What are the technical difficulties in creating a maser capable of inducing the Havana syndrome?

I’ve been reading a bit about the Havana syndrome and was wondering why some scientists still consider the device “science fiction” (even though the Navy has already experimented with one apparently). What are the technical difficulties in creating such a device that some masters in electrical engineering can’t just make one in a lab? Thanks in advance.

Why a maser? There are lots of much easier ways of creating high power microwaves than a maser. Your microwave oven is a good start.

The biggest problem is that it is not clear that any microwave system is capable of inducing Havana Syndrome. There is a lot of conflicting information, and the usual conspiracy stuff about secret weapons. But fundamentally, someone needs to show that you can somehow cause injury to the brain with microwave energy in a manner that does not otherwise leave a trace. Traces such as cooking the target or causing obvious interference with local communications.

I have a nasty feeling that because maser has the same base acronym components as laser, people somehow think that a maser creates a powerful thin beam of microwaves. Which it doesn’t. To make a beam you still need an antenna, and that has the same physical size constraints (ie big) no matter what the source of the microwave energy.

That are absolutely physical traces left behind. MRI scans of many victims are abnormal with unknown etiology. The only reason I say maser, is because apparently the attacks are very focused, with people close to the victim not being affected. I just figured that required an extremely focused beam (but what do I know).

That is a physical trace of Havana Syndrome. What it isn’t is a physical trace of microwave radiation. “Unknown etiology” means of unknown origin. So there remains no evidence of microwave radiation.

I know what etiology means, thanks. They say that because they don’t know for sure, but it was consistent with damage that would be done via microwave radiation.

I really don’t think this is the case. Not for humans. There are studies for rats, but the entire head of a rat is smaller than the depth of human skull the microwaves would need to penetrate before reaching even the outside of the brain. The whole Havana Syndrome thing seems to be beset with people making claims that are outside of their field of expertise, and ignoring people who have expertise in the area.

The problem with microwaves is that all they can do is heat something. The most common damage in humans is to the cornea. That is known. So why is corneal damage not found? That would be a dead give-away. But damage within the skull? Really hard. The brain is the the most actively cooled part of the body. It uses 20% of the bodies entire energy, and that heat is got rid of 24/7. Heating the brain up with microwaves is going to be hard. The cornea is unprotected and has no cooling. The brain is within the skull and has active perfusion. Yet the cornea is unscathed in Havana Syndrome.

Furthermore, almost all the energy is going to be dissipated at shallow depths. Experiments on humans note that microwave radiation is perceived with a sensation indistinguishable from a heat lamp heating the skin. Again, if there was sufficient energy incident on a diplomat to heat the brain to a point where biological processes were disrupted, they would feel the skin heating. As the frequency of the microwaves rises this effect becomes more pronounced. High frequency microwaves are easier to concentrate, with a smaller beam width for a given sized antenna, but have much less effect at depth. Low frequency microwaves penetrate deeper, but require large and unwieldy antenna to achieve small beam widths.

Experiments on rats don’t translate to humans. We can’t ask the rats if they felt their heads cooking. The depths involved are very different. The perceived auditory phenomena in Havana Syndrome are claimed to occur at very low power levels, vastly lower than those required to cause even the slightest heating of the brain proper.

Overall, the problem of attributing Havana Syndrome to deliberate malevolent microwave radiation is difficult. For the radiation to have any hope of penetrating into a human skull the wavelengths will be long. Right at the bottom end of microwaves. In terms of building such a transmitter, it is trivial. Off the shelf systems can be purchased for not a lot of money. Creating a useful beam of energy is a lot harder simply due to the scale involved. Antennas will be big. Creating a beam of energy that would be otherwise undetected is however going to be really hard. One that somehow causes brain injury and otherwise leaves no trace is stretching things past breaking point.

Trying to avoid going down a path of debating Havana Syndrome in its entirety, but I would look a lot closer at the pesticide question than people seem to be doing. There is a long, sad, and bad history here. It isn’t as sexy as attributing some nefarious secret weapon to the enemy, but it has a lot more science to back it up.

I don’t want to debate it either but your saying that the claims being made are by people outside their field of expertise simply isn’t true. The expert committee from the National Academies of Science, Engineering,and Medicine that was commissioned by the State Dept concluded that pulsed RF energy was the most plausible culprit. Pesticides may have been a somewhat reasonable hypothesis when it was confined to Havana, but none of the recent evidence matches.

I think the question for me is pulsed RF versus microwaves. Masers are for microwaves (it is what the M stands for.) The study really found that the only possible effects were for RF energy at the low end of the microwave spectrum, and lower, and went on the almost entirely worry about effects that are not microwaves, but longer wavelength RF energy. I have no problem with that. Where things get lost in the noise is that there is a constant background of microwaves/cell-phones/5G will kill us all. None of that has any basis.

However longer wavelength RF energy can make you ill. But it is much more difficult to make highly directional sources, and harder to conceal them. There may be a middle ground, but what is hard to fathom is how such irradiation could be affected and yet not cause clear interference with other electronic devices. (Much worse than just a cell phone making the odd clicking noise.)

As to the imaging studies:

The entire Havana Syndrome question remains pretty interesting. Whether it is due to the action of some nefarious enemy actor or some other cause is another matter. What it isn’t IMHO is anything to do with microwaves. I don’t think the study by the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine is at variance with that. I would not be surprised to discover it is an own goal, with a high power low frequency transmitter being employed within the embassies for highly classified operations, and nobody affected is cleared to know about it.

Could we please have some information on what this thread is even about? What in the world is Havana syndrome?

In other words, we can’t use masers to induce Havana syndrome because Havana syndrome probably doesn’t exist.

By a curious coincidence, the lovely Sabine has just released a video on the subject.
It isn’t one of her best, she also only touches on some of the issues, she misses a few issues, but raises others. As a physicist she might be well advised not to take p values coming from the medical fraternity with quite the level of credulity that she does.

I wasn’t putting such a fine point on it to distinguish between RF and microwave. I was looking for info on why any device of any frequency would be difficult to make.

I don’t know how you’re getting that from the Wikipedia entry.

“Unspecific medical conditions with unknown causes” means that it’s just a label that gets stuck on whatever goes wrong with people for whatever reason. If the conditions are unspecific, and the causes are unknown, what reason is there to believe that it’s all the same thing?

Sure. That was the intent. But you explicitly asked about a maser. So I answered about a maser. A maser only does microwaves, its there in the name. Microwave Amplification…

In the modern world there is nothing difficult about constructing a RF transmitter of enough power to cause near arbitrary injury. The power supply is likely the most evil thing to construct, mostly because it will turn you into a very dead raisin at the slightest mistake.

Years ago I bought a power transmitting tube on eBay. It was removed from service (still working) from a local TV station. From memory it is capable of 15kW at 200MHz. I use it as a door stop. If I were of a nefarious bent I could, in principle, create a system that would poach your brain in its skull if you got too close. But doing so at any distance is vastly harder. The antenna systems get big quickly, especially when they need to deliver serious power. Worse, it is impossible to deliver this sort of power without calling attention to yourself. Fluorescent light fixtures glow brightly a power densities much lower than are needed to cause harm. There is a house just near the transmitter station my tube came out of where the kitchen lights are never turned on, because they are always lit.

Sabine’s video is fun to watch. She has a good time dissecting things. When she got to the recording of the buzzing sounds I was wondering why she had missed a key point - you can’t record sound created by the Frey effect. Since it is within the head of the recipient it isn’t audible outside. But she has the ace up her sleeve. Clear evidence that the sound was crickets.
She was however perhaps overly soft on the medical imaging results. It isn’t as if she doesn’t know about the problems of p-hacking - one of her best videos is of her talking with the psychology researcher in Cambridge about the problem. But one note that the study by the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine basically found no useful evidence here.

This is the whole problem. There isn’t a solid chain of expert opinion. There are snippets of bits and pieces. A chain is as weak as its weakest link. It is not as strong as its strongest link. That becomes cherry picking. A habit beloved of most conspiracy theories.

Now this is very much IMHO, but the evidence is not strong that there is a common causative reason for a set of diffuse medical complaints. What it is very unlikely to be is the result of nefarious irradiation of the embassies with radio frequency energy. Maybe it could be. But I would be betting against it. There is just too much that doesn’t make sense, is inconsistent, or is physically impossible.

Seriously, I would actually bet on stress related illnesses. Sadly they are not taken nearly as seriously as they should be, and you could easily slot all of the presented symptoms and findings under that.

If there proves to be a real enemy action involved, high power RF irradiation could be a mechanism. But it is so trivial to detect and difficult to hide that it would be well down my list. Unless it is an own goal.

Just read this recent analysis in the N. Y. Times, which leans toward the psychogenic illness explanation.*

*The book “Havana Syndrome” by Robert Baloh and Robert Bartholomew supporting the mass psychogenic illness angle has gotten some…bizarre reviews on Amazon, including a hostile reception from an M.D. who says he got extremely high scores on his MCAT and thus is not easily fooled. :thinking:

I’d feel more confident about the book, however, if the Amazon blurb didn’t focus on favorable reviews by the Fortean Times and Doody’s Book Reviews.

Broadcast tubes can also give off very dangerous amounts of ultraviolet waste light. There’s a lot of energy going through there.

Indeed. Soft X-Rays as well. The tube I have is a huge metal ceramic device. So no nice views of the interior. It is a Siemens RS 2022 CL, which weighs 6.7 kg, and has an integrated metal carry handle. I wasn’t kidding when I said I use it as a door stop.

I found the specs. I was nearly correct. It will do 16kW at 220 MHz for television video. TV video is a bit of a cheat, as the total power delivery is well short of CW, so the power rating of the tube is really a bit lower. The operating specs are hilarious.

  • Maximum anode voltage of 5.5 kV.
  • Maximum forward current of 8 A, 35 A peak.
  • Maximum anode dissipation of 12 kW.
  • Heater current of 86 A.

Not the kind of power supply you want to be cobbling together from surplus parts. Reminds me of when I worked on CT scanners design and wandered over to the guys doing the power supply for the X-ray tube: 120kV @ 400mA continuous. I said, “I guess this is the kind of supply you keep one hand in your pocket while working on it.” The reply: “Won’t make a difference.”