Late last year, reports began surfacing that US diplomatic personnel in Cuba were beginning to experience strange and inexplicable symptoms including dizziness, nausea, memory lapses, difficulty hearing and loss of balance. Initial reports attributed the symptoms to a “acoustic attack,” but neglected to provide any salient details about the specific nature of the attacks, or – more importantly – who might have carried them out. The Cuban government quickly denied any knowledge of the attacks.
Fast forward to last month, when CBS News reported that the attacks had caused at least 16 US embassy personnel to suffer traumatic brain injuries, as well as damage to their central nervous systems.
“The diplomats complained about symptoms ranging from hearing loss and nausea to headaches and balance disorders after the State Department said "incidents" began affecting them beginning in late 2016.
A number of diplomats have cut short their assignments in Cuba because of the attacks.
The source says American diplomats have also been subjected other types of harassment including vehicle vandalization, constant surveillance, and home break-ins.”
Now, the Associated Press is reporting that two more Americans were affected by the attacks, bringing the victim count to 21, and according to one State Department spokesperson, that number could continue to climb.
The additional two individuals appear to be cases that were only recently reported but occurred in the past.
The State Department said no new, medically confirmed "incidents" have taken place since the most recent one in late August. Earlier this month, the U.S. disclosed there had been another incident in August after previously saying the attacks had stopped.
It's possible the number could grow even higher as more cases are discovered. State Department spokeswoman Heather Nauert said the U.S. continues to assess American personnel.”
The U.S. didn't say how serious the newly disclosed incidents were. But the State Department said it was providing "the best possible medical evaluation and care" throughout the ordeal, including aid from a medical officer on staff at the embassy. As the disturbing incident has unfolded, the US has encouraged its diplomatic personnel to immediately report any strange symptoms.
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For now the US government has avoided accusing the Cuban government of being involved in the attacks – though the US quietly expelled two Cuban diplomats from the country’s mission in Washington D.C. shortly before the CBS report – which is widely credited with shining a spotlight on the story – broke.
For its part, the State Department has also been unwilling to speculate about the attacks. However, as Hearing Health & Technology Matters explains, it’s likely the attacks were either carried out using infrasound (sound below 20 Hz) or ultrasound (sound above 20,000 Hz).
Of these two options, Jerry Punch, a researcher at Michigan State University, says infrasound, a not-uncommon torture technique, was the probably culprit for several reasons, which he explains below:
“Punch told HHTM that “compared to ultrasound, infrasound travels farther because of its long wavelengths, is difficult to attenuate by traditional noise-control methods, and potentially affects more people because it is broadly distributed. Paradoxically, infrasound would seem a poor choice as a weapon to be used deliberately against diplomats because it can’t easily be targeted toward specific individuals. Others who’ve not yet experienced symptoms may be affected, whether or not the attacks are deliberate, if the situation continues. If and when the attacks stop, it is likely that symptoms such as headache, dizziness, and nausea will subside. That would be consistent with news reports that symptoms stop when diplomats leave their areas of residence, and with the experiences of people who suffer adverse health effects, among them sleep disturbance, while living near wind turbines. Those individuals typically report that symptoms disappear when they leave their residences and reappear when they return home. Some have abandoned their homes altogether to escape the negative health impacts.”
It goes without saying that we wish for a speedy (and complete) recovery for every diplomat affected. But there are some far more significant issues here that should be addressed directly: How will these attacks influence the Cuba-US relationship? And more importantly, what is being done to hold the parties responsible to account?
While Trump said in June that he would “cancel” former President Barack Obama’s “one-sided deal” with Cuba, in reality, the administration has tightened restrictions on trade somewhat, but taken little meaningful action. Little has been said, or done, since then.
Now we wait to see if even more diplomats were affected.