Mystery ‘attacks’ on US diplomats
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.