World News

25th Person at U.S. Embassy in Cuba Is Mysteriously Sickened

Posted June 21, 2018 10:55 p.m. EDT

Another diplomat working at the U.S. Embassy in Havana has been sickened by a mysterious attack, bringing to 25 the number of personnel who have fallen ill there, the State Department said on Thursday.

The case was the first confirmed in Cuba since August and could suggest that whatever caused the illnesses in late 2016 and the first part of 2017 had started again or was continuing. Complicating the situation for officials was news this spring that at least one diplomat at a consulate in Guangzhou, China, had experienced symptoms almost identical to those reported by diplomats in Havana.

Officials have frankly admitted in background conversations that they still have no idea who or what may be behind the attacks, but a growing number of committees and organizations are looking into the problem, including an interagency working group led by the deputy secretary of state, John J. Sullivan, with representatives from the Department of Health and Human Services and the Justice Department.

“The interagency community continues to work diligently to determine the cause of the symptoms, as well as develop mitigation measures,” Heather Nauert, the State Department spokeswoman, said at an afternoon news briefing.

Another employee from the Havana embassy is still being evaluated by doctors to determine if that person fits the profile of those who have fallen ill, Nauert said.

The State Department has brought dozens of diplomats and other personnel back from China and Cuba for evaluation, in some cases to obtain baseline health information in case problems arise later.

The affected personnel exhibited several health problems that resemble those caused by mild brain trauma such as a concussion, including sharp ear pain, dull headaches, tinnitus, vertigo, disorientation, nausea and extreme fatigue.

In April, the first diplomat to be evacuated from Guangzhou complained of hearing odd sounds and experiencing headaches and dizziness, symptoms almost identical to the ones diplomats in Cuba complained of.

U.S. investigators initially said the illnesses in Cuba could have been the result of a sonic attack, although experts have since expressed skepticism that any kind of sonic weapon could have produced the problems reported.

But even after backing away from the notion of a sonic weapon, officials said they were certain that a deliberate attack had occurred, one they said could not have happened without the Cuban government being aware of it. Such suspicions were part of the reason Cuban diplomats were expelled from the United States last year, further damaging relations between the countries.

But even though China has a surveillance infrastructure at least as sophisticated and pervasive as Cuba’s, State Department officials have been careful not to make similar accusations of culpability toward Beijing.

“I think we can’t combine the issues in that kind of way and assume that because one may have known, the other may have known as well,” Nauert said Thursday, referring to the governments of Cuba and China. “I can just share with you that the State Department has expressed its concern with both governments. Both governments have pledged their cooperation, and we expect that they will continue to cooperate with our investigations.”