White House

More U.S. diplomats hurt by mystery sonic device in Cuba

A member of the Cuban honor guard stands next to a new plaque at the front door of the newly reopened Cuban embassy in Washington in this July 20, 2015. The State Department has expelled two diplomats from Cuba’s Embassy in Washington following a series of unexplained incidents in Cuba that left U.S. officials there with physical symptoms.
A member of the Cuban honor guard stands next to a new plaque at the front door of the newly reopened Cuban embassy in Washington in this July 20, 2015. The State Department has expelled two diplomats from Cuba’s Embassy in Washington following a series of unexplained incidents in Cuba that left U.S. officials there with physical symptoms. AP

The controversy surrounding the bizarre attack against United States and Canadian diplomats in Cuba is expanding rapidly.

The U.S. State Department on Thursday said as many as 16 people from the “embassy community” in Havana were affected by the use of some alleged sonic device. Some of them still remain in Cuba. The State Department didn’t say Thursday whether those affected included the family members of U.S. officials.

It is just the latest chapter in the still unraveling drama that has included two Cuban officials being expelled from the United States and reports by CBS News that some of the U.S. diplomats affected had symptoms of a mild traumatic brain injury. Canadian diplomats have reported experiencing similar incidents.

State Department spokeswoman Heather Nauert said Thursday the activity that caused the alleged hearing loss is no longer happening, but emphasized that U.S. authorities have not located any device nor do they know the specific cause of the incident.

She said the United States also doesn’t know who is responsible.

“We take this situation extremely seriously,” Nauert said. “We’re trying to provide them the help, medical care, the treatment and the support that they need and the support they deserve.”

It’s an unprecedented assault on another nation’s diplomats during a time period that doesn’t make sense, considering the United States and Cuba’s efforts to improve ties after a half century of hostility.

While the Trump administration has been slowly rolling back the Obama-era policy changes that broke down barriers between the United States and the island nation, key components of the relationship remain in place. But the lack of detail has only fueled dramatic speculation about whether Cuba was bringing back cold war tactics or even working with a third-party government, such as Russia, which has the capability to use such technology.

Adding to the intrigue, as reports of the health symptoms went public, Cuba’s top negotiator with the United States and other Cuban officials were meeting with Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Sergei Ryabkov.

The diplomats affected have seen doctors and had medical tests and evaluations in the United States and Cuba. Nauert wouldn’t say whether there is a medical officer based at the Cuban embassy, but has said some diplomats have been medically evacuated to Miami.

University of Miami officials said it had been contacted by the State Department, but wouldn’t share any details about possible treatment other than to say that school doctors have “consulted” with the department.

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