Just Because You're Paranoid

By Mike Holderness, 10 April 2001
Image: Air traffic controller on the USS Enterprise guide the strike aircraft in and out of Iraq, 28 Dec 1998

Microwave crowd-control weapons have a distinguished history in paranoid lore. Mike Holderness revisits some choice theories only to see one return in very real form

Funny thing, paranoia. Consider the notion that ‘da guvmint’ might build exotic crowd-control weapons, specifically microwave weapons. For thirty years, mentioning such ideas irrefutably labelled you as either a stoned first-year student or the sort of person whose thoughts are controlled by transmissions from the Russian Embassy.

I heard it from stoned students in 1971. Five years later I’d been one, Dropped Out, Maaan, and was rejecting green-ink Letters to the Editor. Now such people self-publish. A quick Web search turns up ‘Microwave Mind Control’, dated 1998, by “Europe’s leading expert on remote viewing, psychic spying and Psi-warfare”.

Another search produces a Proper Medical Paper suggesting that tinnitus – ringing in the ears – in people diagnosed with schizophrenia doesn’t respond to treatment that works in others. Interesting, given the cultural correlation between paranoia and fascination with ‘vibrations’.

The story took a turn for the weirder in – when else? – 1984. Some of the women camped outside the Greenham Common air base in Berkshire, protesting at the nuclear cruise missiles the US Air Force had installed there, started complaining of severe headaches, drowsiness, irregular bleeding...

Now, there were a great many exceedingly sane women at Greenham. And protest movements do also always serve as care-in-the-community of last resort. Life on camp was stressful – between endless meetings and daily evictions – and not all the roll-ups smoked there were pure tobacco. Sufficient explanation for all the symptoms, say I: no need to invoke mysterious radiation from inside the base. Result: huge row in The Collective about patriarchal Science.

But the editor of Electronics Today – not a prominent lesbian-matriarchalist-feminist – took it on himself to go down to the base with some kit. In December 1985 he published the result: actually, yes, there was significant microwave radiation around the base. Ooops, went the rationaliser. Probably an unintended side-effect of a USAF intruder-detection system.

Then, blow me down, on 26 February 2001 the US Department of Defense announces that it’s developed a microwave crowd-control weapon. It uses millimetre waves to heat victims’ skin to the point where they run away from the pain. It’s been developed over ten years, they say, at a cost of nearly $40M.

So, if they’re telling the truth, maybe the paranoids gave them the idea and made the prophecy self-fulfiling. If not... well, maybe paranoia is the painful extreme of a useful faculty. The DoD’s timing is especially nice given the simultaneous prediction by Admiral Eugene Carroll (US Navy retired) that its National Missile Defense will make the Fylingdales radar station in Yorkshire the new Greenham Common.

The silly thing about this weapon is that it’s ridiculously easy to defeat. Look at the front window of an old microwave oven. That pattern of little clear dots is a ‘Faraday cage’. An electrically conductive mesh will stop all electromagnetic radiation down to a wavelength of twice the mesh spacing.

So, chain-mail is too coarse, which is a shame for those who like to look well ’ard on demos. De rigeur garb for the tenth-anniversary Carnival Against Capitalism will be head-to-foot gold lamé fabric. Which will be nice.

Mike Holderness <>