(RNN) – A rash of mysterious brain traumas that struck diplomats at American embassies and consulates in Cuba and China might have been the result of a kind of microwave weapon, according to a New York Times report.
The unexplained injuries first occurred to more than 20 American diplomats in Cuba in 2016.
They reported hearing strange sounds of varying pitch and volume, and then later suffered a range of effects. Those included symptoms as simple as headaches and as unsettling as memory and concentration difficulties.
The diplomats were in enough like a concussive state that doctors have jokingly called the puzzling affliction the "immaculate concussion" according to The Times.
The phenomenon occurred again this summer, both in Havana once more and at the U.S. Consulate in Guangzhou, in southern China, resulting in the departure of a number of Americans from the country.
The Times report, though, provides the first endorsement of the weapon theory from someone connected to the cases.
The paper spoke to Douglas Smith, the lead author of a study of 21 diplomats struck by the illness. That study appeared in JAMA: The Journal of the American Medical Association in March, but did not at that time make any reference to microwaves.
Speaking to The Times, Smith – who also directs the Center for Brain Injury and Repair at the University of Pennsylvania – now says "everyone now agrees there's something there."
A pioneer in researching microwaves' possible neural effects, Allan Frey, also told the paper that he'd been consulted by the government in looking at the likelihood that the diplomatic episodes were deliberately inflicted with a weapon.
While technology has long existed to produce discomfort from audial effects – most notably with the so-called "mosquito" device used sometimes for crowd control – a weapon strong enough to cause the damage the American diplomats suffered would be a new development.
"I know of no acoustic effect that would produce concussion-like symptoms," Jurgen Altmann, a physics professor in Germany, told CNN last year. "According to my research strong effects on humans require loudness levels that would be perceived as very loud noise while exposed."
The Times reported that an October paper in Neural Computation will argue that the diplomats' experiences "fit the hypothesis" of a microwave weapon attack.
The government, to this point, hasn't provided any kind of official theory for what befell the diplomats.
Investigations have involved some of the most advanced and experimental federal agencies, such as the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA), according to a February ProPublica report on the effort to understand what happened.
But, so far, it's still an open question exactly how such a weapon might have been used, who might have used it and why.