The fine art of paramilitary euphemism

The B.C. Civil Liberties Association is to be applauded for a marginal victory in the seemingly endless fight against homegrown Winter Olympics totalitarianism. But make no mistake: it is a very marginal win, at best. The Vancouver police purchased the American Technology Corp.’s LRAD-500X acoustic beam generator, supposedly for use as a loudhailer at public gatherings and protests. Both the police and American Technology object to media references to the device as a “sound gun”, a “sonic cannon”, or a non-lethal weapon. But it has been used that way in the field, and the VPD has effectively conceded the point by agreeing, under BCCLA pressure, to disable a device setting that allows the LRAD to generate “powerful deterrent tones… to influence behaviour.”

That quoted description, mind you, doesn’t come from critics of the device: it comes from the vendor’s own data sheet. In other words, the LRAD’s ability to cause pain and temporary deafness is a selling point. Devices in this class were developed after the attack on the USS Cole, which should really settle the question whether their essential purpose is to communicate with crowds or to cause intolerable agony to human targets. American Technology offers an attached “laser dazzler” as an option with the LRAD, and the data sheet specifies that it “enhances public safety measures without exposing nearby personnel or peripheral bystanders to excessive audio levels,” suggesting that the whole idea is to expose only the people you’re aiming at to excessive audio levels.

And the LRAD’s staggering acoustic power can surely still be used to inflict pain even with the automatic “deterrent tones” feature switched off. Indeed, you could just plug in an MP3 player (a ruggedized media player is another one of those fancy options buyers can splash out on) and play high-pitched, piercing tweets through the speaker that way. If you’ve got an Olympics protest planned, don’t, do not, leave the earplugs at home.