U.S. State Department to probe Cuba incidents amid skepticism of sonic attack theory

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The U.S. State Department will investigate unexplained health issues that American diplomats suffered in Cuba, a Senate committee was told Tuesday.

U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson will convene an Accountability Review Board panel to evaluate cases in which U.S. diplomatic personnel or facilities have been damaged abroad, said Francisco Palmieri, acting assistant secretary of state for Western Hemisphere affairs.

The new probe will be in addition to other U.S. government investigations already underway, including one by the Federal Bureau of Investigation. The Cuban government has denied any role in the incidents, which Washington says injured 24 diplomats and family members, and is conducting its own investigation.

Todd Brown, from State Department’s Diplomatic Security, said investigators are considering other possibilities, including a viral attack. He says the possibility someone deliberately infected people with a virus hasn’t been ruled out.

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Dr. Charles Rosenfarb, from the State Department’s medical unit, said evidence suggests this is “not an episode of mass hysteria.”

He said there are “exact findings” on medical tests that couldn’t be faked easily.

Symptoms suffered by the diplomats have included hearing loss, tinnitus, vertigo, headaches and fatigue, a pattern consistent with “mild traumatic brain injury,” said Charles Rosenfarb, medical director of the State Department’s Bureau of Medical Services.

Some have questioned whether anything malicious occurred and how some individuals could be adversely affected while others in near proximity showed no symptoms.

The hearing comes after The Associated Press reported that a new FBI report shows no evidence for the initial theory of a sonic weapon. The report, dated Jan. 4, doesn’t address other theories and said the FBI will keep investigating until it can show there has been no intentional harm.

Arizona Senator Jeff Flake, one of the few Republicans to be publicly critical of the Trump administration, has said that whatever occurred, it wasn’t a so-called sonic attack.

The reports have emerged only after the change in administration in Washington.

Barack Obama had sought a thawing of a half-century of contentious U.S.-Cuba relations, while Trump has announced his intention to roll back many of his predecessor’s plans concerning the island nation, which is located about 170 kilometres south of Florida.

Several Cuban diplomats were also ordered to leave the U.S.

U.S. State Department spokesperson Heather Nauert said in a briefing in August last year that the symptoms were first being reported internally in the fall of 2016.

An unspecified number of Canadians also were hit by mysterious symptoms in Havana, CBC News has reported, and have all recovered.

US Cuba/Flake-Gardiner

Sen. Cory Gardner of Colorado and Sen. Jeff Flake of Arizona, both Republicans, confer as the Senate foreign relations subcommittee on Tuesday examined incidents involving American diplomats in Havana. (J. Scott Applewhite/Associated Press)

The Cubans have been said to be co-operative as Canada has sent an RCMP delegation and a Health Canada doctor to examine Canadian diplomats, who suffered symptoms such as nosebleeds to short-term memory loss. 

As with their American counterparts, no evidence of wrongdoing has been announced.

http://www.cbc.ca/news/world/state-department-cuba-incidents-1.4479196?cmp=rss