.
In some of the relatively benign cases, sonic devices utilizing an ultra high-frequency blasts have been used to dispense loiterers or protesters. But high intensity ultrasound, which can cause serious damage and even death, is not known to have been overtly utilized.