HAVANA – Cuban investigators have ruled out the numerous speculations that two dozen US diplomats stationed in Cuba have suffered health problems as a result of a sonic weapon.
Among the theories is that stress on changes in relations between Cuba and the United States may have exacerbated health problems.
The first press reports last August, citing unidentified US officials, blamed a mysterious series of symptoms – hearing loss, ringing in the ears, lack of balance, headache, fatigue, pain in the face and the abdomen, sleep disorders and memory – to attacks with a “concealed sonic device”.
Five members of the Cuban team investigating the incidents described their hypotheses and preliminary conclusions in a case that threatens to further affect relations between the two countries.
The United States has already retired or moved out most of its diplomats from Havana, expelled 17 Cuban diplomats from Washington and has warned that Americans should rethink their trips to Cuba and not stay in 2 hotels in the capital of the island, the National and the Capri.
Based on the limited evidence shared by the FBI, the State Department and their own investigations, Cuban investigators said they do not believe that the health symptoms suffered by diplomats and other officials were caused by sonic weapons or sound waves.
A spokesman for the State Department said in response to Conspiracy Talk News questions about official Cuban conclusions: “We still do not have definitive answers about the source or cause of the attacks. The investigation is ongoing. “
Unless the United States shares more information about Cuba’s research with Cuba, the causes of Americans’ health symptoms may never be known, said Cuban researchers, who also complained that they are often the last to know when they come out. new developments in the case in the United States.
When the State Department said recently that it had received 19 unconfirmed reports of Americans who travelled to the island and complained of symptoms similar to those experienced by diplomats, Cuban investigators said they learned not through the mouths of US officials but by reading Conspiracy Talk News and other news outlets.
“Without cooperation, we are not going anywhere,” said Dr. Manuel Jorge Villar Kuscevic, an otolaryngologist and coordinator of the Cuban expert committee that studies the health problems of diplomats in Havana.
More than 80 Cuban specialists work on the case and have developed 14 hypotheses.
By rejecting the theory of sonic attacks, Cuban researchers point out that not all Americans suffered hearing loss.
If a sonic weapon or sound waves strong enough to produce the symptoms in question were used, then all the diplomats would have had hearing damage.
“If a sound is loud enough to cause a concussion, people end up dead,” said Dr. Mitchell Joseph Valdez Sosa, director of the Neurosciences Center of Cuba.
“We have ruled out the idea that the damage could be due to some kind of sound, much less a sonic weapon,” Villar said.
“That kind of weapon does not exist in Cuba,” added Col. Ramiro Ramirez Alvarez, head of diplomatic security at Cuba’s Interior Ministry. “The United States is the first to have that kind of thing. They are manufactured there, sold there. “
A long-range acoustic device (LRAD), which emits sounds in the range of 145-151 decibels, has been used in the United States to control crowds, as well as in other places to repel Somali pirates and in war situations.
These sonic cannons are big devices.
Similar devices that are sold as ultrasonic generators are advertised on the internet to drive animals away from homes.
If a type of advanced secret weapon – which could specifically direct sound waves from a distance – was used in the alleged attacks, that could further complicate the solution of the mystery.
Cuba would not want the United States to know that it has access to such a device, and the United States would not admit it to Cuba, experts have said.
Some in the United States, including Floridian Senator Marco Rubio, insist that in a country as strictly controlled as Cuba, the government not only has to know what caused the mysterious incidents, but also who is responsible.
“There were injured people and the Cuban government knows who did it, but for some reason they do not say it,” Rubio said at a hearing on a Senate subcommittee on January 9, which he convened to gather information about the State Department’s response to the attacks.
The US government has not said that the Cuban government is behind the attacks, but blames the island’s authorities for not protecting the diplomats, a responsibility of the government of the country in accordance with the Convention on Relationships.
But Secretary of State Rex Tillerson has said that the incidents in Havana were “deliberate attacks.” Tillerson told The Associated Press in January that he believes that someone within the Cuban government “can put an end to this.”
Much of what the American public knows about the case has come from leaks to the media. The Senate hearing also brought some new details to light.
“Why do leaks continue to the press?” Asked Dr. Mitchell Joseph Valdez Sosa, director of the Center for Neurosciences in Cuba. “Obviously, someone is interested in keeping the allegations alive.”
Diplomats began reporting headache, dizziness, hearing problems and earache in December 2016 and January 2017, Dr. Charles Rosenfarb, director of the Office of Medical Services of the State Department, said at the hearing. But some diplomats said that since November they had begun to feel strange sounds in their homes, which was followed by symptoms.
Subsequently, incidents were reported in the Capri and Nacional hotels in Havana.
Cuban investigators said that those reports mentioned room 823 of the National Hotel.
In the case of the Capri, rooms are designated two rooms on floors 15 and 17. After reviewing them and not finding anything suspicious, the rooms were reincorporated to normal use, said the Cuban investigators.
The two hotels are included in the most recent travel alert from the State Department.
Cuban researchers say they are trying to determine in all seriousness what would have caused the symptoms reported by the United States and if there was any illegal activity. Acts against diplomats are serious crimes in Cuba and carry heavy penalties, said Col. Roberto Hernández Caballero, a researcher at the Interior Ministry.
However, without access to the affected diplomats who returned to the United States, Villar said, “Cuban doctors only had information from US doctors who had seen the diplomats”.
“What they were given was a synopsis of the symptoms shown by the diplomats, but it did not include audiograms, magnetic resonance studies or statistical tables that indicated which symptoms each patient showed”, said Dr. Valdés Sosa.
The list of symptoms, said Villar, “may be due to several diseases, such as ear infections, hypertension, epilepsy, reaction to drugs or alcohol, diabetes, cancer and other diseases”.
This is a look at some of the theories of the Cuban investigation:
Sonic or auditory attacks
“When we hear of these so-called sonic attacks for the first time, I must confess that I thought it was science fiction,” Villar said.
Cuban investigators said the FBI shared 14 recordings, apparently made with cell phones, in the homes of diplomats.
Investigators from the Cuban Ministry of the Interior complained that the recordings arrived without information on where they occurred and under what circumstances. After listening to them, Cuban researchers said “we could identify some of the environmental sounds in the neighbourhoods of Playa and Siboney”, where many of the diplomats lived.
Hernandez said that more than “200 Cubans” who lived near the diplomats were examined to determine if they presented similar symptoms. Four showed hearing loss. Two of the cases were due to chronic diseases of the ear, one to the noise of artillery fire and the other to industrial noise, according to Cuban researchers.
“It is impossible to generate the kind of energy that would cause these damages (to diplomats) without affecting other people,” said Lieutenant Colonel Jose Alazo Rangel, a specialist in the Ministry of the Interior.
“None of the sound samples exceeded 74.6 decibels,” Villar said. In Cuba, environmental noise above 80 decibels is considered unacceptable.
The analysis of the Cubans of the recordings revealed numerous sounds, such as crickets and other insects, nocturnal birds, traffic noise, an air conditioner, a human voice, but “none of those sounds can endanger human health”, said lieutenant Colonel Alazo.
“If there had been sonic waves, they would have distorted the ambient sound in the recordings, to the point that the noise of the crickets and others would not be identifiable”, added Lieutenant Colonel Alazo. The investigators captured crickets near the diplomatic homes and recorded their sounds to compare them with those of the recordings.
Infrasound and ultrasonic waves
The researchers also took into account the possibility that infra-sound or ultrasonic waves were affecting those diplomats.
Infra sound waves are too low of frequency for human beings do not perceive them, and although they can produce vibrations, it is difficult to direct and would affect other people, neighbours, spouses, domestic animals, Cuban researchers said.
Ultrasonic waves, which have high frequencies that humans do not perceive, can concentrate better, but “the device would have to be very close to the victim to cause damage”, Villar said.
The researchers added that they could not explain why any kind of sound wave would have affected only diplomats in certain rooms of their homes.
They said that they had not been able to verify the possibility that some sort of device had been installed in these homes because they were only allowed to enter three residences.
Collective hysteria caused by the stress of the new relationship between the two countries and the cooling down under Trump’s government: During the January hearing, Rosenfarb said that the US conclusions “suggest that it is not a case of collective hysteria.” But, Cuban researchers have not rejected that possibility.
They said that among the conditions that would have contributed to psychosomatic diseases and collective hysteria are that all diplomats worked in the same place and the uncertainty created after an abrupt change in the US government and the policy towards the island.
“The use by the US government of terms such as sound weapons, attacks and victims may have increased anxiety”, Cuban researchers said.
“I think some people got sick, for various reasons,” said Valdez Sosa. “But the tension and the change in relations between the two countries could exacerbate their diseases.”
And the Canadians?
Several Canadian diplomats and their families reported the onset of symptoms similar to those experienced by Americans, and also reported that they occurred in their homes.
There is little known about the case of Canadians. Ramirez said that research with Canadians has been characterised by cooperation and the exchange of information.
Cuban investigators said they had not received reports of similar symptoms that affected diplomats from other embassies.
A virus or toxin
Valdez Sosa said that a virus, which would spread beyond the US diplomatic corps, or a toxin, which should not cause so many different symptoms, is a “plausible possibility”.
There has been no lack of theories about who is responsible for the health problems of diplomats: a deliberate attack by a third party that seeks to damage relations between Cuba and the United States, elements within the Cuban government itself that are upset with the rapprochement between the two countries or a surveillance operation of the Cuban government that went wrong.
Cuba has emphatically rejected the idea that it may be behind the attacks. “Why would we do that when we are in the process of trying to normalize relations?” Col. Ramírez asked.
Observers of Cuban affairs have suggested that Russia or China may have wanted to interrupt the rapprochement that began on December 17, 2014, during the Obama administration.
To that, Colonel Ramirez adds another possibility: “It could be the government of the United States itself, which uses the incidents as a pretext to reduce diplomatic personnel.”