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Mysterious sonic attacks on US diplomats appear to be right out of a spy book

By JOSH LEDERMAN, MICHAEL WEISSENSTEIN and MATTHEW LEE
Associated Press

WASHINGTON (AP) – The shrieking, grinding noise jolted the American diplomat from his bed in a Havana hotel. He moved simply a few feet, and there was silence. He climbed back into bed. Inexplicably, the agonizing noise hit him again. It was as if he ‘d walked through some invisible wall cutting directly through his room.

Soon came the hearing loss, and the speech problems, signs both similar and altogether different from others among a minimum of 21 U.S. victims in an astonishing global mystery still unfolding in Cuba. The leading U.S. diplomat has actually called them “health attacks.” New details discovered by The Associated Press indicate a minimum of some of the occurrences were confined to specific rooms and even parts of rooms with laser-like uniqueness, complicated U.S. officials who say the facts and the physics don’t accumulate.

“None of this has a sensible 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 secret after mystery.”

Suspicion at first focused on a sonic weapon, and on the Cubans. Yet the medical diagnosis of moderate brain injury, thought about not likely to arise from noise, has actually confused the FBI, the State Department and U.S. intelligence agencies involved in the investigation.

Some victims now have problems concentrating or remembering particular words, several officials stated, the most recent indications of more severe damage than the U.S. federal government initially understood. The United States first acknowledged the attacks in August – 9 months after symptoms were first reported.

It may appear the things of sci-fi books, of the cloak-and-dagger rivalries that have not completely dissipated regardless of the historical U.S.-Cuban rapprochement two years ago that appeared 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 typically been all too genuine.

The Trump administration still hasn’t recognized a perpetrator or a device to discuss the attacks, according to interviews with more than a lots present and previous U.S. officials, Cuban authorities and others briefed on the examination. A lot of weren’t authorized to go over the probe and demanded anonymity.

“The examination into all of this is still under way. It is an aggressive examination,” State Department spokeswoman Heather Nauert stated Thursday. “We will continue doing this till we discover who or exactly what is accountable for this.”

In truth, nearly absolutely nothing about what decreased in Havana is clear. Private investigators have tested several theories about an intentional attack – by Cuba’s federal government, a rogue faction of its security forces, a third nation like Russia, or some combination thereof. Yet they’ve exposed the possibility an innovative espionage operation went terribly awry, or that some other, less dubious explanation is to blame.

Aside from their houses, officials said Americans were attacked in a minimum of one hotel, a reality not formerly divulged. An incident happened on an upper flooring of the just recently renovated Hotel Capri, a 60-year-old concrete tower actions from the Malecon, Havana’s iconic, waterside boardwalk.

The cases vary deeply: various signs, different recollections of exactly what occurred. That’s exactly what makes the puzzle so tough to split.

In numerous episodes recounted by U.S. authorities, victims knew it was taking place in real time, and there were strong signs of a sonic attack.

Some felt vibrations, and heard noises – loud ringing or a high-pitch chirping just like crickets or cicadas. Others heard the grinding noise. Some victims woke up with ringing in their ears and fumbled for their alarm clocks, only to find the ringing stopped when they moved far from their beds.

The attacks appeared to come in the evening. Several victims reported they was available in minute-long bursts.

Yet others heard absolutely nothing, felt absolutely nothing. Later, their symptoms came.

The scope keeps widening. On Tuesday, the State Department disclosed that doctors had validated another 2 cases, bringing the overall American victims to 21. Some have mild distressing brain injury, called a concussion, and others permanent hearing loss.

Even the possible intention is unclear. Private investigators are at a loss to describe why Canadians were hurt, too, consisting of some who reported nosebleeds. Fewer than 10 Canadian diplomatic homes in Cuba were affected, a Canadian authorities stated. Unlike the U.S., Canada has kept warm ties to Cuba for decades.

Noise and health professionals are equally baffled. Targeted, localized beams of sound are possible, however the laws of acoustics suggest such a device would most likely be large and not easily hidden. Officials stated it’s uncertain whether the gadget’s results were localized by design or due to some other technical aspect.

And no single, sonic device seems to explain such an odd, inconsistent variety of physical actions.

“Mental retardation and concussions, it’s not possible,” said Joseph Pompei, a former MIT scientist and psychoacoustics professional. “Somebody would have to submerge their head into a swimming pool lined with extremely powerful ultrasound transducers.”

Other symptoms have actually consisted of brain swelling, dizziness, queasiness, extreme headaches, balance problems and tinnitus, or extended ringing in the ears. Lots of victims have actually shown improvement given that leaving Cuba and some suffered just minor or temporary symptoms.

After the United States grumbled to Cuba’s federal government earlier this year and Canada spotted its own cases, the FBI and the Royal Canadian Mounted Cops traveled to Havana to investigate.

FBI investigators swept the rooms, trying to find devices. They discovered absolutely nothing, numerous authorities informed on the examination said.

In Might, Washington expelled two Cuban diplomats to oppose the communist federal government’s failure to secure Americans serving there. But the United States has actually taken pains not to implicate Havana of committing the attacks. It’s a sign detectives believe that even if aspects of Cuba’s security forces were included, it wasn’t always directed from the top.

Cuba’s government declined to answer specific questions about the incidents, indicating a previous Foreign Affairs Ministry declaration rejecting any participation, swearing full cooperation and saying it was dealing with the situation “with utmost significance.”

“Cuba has never ever, nor would it ever, allow that the Cuban territory be utilized for any action versus recognized diplomatic agents or their households, without exception,” the Cuban declaration said.

After half a century of estrangement, the U.S. and Cuba in 2015 restored diplomatic ties in between countries separated by a simple 90 miles of water. Embassies were re-opened and constraints on travel and commerce relieved. President Donald Trump has reversed a few of those modifications, but left others in place.

Mark Feierstein, who managed the Cuba detente on President Barack Obama’s National Security Council, kept in mind that Cuban authorities have actually been uncharacteristically cooperative with the examination.

If the Trump administration felt great Raul Castro’s government was to blame, it’s most likely the U.S. would have currently taken major punitive steps, like shuttering the newly re-established American Embassy. And the United States hasn’t stopped sending out new diplomats to Cuba even as the victim list grows.

“Had they thought the Cuban government was intentionally attacking American diplomats, that would have had a far more unfavorable effect,” Feierstein stated. “We have not seen that yet.”

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Weissenstein reported from Havana. Associated Press authors Bradley Klapper, Eric Tucker and Lauran Neergaard in Washington, Rob Gillies in Toronto and Jake Pearson in New York contributed.

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