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Most people watching the news remember that in addition to the cordon of troops which surrounded the papal Nunciatura, General Stiner had directed that a sound barrier of loudspeakers surround the Nunciatura. What's not commonly known is how in the wake of a visit there on Christmas Day by General Thurman the music playing came to be.

On Christmas morning, Thurman spoke personally to Monsignor Laboa at the gate of the Nunciatura. As Thurman turned to depart a reporter from an upper floor window of the nearby Holiday Inn shouted, "Hey General Thurman, how ya doin'? Merry Christmas! Fearing that reporters could use powerful microphones to eavesdrop on delicate negotiations between Cisneros and Laboa, General Thurman ordered that a music barrier be set up around the Nunciatura. Later, as hard rock music blared around the clock, a psychological operations specialist claimed it was part of a campaign to harass Noriega.

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PSYOP Loudspeaker Humvees at the Papal Nunciatura

Depicted as a form of press censorship by the media, the rock music soon aroused other critics. By 28 December, diplomats, Catholics in the United States, and Vatican officials had deplored the practice as a clumsy effort to harass Noriega that inflicted needless stress upon the papal nuncio and his staff. The President made his concern known to Secretary Cheney and General Powell."

About 1140 General Powell asked Brigadier General Meier to explain the purpose of the music. Meier repeated General Thurman's original rationale: to mask sensitive negotiations between General Cisneros and Monsignor Laboa. General Thurman, however, also justified the music as an effective psychological tool. At this point, Laboa was talking about sleeping outside the compound, and Noriega and his henchmen were becoming increasingly worried and nervous. Thurman believed that applying pressure, not only to Noriega but to his host as well, would compel Monsignor Laboa to release Noriega.

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Setting up more loudspeakers

In the face of mounting public criticism and presidential concern, General Powell grew increasingly uncomfortable with the rock music at the Nunciatura. President Bush viewed the tactic as politically embarrassing and "irritating and petty." On 29 December, after returning from an NSC meeting in which he had been instructed not to "make things any more difficult or unpleasant for Monsignor Laboa than necessary," Powell told Thurman to stop the music. Rear Admiral Sheafer relayed the order to Thurman's staff and tasked the National Security Agency to provide a less provocative noise jammer to prevent the media from eavesdropping on negotiations between Cisneros and Laboa."

And that's the rest of the story on how the blaring rock music surrounding the Vatican Embassy came to be.