As any music lover can attest, sitting through a bad concert is pure torture. But the U.S.-led war on nuclear proliferation has turned our use of music as an instrument of mayhem and psychological terror to, er, 11.
According to an email distributed by the Finnish digital security firm F-Secure, an apparent new computer virus attack has not only shut down computers at several Iranian nuclear facilities, but blasted the Australian rock group's AC/DC's "Thunderstruck" at full volume throughout the plants in the middle of the night.
Forget President Obama's "engagement." Hit them with stadium rock. Any day now, Iranian engineers will begin streaming out of their uranium enrichment plant at Natanz, begging for mercy — or at least ear plugs. Ayatollah Ali Khamenei will surely surrender the keys to Fordo, the massive underground bunker of an enrichment center that the West wants closed, pleading for silence.
It should be noted that Iran has not announced any such disruption, and that some American experts have questioned whether the attack took place. Assuming it did, however, it would not be novel in its use of music as a weapon. An early notorious use occurred in one of America's long forgotten mini-wars — "Operation Just Cause" in Panama. When the U.S. invaded in December, 1989, Panama's dictator, Gen. Manuel Noriega, sought refuge in the Holy See's embassy, which was then surrounded by American forces. After being continually bombarded for several days by hard rock music, including Van Halen's hit song "Panama," Noriega surrendered.
Although the use of loud music in interrogations — or "music torture"— is banned by both the United Nations and the European Court of Human Rights, it has been widely used at home and abroad. U.S. interrogators at Guantanamo Bay prison camp reportedly subjected detainees to rock in its early days of operation. Though American officials have mostly declined to identify the songs they chose to inflict psychological stress on and encourage cooperation from their captives, the U.K.-based Guardian reported that one of the most frequently played songs at Gitmo was "Babylon," which the paper described as a "mild-mannered folk hit" by David Gray, the 44-year old English-born singer song-writer. (The article also raised the thorny issue of whether Washington may owe the songwriters performance royalties for having used their songs without permission.)
The camp's alleged playlist was also said to include songs by Eminem, Metallica, Celine Dion — who normally needs no amplification — and what the paper called "those lovable dinosaurs, Meatloaf and Barney." Other reports say that songs by AC/DC were also played.
Many of the musicians, however, were outraged by the use of their music to shatter the will and ear drums of alleged foreign terrorists, most of whom had been held for years without trial or having been formally charged. Trent Reznor of Nine Inch Nails, Tom Morello of Rage Against the Machine and some 20 other musicians joined a campaign to close Gitmo and persuade Washington to declassify records on music-related abuses. "Music should never be used as torture," Rosanne Cash was quoted as saying. "It's beyond the pale."
Like Cash, I'm against torturing prisoners, with or without tunes. But I salute the creative cyber-warriors — whoever and wherever they are — who thought up sending the mullahs some hard rock while shutting down the facilities that may be making fuel for future atomic bombs.
No one has yet claimed credit for the alleged cyber-attacks or the assassinations of scientists and engineers involved in Iran's nuclear program, both of which Iran has decried.
Tehran has accused Israel and the U.S. of trying to sabotage its nuclear efforts, which it insists have no military objective. Several books quote unnamed American officials as having taken credit for the Stuxnet and/or the Flame viruses that temporarily disabled Iranian centrifuges. But both viruses caused only minimal short- term disruptions. And neither of them played music. That the "soft" war on Iran's nuclear program is intensifying is now being heard by Tehran's mullahs — loud and clear.