suggests a mystery wrapped around what everyone is sniffing around--that the protagonists in this Affair appear to be beyond the reach, including the reach of the state security services--of key actors at the center of the action. It is quite likely that the usual suspects are not worthy of much attention, and everyone else is beyond reach. So one might be left with the contemplation of a black box, the contours of which can only be discerned by the effects it has when it projects activity outward. We are likely to see that in the future, but connecting the dots may be harder. This is not to pander to conspiracy theories, but rather to acknowledge that that institutionalization of power may not be as transparent or exercised from places that one might expect.
The Trump Administration had promised some sort of explanation, and after several efforts, some connected to the state, others free lance or connected to other actors, the long awaited report prepared for the Department of State has been released. The Report, An Assessment of Illness in U.S. Government Employees and Their Families at Overseas Embassies, was released to the public in the first week of December 2020 and may be downloaded for free from THIS SITE. The Report was edited by by David A. Relman and Julie A. Pavlin for the Standing Committee to Advise the Department of State on Unexplained Health Effects on U.S. Government Employees and Their Families at Overseas Embassies and is styled a Consensus Study Report of the National Academies of Sciences (eg one that documents "the evidence-based consensus on the study’s statement of task by an authoring committee of experts)", Engineering and Medicine. The Standing Committee was charged generally to "provide a forum for discussion of scientific, technical, and social issues relevant to effective health management and protection of staff and family members assigned to overseas locations. (Standing Committee to Advise the Department of State).
The popular press response was predictable, both in its conventionally respectable and its tabloid forms, though the tabloid forms are always the more provocative reads. Yet in this case the rports are remarkably similar, and in both cases quite restrained. The Daily Mail (beyond its usual screeching headline) notes only: "The mysterious symptoms American spies and diplomats in Cuba and China
have suffered could be due to a directed microwave energy, says a new report by the National Academies of Sciences. The new report, which has been obtained by NBC News
, does not explicitly say that the microwaves were deployed intentionally as a weapon, but does not rule that possibility out. Medical and scientific experts from the Academies of Sciences studied 40 State Department employees and noted that no similar symptoms had previously been recorded in medical literature." (Mysterious neurological symptoms suffered by American spies and
diplomats in Cuba and China - dubbed 'Havana Syndrome' - could be the
result of a microwave energy weapon, says new report
). NBC News noted "The report
obtained Friday by NBC News, does not conclude that the directed energy
was delivered intentionally, by a weapon, as some U.S. officials have
long believed. But it raises that disturbing possibility." (Havana Syndrome' likely caused by pulsed microwave energy, government study finds
). See also BBC
; the Guardia
n; . Interestingly the Report from outside the West was more pointed. The India Express noted "By calling it “directed” and “pulsed” energy, the report leaves no room
for confusion that the victims’ exposure was targeted and not due to
common sources of microwave energy, such as, a mobile phone. The report
also mentions that the immediate symptoms that patients reported —
including sensations of pain and buzzing sound — apparently emanated
from a particular direction, or occurred in a specific spot in a room." (Explained: What is ‘Havana Syndrome’, what does the latest report say about the mysterious illness?
). And the New York Times
considered the consequences of whatever narrative would be built around the Committee Report in the usual dismissive tones it has adopted since 2016 and will likely abandon after January 2021 ("For the Trump administration, acknowledging that the incidents were the
result of a foreign attack could have necessitated evacuating American
missions in China, disrupting an important economic relationship. The
administration did take a harder approach in Cuba, which aligned with
its larger goal of reversing President Barack Obama’s diplomatic opening
There were two sentences in the report worth noting, which follows without comment: "The committee is left with a number of concerns. First, even though it was not in a position to assess or comment on how these DOS cases arose, such as a possible source of directed, pulsed RF energy and the exact circumstances of the putative exposures, the mere consideration of such a scenario raises grave concerns about a world with disinhibited malevolent actors and new tools for causing harm to others, as if the U.S. government does not have its hands full already with naturally occurring threats." (An Assessment of Illness in U.S. Government Employees and Their Families at Overseas Embassies
, p. xi).
And that leads to the only point I will make here: It s clear that there is a race among states to exploit advances in technology. And what better than the sort of weapon that can disable or kill an enemy without disturbing the property or terrain that is the object of conflict. More importantly most states now realize (conformed by the fiascos of American 20th century police actions in the Middle East and Central Asia) that the era of large armies projecting strength may be giving way in most ordinary actions (exceptions of course include invasions of claimed territories and the like) to quite targeted projections of lethal force. And where that projection can be undertaken from a distance (the pioneering American approach) or with tech that treats an individual perhaps like a piece of chicken in a microwave machine) the fighting, then the cost of conflict goes down (for the moment) and its value increases (provocatively here
). More importantly such a movement parallels moments on that other theatre of warfare--economic warfare through targeted sanctions regimes--Global Magnitsky
in the United States and the European Union version
about to be rolled out. In this context resolution becomes politically unpalatable--not because of a lack of feeling for those who have been the subject of the cynical experiments and dueling among the states with a stake in these technologies and their refinement--to the credit of none of them. I suspect this is as good as the public will get--and we are lucky to get even this fan dance. Even the Committee that produced this report was allowed a quite limited access ("much of the
detail and many of the investigations performed by others were not available to it, either because
they are classified for reasons of national security or restricted for other reasons
Make no mistake: sonic and microwave weaponry (so-called) are here and here to stay. That no one wants to acknowledge their existence, or the desire to produce a wide variety of these tools for everything from the control of the masses, to mass surveillance, to offensive and defensive uses in conflict (either external or internal) speaks both to their power and the delicate stage of development in of these tools. The pity is that states are being secretive and their connection to the law-state tenuous. This is in turn a problem that presents differently in liberal democratic and Marxist Leninist states each seeking global moral authority and legitimacy in exercising (sometimes destructive) power. The greater pity is what these weapons suggest about the ordering of society. One learns a great deal about the underlying principles of actual
social organization by the kind and use of the tools used to manage people--individuals and collectives. And sonic and microwave weaponry tell us that society must be managed; that social collectives are commodities necessary for the production of social ordering, that this social ordering is grounded on stability and productivity. These devices (weapons when used offensively against other collectives, though it is not clear that there is a consensus on the nomenclature for these devices and many uses) are in turn an essential component in the larger toolkit of managerialism (in domestic and international) ordering. That is what is slowly emerging. Combined with big data analytics these devices might have utility for all sorts of purposes, only some of which cause injury and death. "Reading from a script, Indian CDS General Bipin Rawat commented,
“Non-contact warfare will help us in gaining advantage over the
adversary in future. Therefore, it is important to understand the
context in which we need to move forward in this direction...Quantum
technology, cyberspace and above all artificial intelligence, all these
need to be leveraged”." (Sixth generation warfare
To understand both it and the secrecy surrounding it, one strong enough to tempt both Democratic and Republican Administrations to tolerate the sacrifice of diplomatic personnel and others in the testings and deployments of prototypes and scalable versions of what may be rolled out,, it may be necessary to understand better the emerging forms of 6th generation warfare. 6GW:
leverages sophisticated technology to manipulate space and time. . . Just understand that in 6GW, we are getting inside our enemy’s OODA loop
(Observe, Orient, Decide, and Act). Once inside, we can control what
they see and hear, what they think, what they decide, and what they do,
all to our advantage. . . . Meanwhile, let's consider what Sun Tzu teaches:"Be extremely subtle, even to the point of formlessness. Be extremely
mysterious, even to the point of soundlessness. Thereby you can be the
director of the opponent’s fate."(Sixth generation warfare: manipulating space and time)
6GW makes little distinction between offensive and defensive between weapons that disrupt economies, information flows, or the physical functioning of the human capital of opponents (whether domestic or foreign). As part of a toolkit of rewards and punishments in domestic and international affairs they will likely offer substantial new options that at once avoid the controversies of old fashioned warfare and conflict management. But they do that by avoiding the conversation int he first place. There is much more to come.
The Report reface and Summary follow.