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The microwave cold war

Written by Charlie Clegg, senior associate 
Edited by Tom Gillingham, associate partner
4 June 2021

Good morning,

US officials have been feeling strange, very strange. Some have reported a whirring sound followed by the sudden onset of stupefying effects which range from vertigo to loss of vision and hearing. For some, the effects last minutes; for others, they have proven persistent. These mysterious attacks, unique to US government employees, have become known as “Havana Syndrome”.
 
Havana Syndrome was first detected in 2016 among US State Department and CIA officials in its namesake city. The attacks contributed to an atmosphere of caution and suspicion within the American embassy to Cuba. Initial cases were restricted to diplomats and spies but White House officials began to record cases in Washington, DC earlier this year. The US State Department is now gathering evidence on the incidents.
 
Despite this development, the perpetrator of the attacks remains unknown. Cuba, Russia, and China have all been suggested as culprits. This week, however, American biochemist James Giordano expressed a growing consensus among scientists and defence experts: that the attacks are likely to have been caused by a previously unknown form of microwave weapon.
 
Use of microwave weapons dates back to the Cold War. The US embassy in Moscow was found to be bathed in microwave radiation in the 1970s. At the same time, the US explored the possibility of such a weapon. As recently as 2004, a prototype weapon was produced for the US military.
 
Despite these attempts, no country developed or deployed a successful microwave weapon at the time. The US’s failure to create an effective weapon is, some claim, evidence the technology is impossible.
 
Yet America’s development of such technology is inhibited by standards on the use humans or animals to test weaponry. Russia and China, however, do not adhere to such standards. It is quite possible that, since the Cold War, these countries have overcome the technology’s early problems and have developed effective microwave weapons.
 
Commentary on the “new Cold War” has tended to focus on the internet, economic power, and conventional military might. Microwave weaponry of heretofore unknown power may represent a new front in this silent conflict.

News

The Portuguese government has questioned the UK government’s decision to move Portugal from its travel green list to the amber list. UK transport secretary, Grant Shapps, claimed the change was motivated by the emergence in Portugal of a new mutation of the Delta variant.
 
Scotland’s two key education bodies, the SQA and Education Scotland, are to undergo major reform. The Scottish government’s education secretary, Shirley-Anne Somerville, told MSPs the reforms would be informed by the OECD report into Scotland’s Curriculum for Excellence, which is due later this month. Somerville also announced measures such as £1bn to close the deprivation-related education attainment gap.
 
Dissident Belarusian journalist, Roman Protasevich, has appeared to praise Belarus’ president, Alexander Lukashenko, in a clip for the country’s state broadcaster. Protasevich was arrested last month when the Belarusian air force intercepted the commercial flight on which he was travelling. In the clip, Protasevich, who appeared to be in poor health, claimed Lukashenko had acted “like a man with balls of steel”.
 
Israeli prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu has attempted to wreck a new coalition that is aiming to command a majority in the Knesset. The grouping, led by the centrist party Yesh Atid, could see Netanyahu excluded from power for this first time in 12 years. The prime minister was yesterday pouring scorn on the coalition in an attempt to woo back its right wing elements. (£)

Business and economy

Ahead of a meeting of G7 finance ministers at London’s Lancaster House, finance ministers of Spain, Italy, France, and Germany have co-authored a letter to support an international tax system. The UK has been reluctant to support plans but chancellor Rishi Sunak has become increasingly receptive so long any such moves tackle tax abuse by US multi-nationals.
 
The UK and Norway are close to signing a trade agreement with an announcement expected as soon as later today. The UK is already the country’s largest trading partner but Norwegian politicians have been understood to be cautious about the threat to Norway’s small agricultural sector from UK competition. (£)
 
The number of permanent positions in London saw a record rise last month according to figures from KPMG and REC. At the same time, the supply of workers saw a sharp drop after 13 months of continuous growth.

Columns of note

Among European nations, Britain is an outlier in how little it spends on vocational education. Yet, by the age of 30, a man with a higher technical qualification would be earning £5,100 more on average per year than his equivalent with a degree. In the Times, James Forsyth looks at how the UK government is ending the boom years in higher education by moving money to further education. For the Tories, the advantage is not merely economic. As degree-holders tend to support Labour, restricting their number, Forsyth suggests, could have a political advantage. (£)
 
In the first years of the 20th century, the City derided the suffragettes. By 1928, British men and women enjoyed equal voting rights. In the Financial Times, Andrew Edgecliffe-Johnson compares their struggle to the cause of environmentalism. Edgecliffe-Johnson claims listening to “fringe” activists can give companies a competitive advantage when the tide begins to turn in the activists’ favour. (£)

Cartoon source: Daily Telegraph

Markets

What happened yesterday?

On Wall Street, the Nasdaq Composite closed down 1%, driven by a fall in major technology stocks. The S&P 500 also dropped 0.4%. The drops came as world food prices – major indicator of inflation – saw their fastest monthly hike in a decade. The US ban on investments in several Chinese companies was also a factor. The US dollar, however, climbed 0.6% against peers.

In Europe, the Stoxx 600 index closed down 0.1% while the FTSE 100 dropped 0.6%, driven by falling airline shares as the UK removed Portugal from its travel “green list” of safe countries.

Sterling fell by 0.36% against the dollar to trade at $1.39, and slid 0.72% against the euro to €1.17.

In company news:

Ant Group, which is controlled by Jack Ma, has received approval from the Chinese government to start a consumer finance firm.
 
Tesla has recalled 734 of its Model 3 cars from China due to seatbelt defects.

What’s happening today?

Finals

B90 Holdings  
Schroder Uk Pub

AGMs

(09:30) PMI Construction

International Economic Announcements

(10:00) Retail Sales (EU)
(13:30) Unemployment Rate (US)
(13:30) Non-Farm Payrolls (US)
(14:00) Factory Orders (US)
(15:00) ISM Services (US)

Source: Financial Times

did you know

                                                     Aldous Huxley was briefly George Orwell’s French teacher

Parliamentary highlights

House of Commons

The House of Commons is in recess and will next sit on 7 June 2021.

House of Lords 

The House of Lords is in recess and will next sit on 7 June 2021.

Scottish parliament 

No business scheduled

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