Mys­tery grows on cause of diplomats’ mal­adies

The Mercury News Weekend - - NEWS -

WASH­ING­TON » An as­ton­ish­ing in­ter­na­tional mys­tery still un­fold­ing in Cuba. At least 21 Amer­i­cans are suf­fer­ing from what the top U. S. diplo­mat has called “health at­tacks.”

New de­tails learned by The As­so­ci­ated Press in­di­cate at least some of the in­ci­dents were con­fined to spe­cific rooms or even parts of rooms with laser-like speci­ficity, baf­fling U.S. of­fi­cials who say the facts and the physics don’t add up.

“None of this has a rea­son­able ex­pla­na­tion,” said Ful­ton Arm­strong, a for­mer CIA of­fi­cial who served in Ha­vana long be­fore Amer­ica re-opened an em­bassy there.

Sus­pi­cion ini­tially fo­cused on a sonic weapon, and on the Cubans. Yet the di­ag­no­sis of mild brain in­jury, con­sid­ered un­likely to re­sult from sound, has con­founded the FBI, the State De­part­ment and U.S. in­tel­li­gence agen­cies in­volved in the in­ves­ti­ga­tion.

Some vic­tims now have prob­lems con­cen­trat­ing or re­call­ing spe­cific words, some of­fi­cials said, the lat­est signs of more se­ri­ous dam­age than the U.S. gov­ern­ment ini­tially re­al­ized. The United States first ac­knowl­edged the at­tacks in Au­gust, nine months af­ter symp­toms were re­ported.

It may seem the stuff of sci-fi nov­els, of the cloakand- dag­ger ri­val­ries that haven’t fully dis­si­pated de­spite the his­toric U.S.-Cuban rap­proche­ment two years ago that seemed to bury the weight of the two na­tions’ Cold War en­mity.

But this is Cuba, the land of poi­soned cigars, ex­plod­ing seashells and covert sub­terfuge by Wash­ing­ton and Ha­vana, where the unimag­in­able in es­pi­onage has of­ten been all too real.

The Trump ad­min­is­tra­tion still hasn’t iden­ti­fied a cul­prit or a de­vice to ex­plain the at­tacks, ac­cord­ing to in­ter­views with more than a dozen cur­rent and for­mer U.S. of­fi­cials, Cuban of­fi­cials and oth­ers briefed on the in­ves­ti­ga­tion. Most weren’t au­tho­rized to dis­cuss the probe and de­manded anonymity.

Al­most noth­ing about what went down in Ha­vana is clear. In­ves­ti­ga­tors have tested sev­eral the­o­ries about an in­ten­tional at­tack — by Cuba’s gov­ern­ment, a rogue fac­tion of its se­cu­rity forces, a third coun­try like Rus­sia, or some com­bi­na­tion thereof. Yet they’ve left open the pos­si­bil­ity an ad­vanced es­pi­onage op­er­a­tion went hor­ri­bly awry, or that some other, less ne­far­i­ous ex­pla­na­tion is to blame.

Aside from their homes, of­fi­cials said Amer­i­cans were at­tacked in at least one ho­tel, a fact not pre­vi­ously dis­closed. An in­ci­dent oc­curred on an up­per floor of the newly ren­o­vated Ho­tel Capri, a 60-year-old con­crete tower steps from the Male­con, Ha­vana’s iconic, water­side prom­e­nade.

The cases vary deeply: dif­fer­ent symp­toms, dif­fer­ent rec­ol­lec­tions of what hap­pened — mak­ing the puz­zle dif­fi­cult to crack.

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