The baffling story of US diplomats in Cuba suffering hearing loss and brain damage in some sort of covert “health attack” just gets stranger and more terrifying with every new report. The Associated Press has learned that victims’ recollections and symptoms are even more varied and serious than we previously knew.
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The AP spoke with more than a dozen people from the US and Cuba who have been briefed on the investigation into exactly what’s happening to the diplomats that have been sent to Havana. The attacks allegedly began in late 2016 and Washington has spent this year trying to understand how these envoys could sustain permanent hearing damage, mild traumatic brain injury, and even possible damage to the central nervous system. The State Department has remained tight-lipped on details citing the ongoing investigation and privacy of the victims.
Previous reports claimed that US officials had concluded that “an advanced sonic weapon that operated outside the range of audible sound” had been used to target US diplomats and family members. They believed that the device was either deployed inside or outside the US embassy or the diplomats’ homes. But inspections of those locations by the FBI and the Royal Canadian Mounted Police have turned up nothing. And one incident reportedly occurred at the Hotel Capri in Havana.
According to the AP, the US government is uncertain about nearly every aspect of this case. It doesn’t know how the attacks happened, who is responsible, or why they did it. The officials who were not authorised to speak on the record said that “at least some of the incidents were confined to specific rooms or even parts of rooms with laser-like specificity, baffling U.S. officials who say the facts and the physics don’t add up.”
The most difficult part of the case is that the “incidents” tend to be different depending on the victim. From the report:
In several episodes recounted by U.S. officials, victims knew it was happening in real time, and there were strong indications of a sonic attack.
Some felt vibrations, and heard sounds — loud ringing or a high-pitch chirping similar to crickets or cicadas. Others heard the grinding noise. Some victims awoke with ringing in their ears and fumbled for their alarm clocks, only to discover the ringing stopped when they moved away from their beds.
The attacks seemed to come at night. Several victims reported they came in minute-long bursts.
But in other cases, the victims didn’t hear or feel anything before their symptoms began. The list of afflictions has expanded to include “brain swelling, dizziness, nausea, severe headaches, balance problems and tinnitus, or prolonged ringing in the ears.” And on Tuesday, the State Department announced that two more Americans have been added to the list of victims that now includes 21 cases. The Canadian government claims that less than ten of its diplomatic households have experienced symptoms related to the attacks.
While the US has a long adversarial history with Cuba, Canada has maintained good relations with the country since the US first cut off its diplomatic ties in 1959. That fact could indicate that the Cuban government isn’t responsible for whatever’s going on here, and officials in Havana have allegedly been extremely cooperative with the investigation. There doesn’t seem to be any motive for Cuba to risk screwing up the fragile new relationship with the US. Maybe a rogue actor or another nation is involved, but that still leaves the question of how this is physically possible.
Joseph Pompei, a former MIT researcher and psychoacoustics expert, tells the AP that “somebody would have to submerge their head into a pool lined with very powerful ultrasound transducers” for sound to cause brain damage and concussions. And Dr. Toby Heys, Leader of the Future Technologies research center at Manchester Metropolitan University in the UK, told New Scientist last month that directing ultrasound into the ear cavity could theoretically cause permanent hearing damage but it would require precision targeting with a clear path.
We may be dealing with some type of technology that experts are completely unfamiliar with, or we may be dealing with something else entirely that’s just been overlooked. Whatever it is, it seems that the State Department isn’t really being cagey, it just doesn’t have a clue.