Russians Suspected in Mystery Attacks on US Diplomats

US Embassy in Havana, Cuba at night. Photo by Bjen78

On Tuesday NBC News reported “U.S. officials suspect Russia in mystery ‘attacks’ on diplomats in Cuba, China,” citing “the strong suspicion that Russia was behind the alleged attacks is backed by signals intelligence, meaning intercepted communications, say U.S. officials.”

WASHINGTON — Intelligence agencies investigating mysterious “attacks” that led to brain injuries in U.S. personnel in Cuba and China consider Russia to be the main suspect, three U.S. officials and two others briefed on the investigation tell NBC News.

The suspicion that Russia is likely behind the alleged attacks is backed up by evidence from communications intercepts, known in the spy world as signals intelligence, amassed during a lengthy and ongoing investigation involving the FBI, the CIA and other U.S. agencies. The officials declined to elaborate on the nature of the intelligence.

NBC News September 11, 2018


On August 9, 2017 NBC News reported that the US first leaned about mysterious ‘incidents’ on US Diplomats in Cuba in late 2016.

It was coming at a time when former President Obama had just renewed American-Cuban relations for the first time in 54 years the year before. Opening up travel and being the first president to visit Cuba in 88 years. A Cuban Embassy was opened in Washington, DC on July 20, 2015 in a ceremony (C-SPAN) where, ‘the same flag that was lowered 54 years ago was raised outside the Cuban Embassy,” putting strain on the new relationship.

U.S. State Department’s spokeswoman Heather Nauert had told reporters earlier that week US embassy workers in Cuba had returned back to the US for “non life-threatening ‘medical reasons’.”

US embassy workers were evacuated out of Cuba, being sent back to the states for medical examination, Nauert said, adding they had no answers yet what had caused the workers symptoms and they were “monitoring it.” An unnamed “U.S. government official,” NBC reported, said, “several” workers had been evacuated back to the states for “hearing problems and other symptoms over the past six months.”

Cuba vehemently denied any involvement and vowed it was “investigating allegations by the United States that unspecified “incidents” caused physical symptoms in Americans serving at the U.S. Embassy in Havana, after two Washington-based Cuban diplomats were expelled,” NBC reported at that time, saying they had “started a ‘comprehensive, priority and urgent investigation’ after they had been informed in February about the alleged attacks. The Cuban diplomats had been expelled in May.

Then came the news out of Toronto in September 2017 that “at least five Canadian diplomatic families were affected by mysterious “sonic attacks” in Cuba that left them with symptoms including hearing loss, headaches and dizziness.” Though unlike some of the U.S. diplomats all the Canadians affected had recovered from the initial symptoms.

Then, in May and again in June 2018 came the news reports about US diplomatic workers in the southern city of Guangzhou in China.

“US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said … and incident involving a US government employee stationed in China who reported “abnormal sensations of sound and pressure” suggesting a mild brain injury has medical indications that are “very similar” and “very consistent” to those experienced by American diplomats posted in Havana.” (CNN)

(For more on the attacks on US diplomats in China read The News Blender reports here and for the second subsequent June attack, TNB report here.)

With US service diplomats in China being attacked the case of the Havana attacks broadens. By now the number of American workers and their families in Havana have grown to 24, all of them “stricken with headaches, nausea, hearing loss, cognitive issues and other symptoms after saying they heard odd sounds,” the NYT reports in June, which strained the newly developed American-Cuban relations and expelling their diplomats, now raised suspicions others might be suspected, such as China itself, or Russia, could be to blame. Maybe both.

Now things get more complicated in what are already strained relations ramping up. At first, rumors of Russia could be to blame for the attacks on US personnel in Cuba to try to undermine the new relationship just starting in 2016 and because of their meddling in the 2016 US elections. But with US personnel in China being attacked, the NYTs adds, because of the Trump administration’s trade wars with China erupting and the upcoming “summit” with North Korea’s Kim Jong-un and President Trump, thoughts turned to China might be trying to “undermine relations with North Korea.” Or were they even attacks at all?

Then came the NYT’s September 1 report saying, ‘Microwave Weapons Are Prime Suspect in Ills of U.S. Embassy Workers”

During the Cold War, Washington feared that Moscow was seeking to turn microwave radiation into covert weapons of mind control.
More recently, the American military itself sought to develop microwave arms that could invisibly beam painfully loud booms and even spoken words into people’s heads. The aims were to disable attackers and wage psychological warfare.

Now, doctors and scientists say such unconventional weapons may have caused the baffling symptoms and ailments that, starting in late 2016, hit more than three dozen American diplomats and family members in Cuba and China. The Cuban incidents resulted in a diplomatic rupture between Havana and Washington.

New York Times September 1, 2018

According to a detailed report released by JAMA in March there were no mention of microwaves, the NYT’s reports, but the paper’s lead author Douglas H. Smith who is the director for the Center for Brain Injury and Repair at University of Pennsylvania has now said that “microwaves were now considered a main suspect and that the team was increasingly sure the diplomats had suffered brain injury.”

“In particular, a growing number of analysts cite an eerie phenomenon known as the Frey effect, named after Allan H. Frey, an American scientist. Long ago, he found that microwaves can trick the brain into perceiving what seem to be ordinary sounds.”

When asked about the theory of microwaves the State Department said they “had yet to identify the cause or the source of the attacks” and that the F.B.I. declined to comment “on the status of the investigation or any theories.

Then, on September 4 came the news that the Government Accountability Office released a report saying “a communications breakdown within State Department delayed by more than half a year the creation of a special panel to assess the response to mysterious health “attacks” on U.S. diplomats that led to brain injury, according to a report from congressional investigators obtained by NBC News.”

The report has not been released to the public.

It cites, according to NBC’s report, that it wasn’t until eight months after diplomatic employees started being evacuated from Havana that the unit responsible at the State Department for setting up the panel to investigate the response had only learned about it from media reports in August 2017.

The State Department’s medical unit, Western Hemisphere Affairs bureau and Diplomatic Security service were all aware of what was happening but failed to inform the State Department management office responsible for initiating the establishment of an accountability review board. In the meantime, 80 workers were medically evaluated and 16 found to have brain injuries. More were discovered later, including after new incidents were reported.

By law, the board must be set up within 60 days of an incident that seriously injures a diplomat abroad. Its mandate is to look into whether the government responded appropriately. Examples of past high-profile review boards include the one that investigated the U.S. response to the attacks in 2012 attack in Benghazi, Libya, that killed four Americans.

NBC News September 11, 2018

The GAO has determined that the State Department has “no policy” in place for the information to flow to management to start the process for setting up a review panel, but that in response to the GAO’s reports, has “pledged to make improvements.”

According to NBC’s report released on September 11, the evidence is not “conclusive enough” to “formally” assign blame to the Russians and any “precise motive remains unclear.” Though one thing is clear, the attacks have caused “a major rupture in U.S.-Cuba relations.”

State Department officials testified last week on September 6 before Congress’ House Foreign Affairs Committee and all were “unanimous that the incidents should be considered “attacks.” Ambassador Peter Boode, who now leads the State Dept.’s panel to investigate the response said, “the State Department has come to the determination they were attacks.” 

In the meantime, “Trump administration officials, congressional aides and other briefed on the investigations” say the military are working to “reverse-engineer the weapon or weapons used to harm the diplomats…including by testing various devices on animals,” and say they are also turning to an Air Force energy research program at Kirtland Air Force Base in New Mexico who have “giant lasers and advanced laboratories to test high-power electromagnetic weapons, including microwaves.”

On A Side Note (Opinion)

I sincerely apologize for the length, the more I got into it, the more obvious it became it was only getting worse and wanted to make sure everyone had access to all the data and updates to date.

I highly recommend readers click over to the New York Times September 1 report. It goes into much greater detail than for the purpose of this ICYMI news. They speak of things like “Members of Jason, a  secretive group of elite scientists that helps the federal government…” and go into greater detail about Mr. Frey, who is now 83 and “served as a contractor and consultant to a number of federal agencies” and his work.

And a few other goodies, all with links, which I found interesting.

But, then, it is the NYT’s so it could all just be FAKE NEWS! ™.

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