Investigations after USA embassy staff in Cuba experience "unexplained hearing loss"

Katrina Barker
August 11, 2017

By that evening, the Associated Press, which has an office in Havana, reported an exceedingly unusual situation. The U.S. embassy in Havana only reopened in 2015 as part of former President Obama's d├ętente with its Caribbean neighbor.

Based on statements from officials with knowledge of the situation, an investigation into the circumstances of this odd phenomenon has been ongoing throughout 2017.

The diplomatic kerfuffle comes at a time of heightened uncertainty over the relationship between the U.S. and Cuba.

Nauert did not provide further details about the cause or consequences of the symptoms, other than to say that they were not life-threatening.

One hypothesis, according to sources who spoke to the BBC, is that the hearing loss could have been caused by a sonic device whose emission of inaudible sound waves could cause deafness if placed outside the diplomats' homes. It's not clear whether the device was meant as a weapon or if it also served some other goal.

Some subsequently got hearing aids, said the official, who spoke on condition of anonymity.

An investigation has been launched by the FBI and outside officials into whether the attack was carried out by a third country such as Russian Federation, possibly operating without the knowledge of the Cuban chain of command.

USA officials told The Associated Press that about five diplomats, several with spouses, had been affected and that no children had been involved.

A subsequent report from CNN compared the symptoms aside from the hearing loss as resembling those of a concussion, suggesting that the sonic devices can damage a brain in a way similar to a physical blow. She said the department does not have any definitive answers about "the source or the cause" of these incidents, and that "some of our people have had the option of leaving Cuba as a result, for medical reasons". She added that they are "monitoring it", and providing any necessary medical care.

A senior official within the Trump administration later told ABC News, "We really don't know exactly what's causing it", adding that Cuba was being "cooperative" with the investigation.

The incidents date to late a year ago, she said.

"We requested their departure as a reciprocal measure since some USA personnel's assignments in Havana had to be curtailed due to these incidents", she said. When asked specifically what the incidents were, Nauert replied, "That's what we're calling it".

The matter had also resulted in the US expulsion of two Cuban diplomats from Washington in late May.

The foreign ministry of Cuba, then released a statement saying that they are investigating the allegations, calling the expulsion of its staff unjustified but said that it was willing to co-operate with Washington to clarify what had happened. Among Obama's policy changes that remained was open diplomatic relations between the two countries.

Other reports by AllAboutTopnews

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