11 Times Audio Was Used As A Weapon Of Control

Using sound to inflict damage dates back to biblical times, where it's said the Israelites tore down the walls of Jericho by blowing powerful ram horns. Audio armaments were extensively researched and prototyped during WWII and the Cold War, with devices such as the Sonic Cannon and the subtly devastating Infrasonic Whistle. In the late '80s and early '90s, audio was used to apprehend Panamanian dictator Manuel Noriega and disrupt the Branch Davidian cult in Waco. 

Then there is the Hum, an ultra-low frequency that occurs all over the world. Only 2% of the world's populace can hear it, and it is said to drive those who hear it insane. Imagine a device able to drive people to their mental brink, tear them apart, or control their minds without even using drugs, as MK-Ultra does. The idea of aural warfare has long captured the imagination of armament developers, sci-fi nerds, and scientists alike.

There are many reasons to fear the ways sound can be used to control people, and weaponized sound can be used to devastating effect - quelling rebellions, fending off pirates, and controlling nations. North Korea even forces its populace to listen to propaganda wrapped in the guise of music, ensuring total control. Here's what we know about the development of audio as a weapon.


  • LRADs Are Powerful Sonic Devices Used By Police To Quell Protests

    LRADs - Long Range Acoustic Devices - have been around since the early 2000s. The LRAD directs sound waves in a high-density sound wave-beam, and the closer you are to it, the more damage it does. While it isn't lethal, the device is powerful enough to cause long-term damage, such as ear-ringing, sinus pain, and migraines. 

    These sonic weapons can be used for a multitude of applications, from simple directional communication to non-lethal, non-kinetic crowd control. Police occasionally use it to quell and control upheavals and volatile gatherings; the LRAD has also been used to send emergency notifications during mass communications and power failures.

    One particular LRAD, dubbed the Scream by the Israeli Defense Force, was famously used in Israel during a protest that quickly turned hostile. It effectively repelled aggressive protesters, leaving them disoriented and nauseous.

  • Acoustic Devices Were Used Against Somali Pirates

    Acoustic Devices Were Used Against Somali Pirates
    Photo: Tucker M. Yates / Wikimedia Commons / Public Domain

    Long Range Acoustic Devices are often deployed on seafaring ships, mostly as a means of defense. Such was the case when a US cruise ship was approached by pirates in the middle of the night near the Somali coast in 2005. The strike was so sudden the ship's captain literally fought off pirates in his bathrobe.

    LRADs were a relatively new technology at the time and rarely used in the field, but within moments, the pirates found out firsthand how they work. Despite the pirates' machine guns and rocket-propelled projectiles, after a few sweeps of the LRAD, they quickly backed off, allowing the cruise ship to escape and find safe harbor.

  • US Diplomats In Cuba May Have Been Targeted By A Mysterious Sonic Device

    US Diplomats In Cuba May Have Been Targeted By A Mysterious Sonic Device
    Video: YouTube

    In late 2017, US diplomats and intelligence agents stationed in Cuba were evacuated after experiencing mysterious ailments. Then-Secretary of State Rex Tillerson released a statement about these events along with a list of symptoms the expelled personnel had experienced: "hearing loss, dizziness, balance and visual problems, headaches and cognitive issues."

    The media erupted in a flurry of speculation regarding the possible use of sonic weapons to cause these illnesses, and noted all of the symptoms were linked to inner-ear damage. Some diplomats reported hearing strange sounds in certain areas of their offices - "disturbing sensations of sounds and vibrations that have been described variously as the noises made by cicadas, static, metal sheets waving or [...] marbles rolling around a metal funnel" - as the NY Times put it. According to an analysis in Wired:

    The problem is, physicists and acousticians don't know how ultrasound (high frequency) or infrasound (low frequency) could do what the State Department says happened to its people. That leaves two possibilities: a new sci-fi sound [device] or something else.

    Though the use of a newly-developed sonic technology was not entirely ruled out, it was determined the most likely cause was poison, specifically, ototoxins. When in the bloodstream, they can cause the very same symptoms as the Cuban delegation experienced. However, even that theory proved to be problematic, as ototoxins have limitations. For example, they can only be injected or inhaled, and both of those require a relatively obvious method of delivery.

    Additionally, some speculated, if it were chemical toxins leveraged by the Cuban government, why wouldn't the US government release that information? The mystery remained unsolved as US-Cuba relations took a step back from their seeming Obama-era progress.

  • Aural Disruption Tactics Were Blamed For A 2018 Evacuation Of The American Consulate In Guangzhou, China

    In 2018, US diplomatic officials in Guangzhou, China, were sent back to the US for testing after experiencing symptoms similar to those the State Department officials had reported in Cuba in 2017. The NY Times called it a "medical mystery" and stated US officials suspected other countries, including Russia, might be to blame for both events. One of the first known victims in China reportedly "showed signs of possible brain [damage] after reporting disturbing sounds and sensations," and the official health alert warned:

    A US government employee in China recently reported subtle and vague, but abnormal, sensations of sound and pressure. [...] We do not currently know what caused the reported symptoms and we are not aware of any similar situations in China, either inside or outside of the diplomatic community.

    The NYTimes went on to report, that there were disturbing similarities between the injuries in China and those in Cuba from 2017. The State Department is unsure what the cause could be, but audio was involved in both scenarios, causing neurological problems.

  • The US Military Captured Manuel Noriega By Blasting Heavy Metal At Him Day And Night

    Modern military interrogators sometimes employ heavy metal music set to loud decibels to wear down prisoners during questioning. Reports show that it's effective, and interestingly, isn't all that new a practice. In 1989, General Manuel Noriega fled to the Vatican's embassy when the US invaded Panama. At the time, Noriega was under scrutiny for transporting drugs and weapons and for illegitimately consolidating his power under the guise of a US ally for years. 

    When the US invaded Panama to dismantle Noriega's regime, he ran for his life and hid in the Vatican's embassy. He was protected by international treaties there and was given safe shelter. For a while, anyway. The US military surrounded the embassy where he holed up and demanded his surrender. When he refused to surrender, the military besieged him using the power of metal music. They surrounded the embassy in Humvees loaded with speakers and pumped out loud music nonstop. On January 3, 1990, Noriega surrendered.

  • The FBI Used Sound To Deprive The Branch Davidian Cult Of Sleep During The Waco Siege

    The FBI Used Sound To Deprive The Branch Davidian Cult Of Sleep During The Waco Siege
    Photo: Federal Bureau of Investigation / Wikimedia Commons / Public Domain

    In February of 1993, the FBI arrived at a compound in Waco, Texas, to apprehend David Koresh, leader of the cult known as the Branch Davidians. The Bureau suspected Koresh's cult of stockpiling unauthorized weapons and wanted to apprehend him. But they seriously bungled the mission; their approach was leaked to the cult, and members holed up in preparation for an outside strike.

    On April 19, 1993, officers raided the compound, in what's now known as the infamous Waco Siege. Shortly thereafter, the compound burned to the ground, ending most of the cult members inside.

    However, one of the most compelling stories from the siege was the fact that during the standoff, the FBI used sound in the hopes of non-lethally breaking the cultists' determination. Authorities surrounded the compound with speakers and blasted a variety of sounds, then kept up the barrage for 50 days and nights in an attempt to prevent the inhabitants from properly resting and sleeping. The sonic disruption was combined with other tactics to stress those inside without, in theory, causing lethal or lasting damage.