Doctors Examined The Brains Of The Victims Of The Mysterious Attacks In Cuba. Here's What They Found


Robin Andrews

Science & Policy Writer

There's trouble brewing in Havana. Chris Dolby Imaging/Shutterstock

The saga of those enigmatic “sonic weapon” attacks in Cuba continues, and the plot seems to do nothing but thicken.

Reports back in August revealed that some of the US and Canadian diplomats who fell victim to the attacks appeared to suffer from mild traumatic brain injury. Now, American doctors examining the victims of these bizarre incidents have confirmed that they’ve found a similar type of brain abnormality in several of them.


As reported by the Associated Press, they’ve identified changes to their white matter tracts.

White matter is, among other things, responsible for carrying bioelectrochemical information between various parts of the brain, as well as throughout the central nervous system.

Bundles of white matter are known as “tracts”, which in turn are comprised of axons, nerve fiber bridges between neurons that carry electrical impulses. In a way, these tracts are like the brain's fiber optic cables.

If these tracts are negative altered, perhaps damaged, then the brain cannot properly process information. Learning is made more difficult, and sensory perception can become less precise. That, indeed, is what’s been found in the victims of these so-called sonic attacks across Cuba.

White matter tracts through a human brain. PLOS ONE/Wikimedia Commons; CC BY 2.5

Although it’s been hypothesized that these attacks have been induced by a range of sonic devices, the details of the effects of the attacks have varied greatly.

Headaches, hearing loss, nausea, and disorientation were commonly reported symptoms. However, sometimes they were accompanied by an audible, high-pitched sound; in other incidences, no sound was heard.

The weirdest feature is that, during the onset of an attack, the victims often experienced hearing freakish sounds despite the fact that others right next to them heard or felt nothing at all.

Explanations have ranged from sonic deterrent devices used in riot control situations to silent infrasound beams, both of which the US military has researched heavily.


An article in New Scientist a few years back noted that microwaves could have the same effect, but it’s unknown if the device has truly moved beyond the hypothetical realm and into the practical one. To be fair, there are some truly bizarre non-lethal weapons in various stages of development right now, so there is a chance that the device being used to induce these symptoms isn’t public knowledge just yet.

It's more probable, though, that the progenitor of these attacks is something far less outlandish, and it simply hasn't been identified yet.

The AP noted that officials are now trying to avoid the use of the term “sonic attack”, despite the findings of preliminary investigations. Instead, based on the type of damage caused in the brains of the victims, officials are now touting the possibility that the symptoms could be generated as a result of something else – but no more specifics were given.

As reported by Science, a panel of Cuban experts recently decided that the victims had either suffered from a “collective psychogenic disorder” – physical afflictions induced by mental or emotional stress – and that the sounds were caused by nothing more than crickets chirping.


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