Sound ef­fects: What was heard in pur­ported Cuba at­tacks


WASH­ING­TON — It sounds sort of like a mass of crick­ets. A high­pitched whine, but from what? It seems to un­du­late, even writhe. Lis­ten closely: There are mul­ti­ple, dis­tinct tones that sound to some like they’re col­lid­ing in a nails-on­the-chalk­board ef­fect.

The As­so­ci­ated Press has ob­tained a record­ing of what some U.S. Em­bassy work­ers heard in Ha­vana in a se­ries of un­nerv­ing in­ci­dents later deemed to be de­lib­er­ate at­tacks. The record­ing, re­leased Thurs­day by the AP, is the first dis­sem­i­nated pub­licly of the many taken in Cuba of mys­te­ri­ous sounds that led in­ves­ti­ga­tors ini­tially to sus­pect a sonic weapon.

The record­ings them­selves are not be­lieved to be dan­ger­ous to those who lis­ten. Sound ex­perts and physi­cians say they know of no sound that can cause phys­i­cal dam­age when played for short du­ra­tions at nor­mal lev­els through stan­dard equip­ment like a cell­phone or com­puter.

What de­vice pro­duced the orig­i­nal sound re­mains un­known. Amer­i­cans af­fected in Ha­vana re­ported the sounds hit them at ex­treme vol­umes.

Whether there’s a di­rect re­la­tion­ship between the sound and the phys­i­cal dam­age suf­fered by the vic­tims is also un­clear. The U.S. says that in gen­eral the at­tacks caused hear­ing, cog­ni­tive, vis­ual, bal­ance, sleep and other problems.

The record­ings from Ha­vana have been sent for anal­y­sis to the U.S. Navy, which has ad­vanced ca­pa­bil­i­ties for an­a­lyz­ing acous­tic sig­nals, and to the in­tel­li­gence ser­vices, the AP has learned. But the record­ings have not sig­nif­i­cantly ad­vanced U.S. knowl­edge about what is harm­ing di­plo­mats.

The navy did not re­spond to re­quests for com­ment on the record­ing. State Depart­ment spokes­woman Heather Nauert wouldn’t com­ment on the tape’s au­then­tic­ity.

Cuba has de­nied in­volve­ment or knowl­edge of the at­tacks. The U.S. hasn’t blamed any­one and says it still doesn’t know what or who is re­spon­si­ble.

But the govern­ment has faulted Pres­i­dent Raul Cas­tro’s govern­ment for fail­ing to pro­tect Amer­i­can per­son­nel, and Nauert said Thurs­day that Cuba “may have more in­for­ma­tion than we are aware of right now.”

“We be­lieve that the Cuban govern­ment could stop the at­tacks on our di­plo­mats,” said White House chief of staff John Kelly.

Not all Amer­i­cans in­jured in Cuba heard sounds. Of those who did, it’s not clear they heard pre­cisely the same thing.

Yet the AP has re­viewed sev­eral record­ings from Ha­vana taken un­der dif­fer­ent cir­cum­stances, and all have vari­a­tions of the same high-pitched sound. In­di­vid­u­als who have heard the noise in Ha­vana con­firm the record­ings are gen­er­ally con­sis­tent with what they heard.

“That’s the sound,” one of them said.

The record­ings have been played for work­ers at the U.S. Em­bassy to teach them what to lis­ten for, said sev­eral in­di­vid­u­als with knowl­edge of the sit­u­a­tion in Ha­vana. Some em­bassy em­ploy­ees have also been given record­ing de­vices to turn on if they hear the sounds. The in­di­vid­u­als weren’t au­tho­rized to dis­cuss the sit­u­a­tion pub­licly and de­manded anonymity.

Cuban of­fi­cials wouldn’t say whether the U.S. has shared the record­ings with Cuba’s govern­ment.

An­other big ques­tion re­mains: Even if you know you’re un­der at­tack, what do you do? Still dumb­founded by what’s caus­ing this, the United States has been at a loss to of­fer ad­vice.

The em­bassy’s se­cu­rity of­fi­cials have told staff if they be­lieve they’re be­ing at­tacked, they should get up and move to a dif­fer­ent lo­ca­tion, be­cause the at­tack is un­likely to be able to fol­low them, the com­ment­ing in­di­vid­u­als said. The AP re­ported last month that some peo­ple ex­pe­ri­enced at­tacks or heard sounds that were nar­rowly con­fined to a room or parts of a room.

At least 22 Amer­i­cans are “med­i­cally con­firmed” to be af­fected, the State Depart­ment says, adding that the num­ber could grow.

Cuba has de­fended its “ex­haus­tive and pri­or­ity” re­sponse, em­pha­siz­ing its ea­ger­ness to as­sist the U.S. in­ves­ti­ga­tion. Cuban of­fi­cials did not re­spond to re­quests for com­ment for this story but have com­plained in the past that Wash­ing­ton re­fuses to share in­for­ma­tion they say they need to fully in­ves­ti­gate, such as med­i­cal records, tech­ni­cal data and timely no­ti­fi­ca­tion of at­tacks.

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