Neurotechnologies as Weapons of Mass Disruption/Future Asymmetric Warfare: Putative Mechanisms, Emerging Threats, and Bad Actor Scenarios

The capability to use various frequencies of energy to affect changes in the brain and cognition has been around for years, but recent events in Cuba and China may indicate an increase in the threat of their use as neuroweapons. (image credit: Saad Faruque)

The capability to use various frequencies of energy to affect changes in the brain and cognition has been around for years, but recent events in Cuba and China may indicate an increase in the threat of their use as neuroweapons. (image credit: Saad Faruque)

On 21 August, Information Analysis Center (IAC) Field S&T Advisor staff to the Combatant Commands attended a SOFWERX Radical Speaker Series event related to neuroweapons hosted in collaboration with the U.S. Special Operations Command (USSOCOM) J5 Donovan Group after several individuals at embassies in Cuba and China incurred apparent brain injury following some form of ambient environmental insult or attack.  The type and extent of pathological damage is significant and suggestive of repetitive exposure to either bio and neurotoxic substances and/or ultra-high frequency sonic or electromagnetic pulse stimuli.  This could represent an emerging new threat vector for global conflict.

Speakers presented information on neuroweapons as an emerging new threat for global conflict. Discussions focused on neurotechnologies as weapons of mass destruction (WMD) or asymmetric warfare assets, emerging threats, and scenarios.  Threats discussed included biologic, neurotoxic and/or ultra-high frequency sonic or electromagnetic pulse (EMP) waves.

The target audience was USSOCOM, other Department of Defense (DoD), and U.S. Government law enforcement agencies.

The event consisted of four presentations (links for the videos are presented at the end of the article):

  1. Acute Presentation of an Acquired Neurosensory Syndrome – Michael Hoffer, MD, FACS, Professor of Otolaryngology and Neurological Surgery, University of Miami. Dr. Hoffer assumed these roles after a more than twenty-year military career in which he studied mild Traumatic Brain Injury (mTBI) on active duty service members. He is a clinician-scientist who performs both basic and clinical research along with his Otology/Neurotology clinical practice.
    •  Explored the acute medical findings in the effected group (U.S. Diplomatic Mission Personnel [DOS] and U.S. Marine Corps [USMC] Detachment) exposed initially in one geographic area. This symptom pattern was compared to and contrasted from other relevant acquired neurosensory disorders such as mTBI, DoD Defined.
    • 35 American Embassy employees in Cuba were examined for Acquired Neurosensory Syndrome.
      • Number of the symptomatic individuals originating from a restricted population was statistically significant.
      • Does not meet the DoD mTBI definition; symptoms and long-term damage was quite different from mTBI.
         
  2. Embassy Encephalopathy: Putative Mechanisms, Processes, and Possible Inductive Media Patterns of Incurred CNS Insult – James Giordano, PhD, Professor of Neurology and Biochemistry, Georgetown University Medical Center.
    • Presented an overview of the neurological injuries incurred and provided a forensic assessment of how such a medical/mental effect could be produced.
    • Covered the types of agent/devices capable of producing such effects.
    • Discussed use of existing and newly developing brain science as a “neuroweapon” to induce biological, psychological, and socio-political/economic disruptive effects on a variety of scales (strategic vs. tactical).
    • Described possible pathologic processes involved in the types of trauma observed in cases of “embassy encephalopathy” (new clinical terminology) and propose potential mechanisms and causes for such effects.
    • Of the 35 embassy employees:
      • 25 presented symptoms, 10 did not
      • Toxicology tests ruled out symptoms being caused by chemicals and nanoparticle such as heavy metal toxicity.
      • Only other known causation is exposure to acoustic energy at subsonic <20 Hz and Ultrasonic >4500 Hz: the likely source; delivery method not discussed.
    • Exposure to acoustic energy of these frequencies can propagate to the brain through the ear/hearing system (drum, cochlea, etc.) with the focus of targeting long term/permanent brain effect vs. damage to hearing/short term symptoms.
       
  3. Scientific Insights Toward Understanding the Cuba Exposures: History and Initial Results – Carey Balaban, PhD, Professor of Otolaryngology in the School of Medicine (Pitt); secondary appointments in Neurobiology, Communication Sciences and Disorders, and Bioengineering; and Director of the Center for National Preparedness.
    • Presented a summary of a facet of the Office of Naval Research (Code 34) Noise-Induced Hearing Loss Program.
      •  Basic research from the 1960s through 1980s on the effects of acoustic and electromagnetic energy exposures provide potential insights into mechanistic bases for effects on the inner ear and other intracranial contents.
      • Resonance and amplification of acoustic source energy is plausible via physiological pathways. Presented research data showing proof of transmission and amplification.
      • Commercial off-the-shelf (COTS) devices can produce exposures of interest. Presented information on COTS technologies that emit acoustic energy in the frequencies of interest.  Speculated on the ease of modification to these devices to cause the presented symptoms.
         
  4. The NeuroFuture, Emerging Technologies, Actors and Geopolitics – James Canton, PhD, Chairman and Chief Futurist, Institute for Global Futures. 
    • Addressed the potential threat actors and scenarios that might drive the weaponized use of terrotechnology. The Global Dark Networks that are evident today in cyberwar were discussed as leading-edge models for ways that various (state and non-state) bad actors might engage neurotechnologies to establish an advantage in asymmetric warfare engagements.
    • An application of his technology convergence model (i.e.- employing nano-, bio-, cogno-, IT- and quantum science) can assist planners in a future forecasting of the potential threat and counter threat scenarios in which neurotechnology may emerge as a potent new weapon.
    • Discussed dual use technology and how it can be used for in unintended ways. 
    • Provided thought provoking insights as to possible into use of neuroweapons as a component of the Internet of Things (IoT).
    • Provided thought provoking insights into the use of such weapons in geopolitical competition with near pear nations and the “why” for targeting U.S. DOS/DOD Personnel in Cuba.

View the Speaker Series - Individual Videos

View the Speaker Series - Full Series Compiled


USSOCOM Donovan Group

The Donovan Group is USSOCOM J5’s dedicated future studies initiative under the direction of the Director, Strategy Plans and Policy. It focuses on developing future-oriented ideas to inform enterprise development of strategy, capabilities, doctrine, concepts, training, and other government agencies and private industry as appropriate. The Group’s thinking about SOF and the future should be unconstrained, but make realistic recommendations. Specifically, the Donovan Group concentrates on those areas that are innovative, challenge conventional wisdom, are currently undeserved, or offer potentially high payoff for SOF.

Specifically, the Donovan Group concentrates on those areas that are innovative, challenge conventional wisdom, are currently undeserved, or offer potentially high payoff for SOF.


SOFWERX

SOFWERX was created under a Partnership Intermediary Agreement between Doolittle Institute and USSOCOM. Located in Tampa, FL, SOFWERX has a very dynamic environment designed to create a high rate of return on collision for all participants. Through the use of our growing ecosystem, promotion of divergent thought, and neutral facilitation, our goal is to bring the right minds together to solve challenging problems.