Mys­tery ‘at­tacks’ on US diplomats

Irish Examiner - - World News - Josh Le­d­er­man

Raul Cas­tro ap­pears to be as rat­tled as the Amer­i­cans.

The Cuban president sent for the top Amer­i­can of­fi­cial in the coun­try to ad­dress con­cerns about a spate of US diplomats harmed in Ha­vana. There was talk of fu­tur­is­tic ‘sonic at­tacks’ and the sub­tle threat of reper­cus­sions by the United States, un­til re­cently Cuba’s sworn en­emy.

The way Cas­tro re­sponded sur­prised Wash­ing­ton. In a rare, face-to-face con­ver­sa­tion, Cas­tro told Jef­frey DeLau­ren­tis, the Amer­i­can Em­bassy chief, that he was equally be­fud­dled, and con­cerned. Pre­dictably, Cas­tro de­nied any re­spon­si­bil­ity. But it wasn’t the in­dig­nant, how-dare-you-ac­cuse-us re­sponse the US had come to ex­pect from Cuba’s lead­ers.

The Cubans even of­fered to let the FBI come down to Ha­vana to in­ves­ti­gate. USCuban co­op­er­a­tion on law en­force­ment has in­creased since the de­tente in 2015. Even so, the new ac­cess was ex­tra­or­di­nary.

“Some coun­tries don’t want any more FBI agents in their coun­try than they have to — and that num­ber could be zero,” said Leo Tad­deo, a re­tired FBI su­per­vi­sor, who served abroad.

The list of con­firmed Amer­i­can vic­tims was much shorter on Fe­bru­ary 17, when the US first com­plained to Cuba. To­day, the num­ber of “med­i­cally con­firmed” cases stands at 21 — plus sev­eral Cana­di­ans. Some Amer­i­cans have per­ma­nent hear­ing loss or mild brain in­jury, in­ci­dents that have fright­ened Ha­vana’s tight-knit diplo­matic com­mu­nity.

At least one other na­tion, France, has tested em­bassy staff for po­ten­tial sonic-in­duced in­juries.

But sev­eral US of­fi­cials say there are real rea­sons to ques­tion whether Cuba per­pe­trated a clan­des­tine cam­paign of ag­gres­sion. The of­fi­cials weren’t au­tho­rised to dis­cuss the on­go­ing in­ves­ti­ga­tion.

Diplomats and their fam­i­lies were get­ting sick. Some de­scribed bizarre, un­ex­plained sounds, in­clud­ing grind­ing and high-pitched ring­ing. Vic­tims re­counted how they could walk in and out of what seemed like pow­er­ful beams of sound that hit only cer­tain rooms or even only parts of rooms.

At the time, Wash­ing­ton and Ha­vana were in fran­tic co-op­er­a­tion mode, work­ing fever­ishly be­fore Barack Obama’s pres­i­dency ended.

When the first diplomats came for­ward with their in­ex­pli­ca­ble episodes and symp­toms, the US didn’t con­nect the dots. It took weeks be­fore em­bassy of­fi­cials pieced to­gether “clus­ters” of in­ci­dents, and mul­ti­ple vic­tims with con­firmed health dam­age.

By the time Obama left the White House, on Jan­uary 20, talk had reached some of­fi­cials in Wash­ing­ton.

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