Skip to content
Accessible Unlicensed Requires Authentication Published by De Gruyter January 6, 2019

The “Moscow signal” epidemiological study, 40 years on

Jose A. Martínez

Abstract

Between 1953 and 1979, the USSR irradiated the United States embassy in Moscow with microwaves. This episode, a classic Cold War affair, has acquired enormous importance in the discussions on the effect of non-ionizing radiation on people’s health. In 2011, the International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) classified radiofrequency electromagnetic fields as being a possible human carcinogen (Group 2B), but the results of recent laboratory and epidemiological studies have led some researchers to conclude that radiofrequency electromagnetic fields should be reclassified as a human carcinogen instead of merely a possible human carcinogen. In 1978, the “Moscow signal” case was officially closed after the publication of the epidemiological study of (Lilienfeld AM, Tonascia J, Tonascia S, Libauer CA, Cauthen GM. Foreign Service health status study. Evaluation of health status of foreign service and other employees from selected Eastern European posts. Report on Foreign Service Health Status Study, U.S. Department of State 6025-619073, 1978.), showing no apparent evidence of increased mortality rates and limited evidence regarding general health status. However, several loose ends still remain with respect to this epidemiological study, as well as the affair as a whole. In this paper, we summarize the available evidence concerning this case, paying special attention to the epidemiological study of Lilienfeld et al. After reviewing the available literature (including declassified documents), and after some additional statistical analyses, we provide new insights which do not complete the puzzle, but which may help to better understand it.

Acknowledgements

The author would like to thank Martí Casals and Klaus Langohr for their comments in the development of this manuscript. The author would also like to thank editor and the three anonymous reviewers for their helpful suggestions.

  1. Research funding: Fundación Séneca (Funder id: 10.13039/100007801, 19884/GERM/15); MINECO/FEDER (ECO2015-65637-P).

  2. Conflict of interest: Authors state no conflict of interest.

  3. Informed consent: Not applicable.

  4. Ethical approval: Not applicable.

References

1. Lilienfeld AM, Tonascia J, Tonascia S, Libauer CA, Cauthen GM. Foreign Service health status study. Evaluation of health status of foreign service and other employees from selected Eastern European posts”. Report on Foreign Service Health Status Study, US Dept of State 6025-619073, 1978.Search in Google Scholar

2. NTP. NTP Technical Report on Toxicology and carcinogenesis studies in Hsd:Sprague Dawley SD rats exposed to whole-body radio frequency radiation at a frequency (900 Mhz) and modulations (GSM and CDMA) used by cell phones. National Toxicology Program, 2018a. Available from: .Search in Google Scholar

3. NTP. NTP Technical Report on Toxicology and carcinogenesis studies in B&C3F1/N mice exposed to whole-body radio frequency radiation at a frequency (1900 Mhz) and modulations (GSM and CDMA) used by cell phones. National Toxicology Program, 2018a. Available from: .Search in Google Scholar

4. Falcioni L, Bua L, Tibaldi E, Lauriola M, De Angelis L, Gnudi F, et al. Report of final results regarding brain and heart tumors in Sprague-Dawley rats exposed from prenatal life until natural death to mobile phone radiofrequency field representative of a 1.8 GHz GSM base station environmental emission. Environ Res 2018;165:496–503.Search in Google Scholar

5. Belpomme D, Hardell L, Belyaev I, Burgio E, Carpenter DO. Thermal and non-thermal health effects of low intensity non-ionizing radiation: an international perspective. Environ Pollut 2018;242:643–58.Search in Google Scholar

6. Miller AB, Morgan LL, Udasin I, Davis D. Cancer epidemiology update, following the 2011 IARC evaluation of radiofrequency electromagnetic fields (Monograph 102). Environ Res 2018;167:673–83.Search in Google Scholar

7. Swanson RL, Hampton S, Green-McKenzie J, Diaz-Arrastia R, Grady MS, Verma R, et al. Neurological manifestations among US government personnel reporting directional audible and sensory phenomena in Havana, Cuba. J Am Med Assoc 2018;319:1125–33.Search in Google Scholar

8. Broad WJ. Microwave weapons are prime suspect in ills of U.S. Embassy workers, 2018, September 1. Taken from: .Search in Google Scholar

9. NYT. Soviet halts microwaves aimed at U.S Embassy, 1979, mayo 30. Retrieved from: .Search in Google Scholar

10. Krishnan A. Military neuroscience and the coming age of neurowarfare. Routledge, 2017.Search in Google Scholar

11. Guthrie LB. Legal implications of the Soviet microwave bombardment of the US Embassy. Boston College Int Comp Law Rev 1977;1:Article, 6.Search in Google Scholar

12. Association for Diplomatic Studies. War of the waves: combating espionage in Embassy Moscow, 2013. Taken from: .Search in Google Scholar

13. Love T. Radiation at U.S. Embassy long known, ex agents’ say, 1976, febrero 21. Retrieved from: .Search in Google Scholar

14. Congresional Record. 1976, August 2. Retrieved from: .Search in Google Scholar

15. Wikileaks. 1976STATE166451_b, 2006. Retrieved from: .Search in Google Scholar

16. Liptai P, Dolník B, Gumanová V. Effect of Wi-Fi radiation on seed germination and plant growth – experiment. Annals of Faculty Engineering Hunedoara, Fascicule 1, 2017;XV:109–12.Search in Google Scholar

17. Hedendahl LK, Carlberg M, Koppel T, Hardell L. Measurement of radiofrequency radiation with a body-borne exposimeter in Swedish schools with Wi-Fi. Front Public Health 2017;5:279.Search in Google Scholar

18. Peyman A, Khalid M, Calderon C, Addison D, Mee T, Maslanyj M, et al. Assessment of exposure to electromagnetic fields from wireless computer networks (Wi-Fi) in schools; results of laboratory measurements. Health Phys 2011;100:594–612.Search in Google Scholar

19. Hardell L, Carlberg M, Hedendahl L. Radiofrequency radiation from nearby base stations gives high levels in an apartment in Stockholm, Sweden: a case report. Oncol Lett 2018;15:7871–83.Search in Google Scholar

20. Adams RL, Williams RA. Biological effects of electromagnetic radiation (radio waves and microwaves) Eurasian communist countries. U. S. Army Medical Intelligence and Information Agency Office of the Surgeon General, 1976. Retrieved from: .Search in Google Scholar

21. Associated Press. Soviets study microwaves weapon, 1976, November 22. Retrieved from: .Search in Google Scholar

22. Carpenter DO. The microwave syndrome or electro-hypersensitivity: historical background. Rev Environ Health 2015;30:217–22.Search in Google Scholar

23. CIA. Document number: RDP88B01125R000300120045-2, 2012a, October 5. Retrieved from: .Search in Google Scholar

24. Lemov R. Brainwashing’s avatar: the curious career of Dr. Ewen Cameron. Grey Room 2011;45:60–87.Search in Google Scholar

25. Ross CA. The CIA Doctors: human rights violations by American psychiatrists. Richardson, TX: Manitou Communications, 2006.Search in Google Scholar

26. Weinberger S. The secret history of diplomats and invisible weapons, 2017, August 25. Retrieved from: .Search in Google Scholar

27. Barnes B. Walter J. Stoessel dies, 1986, December 11. Retrieved from: .Search in Google Scholar

28. Le Miere J. Did Russia attack U.S. officials in Cuba? U.S.S.R. used microwaves against American diplomats during cold war, 2017, October 8. Retrieved from: .Search in Google Scholar

29. O’Toole T. Moscow mircowaves: no harm seen, 1978, November 21. Retrieved from: .Search in Google Scholar

30. Liakouris AG. Radiofrequency (RF) sickness in the Lilienfeld study: an effect of modulated microwaves? Arch Environ Health 1998;53:236–8.Search in Google Scholar

31. Redmayne M. Past, present and future hyperelectrosensitivity. 15th World Congress on Public Health, Melbourne (Australia), 2017.Search in Google Scholar

32. Goldsmith JR. Where the trail leads: ethical problems arising when the trail of professional work leads to evidence of cover-up of serious risk and misrepresentation of scientific judgement concerning human exposure to radar. Eubios J Asian Int Bioeth 1995a;5:92–5.Search in Google Scholar

33. EMFacts. John Goldsmith on scientific misconduct and the Lilienfeld study (An oldie but still relevant today), 2012. Retrieved from: .Search in Google Scholar

34. Phelps RH. Charles Bohlen, diplomat, 69, dies, 1974, January 2. Retrieved from: .Search in Google Scholar

35. Associated Press. Llewellyn Thompson dead at age of 67; ExEnvoy to soviet, 1972, February 7. Retrieved from: .Search in Google Scholar

36. Tartell RM. Microwave radiation at the Embassy in Moscow, 1976. Retrieved from: .Search in Google Scholar

37. United Press International. Authorities question microwave safety, 1977, December 25. Retrieved from: .Search in Google Scholar

38. Stevens E. Blood-test request embassy, 1977, January 6. Retrieved from: .Search in Google Scholar

39. Silverberg E. Cancer statistics, 1977. CA Cancer J Clin 1977;27:26–41.Search in Google Scholar

40. CIA. Document number: RDP88B01125R000300120097-5, 2012b, October 5. Retrieved from: .Search in Google Scholar

41. Guilliam AG, Walter WA. Trends in mortality from leukemia in the United States, 1921–55. Public Health Rep 1958;73:773–84.Search in Google Scholar

42. National Cancer Institute. Cancer stats facts: Leukemia, 2018. Retrieved from: .Search in Google Scholar

43. Soe MM, Sullivan KM. Standardized mortality ratio and confidence interval, 2005. Retrieved from: .Search in Google Scholar

44. Lilienfeld AM. Practical limitations of epidemiologic methods. Environ Health Perspect 1983;52:3–8.Search in Google Scholar

45. Entous A, Anderson JL. The mystery of the Havana syndrome, 2018, November 19. Retrieved from: .Search in Google Scholar

46. Bartholomew RE. Neurological symptoms in US government personnel in Cuba. J Am Med Assoc 2018;320:602.Search in Google Scholar

47. Stone J, Popkirov S, Carson AJ. Neurological symptoms in US government personnel in Cuba. J Am Med Assoc 2018;320:602–3.Search in Google Scholar

48. Hampton S, Swanson II RL, Smith DH. Neurological symptoms in US government personnel in Cuba – reply. J Am Med Assoc 2018;320:604–5.Search in Google Scholar

49. BioInitiative Working Group. BioInitiative report 2012: a rationale for biologically-based public exposure standards for electromagnetic radiation, 2012.Search in Google Scholar

50. Frentzle-Beyme R. John R. Goldsmith on the usefulness of epidemiological data to identify links between point sources of radiation and disease. Public Health Rev 1994; 22:305–20.Search in Google Scholar

Received: 2018-10-01
Accepted: 2018-12-13
Published Online: 2019-01-06
Published in Print: 2019-03-26

©2019 Walter de Gruyter GmbH, Berlin/Boston