U.S. ex­pels two diplo­mats af­ter mysterious in­ci­dents

Noise de­vices hurt of­fi­cials’ hear­ing

The Washington Times Daily - - WORLD - BY MATTHEW LEE AND MICHAEL WEIS­SENSTEIN

The State De­part­ment has ex­pelled two diplo­mats from the Cuban Em­bassy in Washington fol­low­ing a se­ries of un­ex­plained in­ci­dents in Cuba that left U.S. of­fi­cials there with phys­i­cal symp­toms that one of­fi­cial said in­clude po­ten­tially per­ma­nent hear­ing loss.

Spokes­woman Heather Nauert said the two Cubans were asked to leave the U.S. on May 23 af­ter Amer­i­cans in Cuba “re­ported in­ci­dents which have caused a va­ri­ety of phys­i­cal symp­toms,” caus­ing them to leave the is­land.

Ms. Nauert said the first of the in­ci­dents was re­ported in late 2016 and that they had con­tin­ued. She would not say what the symp­toms were ex­cept that they were not life-threat­en­ing. Ms. Nauert also de­clined to pro­vide de­tails about the in­ci­dents. The FBI and Diplo­matic Se­cu­rity Ser­vice are in­ves­ti­gat­ing.

How­ever, other U.S. of­fi­cials said that the symp­toms in­cluded hear­ing loss.

One per­son fa­mil­iar with the U.S. in­ves­ti­ga­tion said in­ves­ti­ga­tors were look­ing into whether el­e­ments of the Cuban gov­ern­ment placed sonic de­vices that pro­duce nonaudi­ble sound in­side or out­side the res­i­dences of roughly five U.S. Em­bassy staffers with the in­tent of deaf­en­ing them. That in­di­vid­ual and the U.S. of­fi­cials weren’t au­tho­rized to dis­cuss the in­ves­ti­ga­tion pub­licly and spoke on con­di­tion of anonymity.

Cuba em­ploys a mas­sive state se­cu­rity ap­pa­ra­tus that keeps hun­dreds, and pos­si­bly thou­sands, of peo­ple un­der con­stant sur­veil­lance. U.S. diplo­mats are among the most closely mon­i­tored peo­ple on the is­land. It’s vir­tu­ally im­pos­si­ble for any­one to take ac­tion against an Amer­i­can diplo­mat with­out an el­e­ment of the Cuban state be­ing aware.

How­ever, the per­son fa­mil­iar with the U.S. probe said in­ves­ti­ga­tors were look­ing into whether the in­di­vid­u­als were harmed out­side the reg­u­lar chain of com­mand of the Cuban gov­ern­ment.

The of­fi­cials said the staffers all ar­rived in Ha­vana in the sum­mer of 2016. Like all for­eign diplo­mats in Cuba, they lived in hous­ing owned and main­tained by the Cuban gov­ern­ment.

In the fall, of­fi­cials said the af­fected diplo­mats and their spouses be­gan to ex­pe­ri­ence symp­toms of hear­ing loss so se­vere and puz­zling that an in­ves­ti­ga­tion was launched, and it was de­ter­mined that they were at risk. They were al­lowed to leave Cuba, the of­fi­cials said. No chil­dren were af­fected, but at least some of the adults are be­lieved to have suf­fered per­ma­nent hear­ing loss, ac­cord­ing to the of­fi­cials. They said the Cuban gov­ern­ment had de­nied any in­volve­ment.

Although she would not pro­vide de­tails, Ms. Nauert said that in­ves­ti­ga­tors did not yet have a de­fin­i­tive ex­pla­na­tion for the in­ci­dents but stressed they take them “very se­ri­ously” and are work­ing to de­ter­mine their “cause and im­pact.” She said the de­part­ment had re­minded Cuba of its in­ter­na­tional obli­ga­tion to pro­tect for­eign diplo­mats.

Ha­rass­ment of U.S. diplo­mats in Cuba is not un­com­mon and dates to the restora­tion of lim­ited ties with the com­mu­nist gov­ern­ment in the 1970s. But the use of sonic de­vices to in­ten­tion­ally harm diplo­mats would mark a new phase in ha­rass­ment.

Pres­i­dent Obama en­gi­neered a ma­jor change in bi­lat­eral re­la­tions in late 2014, eas­ing the half-cen­tury-old eco­nomic em­bargo of the is­land and re-es­tab­lish­ing for­mal diplo­matic ties with Ha­vana. But Pres­i­dent Trump has or­dered a pause in the thaw­ing re­la­tion­ship, tight­en­ing travel re­stric­tions and im­pos­ing a ban on com­merce with state-owned en­ter­prises.

Mr. Trump also said the U.S. would not fully lift the eco­nomic em­bargo un­til the Cuban regime im­proved its human rights record.

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