Of all the crazy, bizarre less-lethal weapons that have been proposed, the use of microwaves to target the human mind remains the most disturbing. The question has always been: is this anything more than urban myth? We may not have the final answer to this question, but a newly declassified Pentagon report, Bioeffects of Selected Non-Lethal Weapons , obtained by a private citizen under the Freedom of Information Act, provides some fascinating tidbits on a variety of exotic weapons ideas.
Among those discussed are weapons that could disrupt the brain, as well as my longtime obsession, the “Voice of God” device, which creates voices in people’s heads. As the report notes, “Application of the microwave hearing technology could facilitate a private message transmission. It may be useful to provide a disruptive condition to a person not aware of the technology. Not only might it be disruptive to the sense of hearing, it could be psychologically devastating if one suddenly heard ‘voices within one’s head.’”
Voices in your head disturbing? Heck, yeah, considering it’s something most people associate with schizophrenia. The age-old question is whether such a weapon is possible. According to the report, it’s not only possible, it’s already been demonstrated in crude form:
Because the frequency of the sound heard is dependent on the pulse characteristics of the RF energy, it seems possible that this technology could be developed to the point where words could be transmitted to be heard like the spoken word, except hat it could only be heard within a person’s head. In one experiment, communication of the words from one to ten using “speech modulated” microwave energy was successfully demonstrated. Microphones next to the person experiencing the voice could not pick up the sound. Additional development of this would open up a wide range of possibilities.
This technology requires no extrapolation to estimate its usefulness. Microwave energy can be applied at a distance, and the appropriate technology can be adapted from existing radar units. Aiming devices likewise are available but for special circumstances which require extreme specificity, there may be a need for additional development. Extreme directional specificity would be required to transmit a message to a single hostage surrounded by his captors. Signals can be transmitted long distances (hundreds of meters) using current technology. Longer distances and more sophisticated signal types will require more bulky equipment, but it seems possible to transmit some of the signals at closer ranges using man-portable equipment.
If voices in your head aren’t disturbing enough, the report also goes on to theorize about a microwave weapon that could use electromagnetic pulses to disrupt the brain’s functioning. It would work through “a rhythmic-activity synchronization of brain neurons that disrupts normal cortical control of the corticospinal and corticobulbar pathways that disrupts normal functioning of the spinal motor neurons which control muscle and body movements.”
This concept is still very theoretical, the report notes:
Application of electromagnetic pulses is also a conceptual nonlethal technology that uses electromagnetic energy to induce neural synchrony and disruption of voluntary muscle control. The effectiveness of this concept has not been demonstrated. However, from past work in evaluating the potential for electromagnetic pulse generator to affect humans, it is estimated that sufficiently strong internal fields can be generated within the brain to trigger neurons.
Sadly, there’s little context for the report, which is dated 1998, and no specific references to current programs or research, if any, about such weapons.
The Voice of God Weapon Returns
The Voice of God weapon— a device that projects voices into your head to make you think God is speaking to you — is the military’s equivalent of an urban myth. Meaning, it’s mentioned periodically at defense workshops (ironically, I first heard about it at the same defense conference where I first met Noah), and typically someone whispers about it actually being used. Now Steven Corman, writing at the COMOPS journal, describes his own encounter with this urban myth:
At a government workshop some time ago I head someone describe a new tool that was described as the “voice of Allah.” This was said to be a device that would operate at a distance and would deliver a message that only a single person could hear. The story was that it was tested in a conflict situation in Iraq and pointed at one insurgent in a group, who whipped around looking in all directions, and began a heated conversation with his compatriots, who did not hear the message. At the time I greeted this story with some skepticism.
Is there any basis to this technology? Well, Holosonic Research Labs and American Technology Corporation both have versions of directed sound, which can allow a single person to hear a message that others around don’t hear. DARPA appears to be working on its own sonic projector. Intriguingly,Strategy Page reports that troops are using the Long Range Acoustic Device as a modified Voice of God weapon:
It appears that some of the troops in Iraq are using “spoken” (as opposed to “screeching”) LRAD to mess with enemy fighters. Islamic terrorists tend to be superstitious and, of course, very religious. LRAD can put the “word of God” into their heads. If God, in the form of a voice that only you can hear, tells you to surrender, or run away, what are you gonna do?
And as Corman also notes, CNET recently wrote about an advertisement in New York for A&E’s TV show Paranormal State, which uses some of this technology. Beyond directed sound, it’s long been known that microwaves at certain frequencies can produce an auditory effect that sounds like it’s coming from within someone’s head (and there’s the nagging question of classified microwave work at Brooks Air Force Base, that the Air Force stubbornly refuses to talk about).
That brings us back to the Voice of God/Allah Weapon. Is it real or bogus? In one version — related to me by another defense reporter — it’s not just Allah’s voice — but an entire holographic image projected above (um, who decides what Allah looks like?).
Does it exist? I’m not sure, but it’s funny that when you hear it brought up at defense conferences, no one ever asks the obvious question: does anybody think this thing will actually convince people God is speaking to them? I’m thinking, not.