Several US citizens have been evacuated from the US consulate in Guangzhou, China, after falling ill with various neurological symptoms from mysterious "sonic attacks" similar to incidents reported in Havana Cuba which left 20 State Department employees with serious injuries.
On Wednesday night, consulate worker Mark Lenzi and his family were evacuated after hearing strange noises over the course of several months, which Lenzi described as "marbles bouncing and hitting a floor then rolling on an incline with a static sound," according to the Washington Post.
At first, he and his wife thought that their neighbor — a fellow Foreign Service officer in the U.S. Consulate in Guangzhou, China — was responsible. The neighbor denied having anything to do with it.
A few months later, the headaches started — excruciating pain that lasted for days at a time. Lenzi, his wife, and their 3-year-old son experienced the same symptoms, which soon included chronic sleeplessness as well. Lenzi says that he asked his superiors for help but that they dismissed his concerns. Consulate doctors prescribed painkillers and Ambien, which did nothing to address the underlying causes of the problem. -WaPo
Lenzi then learned that his next-door neighbor had been evacuated from the consulate and flown back to the United States to undergo a thorough medical assessment - which concluded that the person was suffering from "mild traumatic brain injury."
The State Department issued a statement on May 23, warning that an unnamed "U.S. government employee in China recently reported subtle and vague, but abnormal, sensations of sound and pressure,” and urging anyone with “concerns about symptoms or medical problems that developed during or after a stay in China” to “consult a medical professional.”
The statement also said that the U.S. government was unaware of any other cases — a point strongly disputed by Lenzi, who insists that he had repeatedly informed both the embassy in Beijing and State Department headquarters in Washington of his family’s predicament. “Mark is a very capable guy,” says political consultant Michael Getto, a longtime friend of Lenzi’s. “If he says something is wrong or amiss, then it is.” -WaPo
The description of the sound - which the victim said produced abnormal sensations and pressures - sound eerily familiar to a series of similar "sonic attacks" that afflicted US embassy personnel in Havana, beginning shortly after President Trump defeated Hillary Clinton in the 2016 presidential race.
On May 23, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo noted the comparisons between the China incidents and the Cuban attacks during a House hearing, stating "The medical indications are very similar, and entirely consistent with, the medical indications that were taking place to Americans working in Cuba."
And in testimony before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee last month, Pompeo said China had "said all the right things and have demonstrated their willingness to help us identify the vector which led to this medical incident," according to the Associated Press.
Meanwhile, a team of scientists at the University of Michigan say they may have found the source of the mysterious sounds. They said that two sources of ultrasounds - such as eavesdropping - may have been placed too closely together, provoking an intense sound like the one described by the victims, according to the Miami Herald.
Though their source has never been determined, the attacks damaged relations between the US and Cuban governments and also left some embassy employees with mild brain damage. The US recalled most of its embassy staff from Havana before expelling 15 Cuban diplomats from Washington in response to the alleged attack.
Lenzi says he believes that the number of those affected will turn out to be higher than Washington expects. If he’s right, U.S.-Chinese relations could start to enter a rocky patch. -WaPo
Likewise, the new sonic attacks risk straining relationships between Washington and Beijing - which the Trump administration has been pressing hard on trade, while at the same time relying on China to help negotiate with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un. As WaPo notes, "A widening scandal involving the possible mistreatment of U.S. diplomats couldn’t come at a worse time."
So far, the fact that only a single staff member is publicly known to have been affected has allowed the Trump administration to play down the Guangzhou case. That may no longer be possible if more victims present themselves — and Lenzi, for one, is not prepared to go away quietly. -WaPo
Would you if your wife and three-year-old had been sonically attacked to the point of brain injury?
Mike Pompeo has dispatched the "Health Incidents Response Task Force" to Guangzhou on May 31 to examine consulate employees who so request, including Lenzi and his family - who have been told they will likely receive a detailed brain analysis in the United States.
The high-level medical team's role includes “identification and treatment of affected personnel and family members, investigation and risk mitigation, messaging, and diplomatic outreach.”
In the same announcement, Pompeo said that “24 US government personnel and family members who served in Cuba have been medically-confirmed as having symptoms and clinical findings similar to those noted following concussion or minor traumatic brain injury”, as well as the initial China consulate victim.
Chinese foreign ministry spokesman Lu Kang said in a press briefing that China had investigated the May 16 cases but found no reason for the illness.
“China has conducted a very careful investigation and has given preliminary findings to the US, and we haven’t found the reason or clues that led to the situation mentioned by the US,” he said.
“China has always followed the Vienna Convention on diplomatic relations and consular relations to protect the US diplomatic staff and staff from other countries.”
What could be causing these mysterious attacks?