Manuel Noriega didn’t like Guns and Roses. At least that’s what the US military counted on, when it employed extremely loud music, to help flush the former dictator out of hiding. The best-known example of using sound for military purposes, when it comes to psychological warfare, it’s just the tip of the iceberg.

More knowledgeable sources on the subject would be just as quick to offer up examples, such as the use of sonic booms to intimidate civilian populations. Even more informative, are book-length accounts of the the subject, such as Steve Goodman’s Sonic Warfare: Sound Affect and the Ecology of Fear (MIT Press, 2009.) Discussing both military and ‘civilian’ employment of noise (‘psychoacoustic correction’) Goodman’s book is a must-read for anyone interested in the politics of sound.

Better-known to World War II and Vietnam War aficionados is the use of recorded messages, set on repeating loops, and directed radio broadcasts, to break the will of enemy forces. Still a regular component of psychological operations strategy, a number of NATO-produced recordings surfaced online during the Libyan War. Captured by amateur shortwave enthusiast-equivalents, who troll the airwaves for spy agency code broadcasts, these recordings offer a fascinating snapshot of the conflict.

Produced in both English and Arabic, their messages are carefully worded. The recording below, for example, sounds as though it were directed at Libyan ship traffic. The audio is VHF, Marine band-quality. Still, it’s clear enough to follow. Wait for the English:

Equally compelling is the following recording, in which an American-accented speaker explains that “NATO has been watching you,” and that “NATO will not tolerate hostile acts against the civilian population.” Indeed, NATO is Libya’s ‘friend’:

Gaddafi’s military, of course, was not ill-prepared to deal with such broadcasts. In the following recording, “NATO PSYOPS messages jammed by libyan forces, a synthesizer-like noise loop disrupts a NATO-sounding speaker:

Less exciting are the routine warnings many mariners encounter, from foreign naval forces and military aircraft. Though issued by on behalf of NATO warships, off the Libyan coast, this recording is as representative as any:

Requesting ships to respect a UN arms embargo on Libya, the message is relatively straightforward. If only they were all like that. Still, even a document as mundane as this is fascinating, if only for what it points to. Not just the more controversial samples published in this article, but, in all likelihood, far more sophisticated forms of sonic warfare than blasting stadium rock in Panama City.

Photograph courtesy of Ammar Abd Rabbo. Sound recordings courtesy of  Audiomaniac37. All media published under a Creative Commons license.