CBS: Injuries to US diplomats in Cuba worse than first reported

To borrow a phrase from a popular US fast-food chain, is this how Cuba sonics? No one’s quite sure yet, as it turns out, which explains why the US delayed reports about mysterious physical ailments suffered by US diplomatic personnel and their families in Havana. CBS now reports that the initial leaks of the attack may have seriously underestimated the damage done. Doctors reported seeing indications of traumatic brain injury and damage to the central nervous system from the suspected sonic attacks allegedly aimed at US interests:


According to medical records reviewed exclusively by CBS News, a U.S. doctor who evaluated American and Canadian diplomats working in Havana diagnosed them with conditions as serious as mild traumatic brain injury, and with likely damage to the central nervous system.

The diplomats complained about symptoms ranging from hearing loss and nausea to headaches and balance disorders after the State Department said “incidents” began affecting them beginning in late 2016. A source familiar with these incidents says officials are investigating whether the diplomats were targets of a type of sonic attack directed at their homes, which were provided by the Cuban government. The source says reports of more attacks affecting U.S. embassy workers on the island continue.

The doctor, one of several who reviewed their cases, included a warning in the medical records about the health risks of future exposures. The diplomats underwent comprehensive audiological evaluations and a battery of other tests.

CNN reported two days ago that the initial reports also underestimated the number of people affected, as well as the number of countries. Canada now claims that their diplomatic staff have suffered similar injuries beginning about the same time:

In June, five Canadian diplomats and family members reported experiencing symptoms consistent with the attacks, the US government officials told CNN, which would mean further attacks were carried out at the same time Cuban officials were investigating the incidents.

“We are aware of unusual symptoms affecting Canadian and US diplomatic personnel and their families in Havana,” Canadian spokesperson Brianne Maxwell said in a statement earlier in August when it was first revealed that Canadian diplomats had also been attacked. “The government is actively working — including with US and Cuban authorities — to ascertain the cause.”


The US and Canada kept this quiet for months while secretly demanding action from the Cubans. The attacks appear to have stopped just before or at the same time that the US expelled two Cuban diplomats as a response to the attacks. Both the FBI and the Royal Canadian Mounted Police have conducted investigations in Havana — a concession from the Castro government — but have not found the sonic devices that created the damage.

More consideration is now being given to the possibility that a third country was involved:

The sophistication of the attack has led US officials to suspect a third country is involved, perhaps seeking payback against the United States and Canada or to drive a wedge between those countries and Cuba.

Investigators are seeking to determine whether operatives from a country with an adversarial relationship to the United States, such as Russia, China, North Korea, Venezuela or Iran could have been involved but have not narrowed the possibilities down to any one suspect.

The inclusion of Canada among the targets complicates the whodunit. Cuba has some incentives to sock it to the Yanquis, but they also want more economic engagement, and they have no reason to alienate Canada at all. The same can be said for Russia and China and even Iran, although they don’t have diplomatic relations with Canada. Assuming that a third country is behind the attacks, only North Korea has the kind of track record of recklessness that might make a detective lean in their direction, along with the utter pointlessness that this attack represents. Pyongyang doesn’t have diplomatic relations with Canada either, and probably doesn’t mind antagonizing our northern neighbors to put more pressure on us.


But if it’s Kim Jong-un behind this, why do this in Cuba, a country on which Pyongyang relies for trade and arms, rather than in another nation? Why not in Mexico, Brazil, Sweden, or Belarus, among its other options? That seems like a tough question … until one remembers that the Kim regime staged an assassination using VX nerve agent in the international airport of one of its closest allies and trading partners, Malaysia. It’s possible that they saw Cuba as a good stooge in case the attacks got discovered.

So far, it appears too early to lay blame. The expulsion of the two Cuban diplomats can be chalked up to a failure of the Castro regime to secure the safety of their American counterparts. If it’s not Cuba, then they have lots of incentive to cooperate. If they drag their heels, well … the obvious conclusion is probably the correct one.

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John Sexton 7:20 PM on November 30, 2023