US officials have issued a health alert to Americans in China after an incident in southern China resulted in an US government official being diagnosed with a mild traumatic brain injury after experiencing “abnormal sensations of sound and pressure”.
The incident took place in Guangzhou with the US official reporting symptoms from late last year through April 2018. CNN reports that after the individual was sent back to the states for medical evaluation, the US Embassy in Beijing was informed on May 18 that the injury was consistent with a mild traumatic brain injury similar to what diplomats in Havana experienced last year.
Secretary of State Mike Pompeo stated on Wednesday morning that the State Department is looking into the incident as a possible “sonic attack”, they are moving medical teams into the area, and the Chinese government is committed to providing the assistance requested by the State Department.
According to the alert issued by the US State Department on Wednesday, the cause of the injuries to the employee in China remains unknown, but officials were not aware of other similar symptoms among the diplomatic community in the country.
The spokeswoman at the US Embassy in Beijing told CNN the State Department was taking the incident “very seriously” and was working to determine the cause and impact of it.
“The Chinese government has assured us they are also investigating and taking appropriate measures,” the spokeswoman said.
The State Department said in its Wednesday statement that anyone who experienced “unusual acute auditory or sensory phenomena” while in China should move away from the source of the noise.
This incident is being called “entirely consistent” with and “very similar” to injuries sustained by American diplomats in Cuba in 2016 and 2017. The mysterious incident resulted in at least 24 diplomats and family member falling ill and the US Embassy in Havana being staffed at a minimum level. Canadian diplomats reported similar symptoms.
At a congressional hearing in January, US officials detailed how personnel came to experience a variety of symptoms including sharp ear pain, headaches, ringing in one ear, vertigo, disorientation, attention issues and signs consistent with mild traumatic brain injury or concussion. In nearly all cases, the ailments were preceded by some sort of “acoustic element,” such as a “high-pitched beam of sound” or a “baffling sensation akin to driving with the windows partially open in a car.”
The American Embassy in Havana is operating as an “unaccompanied post” which is defined as a post where family members are not permitted to reside. In November 2016, US officials at the embassy began to experience strange symptoms which were sometimes accompanied by sounds of metal grinding or chirping insects. Sounds and symptoms immediately stopped if the individuals left the room, suggesting that a precise, possibly sonic, weapon was being used to attack them.
In January, CNN reported the State Department was investigating the attacks, which the Cuban government denies having anything to do with, instead suggesting mass hysteria might explain the injuries. Then Secretary of State Rex Tillerson fell short of blaming the Cuban government for the attacks but held them responsible for allowing them to continue. Recently confirmed Secretary of State Pompeo stated on Wednesday that he expects to have a report regarding the incidents in Cuba by the middle of next week.