Even Cas­tro baf­fled by harm to U.S. diplo­mats

Of­fi­cials sur­prised by level of Cuba’s co­op­er­a­tion

Las Vegas Review-Journal (Sunday) - - WORLD - By Josh Le­d­er­man, Michael Weis­senstein and Rob Gil­lies

HA­VANA — Raul Cas­tro seemed rat­tled.

The Cuban pres­i­dent sent for the top Amer­i­can en­voy in the coun­try to ad­dress grave con­cerns about a spate of U.S. 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, sev­eral U.S. of­fi­cials fa­mil­iar with the ex­change told The As­so­ci­ated Press.

In a rare face-to-face con­ver­sa­tion, Cas­tro told U.S. diplo­mat Jef­frey DeLau­ren­tis that he was equally baf­fled, and con­cerned. Pre­dictably, Cas­tro de­nied any re­spon­si­bil­ity. But U.S. of­fi­cials were caught off guard by the way he ad­dressed the mat­ter, de­void of the in­dig­nant, how-dareyou-ac­cuse-us at­ti­tude the U.S. had come to ex­pect from Cuba’s lead­ers.

The Cubans even of­fered to let the FBI come down to Ha­vana to in­ves­ti­gate. Though U.S.-Cuban co­op­er­a­tion has im­proved re­cently — there was a joint “law en­force­ment di­a­logue” Fri­day in Wash­ing­ton — this level of 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. Cuba is in that group.

The list of con­firmed Amer­i­can vic­tims was much shorter on Feb. 17, when the U.S. 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. The de­vel­op­ments have fright­ened Ha­vana’s tight-knit diplo­matic com­mu­nity.

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

learned.

But sev­eral U.S. of­fi­cials say there are real rea­sons to ques­tion whether Cuba per­pe­trated a clan­des­tine cam­paign of ag­gres­sion. The of­fi­cials weren’t au­tho­rized to dis­cuss the on­go­ing in­ves­ti­ga­tion and de­manded anonymity.

When the U.S. has ac­cused Cuba in the past of mis­be­hav­ior, such as ha­rass­ing diplo­mats or crack­ing down on lo­cal dis­si­dents, Ha­vana has of­ten ac­cused Wash­ing­ton of mak­ing it up. This time, although Cas­tro de­nied in­volve­ment, his gov­ern­ment didn’t dis­pute that some­thing trou­bling may have gone down on Cuban soil.

Per­haps the pic­ture was more com­plex? In­ves­ti­ga­tors con­sid­ered whether a rogue fac­tion of Cuba’s se­cu­rity forces had acted pos­si­bly in com­bi­na­tion with an­other coun­try like Rus­sia or North Korea.

For decades, Cuba and the U.S. ha­rassed each other’s diplo­mats. The Cubans might break into homes to re­ar­range fur­ni­ture or leave fe­ces un­flushed in a toi­let. The Amer­i­cans might con­duct ob­vi­ous break-ins and traf­fic stops, punc­ture tires or break head­lights.

Yet those pranks were pri­mar­ily to pester, not to harm.

What U.S. diplo­mats started re­port­ing last Novem­ber was al­to­gether dif­fer­ent.

Diplo­mats and their fam­i­lies were get­ting sick. Some de­scribed bizarre, un­ex­plained sounds, in­clud­ing grind­ing and high-pitched ring­ing.

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