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Mystery deepens over ‘health attacks’ on US diplomats in Cuba

World News | Published:

There are 21 reported US victims but as-yet no ‘reasonable explanation’ and officials are baffled.

New details have emerged about alleged “health attacks” on US diplomats in Cuba which indicate at least some of the incidents were confined to specific rooms or even parts of rooms with laser-like specificity.

The Associated Press learned that in one case, an American diplomat was jolted from his bed in a Havana hotel by a blaring, grinding noise. It went silent when he moved a few feet away, and returned when he stepped back into bed.

Soon he began suffering from hearing loss and speech problems, symptoms both similar and different from others among at least 21 US victims.

One incident occurred in the Hotel Capri. (Desmond Boylan/AP)
One incident occurred in the Hotel Capri. (Desmond Boylan/AP)

The incidents, which the American called “health attacks”, have been baffling US officials who say the facts and the physics do not 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. “It’s just mystery after mystery after mystery.”

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 US intelligence agencies.

Hotel Capri is a 60-year-old concrete tower in Havana. (Desmond Boylan/AP)
Hotel Capri is a 60-year-old concrete tower in Havana. (Desmond Boylan/AP)

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The United States first acknowledged the attacks in August – nine months after symptoms were first reported. Investigators have tested several theories but have left open the possibility an advanced espionage operation went horribly awry, or that some other explanation is to blame.

Aside from their homes, officials said Americans were attacked in at least one hotel. An incident occurred on an upper floor of the recently renovated Hotel Capri, a 60-year-old concrete tower steps from the Malecon, Havana’s famous waterside promenade.

The Hotel Capri has recently been renovated. (Desmond Boylan/AP)
The Hotel Capri has recently been renovated. (Desmond Boylan/AP)

The scope keeps widening. On Tuesday, the State Department disclosed that doctors had confirmed another two cases, bringing the total American victims to 21. Some have mild traumatic brain injury, known as a concussion, and others permanent hearing loss.

Investigators are at a loss to explain why Canadians were also harmed, including some who reported nosebleeds. Fewer than 10 Canadian diplomatic households in Cuba were affected, a Canadian official said. Many victims have shown improvement since leaving Cuba and some suffered only minor or temporary symptoms.

Cuba’s government pointed to a previous Foreign Affairs Ministry statement denying any involvement, vowing full co-operation and saying it was treating the situation “with utmost importance”. “Cuba has never, nor would it ever, allow that the Cuban territory be used for any action against accredited diplomatic agents or their families, without exception,” it said.

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