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Nobody knows what's making U.S. diplomats in Cuba sick

by David Gilbert
Sep 15 2017, 7:00am

It’s a case that has baffled top U.S. intelligence officials for almost a year: 21 U.S. diplomatic staff in Cuba have reported suffering from mysterious injuries ranging from brain swelling to problems concentrating. But despite investigators from the FBI, the State Department, and U.S. intelligence agencies looking into these reports, there’s still no clear explanation as to what, or who, is causing the maladies.

A new report by AP on the continuing investigation has uncovered more details about the extent of injuries suffered by U.S. diplomats in Cuba, which were initially thought to be caused by some sort of sonic weapon. But this explanation is now unlikely, as details uncovered in the report show that the facts and physics just don’t add up.

“None of this has a reasonable explanation,” Fulton Armstrong, a former CIA official who served in Havana before the U.S. re-opened an embassy there, told AP. “It’s just mystery after mystery after mystery.”

The report is based on interviews with more than a dozen current and former U.S. officials, Cuban officials, and others briefed on the investigation, with the State Department confirming Thursday that the injury list now totals 21, two more than previously revealed.

The range of injuries and the circumstances around them vary wildly, adding to investigators confusion.

The list of injuries includes dizziness, nausea, severe headaches, balance problems, and tinnitus. In some cases victims’ symptoms have been chronic, including an inability to concentrate or recall certain words – signs of more serious damage than the U.S. government initially realized.

Some victims reported they knew an attack was happening, feeling a vibration or loud ringing in their ears. Others said that if they moved a few feet, the ringing would stop. This laser-like specificity to the attacks is baffling investigators, especially since in other cases the attacks have been more broad.

The attacks took place when diplomats were in their own homes, and in one case, an episode happened in a bedroom on the upper floor of the recently renovated Hotel Capri.

Reports of the injuries first surfaced in October 2016, but some victims didn’t report symptoms until much later on.

The U.S. initially blamed the Cuban government, expelling two Cuban diplomats from Washington in May, but it is understood the Cuban government has been very cooperative with investigators, and U.S. officials are now open to multiple theories about the origin of the attacks.

These still include the possibility that Cuba’s government was behind the incidents, but they also allow for a rogue faction within U.S. security forces; another nation state trying to cover its tracks, such as Russia; or an advanced espionage operation gone really wrong.

Five Canadian diplomatic families have also reported similar symptoms, with officials saying that all those affected have since recovered.

The Cuban government has denied all wrongdoing, issuing a statement in August that said: “Cuba has never permitted, nor will permit, that Cuban territory be used for any action against accredited diplomatic officials or their families, with no exception.”