Cuban Duck

US embassy in Cuba

You probably know the saying “if it looks likes like a duck, swims like a duck and quacks like a duck, then it probably is a duck”. It refers to a method of finding the most likely explanation for an observation, without offering proof. It is often misused to make a political statement in the “there’s no smoke, without a fire” genre, merely suggesting proof. Nevertheless, when there’s more than one explanation available for the cause of an event, it makes sense to select the most likely one and start the search for evidence there. What’s needed to make use of this method is three things: you have to watch carefully, you have to listen carefully and you need to know what a duck is.

As an example, let me discuss the sound weapon attack on the US embassy in Cuba, that recently came in the news again. From 2016, US diplomats suffered from nausea, hearing loss and headaches, and these symptoms could possibly be related to loud ‘infrasound’ below 20 Hz. It was stated that the Cubans did an ‘acoustic attack’ on the embassy and a diplomatic crisis unfolded. Last year a ‘recording of the attack’ was published via press agency AP. It sounded scary and people figured that this had to be the sound of an acoustic weapon. However, anyone who ever visited Cuba would immediately recognize the sound as that of a particularly loud cricket that plagues the island. I tried to sleep one night in a wooden cabin in Las Terrazas and the tinnitus-like tone this animal produces measured at 80 dBA, which made sleeping quite difficult. Without this knowledge the ‘duck’ is a man made acoustic weapon, with the knowledge it is a cricket. After more than a year research scientists confirmed last week that the sound is indeed of a cricket. So now everyone is laughing at the silly Americans, but of course the question is: can a cricket produce infrasound? If not, people may still get ill in the embassy.

If we want to find a real infrasound source, it helps to check for plausibility. Unlikely causes are more rare than random causes and those are more rare than likely causes. If people get ill from infrasound, it is more likely that the cause is natural than military. So for a starting point, let’s look for objects in the immediate vicinity of the embassy that can generate low frequency energy. And if we do, we see a forest of 138 flagpoles across the street, as tall as the embassy building. They were once installed on demand of Castro to obscure an electronic ticker board installed by the Bush administration to send ‘messages of the free world’ to the Cuban people. To pave the way for normalizing the relationship, Obama unplugged the ticker board and Castro took down the flags. But the flag poles still stand.

US embassy in Cuba
US embassy in Cuba

By coincidence not much later the embassy personnel started to become ill. When I saw these sea side flag poles during my visit, I wondered what would happen if they were driven by the right amount of wind. Probably they would start shaking like giant tuning forks. Without the flags attached, the bare pole tips can oscillate undisturbed. Their resonance frequency will be infrasonic for sure. The poles can inject high energy low frequency vibrations into the ground, which can then enter the embassy walls across the street and cause acoustic disturbance in the building. 

I am certainly not convinced yet that this theory describes the real cause of the illness of the US diplomats, but it seems like a more credible candidate than a military attack with an acoustic weapon. In other words: I can see a duck across the street. Next step is to find proof for this hypothesis and nothing beats measurements for that. Check resonance in the poles and infrasound in the embassy under various wind conditions and try to find a correlation. Never forget to check a duck well once you see it.

Eelco Grimm