The Goodbye Effect


Back at the end of January, the U.S. military, with little fanfare, unveiled the newest weapon in its arsenal. No, it's not an advanced fighter/bomber, cruiser or missile system.

It's a human cooker.

Manufactured by Raytheon, its official name is "Silent Guardian." But what would a government invention be without an acronym, so it's also known as Active Denial System (ADS). And since it was a favorite of the former secretary of defense, some have nicknamed it Rumsfeld's Raygun.

By whatever name, the ADS took ten years to develop, in complete secrecy, and at a cost to taxpayers of some $50 million. Rather inexpensive, as these things go.

Although its cover was blown in 2001, details of its operation and the results of tests on humans remain classified. None of the claims made about it has been subjected to any independent verification.

Nevertheless, we know a good bit about the weapon because in May of 2005, a 112-page document on the subject was accidentally sent out as the result of a FOIA inquiry. The paper went to the Sunshine Project, a Texas-based watchdog group on bioweapons, which released the information to the media.

What does the ADS--the prototype is a satellite-type dish mounted on a Humvee--do?

According to Raytheon: "The system's antenna emits a focused beam of millimeter wave energy. The beam travels at the speed of light and penetrates the skin to a depth of 1/64 of an inch, producing an intolerable heating sensation that causes the targeted individuals to instinctively flee or take cover. The sensation ceases immediately when an individual moves out of the beam or the operator steers the beam away. Silent Guardian does not cause injury because of the shallow penetration depth of the millimeter wave."

That makes Raytheon's baby, according to the company, "a revolutionary less-than-lethal directed energy application [...] to repel individuals or crowds without causing injury. The system provides a zone of protection that saves lives, protects assets and minimizes collateral damage. Silent Guardian produces precise effects at longer ranges than current less-than-lethal systems and provides real-time ability to establish intent and de-escalate aggression. Various commercial and military applications include law enforcement, checkpoint security, facility protection, force protection and peacekeeping missions. The system is available now and ready for action."

The ray gun is so effective that experimenters tabbed its results the "Goodbye Effect," or "prompt and highly motivated escape behavior."

In other words, as the ADS heats your body to a temperature of 130° F, it makes you feel as though you're being cooked from the inside out. You run until you're out of its zone of influence.

"It will repel you," commented one of the volunteers who agreed to have it tested on him. "If hit by the beam, you will move out of it, reflexively and quickly. You for sure will not be eager to experience it again."

Most test subjects experienced intolerable pain within 3 seconds, and none lasted more than 5. While it felt as if they were being seriously burned, the Goodbye Effect is short-term. At worst, "some volunteers who tolerate the heat may experience prolonged redness or even small blisters," according to Air Force documents.

And Captain Jay Delarosa, spokesman for the Joint Non-Lethal Weapons Directorate, adds that, "ADS has the same compelling non-lethal effect on all targets, regardless of size, age and gender."

Its utility in situations such as the Iraq war, where it can be difficult to separate the enemy from non-combatants, is obvious. As Delarosa points out, "It can be used to deny an area to individuals or groups, to control access, to prevent an individual or individuals from carrying out an undesirable activity, and to delay or disrupt adversary activity."

Delarosa claims that it has proven "both safe and effective in all these roles," although the actual test results are classified.

Simple, safe, effective--what's not to like?

Critics of the weapon question whether it's really as safe as advertised. After all, tests were conducted on military volunteers, who tend to be young and in tiptop shape. What would be the effect on the elderly, for example? Or pregnant women?

Furthermore, what happens if for some reason you can't run? If elderly, you might be slow. You might be handicapped. You might trip and fall, and lose consciousness. Or you might be trampled by the crowd.

In all these instances, those on the receiving end of the ray could get much more than the 5-second test dosage. It seems reasonable to assume that the Air Force didn't chain any of its test subjects down in order to see how long it would take to kill them, drive them stark raving mad or simply cause them to pass out. (And how does your body respond if you're unconscious?)

Volunteers, it should be noted, were also required to remove their glasses, buttons, zippers and watches because of the potential for the formation of "hot spots," leading to severe burns. Medical professionals have raised questions about cataracts, corneal damage and the ray's carcinogenic potential. The military calls all such concerns unfounded.

Then there is the larger question of whom the weapon will be deployed against.

The ADS' first destination, supposedly, is Iraq. Yet, in September of last year, Air Force Secretary Michael Wynne suggested that the weapon be used first in domestic crowd control situations. His rather disturbing reason why: in order to mute any negative international media coverage.

"If we're not willing to use it here against our fellow citizens, then we should not be willing to use it in a wartime situation," Wynne said. "If I hit somebody with a nonlethal weapon and they claim that it injured them in a way that was not intended, I think that I would be vilified in the world press."

The prospect of an ADS in the hands of domestic law enforcement should make us at least a little queasy.

It does John Whitehead, the respected conservative Constitutional attorney and president of the Rutherford Institute, who was Paula Jones' lawyer. Recently, Whitehead published a pointed summary of the issue.

"Obviously," he wrote, "the potential for government abuse of this so-called 'nonlethal' weapon is great [...] Americans would do well to remember that modern police weaponry was introduced with a government guarantee of safety for the citizens. Police tasers, stun guns and rubber pellet guns were brought into use by police departments across America supposedly because they would be safe. But as we've seen, the 'nonlethal' label seems to have caused police to feel justified in using these dangerous instruments more often and with less restraint, with some even causing death.

"The real issue is how much Americans trust their government to protect their interests. As one reporter has noted, 'For most Americans, zapping Iraqi insurgents in Baghdad with a potentially unsafe weapon is one thing; cooking political protestors in Boston or Biloxi will surely be another'."

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Posted 03-20-2007 11:52 AM by DougHornig