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I’ve been a news admin for The Daily Grail for more than 10 years –I get a golden watch when I retire, right Greg?– and yet it seems that, when it comes to the amount of weird news, 2018 is going to take the cake.

Without a doubt, among the top head-scratching news that took the centerfold this year –even though it actually started in 2016– is the unfolding story regarding the alleged brain trauma suffered by several members of the US diplomatic mission in Cuba. The media started reporting it as a “sonic attack” due to the noises reported by the victims, but eventually the idea of a ‘sonic weapon’ capable of inflicting actual physical (and PERMANENT) injuries from a distance, seemed implausible to the investigators and skeptics who looked into the case.

Things got even stranger, though, when similar symptoms were reported by US diplomats in China, which discarded the possibility of a freakish natural occurrence.

US embassy in Havana, Cuba

Now the latest update on this bizarre saga comes from The New York Times, which interviewed Douglas H. Smith, the lead author in the medical report that investigated the cases, and wrote a lengthy report on the Journal of American Medical Association (JAMA) last March. What’s interesting is that, according to Smith, microwave radiation was now considered a prime suspect for the effects suffered by the diplomats, and that they had indeed suffered from brain injury so severe, it was akin to a direct blow to the head.

“Everybody was relatively skeptical at first,” he said, “and everyone now agrees there’s something there.” Dr. Smith remarked that the diplomats and doctors jokingly refer to the trauma as the immaculate concussion [emphasis mine].

So now the investigating team is looking into the work of Allan H. Frey, an American scientist who was experimenting with the biological effects of microwaves in the 1960’s, and discovered that direct beams focused at the human head –specifically, the temporal lobe— could create rather strange effects, including the sensation of hearing noises and indeterminate buzzings:

The false sensations, the experts say, may account for a defining symptom of the diplomatic incidents — the perception of loud noises, including ringing, buzzing and grinding. Initially, experts cited those symptoms as evidence of stealthy attacks with sonic weapons.

Members of Jason, a secretive group of elite scientists that helps the federal government assess new threats to national security, say it has been scrutinizing the diplomatic mystery this summer and weighing possible explanations, including microwaves.

Maybe it was the evocative term —‘immaculate concussion’– what rattled *my* own head, but this new development reminded me of one of my favorite UFO-related books of all time: Heavenly Lights, by Joaquim Fernandes and Fina D’Armada, who researched one of the most important paranormal events in modern history —the Fátima apparitions.

Fátima apparition

Fernandes and D’Armada were the first non-religious academicians who got access to the original records –kept at the Fátima parish– of the canonical investigation conducted by the Catholic church of the events that occurred in 1917 after the mysterious events at Cova da Iria got a world-wide attention, due to the momentous ‘dance of the Sun’ massive sighting of unexplained atmospheric phenomena, witnessed by thousands of individuals of all walks of life –many atheists who attended the forewarned apparition to mock the ‘credulous peasants’, were reported to go on their knees and frantically confess their sins, at the bewildering sighting of a multi-colored disk which approached the ground in the typical ‘falling leaf’ motion which would become a familiar element in future UFO sightings.

Heavenly Lights stripped away Fátima from all religious connotations, and look at it from a UFOlogical perspective instead (which could be interpreted as another religious connotation, but that’s for another discussion) and the many parallels between Marian apparitions and ‘secular’ close encounters of the third kind –unexplained illuminations, atmospheric phenomena, ‘angel hair’, etc ; they looked at the accounts of the three main protagonists of the Marian apparitions (Lucia dos Santos and her two younger cousins, Jacinta and Francisco Marto) who claimed to be in contact with a small, female non-human entity which was later recognized as the Virgin Mary by ecclesiastical authorities –atheists and skeptics BTW will be surprised to know that, originally, the Church wanted no part in the Fatima story, and it was many years until they decided to ‘appropriate’ Fatima for their purposes; something the authors of Heavenly Lights approached in a sequel, Celestial Secrets.

But getting back to the accounts of the little shepherd visionaries, of the three it was only Lucia (the eldest) the only one who claimed to actually understand the voice of ‘the Lady from Heaven’; the other two told the church authorities to hear her voice, but they didn’t understand most of what it was communicated to them. When news of the apparition got around the little Portuguese own, and more and more people started to gather around Cova da Iria at the appointed time when the Lady promised to return (always on the 13th of the month) none of the other witnesses claimed to see the apparition; what they reported instead, though, was hearing a buzzing like bees…

Fernandes and D’Armada took note of this particularly interesting detail, and the fact that it is also found in plenty of UFOlogical records –as well as other paranormal phenomena, as our own Greg Taylor aptly reported in one of his essays for the Darklore anthology– and proposed the tentative theory that it could be the result of microwave radiation. In their book they did not cite the work of Frey, but referenced instead the experiments conducted at the Canadian Institute of Electrical and Electronic Engineering by James C. Lin, Sergio Sales-Cunha, Joseph Battocletti and Anthony Sances (published under the title, “The Auditory Microwave Phenomenon.”):

The studies showed that individuals perceived buzzing types of noises or pops within the head, when subjected to microwave radiation between 200 and 300 Mhz.

Schematics explaining the experiment on the so-called ‘auditory microwave phenomenon’

The recent NYT article mentioned how the both the Americans and the Soviets have attempted to exploit these sort of findings, and weaponize them in order to make people ‘hear voices inside their head’ for psychological warfare purposes. Did they finally succeed? And if so, did someone try to use this hypothetical technology against American representatives abroad?

[Addendum: One thing to keep in mind is that the diplomats who suffered the injuries reported that they noticed the strange sounds in a very focalized manner –E.g. when they were lying on their beds– but as soon as they got up and moved to another spot in the room, the sounds stopped]

Heavenly Lights’ greatest virtue also happens to be its biggest flaw: The authors tried to propose non-supernatural explanations (perhaps too hard) for the unexplained phenomena reported at Fátima, and sought to change the golden patina of religious reverie with the silver sheen of the UFO mythos. Whereas their microwave hypothesis is certainly worthy of note, it doesn’t necessarily mean it was the result of an alien’s ‘beam transmission’ –the radiation could very well have a natural origin. To their credit, later in their work they did explore the ‘telluric’ properties of Cova da Iria and other locations of Marian apparitions, which unsurprisingly coincide with so-called ‘ley lines’ (currents of energy criss-crossing the land where many ancient megalithic sites were erected).

Even though neither the New York Times (nor me) pretend to propose an actual culprit for the harm suffered by the American diplomats –though it doesn’t sound preposterous to start pointing the finger toward the Kremlin— this new development does raise a set of new interesting questions, for us students of anomalous phenomena: Will we later learn that among the victims of this alleged microwave, that a few of them experienced ‘visionary-type experiences’ like premonitions or ‘prophetic’ dreams?


And also, what would have happened if someone had chosen to perform autopsies to young Jacinta and Francisco, who both suffered untimely ends a few years after the Fátima apparitions? Their deaths are historically attributed to the 1918 influenza epidemic that struck Portugal and the rest of Europe; but one wonders if a forensic examination would have also found in their little brains, injuries resemblant to the ones discovered by Smith and their medical team in their JAMA report.

As always in the Fortean game, for every answer found, 2 more questions appear out of thin air.