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Thread: US Embassy Employees In Cuba Possibly Subject To 'Acoustic Attack'

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    Default US Embassy Employees In Cuba Possibly Subject To 'Acoustic Attack'

    US Embassy Employees In Cuba Possibly Subject To 'Acoustic Attack'

    August 9, 2017

    The US believes several State Department employees at the US embassy in Havana were subjected to an "acoustic attack" using sonic devices that left at least two with such serious health problems they needed to be brought back to the US for treatment, several senior State Department officials told CNN.

    One official said the employees could have suffered permanent hearing loss as a result.

    The employees affected were not at the same place at the same time, but suffered a variety of physical symptoms since late 2016 which resembled concussions.

    The State Department raised the incidents with the Cuban government over the course of several months and sent medical personnel to Havana, but have not been able to determine exactly what happened.

    "It can be quite serious," one official told CNN. "We have worked with the Cubans to try and find out what is going on. They insist they don't know, but it has been very worrying and troublesome."

    The FBI is now looking into the matter, the officials said.

    "It's very strange," one official said.

    State Department spokeswoman Heather Nauert on Wednesday said that "some US government personnel" working at the US embassy in Havana, Cuba on official duty reported some incidents that were causing "physical symptoms." But she could not elaborate on the nature or cause of the incidents.

    "Because there are a variety of symptoms, there could be a variety of sources," one US official said. "That is why we are being very careful here with what we say. There is a lot we still don't know."

    For years US diplomats in Havana complained that they suffered harassment from Cuban officials and frequently had their homes and cars broken into. But diplomats said that after the US and Cuba restored full diplomatic ties in 2015, the campaign of harassment stopped.

    Some of those affected chose to return to the US, said Nauert, prompting the administration to expel two Cuban diplomats from the embassy in Washington in May.

    "The Cuban government has a responsibility and an obligation under the Geneva convention to protect our diplomats," Nauert told reporters, "so that is part of the reason why this is such a major concern of ours."

    "We felt like we needed to respond to the Cubans and remind them of their responsibility under the Vienna convention," one of the officials said. The officials were not declared "persona non-grata" and may be allowed to return back to the United States if the matter is resolved.

    Those affected were State Department employees, Nauert said, and no American civilians were affected. The State Department is taking these incidents "very seriously," she added, and is working to determine the cause and impact of the incidents.

    A statement from the Cuban Ministry of Foreign Affairs on Wednesday categorically denied any Cuban involvement in the mistreatment of US diplomats in Cuba, and said the decision to expel Cuban diplomats was "unjustified and unfounded."

    "The Ministry emphatically emphasizes that Cuba has never allowed ... Cuban territory to be used for any action against accredited diplomatic officials or their families, without exception," the statement said in Spanish.

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    Doctors Find Brain Abnormalities In Victims Of Cuba Mystery

    December 5, 2017

    Doctors treating the U.S. embassy victims of suspected attacks in Cuba have discovered brain abnormalities as they search for clues to explain hearing, vision, balance and memory damage, The Associated Press has learned.

    It’s the most specific finding to date about physical damage, showing that whatever it was that harmed the Americans, it led to perceptible changes in their brains. The finding is also one of several factors fueling growing skepticism that some kind of sonic weapon was involved.

    Medical testing has revealed the embassy workers developed changes to the white matter tracts that let different parts of the brain communicate, several U.S. officials said, describing a growing consensus held by university and government physicians researching the attacks. White matter acts like information highways between brain cells.

    Loud, mysterious sounds followed by hearing loss and ear-ringing had led investigators to suspect “sonic attacks.” But officials are now carefully avoiding that term. The sounds may have been the byproduct of something else that caused damage, said three U.S. officials briefed on the investigation. They weren’t authorized to discuss it publicly and demanded anonymity.

    Physicians, FBI investigators and U.S. intelligence agencies have spent months trying to piece together the puzzle in Havana , where the U.S. says 24 U.S. government officials and spouses fell ill starting last year in homes and later in some hotels. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson said Wednesday he’s “convinced these were targeted attacks ,” but the U.S. doesn’t know who’s behind them. A few Canadian Embassy staffers also got sick.

    Doctors still don’t know how victims ended up with the white matter changes, nor how exactly those changes might relate to their symptoms. U.S. officials wouldn’t say whether the changes were found in all 24 patients.

    But acoustic waves have never been shown to alter the brain’s white matter tracts, said Elisa Konofagou, a biomedical engineering professor at Columbia University who is not involved in the government’s investigation.

    “I would be very surprised,” Konofagou said, adding that ultrasound in the brain is used frequently in modern medicine. “We never see white matter tract problems.”

    Cuba has adamantly denied involvement, and calls the Trump administration’s claims that U.S. workers were attacked “deliberate lies .” The new medical details may help the U.S. counter Havana’s complaint that Washington hasn’t presented any evidence.

    Tillerson said the U.S. had shared some information with Havana, but wouldn’t disclose details that would violate privacy or help a perpetrator learn how effective the attacks were.

    “What we’ve said to the Cubans is: Small island. You’ve got a sophisticated intelligence apparatus. You probably know who’s doing it. You can stop it,” Tillerson said. “It’s as simple as that.”

    The case has plunged the U.S. medical community into uncharted territory. Physicians are treating the symptoms like a new, never-seen-before illness. After extensive testing and trial therapies, they’re developing the first protocols to screen cases and identify the best treatments — even as the FBI investigation struggles to identify a culprit, method and motive.

    Doctors treating the victims wouldn’t speak to the AP, yet their findings are expected to be discussed in an article being submitted to the Journal of the American Medical Association, U.S. officials said. Physicians at the University of Miami and the University of Pennsylvania who have treated the Cuba victims are writing it, with input from the State Department’s medical unit and other government doctors.

    But the article won’t speculate about what technology might have harmed the workers or who would have wanted to target Americans in Cuba. If investigators are any closer to solving those questions, their findings won’t be made public.

    The AP first reported in August that U.S. workers reported sounds audible in parts of rooms but inaudible just a few feet away — unlike normal sound, which disperses in all directions. Doctors have now come up with a term for such incidents: “directional acoustic phenomena.”

    Most patients have fully recovered, some after rehabilitation and other treatment, officials said. Many are back at work. About one-quarter had symptoms that persisted for long periods or remain to this day.

    Earlier this year, the U.S. said doctors found patients had suffered concussions, known as mild traumatic brain injury, but were uncertain beyond that what had happened in their brains. Concussions are often diagnosed based solely on symptoms.

    Studies have found both concussions and white matter damage in Iraq and Afghanistan war veterans who survived explosions yet had no other physical damage. But those injuries were attributed mostly to shock waves from explosions. No Havana patients reported explosions or blows to the head.

    Outside medical experts said that when the sample of patients is so small, it’s difficult to establish cause and effect.

    “The thing you have to wonder anytime you see something on a scan: Is it due to the episode in question, or was it something pre-existing and unrelated to what happened?” said Dr. Gerard Gianoli, an ear and brain specialist in Louisiana.

    As Cuba works to limit damage to its reputation and economy, its government has produced TV specials and an online summit about its own investigation. Cuba’s experts have concluded that the Americans’ allegations are scientifically impossible.

    The Cubans have urged the U.S. to release information about what it’s found. FBI investigators have spent months comparing cases to pinpoint what factors overlap.

    U.S. officials told the AP that investigators have now determined:

    — The most frequently reported sound patients heard was a high-pitched chirp or grating metal. Fewer recalled a low-pitched noise, like a hum.

    — Some were asleep and awakened by the sound, even as others sleeping in the same bed or room heard nothing.

    — Vibrations sometimes accompanied the sound. Victims told investigators these felt similar to the rapid flutter of air when windows of a car are partially rolled down.

    — Those worst off knew right away something was affecting their bodies. Some developed visual symptoms within 24 hours, including trouble focusing on a computer screen.

    The U.S. has not identified any specific precautions it believes can mitigate the risk for diplomats in Havana, three officials said, although an attack hasn’t been reported since late August. Since the Americans started falling ill last year, the State Department has adopted a new protocol for workers before they go to Cuba that includes bloodwork and other “baseline” tests. If they later show symptoms, doctors can retest and compare.

    Doctors still don’t know the long-term medical consequences and expect that epidemiologists, who track disease patterns in populations, will monitor the 24 Americans for life. Consultations with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention are underway.

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    State Department Denies American In Uzbekistan Experienced Acoustic Attack

    November 28, 2017

    The State Department is denying reports that a worker at the U.S. Embassy in Uzbekistan experienced an acoustic attack similar to those affecting American diplomatic staff in Cuba.

    “We can confirm that there was no incident in Uzbekistan," a State Department official told The Hill on Tuesday.

    "The Department prioritizes the safety and welfare of its personnel and works vigilantly to ensure that members of its staff are protected worldwide," the official added.

    "We can confirm that no personnel at the U.S. Embassy in Uzbekistan have been diagnosed with the conditions that have been observed in Cuba.”

    The statement comes after CBS News reported Tuesday that a U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) officer and his wife reported what may have been a similar acoustic attack in September in Uzbekistan.

    Such attacks have hit American personnel in Cuba. Victims from the Cuba attacks have described incidents in which they were targeted by sudden, glaring noise that officials believe led the diplomats to suffer sudden brain injuries including hearing loss and speech problems.

    CBS News cited sources familiar with the Uzbekistan incident, who claimed the couple flew out of Tashkent to be evaluated.

    USAID is a government agency that works closely with the State Department and provides foreign assistance in various countries.

    CBS News said officials declined a request to detail the incident.

    The State Department declined CBS News's request to describe the incident in detail.

    "We aren't going to discuss ‎every case individually," a State Department spokesperson reportedly told the news outlet.

    ‎"We take seriously the health concerns of USG personnel anywhere in the world," the spokesperson added. "We ensure our personnel are examined and receive appropriate treatment."

    But State Department spokeswoman Heather Nauert later took to Twitter to dispute the CBS report.

    We can confirm that there was no incident in Uzbekistan and that no personnel at the U.S. Embassy in Uzbekistan have been diagnosed with the conditions that have been observed in Cuba.

    — Heather Nauert (@statedeptspox) November 28, 2017

    The U.S. government first acknowledged the Havana attacks in August, nine months after the injuries were first reported. The State Department immediately moved to expel two Cuban diplomats from the U.S. over safety concerns of American officials experiencing such symptoms.

    Russia has denied any allegations of wrongdoing.

    Uzbekistan, once a part of the Soviet Union, has kept a strong alliance with Russia even after it declared its independence in 1991 during the collapse of the USSR.

    Russian Foreign Ministry Spokesperson Maria Zakharova in August denied the "absurd" allegations of Russian involvement in the attacks and said the Kremlin is willing to participate in any investigations into the matter.

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    State Department Probing Possibility Of Viral Attack In Cuba Illnesses

    January 9, 2018

    State Department officials told Congress on Tuesday they still don’t know what caused U.S. diplomatic personnel to experience vertigo and other neurological symptoms while stationed in Cuba, while saying a viral attack is now being considered.

    Officials also were unable to provide assurances they can prevent future incidents.

    “I don’t think we say categorically that they can be safer from this,” State Department security official Todd Brown told the Senate Foreign Relations Committee during a morning hearing.

    He said investigators are considering the possibility that the 24 Americans in question were sickened by a viral attack -- following the release earlier this week of an FBI report finding no evidence that sound waves caused the concussion-like symptoms, which also caused nausea and vision problems.

    He told Florida GOP Sen. Marco Rubio that the State Department has no way of assuring the safety of members of the U.S. diplomatic corps in Cuba.

    Dr. Charles Rosenfarb, director of State’s Bureau of Medical Services, said the department is trying to make people aware of the risks and urging them to “move away” from any unusual feelings or sensations. However, the officials acknowledged that such efforts are merely reactive, not proactive.

    The illnesses occurred in several periods in 2016, starting as early as November.

    The U.S. last year reportedly asked about 60 percent of its staff and family to leave the U.S. Embassy in Havana.

    Secretary of State Rex Tillerson said in an Associated Press interview released earlier this week that the United States would be "putting people intentionally in harm's way" if it sent diplomats back to Cuba.

    "I'd be intentionally putting them back in harm's way,” he said in the Jan. 5. Interview. “Why in the world would I do that when I have no means whatsoever to protect them?"

    He spoke amid the new FBI report that cast doubt on the initial theory that Americans there were hit by "sonic attacks."

    By law, Tillerson must form an "accountability review board" after any serious injury to diplomats overseas. One highly publicized example was after four Americans were killed in Benghazi, Libya, in 2012.

    Tillerson has now decided on convene such a review board, State Department officials said Tuesday, when questioned by Rubio about the issue.

    The interim report from the bureau's Operational Technology Division -- following months of investigation and four FBI trips to Havana -- reportedly states the probe has uncovered no evidence that sound waves could have damaged the Americans' health.

    Still, the State Department officials made clear Tuesday on Capitol Hill that investigations are ongoing. U.S. officials say they have no conclusive evidence that Cuba’s Castro regime is behind the incidents but they remain skeptical.

    “It unfortunate that we have not seen more public outcry … against the Cuban government for whatever scope of ownership it has over these attacks,” said New Jersey Democratic Sen. Bob Menendez, a member of the Senate committee. “The Castro regime … has no regard for individual human rights.”

    Washington has never claimed Cuba perpetrated the attacks but has insisted the island's communist-run government must know who did.

    "I still believe that the Cuban government, someone within the Cuban government can bring this to an end," Tillerson said in the interview.

    Rubio, a vocal critic of Cuba's government, declared on Twitter it was a "documented FACT" that U.S. personnel were "victims of some sort of sophisticated attack" and U.S. officials briefed on the matter know that "full well."

    However, Arizona GOP Sen. Jeff Flake, also a member of the Senate committee, said over the weekend that high-ranking Cuban officials told him that the FBI has found no evidence of attacks and that classified U.S. briefings left him with no reason to doubt Cuba's account.

    In October, the AP published a recording of the high-pitched chirping sound some diplomats heard. Officials cautioned then they weren't sure whether the sound itself harmed Americans, or was perhaps the byproduct of something else that did.

    Last month, the AP reported doctors discovered brain abnormalities in patients who were being treated after returning from Cuba. But since the patients hadn't been tested before working in Cuba, outside experts raised questions.

    In addition to pulling out all but "essential personnel," the Trump administration last year expelled 15 Cuban diplomats and warned Americans to avoid the island.

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    U.S. Investigators Suspect Russia In Mystery 'Attacks' On Diplomats

    September 11, 2018

    Intelligence agencies investigating mysterious "attacks" that led to brain injuries in U.S. personnel in Cuba and China consider Russia to be the main suspect, three U.S. officials and two others briefed on the investigation tell NBC News.

    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 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.

    The U.S. has said 26 government workers were injured in unexplained attacks at their homes and hotels in Havana starting in late 2016, causing brain injuries, hearing loss and problems with cognition, balance, vision and hearing problems. Strange sounds heard by the workers initially led investigators to suspect a sonic weapon, but the FBI later determined sound waves by themselves couldn't have caused the injuries.

    This year, one U.S. worker in China was diagnosed with similar symptoms after hearing bizarre sounds in Guangzhou, and more from China are being tested.

    The precise motive remains unclear, but the incidents have driven a wedge between the U.S. and Cuba that has led Washington to remove most of its diplomats and spies from the island. Early in the investigation, senior U.S. officials raised the possibility the illnesses were unintended consequences of some new spying technology. But the fact the incidents continued long after they became publicly known has cast doubt on the possibility that the damage was accidental.

    In testimony before Congress last week, State Department officials were unanimous that the incidents should be considered "attacks."

    "The State Department has come to the determination that they were attacks," Ambassador Peter Boode, who leads the task force responding to the incidents, told a House Foreign Affairs Committee panel.A U.S. official separately tells NBC News that the U.S. has "no reason to believe this was anything but an intentional act."

    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.

    Russian government officials did not immediately respond to requests for comment.

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