UPDATE: US orders removal of embassy staff in Cuba

UPDATE 2 — 9/29, 11:21 a.m. EDT: The State Department announced Friday it has ordered the removal of all “non-essential” employees from the U.S. embassy in Havana, Cuba, along with diplomats’ family members — a 60 percent staff reduction.

The U.S. cited “specific attacks” which targeted American envoys as the reason for its directive and warned citizens “traveling in Cuba might not also be at risk as well.”

According to a CNN source, American officials believe up to 50 “health attacks” may have been carried out against diplomats in Cuba over the past year.

 

UPDATE — 9/20, 9:33 a.m. EDT: The Associated Press is reporting Cuba’s top diplomat to the U.S., Josefina Vidal, will meet with officials in Washington this week to discuss concerns regarding recent “health attacks” on American envoys in Havana over the past year.

To-date, 21 U.S. diplomats and their family members have suffered effects including permanent hearing loss and concussions — the latest incident occurring on Aug. 21.

French and Canadian diplomats have also reported unexplained hearing loss while in Cuba.

 

Five Republican members of the Senate intelligence committee have penned a letter to Secretary of State Rex Tillerson appealing for the expulsion of Cuban diplomats and requesting the U.S. to close its embassy in Havana.

In a letter dated Thursday, Sen. Tom Cotton (R-Ark.) describes American diplomatic personnel subject to “acoustic” attacks, which caused “permanent hearing damage and other significant injuries.”

Cotton’s letter continued:

“The safety of U.S. diplomatic personnel and their families posted overseas remains one of our high priorities and a shared responsibility of those nations that host U.S. diplomatic facilities.  Cuba’s neglect of its duty to protect our diplomats and their families cannot go unchallenged.”

Cotton was joined by Sens. Richard Burr (N.C.); John Cornyn (Texas); James Lankford (Okla.); and Marco Rubio (Fla.).

In a string of mysterious incidents over the period of a year, 21 diplomats reported incidents in the form of vibrations, ringing, chirping or grinding, have confounded FBI investigators.  Those affected reported brain swelling, nausea, dizziness, difficulty with balance, and severe headaches.  Most affected have reported the effects receded after leaving Cuba.

In addition to American diplomats experiencing the affects of “acoustic” attacks, Canadian authorities have reported similar incidents among their embassy personnel.

Responding to the letter and the incidents, Secretary Tillerson told CBS’ Face the Nation host John Dickerson the U.S. is mulling the closure if its embassy in Havana and further expulsions of Cuban diplomats from Havana’s embassy in Washington.

“We have it under evaluation.  It’s a very serious issue with respect to the harm that certain individuals have suffered,” he said.

Although Havana has denied any involvement in the mysterious incidents, the U.S. expelled two Cuban diplomats in August over the allegations of acoustic attacks.

 

[UPI] [Reuters] [CNN]