Am Embassy Cairo | TUMS (Not a Remedy for a Stomach Ailment)

Late January 1978

Secretary of State Cyrus Vance spent less than twenty-four hours and a handshake with Egyptian President Anwar Sadat in Cairo. I would spend three weeks at post…

<feature image of microwave radiation effects on US Embassy Moscow by

Before Regional Security Officer Childress left to join his family in Rockville, Maryland on leave we had an interesting discussion at the nostalgic Shepheard Hotel Bar. I had met Childress at the Shepheard bar during my previous visit. It was located across the street and a short walk from the American Embassy Cairo.

Childress was ensconced at the quiet area at the end of the rich wood and polished steel bar when I arrived. He waved me over, ordered Stella on draft, and wasted no time on pleasantries when he said, “After I return from home leave I’m headed to Moscow on TDY. The trip could be several weeks duration.”

He paused to read my expression.

I said, “Why Moscow?”

He waited until the bartender had slid the beers in front of us and had departed to the other end of the bar. Before six p.m., there were few customers.

Childress leaned in and said, “What I’m about to tell you is confidential, for your information only. Understood?”

“Yes, it’s clear.”

“The American embassy in Moscow has been getting radiated by microwaves for years. We call it TUMS, Technically Unidentified Moscow Signal.”

I had no idea that it had been occurring.


“Since the early sixties the Soviets have been transmitting low-level microwave energy into the entire west wall of Am Embassy Moscow.”


“We’re not quite sure, thus the term ‘technically unidentified.’ We—SY—believe it’s a security threat. The jury’s in session on whether the microwaves present a health issue to the FSO’s. Do you have any experience with microwave radiation?”

He caught me by surprise.

“Ah… I know that microwaves are most harmful to the vital organs. I’m not sure if anyone knows the long-term effects of exposure. You said low-level energy. I can’t convert low-level to decibels or watts of power. I’d need more information.”

“Understood. I do know that the source of radiation was about a hundred yards away.”

Microwave power dissipated with distance. A hundred yards meant that the effective radiated power (ERP) had not dissipated too much. Other factors such as the frequency and the gain of the transmitting antenna were involved.

I said, “It could be a problem, but I’m not the one to make that call. Have any FSO’s experienced cancer or other health issues involving vital organs?”

Childress rolled his tongue around in his mouth and said, “Err… I’ll explain.”

I was going to ask if the personnel at post even knew about the microwave radiation, but backed off.

RSO Childress stared into his beer before he hoisted it and quaffed the remainder.

“You want another Stella?”


He caught the bartender’s attention and pointed at the two bottles.

Like me, Childress was an introspective guy. By now I was used to the quiet interludes. I decided I would not say anything unless asked. That might speed up the process.

“In early ‘72, a second much stronger signal, called SMUT (“second Moscow unidentified technical”) signal appeared. It lasted for about a year and then stopped. Meanwhile, TUMS continued.”

The bartender scooted the flasks of beer in front of us. It reminded me that RSO Childress spoke at the same speed as beer being drawn out of a Berlin pub spigot.

He turned and offered me an expression I hasn’t seen before, which prompted me to wonder why he was telling me all this.

“About two years ago, the TUMS signal stopped. It was replaced by MUTS-1 and later MUTS-2. These signals emitted from the roof of a building to the east of the American embassy. Moreover, they comprised a much more filled-in spectrum than TUMS.”

Graph showing MUTS-1 signal activity at the U.S. Embassy in Moscow (courtesy Department of State security–SY).

I said, “What does a ‘more filled-in spectrum with MUTS’ mean?”

“It was in the report. I’m not sure. You’d have to ask SY tech support.”

I thought it might have referred to a modulated signal transposed onto the microwave RF carrier, but it didn’t matter now.

RSO Childress regrouped and said, “Three months later, in August, MUTS-2 appeared, emanating from a building south of the Embassy.

We sipped on our beers, formulating our own opinion on the mysterious microwave radiation the Soviets had perpetrated.

“DOS [Department of State] officials informed embassy personnel about the microwave signals. FSO’s and other department employees expressed concern over the health effects of microwave radiation, and congress held hearings on the issue.”

I supposed that for several years the FSO’s assigned to Am Embassy Moscow knew nothing about the radiation.

The Department performed a bio-statistical study to examine if those serving in Moscow were at a higher risk for cancer, birth defects, and other effects associated with radiation.  The study found no connection or statistical association between occurrences of cancer and other health effects and the officers and employees who had served in the Moscow Embassy since 1953.”

“That’s good to hear.”

“Yeah, until last year the department released an ill-timed administrative classification of the Moscow Embassy as an “unhealthy post.” He rolled his eyes. “Officials said the classification was unrelated to the microwave radiation, but the cat was out of the bag by then.”

Although it was a fascinating story I had to move things forward or we’d be here all night. I had plans to visit the Marine Guard’s weekly TGIF party. I said, “Now we’re back to the microwave’s security effects.”

“Exactly. The congressional report forced SY technicians to install RF screens that reduced the microwave radiation effects.”

I was beginning to see where all of this was going. RSO Childress was acting and sounding like a recruiter.

“According to the latest information I have, SY believes that the Soviets used microwaves for a number of purposes, one of which is to characterize the type of office equipment that the American embassy utilizes.”

He let that sink in. I quaffed a long swig of Stella beer.

SY tech officer crawls out from a chimney at the U.S. Embassy in Moscow in 1978 (courtesy Department of State).

“The on-going microwave radiation war has just been escalated. One of our technical officers found an antenna installed inside an embassy chimney. Get this, they found a tunnel underneath it large enough for a human to traverse. The tunnel led to a nearby building controlled by the Soviets…

(To be continued)

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