It’s time for Western policymakers to develop a playbook for countermeasures against potential ‘directed energy’ attacks, Robert Bunker writes.
A recent health alert posted on the US Department of State website related to an incident in Guangzhou, China, in which an employee of the US embassy suffered certain ‘bio-effects’. The event can be viewed in the context of earlier incidents, such as that in which US – as well as one or more Canadian – diplomatic staff members serving in Havana, Cuba were similarly affected.
These traumatic brain and bodily injuries to diplomatic personnel have raised concerns over the possibility that an ongoing series of clandestine directed energy attacks have been taking place, and are increasingly drawing news and social media attention.
Three primary reasons exist why a clandestine state entity may intentionally project directed energy at US and allied embassies.
First, such energies can be utilised for sensing and spying activities in an attempt to obtain restricted and secret information either being discussed or transmitted. For instance, listening devices exist that can bounce energy frequencies off the window glass of an office, thus allowing the hearing of a private conversation inside.
Second, directed energy can be deployed in a jamming and harassment role to degrade embassy and staff functioning. This would be akin to disrupting cell phone reception, local area networks (for example from a computer to a printer), or even other more secure forms of communication.
Third, certain electromagnetic frequencies may be utilised in order to injure personnel and destroy specific forms of military equipment. As national militaries increasingly weaponise the electromagnetic spectrum, the use of infra- and ultra-sonic devices, high-powered microwaves (HPM), and lasers are becoming more common.
Such advanced technologies are well suited for clandestine use because some of them – particularly certain sonic and HPM technologies – can bypass physical walls and structures. They directly injure targeted individuals with virtually none of the conventional forensic evidence a firearm or explosive would leave behind. China is well aware of these advanced weaponry capabilities and is actively pursuing them developmentally and in field-testing.
Various narratives and counter-narratives, however, have been proposed about these incidents in attempts to dismiss them as non-events. They have been portrayed as a figment of employee imagination, the product of mass hysteria, and more recently – given the preponderance of medical evidence that diplomatic personnel have suffered actual physical damage – as the malfunctioning of electronic eavesdropping equipment.
Within the context of these narratives, disinformation campaigns are actively being waged by Chinese, Russian, and allied authoritarian regimes as a component of their foreign policies, which are directly at odds with liberal democratic governance and individual human rights.
Viewing the incidents as some form of ongoing series of attacks, however, appears more plausible and more in line with US governmental perspectives, especially considering the types and circumstances of the injuries suffered, as well as the concurrent audible noises and other sensory events reported.
Recommendations for policymakers concerning the mysterious incidents in Havana and Guangzhou exist at varying levels of action.
On the declaratory level, restraint must be exercised because no ‘smoking gun’ (or, in this instance, ‘energised device’) exists which directly links any of these incidents to a specific entity or national backing.
With this said, an increasing evidential pattern of incidents and anomalies have taken place within Chinese military activities to warrant concern over the likelihood that the embassy attacks may represent a new component of Chinese clandestine operations carried out against the Western liberal democracies. These include the counter-optical lasing of multiple US military aircraft from the new Chinese base in Djibouti and the use of commercial fishing fleets to harass US warships.
While Western nations are attempting to engage with China, the Chinese Communist Party under Xi Jinping – now its leader for life – has essentially seized the South China Sea, militarised it, and slowly begun to build up the capacity to globally project its military power.
Western political leaders – including those in Australia – should now be on guard for Chinese attempts to fracture democratically based defence agreements and coalitions. It can be expected that such a strategy will be supported by ongoing clandestine measures directed against democratic states for disruptive and propaganda purposes.
At the more specific level of protecting embassies and their staff, this pattern of incidents warrants the creation of a directed energy weapons playbook for incident deterrence, detection, mitigation, response, emergency services, investigation and recovery purposes.
Such playbooks – generally utilised within counter-terrorism programs – are created for countermeasure purposes against known and recognised threats such as active shooters, suicide bombers or weaponised drones. They proactively lay out the identified threat, and detail plans and actions to address that threat before, during and after an incident has taken place. Examples of potential countermeasures include detectors to provide early warning of electromagnetic use, the ability to triangulate back to the point of origin of a suspected attack, and energy frequency dampeners (for example projected anti-frequency fields).
While none of these policy recommendations will immediately end what could be additional, albeit likely sporadic, future directed energy attacks on US embassy personnel, they will begin to help in responding to these incidents along the continuum of deterrence through to recovery. They should be viewed as prudent measures to be used alongside those actions now being undertaken by US intelligence and federal investigative agencies, which are attempting to determine the actual perpetrators of these incidents and if any definitive links to China’s clandestine services exist.
The views expressed in this essay are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of the Department of the Army, the Department of Defense, or the U.S. Government.