"For supporters of nonlethal weaponry, having the devices used against peaceful protesters is the worst sort of PR."Obama, responding to a question about persons protesting the G20 summit in Pittsburgh said: "If they had been paying attention to what was taking place inside the summit itself, what they would have heard was . . ."
- Acoustic Weapon Hits Georgian Protesters, Wired, 2007
After watching this video, I wondered: Have sonic weapons ever been used on American civilians before? The Guardian reports:
Sonic weapons or long-range acoustic devices have been used by the US military overseas, notably against Somali pirates and Iraqi insurgents.Are they safe? Do they cause long term damage? I doubt anyone knows for sure. After all, they assured everyone that Tasers were safe. But four hundred people in the US and Canada have died from being subjected to these supposedly non-lethal weapons since 2001.
But US security forces turned the piercing sound on their own citizens yesterday to widespread outrage. Pittsburgh officials told the New York Times that it was the first time "sound cannon" had been used publicly.
The use of new sonic weapons will mean that from this week forward, Americans can more easily be prevented from gathering. The presence of sonic weapons in police arsenals will deter some citizens from joining future protests, and possibly deter journalists from reporting such events.
The deployment of a new technology in Pittsburgh legitimates a new means of crowd control. Governments everywhere will see that an effective new means of crowd dispersal has the approval of the United States. From Burma to Iran, despotic regimes are watching. This week in Pittsburgh, the state became more powerful, illegitimate dictators harder to overthrow.
UPDATE 1: According to an NPR reporter, a sonic weapon was used in New Orleans in 2005. Xeni Jardin wrote, "Here is a photo of one such device being used by military police in New Orleans, outside of the Superdome in post-Katrina flooding." So the new device was first used against poor black people.
UPDATE 2: Apparently sonic weapons were deployed in NYC for the 2004 RNC, but not used. A Homeland Security initiative made sonic weapons available to police departments.
UPDATE 3: The US government allows an American company to exports sonic weapons to China. David Hambling reports in New Scientist:
Amongst the displays of high-tech police equipment was the LRAD - Long Range Acoustic Device ? made by American Technology Corporation (ATC). LRAD is an ultra-high-power loudhailer that can be used for crowd control, often described by the media as a "sonic weapon". It was famously used to drive off Somali pirates in 2005.Now we know sonic weapons: 1) damage hearing; 2) have been sold by an American company to Singapore and China; and 3) were used indiscriminately against college students in Pittsburgh this week, but were first used on US soil against Hurricane Katrina victims in 2005.
LRAD's appearance seems at first surprising, since the US does not permit weapons exports to China. Public Law 101-246, passed after the Tiananmen Square massacre, makes them illegal.
But ACT are happy to say in their most recent Securities and Exhange Commission filing that:
"During fiscal 2007, we expanded our international marketing activities and shipped LRAD orders to Australia, Singapore, Korea and China".LRAD produces sound levels of up to 150 decibels, enough to damage hearing and above the level that causes pain.
In the US military, LRAD deployment is overseen by the Joint Non-Lethal Weapons Directorate, who refer to it as a "tool" and "an option in the force continuum".