In­de­scrib­able sounds at U.S. Em­bassy in Cuba recorded

But they still don’t help nail down at­tacks on diplo­mats

Richmond Times-Dispatch - - FRONT PAGE - BY JOSH LE­D­ER­MAN AND MICHAEL WEIS­SENSTEIN

WASH­ING­TON — It sounds sort of like a mass of crick­ets. But not quite. A high-pitched whine, but from what? It seems to un­du­late, even writhe. Lis­ten closely: Some hear mul­ti­ple, distinct tones 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, part of the 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 sounds that led in­ves­ti­ga­tors ini­tially

to sus­pect a sonic weapon.

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. Of­fi­cials say the gov­ern­ment still doesn’t know what is re­spon­si­ble for the in­juries, but the U.S. has faulted Cuba for fail­ing to pro­tect U.S. diplo­mats on its soil.

The Navy and the State Depart­ment did not re­spond to re­quests for com­ment on the record­ing. Cuba has de­nied in­volve­ment or knowl­edge of the at­tacks.

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.

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 started again.

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

A closer ex­am­i­na­tion of one record­ing re­veals it’s not just a sin­gle sound. Roughly 20 or more fre­quen­cies, or pitches, are em­bed­ded in it, the AP dis­cov­ered us­ing a de­vice that mea­sures a sig­nal’s fre­quency and am­pli­tude.

To the ear, the mul­ti­ple fre­quen­cies can sound a bit like dis­so­nant keys on a piano be­ing struck all at once. Plot­ted on a graph, the Ha­vana sounds form a se­ries of peaks that jump up from a base­line, like spikes or fin­gers on a hand.

“There are about 20 peaks, and they seem to be equally spaced. All these peaks cor­re­spond to a dif­fer­ent fre­quency,” said Kausik Sarkar, an acous­tics ex­pert and en­gi­neer­ing pro­fes­sor at Ge­orge Wash­ing­ton Univer­sity who re­viewed the record­ing with the AP.

Those fre­quen­cies might be only part of the pic­ture. Con­ven­tional record­ing de­vices and tools to mea­sure sound may not pick up very high or low fre­quen­cies, such as those above or be­low what the hu­man ear can hear. In­ves­ti­ga­tors have ex­plored whether in­fra­sound or ul­tra­sound might be at play in the Ha­vana at­tacks.

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 their 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 mem­bers that 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 said, adding that the num­ber could grow. The at­tacks started last year and are con­sid­ered on­go­ing, with an in­ci­dent re­ported as re­cently as late Au­gust.

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.

The record­ings also ap­pear to rule out one pos­si­bil­ity for a high-tech weapon: elec­tro­mag­netic pulses.

The broad ar­ray of symp­toms re­ported, in­clud­ing those not eas­ily ex­plained by sound waves, had led to ques­tions of a pos­si­ble mi­crowave or ra­diowave de­vice fry­ing body tis­sue from afar.

Re­search con­ducted by the U.S. mil­i­tary decades ago showed that short, in­tense “pulses” of mi­crowaves could af­fect tis­sue in the head in a way that was in­ter­preted by the ear as sound, mean­ing that a mi­crowave de­vice could po­ten­tially beam sounds di­rectly into peo­ple’s heads.

If that were the case, the sounds wouldn’t show up on a record­ing.

2015, THE AS­SO­CI­ATED PRESS

Cuba has em­pha­sized its ea­ger­ness to help solve the mys­tery at the U.S. Em­bassy.

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