Lightning guns, heat rays, weapons that can make you hear the voice of God. This is what happens when the war on terror meets the entrepreneurial spirit
"This is very clandestine," Pete Bitar whispered, as his red Dodge Caravan idled in the parking lot of a Burger King near Fort Belvoir. "They called last week, and they wanted delivery this week."
It did feel a little clandestine, if a bit unlikely. Yet there, in the Burger King parking lot, a small transaction in America's war on terror was about to take place. In the minivan were Bitar, the president and founder of Xtreme Alternative Defense Systems (XADS), Edward Fry, the company's research coordinator, and George Gibbs, of Marine Corps Systems Command, who two years ago plucked Bitar's obscure company out of its paper existence and provided it with more than half a million dollars in Pentagon funding.
Gibbs, the Marine Corps official who first funded Bitar, has a fondness for edgy ideas. A chemical engineer and longtime proponent of nonlethal weaponry, Gibbs funds other offbeat projects, such as Medusa, an attempt to develop a weapon that uses low-power microwaves -- believed to cause an audible buzzing in subjects' heads -- to make people think God is speaking to them. Another such weapon would use beams of energy to make people dizzy and lose their balance.
Bitar traces his interest in nonlethal weapons to his heritage as a Christian Arab. His father was born in Syria, his mother in Lebanon and he in Michigan. "We're sitting in an Arabic restaurant, speaking Arabic. Honestly, it gives me a little bit of an ad-vantage," he said. "I can think the way a Middle Eastern mind thinks. I understand where they're coming from. So, we can design tactical solutions that deal with that."
Lightning, for example, is a very big fear for Arabs, Bitar contends. Peter Bechtold, the head of Near East studies at the State Department's Foreign Service Institute, was dubious that Arabs would be more frightened than anyone else by lightning guns. "It sounds strange," Bechtold said, when presented with Bitar's idea. But ideas are what Bitar overflows with. His latest is to use ultrasonic waves in the dazzler not to just blind enemies, but also to convey messages into their heads, similar to Gibbs's Medusa project. Hearing voices from God is a "big thing" in Arab culture, according to Bitar. "We flash-blind them. And, while their eyes are shut, you could send a recorded message or deep guttural voice that echoes in the inside of their head. They're looking around, 'Hey, did you hear that?'''
Bitar laughed. "That's the psych warfare side of this thing."
The Washington Post