- The Washington Times - Friday, June 6, 2008

When does an electronic noisemaker go from being an obnoxious bullhorn to an instrument of police repression or a military-grade weapon?

The question is part of a larger debate within the Bush administration, which has already approved the export of sensitive technology and expertise to China to help secure the Summer Olympics from terrorist attacks.

The list includes explosives-detection equipment, X-ray scanners and radiation-detection gear, The Washington Times reported in Thursday’s editions.

The noisemaker device, however, represents a different class of technology because it can be used by a repressive government inflict intense pain on political protesters or a public assembly of dissidents.

The U.S.-made Long-Range Acoustic Device (LRAD) is a vehicle-mounted, circular dish that sends out concentrated, high-energy acoustic waves that can be painfully loud - louder than the loudest rock concerts or a jet engine in close proximity. The wave is focused within a 15-30 degree “beam,” allowing the LRAD to be concentrated on a specific target.

“The characterization as a ‘warning device´ is right most of the time; however, when it is being used to drive people back by acoustic pain then one should call it a weapon - it´s a gray area,” said Juergen Altmann, a physicist at Technische Universitat in Dortmund, Germany, who has been studying acoustic weapons systems for over 10 years.

Ever since the 1989 massacre of activists for democracy in Beijing´s Tiananmen Square, the U.S. has banned its manufacturers from exporting certain military equipment with crowd-control capabilities.

But Robert Putnam, who is in charge of media and investor relations with the LRAD´s manufacturers, the American Technology Corp. (ATC) of San Diego, calls the device “a directed-sounds communications system, not a weapon.”

Neither ATC nor its Asian distributor would comment on how many LRADs have been sold or distributed across China.

But for the first time since the early 1990s, the U.S. Commerce Department´s Bureau of Industry and Security is reviewing the list of security devices that American companies may export to China.

ATC´s Robert Putnam argued that, “since LRAD is a communications system, we are not subject to export control lists.” But the Commerce Department may see things differently.

Currently the LRAD is deployed around the world, from military vehicles in Iraq, to a number of large U.S. city police departments.

The Commerce Department review is motivated, in part, by concerns that U.S. security equipment will be abused by the Chinese police and security forces in repressing internal dissent and peaceful protests.

“It´s a test of the workings of U.S. arms control regulations in terms of second-generation arms technology control,” said a European arms control expert who specializes in non-lethal weapons and who works in China. He declined to be identified for fear of reprisals by the Chinese authorities.

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