Nearly two years since State Department employees (and some CIA spies) began suffering from a mysterious acute illness that left some victims with permanent brain damage and hearing loss, the US State Department is inching closing to a conclusion that anyone paying attention could have easily anticipated...
...it looks like this guy is at it again.
To wit, NBC News reported Tuesday morning that the State Department believes Russia is the prime suspect in a series of mysterious attacks using concentrated sound waves or microwaves (the US still isn't certain of the exact nature of the attacks) that seriously injured 26 "diplomats" (many of whom were CIA spies) working at the US embassy in Havana. While State Department insiders have been dropping hints about the identity of the suspect (last week, we noted that some US scientists believe a Soviet-era weapon utilizing concentrated microwaves may have been used in the attack), nobody at the department had been willing to confirm whether Russia, Cuba, China or some other shadowy entity was on the list of suspects.
That is, until now.
The news about the US's suspicions is significant: After simmering beneath the surface for years, the story about the mysterious attacks could soon become front page news as the US could leverage whatever evidence it has to justify imposing further sanctions against Russia - particularly in light of the UK's move to tighten its own Russia-directed sanctions following the conclusion that Russia's GRU sanctioned the chemical weapons attack on former double agent Sergei Skripal (however tenuous the evidence may be).
The US Embassy in Havana
As NBC reports, the US has intercepted some incriminating SIGINT that suggests the Russians were involved in the attacks. However, these intercepts, while incriminating, are still inconclusive, which seems...strange, considering the black-and-white nature of such blatant attacks.
The suspicion that Russia is likely behind the alleged attacks is backed up by evidence from communications intercepts, known in the spy world as signals intelligence, amassed during a lengthy and ongoing investigation involving the FBI, the CIA and other U.S. agencies. The officials declined to elaborate on the nature of the intelligence.
The evidence is not yet conclusive enough, however, for the U.S. to formally assign blame to Moscow for incidents that started in late 2016 and have continued in 2018, causing a major rupture in U.S.-Cuba relations.
Since the attacks began in late 2016, the US has had little success with its efforts to reverse-engineer the weapon.
Since last year, the U.S. military has been working to reverse-engineer the weapon or weapons used to harm the diplomats, according to Trump administration officials, congressional aides and others briefed on the investigation, including by testing various devices on animals. As part of that effort, the U.S. has turned to the Air Force and its directed energy research program at Kirtland Air Force Base in New Mexico, where the military has giant lasers and advanced laboratories to test high-power electromagnetic weapons, including microwaves.
Although the U.S. believes sophisticated microwaves or another type of electromagnetic weapon were likely used on the U.S. government workers, they are also exploring the possibility that one or more additional technologies were also used, possibly in conjunction with microwaves, officials and others involved in the government's investigation say.
Of course, if Russia truly is the culprit behind the attack, this news would mark a "stunning escalation" in the US-Russia antipathy (which, at this point in time, is difficult to imagine, short of an all-out hot war).
If Russia did use a futuristic weapon to damage the brains of U.S. personnel, it would mark a stunning escalation in Russian aggression toward Western nations, compounded recently by the use of a military-grade nerve agent to poison an ex-spy and his daughter in Britain. Although the full extent of the resulting diplomatic fallout is difficult to predict, a determination that Russia was behind the Cuba attacks would trigger outrage in Congress and foreign capitals and calls for an immediate, concerted response, especially as President Donald Trump faces continued questions about his willingness to challenge Russia and President Vladimir Putin.
Perhaps the most immediate consequence of the attacks was a rupture in US-Cuba relations that helped roll back the detente negotiated by President Obama. And while it's unclear whether Cuba was involved in the attack, suspicions that its intelligence service turned a blind eye to Russia's activities appear to have permanently poisoned Raul Castro's relationship with President Trump. But regardless of whether Cuba was involved or not, the State Department believes they are still at fault for failing to keep US personnel safe, according to NBC's State Department sources. The Trump administration issued a travel advisor in September 2017 cautioning citizens against traveling to Cuba.
While whispers that some of the victims were undercover CIA operatives have been swirling for the better part of a year, NBC's insider source confirmed that some of those who fell victim to the attacks were CIA employees.
After the attacks tapered off toward the end of 2017, the State Department began to wonder if whoever was behind the strikes had decided to pull back. But then two more cases were reported in the spring of this year. Meanwhile, a case was reported at a US consulate in Guangzhou, China.
According to NBC, the US hasn't found a way to effectively protect its
diplomats spies from these attacks, but at the end of the day, this could be a moot point. Because evidence that Russia is aggressively attacking US personnel could soon become the exact justification that deep state agents inside the Trump administration need to increase diplomatic pressure on Russia (with sanctions or other methods) or even push back harder in Syria.