US embassy personnel are being sent home from China, and Secretary of State Mike Pompeo has announced the formation of a task force to investigate unexplained illnesses that have been plaguing government personnel working in semi-hostile nations.
There have been concerns that overseas US government workers are being targeted by some kind of “sonic attacks”. A consulate worker in Guangzhou was sent back to the US last month after suffering a brain injury due to “abnormal sensations of sound and pressure” throughout late 2017 and early 2018.
US diplomats were also pulled out of Cuba last year due to similar concerns.
The latest evacuation seem to indicate that the isolated case last month has turned into a bigger diplomatic crisis. And this comes at a time when the US and China are already facing off on a number of other fronts as well.
Although it sounds like something out of a bad spy novel, the idea that the Chi-Comms are secretly frying our diplomats with microwaves while they sleep may not be completely nuts.
The US issued a health alert in May to US citizens in China asking them to report “unusual acute auditory or sensory phenomena”. But the US government also said it didn’t know of any other cases of head pain outside the US diplomatic community inside China, aside from the one brain injury reported last month.
However, other US personnel in China have disputed that claim by the government. A security engineer at the consulate in Guangzhou, named Mark Lenzi, has come forward himself with claims that the strange noises and unexplained pains are more widespread than the government wants to admit. (And given the fact that many employees are now being evacuated, including Lenzi, it seems he was right.)
Lenzi lived in the same housing complex as the worker who suffered a brain injury. He said that he too had been hearing strange sounds, almost like “marbles bouncing and hitting a floor”, since April of last year.
These odd noises were followed by awful headaches and an inability to sleep. Lenzi’s family also experienced these same symptoms. Lenzi says that when he spoke to superiors about these concerns, he was prescribed painkillers, and nothing else was done.
Lenzi also claimed that when the US government said the experience of the traumatized worker in May was a “single case”, they already “knew full well it wasn’t”.
The Chinese have already pledged to investigate these mysterious sounds and the sickness they’re causing. The Guangzhou consulate is the largest American enclave in China, and is a major site for the issuing of travel visas to the US. Many of the diplomats there are only in their first or second postings overseas, which makes the disease symptoms they’re experiencing even more mysterious.
Explanations for what might be causing these symptoms are hard to come by. Experts have expressed doubts that a sonic weapon could realistically be the cause of these symptoms, and there’s no evidence so far of a sonic device either in Cuba or in China.
Others think the illness might be the result of surveillance hardware being placed too closely together. Researchers at the University of Michigan found in a study that some spy devices can interfere with similar devices when placed too closely, and that can produce an audible sound like the one described by American diplomats. Given the current state of our relations with China, the offices in Guangzhou – and the apartments of US consulate workers – are probably bugged more heavily that a Florida swamp in mid-July.
So in other words, we’re not sure whether it’s a deliberate attack, or simply the result of incompetence on the part of the Chinese Ministry of State Security. Either way, let’s hope Mike Pompeo’s task force can get to the bottom of things, and soon. Because if our diplomats can’t do their jobs in China, then sooner or later our soldiers will have to do their jobs instead.