Last fall, Wired reporter Sharon Weinberger volunteered to be a test subject for an experimental “pain ray” developed by the U.S. Army. In doing so, Weinberger was carrying on the tradition of participatory journalism that gave the world George Plimpton’s “Paper Lion” and Pax Arcana’s “11 Things I Ate that I Totally Should Not Have” (now out of print).
Nearly a year later, Weinberger is shocked to learn that the pain ray — which, I will repeat, is an experimental weapon under development by the United States Army — may have put her in danger.
We were told that the so-called Active Denial System, tested thousands of times, was all-but-harmless. But a newly-obtained accident report shows that just six months prior to our test, the weapon’s operators were dangerously undertrained — exposing test subjects, as one official puts it, “to unconscionable risks.”
It’s an Army pain ray.
Not that anyone told us about those hazards when we volunteered in the second of two events that the Joint Nonlethal Weapons Directorate held for reporters to demonstrate — on the reporters — the safety and effectiveness of this newfangled weapon. All we had to do was sign a “release of liability” and a “general talent release” that “grants the U.S. Government the right to “use my name… in any matter and for any purpose whatsoever; and to do the same perpetually.”
It’s an experimental weapon designed to incite searing pain in people by agitating their nerves with high powered microwaves and shit.
The Active Denial System, or ADS, is a less-lethal weapon that uses directed energy — millimeter waves — to heat up the top layer of skin. It is specifically designed not to cause any injuries, such as burns. There have been several incidents of blistering, however, and the most serious accident took place last April, when the Air Force revealed that an airman taking part in a test of ADS had been injured severely enough to be treated at a burn center. Few details were made available about the incident.
I have uncovered long hidden details about the incident. They read as follows:
Of course, we did know about that accident, but the officials at Quantico that day assured us that the system had been tested thousands of time with no ill effects, and we were promised that details on that accident would be forthcoming soon — just not until after we had been zapped. We also didn’t know at the time — even though the Air Force had by that point fully investigated the accident and issued a mishap report — that the accident was the result of missing safety equipment and a near farcical lack of operator training.
It’s an Army pain ray. It was developed by the Army to put people in pain. It’s experimental. Did I mention it’s called a “pain ray”? And that it’s experimental?
As a one time guinea pig, the question that comes to mind is whether I would have allowed myself — and a loved one — to be tested on had I known the full details of the April 2007 accident. The simple answer is: perhaps, but only if I had received assurances that there was now a working range-finder and that the operators understood that heat exposure was a product of range, duration, and power. By not releasing the report, the Air Force and the Joint Nonlethal Weapons Directorate deprived volunteers of making informed decisions about their participation. But, at least we were volunteers.
Volunteers who stood in front of an experimental Army pain ray.