Experts clarify microwave auditory effect

With reference to this New Scientist article by David Hambling—and also here at Danger RoomIEEE Spectrum weighs in with an emphatic “no-go” for a theoretically nonlethal weapon called MEDUSA, which would use microwaves to cause human targets to experience sounds. According to the scientists IEEE posed the idea to,

There is no way the ray gun could deliver sound loud enough to be annoying at nonfatal power levels, says Kenneth Foster, a bioengineering professor at the University of Pennsylvania who first published research on the microwave auditory effect in 1974.

“Any kind of exposure you could give to someone that wouldn’t burn them to a crisp would produce a sound too weak to have any effect,” Foster says.

Bill Guy, a former professor at the University of Washington who has also published on the microwave auditory effect, agrees. “There couldn’t possibly be a hazard from the sound, because the heat would get you first,” Guy says.

Guy says that experiments have demonstrated that radiation at 40 microjoules per pulse per square centimeter produces sound at zero decibels, which is just barely in hearing range. To produce sound at 60 decibels, or the sound of normal conversation, requires 40 watts per square centimeter of radiation. “That would kill you pretty fast,” Guy says. Producing an unpleasant sound, at about 120 decibels, would take 40 million W/cm2 of energy. One milliwatt per square centimeter is considered to be the safety threshold.

“There’s a misunderstanding by the public and even some scientists about this auditory effect,” says Guy.

Of course, it can be used as a weapon.  Just not a nonlethal one. I guess we know where to go when we need a weapon that cooks brains in half the time of a regular oven!

Review: Chemical Warfare Secrets Almost Forgotten

I finally finished reading Dr. James Ketchum’s hefty hardback tome, Chemical Warfare Secrets Almost Forgotten at the dizzying pace of about 3-5 pages per night. Speaking of dizzying (sorry, that’s an awful segue but I feel compelled), this thoroughly enjoyable memoir is primarily about the Edgewood Arsenal psychiatrist’s 10-plus years of work in the U.S. Army’s classified efforts to develop incapacitating chemical warfare agents during the Cold War.

The book contains detailed accounts taken from actual records of tests involving the deliriant BZ (or 3-quinuclidinyl benzilate), and the hallucinogen LSD. Some of the numerous official records he includes contain comical accounts of test subject behavior and conversation. As Ketchum explains, while LSD causes effects the user knows are not real, that’s not the case with deliriants such as BZ. The BZ test subjects would be completely bonkers for days at a time, speaking to invisible people and watching or interacting with fantastic visions—sometimes funny, sometimes distressing—until finally exhaustion would set in and they’d sleep it off. For instance, in one of Ketchum’s cases, a test subject managed to escape from his padded room and found a place to lie in wait for the enemy, armed with a broom handle and a glass ashtray. After Ketchum talked him down the following conversation ensued:

“You see that sewing machine over there?” he asked.
“Uhh, no,” I said, studying the air intently.
“Just take my word for it, it’s a sewing machine,” he continued patiently, apparently assuming I was visually challenged. Then he leaned forward and ran his finger along the molding, asking if I could see the strips of bacon.
“Strips of bacon?” I finally realized he was referring to the narrow strip of wood between the wall and the floor. Then he suddenly became distracted by the whirring sound of the air conditioner. He gazed at it studiously.
“Hey,” he shouted loudly at the grating.
“Who’s there?” I asked, showing professional concern.
“Who’s there, who’s there?” he shouted, taking up the cry and looking anxiously upward through an imaginary shaft. After a moment, he turned his head toward me and reported his findings.
“It’s okay, it’s just some kids,” he said, appearing relieved.
He sat down on the edge of his bed, while I sat on a hassock. For the next twenty minutes, we held what might be called a relaxed conversation. He did his best to express himself clearly, but somehow the words kept coming out wrong.
“Did you answer the phone?” he asked me abruptly.
“The what?”
“The phrone, the phrone! If it weren’t for those damn kids…” he suddenly stopped, again losing track of his thought.
“The kids?”
“Well what you might call the kids. I mean the kids…well whatever it is. It might be a truck or a fence. Down at the motor pool. Or maybe it might be danger.”
And so it went.

As I recall, this sounds eerily like trying to hold a conversation with my ex! But the book isn’t just full of funny accounts of mindless blather. Ketchum defends the program against detractors (who were not just conspiracy-theory chuckleheads), explaining how he took pains to develop and continually improve structured and humane protocols for agent testing with human volunteers. As evidence of the Edgewood program’s success in this, he notes there was never a lack of test subjects to include repeat volunteers, and many waiting their turn to do the brief tour at Edgewood. These were not “unwitting guinea pigs,” Ketchum says, but highly intelligent and knowledgeable volunteers to whom the test procedure and drug effects were explained. Subjects then had the opportunity to change their minds before taking the drug. Not so, he discusses later in the book, with the CIA’s program, which was less of a program than a childish free-for-all that gave all of government incapacitant testing a black eye. He also notes a brief association between the Edgewood program and what was by many accounts a sloppy and unethical prisoner testing program headed by Dr. Albert Kligman (I mentioned Kligman and a report that suggested benefits of paid prisoner testing last year here).

Ketchum notes a couple of times in the book that perhaps we should re-evaluate the policy that incapacitating agents don’t belong in warfare. “Eventually,” he writes, “life-sparing drugs, by reducing the acknowledged brutality of conventional warfare, may find acceptance.” As it stands, incapacitants are legal if used by law enforcement within a nation’s borders, but not legal if used by the military. To take that to extremes, the police could theoretically drug a crowd if they decide people are out of control (which, in some countries, might not take more than looking unfriendly), but for the military the only option for subduing an enemy is to blow him to bits. Ketchum wonders how that is the most logical or humane option. In the Moscow Dubrovka Theater siege, using the fentanyl compound was legal as a law enforcement response and it unquestionably prevented the terrorists from a mass suicide bombing that would have killed most, if not all, inside. The Russians screwed up the part about clueing in their first responders and doctors, unfortunately, which would have prevented some of the deaths. Still, to use the drug in the first place was their best possible option.

The author comes across as an honest, down-to-earth, and likable person who doesn’t put on any airs. The book was informative, enjoyable, and for the real non-lethal weapons geek, contains a huge appendix full of drug facts and historical records. If this is an area you’re interested in, I’d definitely say you’re losing out if you don’t get this book.

p.s. Nice web site, Jim ;)

UK’s BMA: incapacitating drugs never “nonlethal” weapons

Coincidental with the 4th European on Non-Lethal Weapons (agenda here), the British Medical Association has released a report titled The Use of Drugs as Weapons. Not surprisingly, their assessment is highly unfavorable towards so-called “tactical pharmacology.” The bottom line (edited for brevity):

The primary conclusion of this report is that the use of drugs as weapons is simply not feasible without generating a significant mortality among the target population…The agent whereby people could be incapacitated without risk of death in a tactical situation does not exist and is unlikely to in the foreseeable future. In such a situation, it is and will continue to be almost impossible to deliver the right agent to the right people in the right dose without exposing the wrong people, or delivering the wrong dose. Countermeasures may be easy to apply if such an attack is expected…

Ethical considerations aside, the BMA views the interest of governments in the use of drugs as weapons as dangerous for three reasons.

  1. The international legal norms which protect humanity from poison and the deliberate spread of disease which have been put in place by decades of negotiation risk being undermined.
  2. Widespread but responsible deployment of drugs as weapons would inevitably result in their reaching the hands of state or non-state actors for whom lethality among those targeted is not of concern. This would simply be chemical warfare with a medical label.
  3. Using existing drugs as weapons means knowingly moving towards the top of a ‘slippery slope’ at the bottom of which is the spectre of ‘militarization’ of biology; this could include intentional manipulation of peoples’ emotions, memories, immune responses or even fertility.

That’s a noble sentiment, but I’m pretty sure the militarization of biology is already well underway, and some surprises await us in the future. Major Western nations may choose not to slide down that slope, but others will definitely do so.

Here’s an older, related post: Militarization of biology: nonlethal weapons

BTW, a little bird tells me some of the taser guys were wearing a look of desperation at the NLW symposium. What, they’re not used to taking the heat (or shocks? – sorry, couldn’t resist) by now?

Sunday links

Things will be quiet for the next couple of weeks. Yep, I’ll be traveling again and may not have time or a connection.

Just bought this little baby to keep me busy while traveling: a Creative Zen Vision W. Crappy picture there, but trust me, the video quality is quite nice.

So far so good with getting shows & movies on it. The Creative software converts my Windows MCE dvr-ms files, and I’ve experimented on converting DVD movies with Roxio (the worst), DivX, and Video Vault PVP (the winner – but it’s no longer available for sale and I’ve only got a 14-day trial! Keygen please!). Anyone got other software to recommend? Frankly, the easiest way to get movies onto this baby is to download ‘em ready to roll (try Azureus) but in case I ever want to work for No Such Agency, I didn’t say that… Whatever, I’d never want to work for them anyway! I’ve got it loaded up with the Battlestar Galactica pilot miniseries, the first season of Babylon 5, a few TV shows, Night at the Museum, Last King of Scotland, Little Miss Sunshine, the SciFi channel Dune miniseries, and a bit of music including Pink Floyd – Animals and some misc. Moby. Yes, I should be so much more able to keep my mind off the huge mouth-breather next to me who keeps touching me, my full bladder, that whole hurtling through the atmosphere thing, and the coughing, sneezing passengers filling that sealed cabin with their body fluids teeming with disease. What joy.

So, on to a couple of links:

I happened upon this plea at Iraq the Model: is it too much to ask for the media to focus on terrorists as the reason for deaths in Iraq, rather than failed security measures? What a novel concept – blame the perpetrator!?!

Defense Tech posts about the crash of the Blue Angel piloted by LCDR Kevin Davis this week. I am reminded of my own experience of witnessing the Ramstein air show disaster, a traumatic event. I’ve not been to an air show since.

As blogged by the Neurophilosopher, last week marked the 64th anniversary of the discovery of LSD, a drug the military once thought might have nonlethal weapons potential, along with BZ (which I posted about here – and BTW, the mp3 of the Ketchum interview with RU Sirius is here and worth listening to).

The militarization of neuroscience – at a new blog worth a look, called Plausible Futures. (Actually an old blog with a new home. Here’s the older site.)

From the MNF-W YouTube channel, Iraqi Boy Scouts get ready for their jamboree with some extra goodies from the troops. Whodathunk?

More as I see ‘em…

Danger Room reviews book on military drug experiments

Sharon Weinberger gives it a thumbs up—in fact, a “must read.” I posted about Dr. James Ketchum’s book Chemical Warfare: Secrets Almost Forgotten a couple of months ago. Have I got around to reading it yet? No, dang it! But after reading the Danger Room article, I am certainly inclined to. Consider it on my list of a bazillion things to read.

…he describes watching volunteers “carry on conversations with various invisible people for as long as 2-3 days.” There are test subjects who “salute latrines” and attempt to “revive a gas mask” that they mistake for a woman.

Yikes, you can’t make this stuff up.

UPDATE:  I’m finally reading the book! I’ve only found time for a few pages per day, though, so this may take awhile.  So far it certainly seems like a great historical resource for anyone who’s interested in the details of how they ran the Edgewood drug tests.  The descriptions of test subjects’ behavior under the influence, as well as some of Dr. Ketchum’s personal recollections of daily life, provide a bit of humor along the way. I’ll probably post a review in the future.   

Terrorist movie plots

What came out of the military’s brainstorming session with a bunch of top Hollywood creative minds after 9/11? As Sharon Weinberger recounts in honor of “Sunshine Week,” The Army told her back in 2004 that the meeting was related to a “vulnerability assessment” and the results were “deliberative” in nature. Working papers (in other words, deliberative) are not automatically subject to release under the Freedom of Information Act, so the contents remain a mystery to this day.

It doesn’t take a genius these days to come up with interesting terrorism scenarios, I come up with them all the time and I’m no genius, just ask my offspring. While some exceptionally simple scenarios might make for a dull movie plot, they’d unfortunately make excellent choices for terrorists. I expect the Hollywood types probably did think up a few exciting blockbuster movie plots, but they also surprised the military with some simple, low-tech, and hair-raising scenarios are no longer viable choices for terrorists. Which means the “sunshine” is not likely to illuminate those scenarios for a very long time.

Just for kicks, here are a couple of ideas for the more fanciful blockbuster movie scenarios. Terrorists…

  • …create a super strain of Toxoplasma gondii, which controls people’s minds and causes an uncontrollable urge to convert to Salafist Islam.
  • clone themselves, thereby avoiding exposure through recruiting activities while creating an endless supply of suicide bombers. Oh, wait, I forgot we already have Palestinians.
  • …develop self-replicating nanobots that generate endless heaps of gray goo that buries military bases.
  • …build suitcase antimatter bombs capable of blowing up areas the size of a state (in my “director’s cut” version they use one on the East Coast).
  • …create a large array transcranial magnetic stimulation weapon that causes people to feel paranoid and aggressive – they use it in large cities and just sit back while we destroy ourselves Katrina-style.
  • …create a “brown noise” weapon that enables terrorists to take over the White House and kidnap the President and Cabinet while the leaders of the free world are busy crapping their pants.
  • …genetically engineer sturgeon that produce “Manchurian caviar,” an addictive, hypnotic delicacy that enables terrorists to gain control over rich and powerful individuals.

Do I dare post about this again?

Apparently I do, but I sure hope I don’t end up regretting it. A while back I wrote about gangstalking, a phenomenon I had just heard about. I thought it was probably an obscure, little-known paranoid tendency among a small group of people. Was that ever wrong. I’m pretty sure that post got more hits than any other on this blog, and what was worse, some commenters practically wrote books in reply. I cut some comments and finally blocked them altogether.

But I just saw this article called Mind Games from last month in the Washington Post. So what is going on when people who otherwise act normally are convinced they’re being followed, harassed, and even have conversations beamed into their heads? Yes, that’s a different kind of harassment called V2K, or “voice to skull.”

Bottom line is that in your everyday life, chances are you have recently passed by someone on the street who is having malevolent government agents’ voices being beamed into his or her head, or someone whose underwear is actually augmented with a thin sheet of aluminum. And he or she has plenty of company.

Until recently, people who believe the government is beaming voices into their heads would have added social isolation to their catalogue of woes. But now, many have discovered hundreds, possibly thousands, of others just like them all over the world. Web sites dedicated to electronic harassment and gang stalking have popped up in India, China, Japan, South Korea, the United Kingdom, Russia and elsewhere. Victims have begun to host support meetings in major cities, including Washington. Favorite topics at the meetings include lessons on how to build shields (the proverbial tinfoil hats), media and PR training, and possible legal strategies for outlawing mind control.

Lest you laugh too loudly,

An academic paper written for the Air Force in the mid-1990s mentions the idea of a weapon that would use sound waves to send words into a person’s head. “The signal can be a ‘message from God’ that can warn the enemy of impending doom, or encourage the enemy to surrender,” the author concluded.

In 2002, the Air Force Research Laboratory patented precisely such a technology: using microwaves to send words into someone’s head. That work is frequently cited on mind-control Web sites. Rich Garcia, a spokesman for the research laboratory’s directed energy directorate, declined to discuss that patent or current or related research in the field, citing the lab’s policy not to comment on its microwave work.

There are people in solid professions—doctors, writers—who are convinced the government is beaming voices into their heads. I’m not exactly sure what always tips them it’s the government. Psychologists say this is just a more palatable explanation than the idea that a person is hallucinating. The article highlighted psychologist Susan Clancy who says the mind control phenomenon shares a lot with the alien abduction phenomenon. Depending on what type of person you are, if you start experiencing hallucinations you’ll select an explanation that suits you.

The thing I find really interesting is that there appear to be at least hundreds and perhaps thousands of people who all agree they’re having the same experience and have developed support groups to talk about it among themselves and trade strategies on how to outwit the man.  But I have to wonder how many of these individuals’ explanations actually “gelled” into a cohesive belief structure only after they began interacting with a support group and taking in some of the material found on the Internet.

And there you have it. I hope I don’t regret this.

5 minutes to midnight: doomsday clock

Those party-pooping atomic scientists have decided it’s time for an even more grim outlook on the future of mankind. We’re now two minutes closer to midnight.

Under the category of emerging technologies the rationale for a two-minute advance includes the life sciences, which has spawned technologies at an ever-accelerating pace since the 1970s—hurtling us toward a very uncertain future that could heal us all, or kill us all.

Unlike the biological weapons of the last century, these new tools could create a limitless variety of threats, from new types of “nonlethal” agents, to viruses that sterilize their hosts, to others that incapacitate whole systems within an organism. The wide availability of bioengineering knowledge and tools, along with the ease with which individuals can obtain specific fragments of genetic material (some can be ordered through the mail or over the internet), could allow these capabilities to find their way into unspecified hands or even those of backyard hobbyists. Such potential dangers are forcing scientists, institutions, and industry to develop self-governing mechanisms to prevent misuse. But developing a system to ensure the safe use of bioengineering, without impeding beneficial research and development, could pose the greatest international science and security challenge during the next 50 years.

Further, there’s the dark promise of nanotechnology:

Nanotechnology’s interaction with other sciences, particularly the life sciences, raises the potential of integrating nanoparticles into biological agents that might cause harm to humans and other species. Some experts express concern that nanotechnology could be integrated into miniature, invasive surveillance systems or could prompt a molecular arms race with small but powerful weapons. The potential military applications of nanotechnology are vast, from lighter, stronger materials for weapons, sensors, and electronics, to futuristic interfaces between machines and human functioning.

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