The victims of a mysterious attack on US diplomats in China have spoken out about their experiences. CBS News reports that spouses, children, and even family pets have also experienced neurological symptoms.
Beginning in 2016, 25 members of the diplomatic staff at the US embassy in Havana experienced neurological symptoms and unexplained brain trauma. The embassy is now being staffed as an “unoccupied post” which is defined as a post where family members are not permitted to reside.
Canada reported 15 members of its staff stationed in Cuba also have unexplained brain symptoms and the families of Canadian diplomats were called home last April. The AP reported in June that the Canadian government stated that “medical information raised concerns for a new type of a possible acquired brain injury”.
In late May and then again in June 2018, the US government issued a warning to staff in Guangzhou, China after one official reported symptoms similar to those that had occurred in Cuba and was diagnosed with a mild traumatic brain injury. The warning urged individuals to “be attentive of symptoms including “dizziness, headaches, tinnitus, fatigue, cognitive issues, visual problems, ear complaints and hearing loss, and difficulty sleeping” and urged them to move to a different location instead of attempting to locate the source of any “unidentified auditory sensation”.
Now, at least 15 individuals in China have suffered from unexplained symptoms that are strikingly similar to what was experienced in Cuba.
A team of producers from 60 Minutes spoke to three US officials who ended up with neurological symptoms while posted in China: State Department security officer Mark Lenzi and Robyn Garfield and Catherine Werner, both Commerce Department trade officers. In addition, a diplomat, who experienced what she calls an attack while in Cuba spoke to 60 Minutes. She is the first diplomat from Cuba to speak out.
The four diplomats detail persistent symptoms such as headaches, lightheadedness, dizziness, nausea and memory loss that began soon after they started hearing sounds such as metal grinding or insects chirping.
Lenzi described the sound to 60 Minutes: “Picture holding a marble. Then, picture if you had like a six foot in diameter funnel, metal funnel. The sound that marble would make as it goes around and it progressively gets faster as it gets, goes down towards the hole at the end. It’s a sound like I’ve never heard before.” He said the sound was always over his son’s crib and always before they went to bed.
The affected personnel from both Cuba and China are being studied and treated in Pennsylvania. Douglas Smith, director of University of Pennsylvania’s Center for Brain Injury and Repair, told CNN in September, “It’s almost like a concussion, but without a concussion — meaning that they look like individuals who have persistent concussion symptoms but have no history of head impact.”
While some have suggested mass hysteria or a conversion disorder as the explanation, the 60 Minutes’ producers say their investigation spanned almost a year and that the medical records of the victims are compelling. The conclusion 60 Minutes has drawn is that a hostile government is targeting Americans abroad.
While a sonic weapon was the initial theory, microwaves are now suspected to be the culprit. The Frey effect, named after the American scientist, Allan Frey, who discovered that microwaves can trick the brain into perceiving them as ordinary sounds, may explain the symptoms experienced by the Cuba and China victims.
Both China and Cuba have denied any knowledge or involvement in an attack on Americans. Rex Tillerson, Secretary of State when the attack in Cuba was discovered, stopped short of blaming Cuba but did blame them for allowing the attacks to continue.
Last September, a State Department official told the House Foreign Affairs committee, “The State Department has come to the determination that they were attacks.” Russia is considered the main suspect for both attacks and NBC News reports that communications intercepts back up that suspicion.
In May 2018, Mike Pompeo said, “We had an incident in Guangzhou that the medical indications are very similar and entirely consistent with the medical indications that have taken place to Americans working in Cuba. “
However, now the State Department is telling 14 of the individuals reporting symptoms after being in China that their medical condition is not the same as the Havana victims. Catherine Werner has been determined to match the Havana group of victims. The remainder of the China staff feel “isolated and left behind by the State Department”, according to a letter from Senator Jeanne Shaheen wrote to Mike Pompeo. She points out that the disparity of treatment is leaving the China staff without adequate support as their medical benefits and livelihoods are in question.
Lenzi says the US government is trying to cover it up. Robyn Garfield was told by State Department physicians that his symptoms are the result of an old baseball injury. That explanation does not explain the symptoms his wife and children experienced. He points out that the relationship between the US and China is a complicated one and that reality is determining how the US is treating this case.
The State Department told 60 Minutes, “We will continue to provide our colleagues the care they need, regardless of their diagnosis or the location of their medical evacuation.” One State Department official to 60 Minutes that, while the Cuba staff were the victims of an attack, the same determination has not been made about the China patients.
The FBI continues to investigate the injuries sustained to determine what and who caused them so that future injuries can be prevented.