Political News

Retired ambassador to Libya to lead Cuba attacks review

Posted January 10, 2018 9:43 a.m. EST

— Retired Ambassador Peter Bodde has been tapped to lead the State Department's Accountability Review Board examining the attacks on US diplomats in Cuba, two senior State Department officials tell CNN.

The Accountability Review Board is an internal State Department mechanism to review security incidents involving diplomatic personnel. The most well-known recent review board came after the deadly attack on a diplomatic compound in Benghazi, Libya, in 2012.

Bodde was most recently the US ambassador to Libya between November 2015 and his retirement at the end of last year. He has also served as ambassador to Nepal and Malawi. He joined the Foreign Service in 1981.

Officials acknowledged Bodde's panel will have a difficult mission painting a picture of events in Havana with little evidence beyond the health problems of the 24 diplomats and their family members affected.

"We don't know what happened, how it happened or who did it," one of the officials said. "All we know are the consequences. It's going to be tricky."

This official said that a debate exists within the US government as to whether technology even exists that can cause the symptoms suffered by the diplomats, but added the fact that only diplomats in certain houses and hotel rooms were affected has left little doubt that the diplomats were targeted.

"Unless aliens beamed in from Venus, they were attacked," the official said.

Officials say the Cuban government has cooperated and with the FBI investigation, with another official describing Havana's cooperation as "forthcoming."

"They did exactly what we would have done in this situation," the second senior State Department official said.

Although the US doesn't believe the Cuban government directed the attacks, the officials said there is a strong suspicion some rogue elements of the Cuban security apparatus must have been involved.

"This took place while people were sleeping," this official said. "Whoever was doing it knows where these people's bedrooms were or what hotel room they were in. But because we can't identify the technique or technology used, it allows the Cubans to say they are not involved and that the Americans don't have any idea what happened."

Indeed, after Tuesday's hearing on Capitol Hill, in which the State Department and federal investigators said have been unable to attribute the source or cause of the ailments, the Cuban foreign ministry issued a statement saying, "months of thorough probes have proven that there has been no attack."

The Department of State has no evidence whatsoever that allows it to affirm that there has been attacks against its diplomats in Havana, or that Cuba could be responsible for or be aware of actions carried out by third-parties wrote Josefina Vidal Ferreiro, Cuba's Director General for US Affairs. "I categorically reiterate that the Cuban government has no responsibility whatsoever in the health conditions reported by US diplomats."

Officials say they suspect if and when the Cubans do find out what happened, they will put a stop to the attacks, but will not tell the US or make the revelations public because they don't want to admit they have rogue elements in the ranks.

"We just have to see a long period of no attacks," the first official said.

Although the last known incident occurred last August, the official noted: "These symptoms sometimes have a period to emerge so we can't say yet that it's over. Until then it would be irresponsible to send our diplomats back."