UPDATE 2 — 8/25, 4:48 p.m. EDT: State Dept. spokeswoman Heather Nauert said Thursday 16 U.S. Embassy staffers in Cuba have been victimized by unknown sources and are experiencing symptoms including hearing loss, headaches and nausea.
According to Michael Weissenstein of the Associated Press, the U.S. government is investigating the possibility that a third country, namely Russia, has perpetrated “audio attacks” on American diplomatic staff members.
However, experts say other factors could be at play, such as “environmental causes” or “misconfigured” Cuban surveillance devices that may “produce inaudible noise.”
UPDATE — 8/12, 9:56 a.m. EDT: Speaking to reporters Friday, State Secretary Rex Tillerson said the U.S. holds the Cuban government responsible for “health attacks” on diplomats in Havana which left two individuals with inner ear damage.
“We hold the Cuban authorities responsible for finding out who is carrying out these health attacks on not just our diplomats but, as you’ve seen now, there are other cases with other diplomats involved,” he said.
According to former envoys from both the U.S. and Canada, Cuba has a history of harassing foreign diplomats, including turning off the water and electricity in their homes and tailgating vehicles late at night with the high-beams on.
Two Cuban diplomats have been asked to leave the U.S. after several American embassy staff members in Havana experienced unexplained hearing loss, now determined to be the result of exposure to a sophisticated sonic device.
The Cuban envoys were asked to leave in May following the incidences which began in fall 2016.
Speaking to reporters at a State Department briefing on Wednesday, spokeswoman Heather Nauert declined to offer specifics, but did describe a series of “incidents” in which embassy personnel “reported some incidents which have caused a variety of physical symptoms.”
Refusing to reveal the number of people affected or the nature of the incident, Nauert did expand on the measures State took to respond to the unexplained circumstances which led to the expulsion of Cuban embassy officials:
“We don’t have any definitive answers about the source or the cause of what we consider to be incidents. We can tell you that on May 23rd, the State Department took further action. We asked two officials who were accredited at the Embassy of Cuba in the United States to depart the United States. Those two individuals have departed the United States. We take this situation very seriously. One of the things we talk about here often is that the safety and security of American citizens at home and abroad is our top priority. We’re taking that situation seriously and it’s under investigation right now.”
Informed of the episodes in February, the Cuban government stated it had taken the matter seriously and launched a vigorous investigation into the matter, but did not disclose the results of their probe.
Describing the action taken against Cuban diplomats as “unjustified and baseless,” a Cuban Foreign Ministry statement read: “Cuba is universally considered a safe destination for visitors and foreign diplomats, including U.S. citizens.”
The statement went on to explain an internal “exhaustive, high-priority, urgent” investigation was launched after being notified of the developments in February.
On Thursday, the government of Canada revealed one of their own diplomats in its Cuban embassy had suffered the same symptoms as American officials in Havana.
[AP] [NPR] [Photo courtesy New Europe]