Shattering news: That tingling in your brain is a microwave
Tintin’s experiences have the ring of truth to them
At first glance a recent report in the New York Times may strike familiar chords in the minds of fans of the Tintin comics. In 1956’s The Calculus Affair, the intrepid reporter, his trustworthy dog Snowy and his unreliable alcoholic sidekick Captain Haddock had to rescue Professor Calculus from the clutches of the fictional dictatorship of Syldavia, whose government was intent on stealing the professor’s plans for an ultrasonic weapon of mass destruction that shattered glass by means of ultrasonic sound emitted from a large dish.
Tintin creator Hergé had reportedly based Calculus’s weapon on a newspaper story he’d read about incidents on the road to Portsmouth in southern England, where a number of motorists had reported spontaneous shattering of their car windscreens. The author of that article had suggested that the cause of these incidents might have been experiments carried out at a secret facility nearby.
In the case of the New York Times story published last week, it seems that the cause of over 36 incidents of reported sickness among US diplomats in Cuba and China since 2016 is now suspected to be the use of microwave weapons. The diplomats all reported hearing “loud noises, ringing, buzzing and grinding”, which initially led scientists investigating the cases to conclude that they might have been the result of the use of Professor Calculus-style ultrasonic weapons.
While a report published by the team into the events in the Journal of American Medicine in March made no mention of microwave weapons, the lead author of the study and director for the Centre for Brain Injury and Repair, Douglas H Smith, told the Times that microwave weapons are now considered the primary suspect. He added that among the diplomats and their doctors, the incidents are referred to as “the immaculate concussion”.
The science is a little complicated but basically microwaves are able to create what is known as the Frey Effect, named after Alan Frey, the US scientist who first discovered the phenomenon in 1962. The theory is that microwaves can trick the brain “into hearing what seem to be ordinary sounds”, rather than the sounds of the waves doing their dastardly work. The diplomats affected by the attacks have reported nausea, headaches, fatigue, dizziness, sleep problems and hearing loss. Scientists are worried that they may also have suffered irreparable brain injuries as a result.
Both the US and Russia investigated the possibilities of microwave weapons during the Cold War – they’re easy to focus on a specific target and can be transmitted using a small, portable dish antenna. If these attacks are the result of the use of microwaves then who fired them and where did they get the technology? As yet neither the Russians nor the Chinese have said anything and the US defence force won’t comment on whether they have the capabilities for similar weapons. Curiouser and curiouser … isn’t it, Snowy?