What did U.S. Em­bassy work­ers hear in Cuba?

Record­ings of sonic at­tacks sent to in­tel­li­gence ser­vices, navy for acous­tic anal­y­sis


WASH­ING­TON— It sounds sort of like a mass of crick­ets. A high-pitched 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-on-the-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, such as 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 spokesper­son 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 Raúl 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 record­ing be­ing re­leased by the AP has been dig­i­tally en­hanced to in­crease vol­ume and re­duce back­ground noise, but has not been oth­er­wise al­tered.

The sound seemed to man­i­fest in pulses of vary­ing lengths — seven sec­onds, 12 sec­onds, two sec­onds — with some sus­tained pe­ri­ods of sev­eral min­utes or more. Then there would be si­lence for a sec­ond, or 13 sec­onds, or four sec­onds, be­fore the sound abruptly started again.

Acloser ex­am­i­na­tion of one record­ing re­veals it’s not just a sin­gle sound. Roughly 20 or more dif­fer­ent fre­quen­cies, or pitches, are em­bed­ded in it, the AP dis­cov­ered us­ing a spec­trum an­a­lyzer, which mea­sures a sig­nal’s fre­quency and am­pli­tude.

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

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