Cuban experts insist no proof exists of attack on US diplomats

The Capitol building in Havana, Cuba. US diplomats posted to Havana’s US Embassy reported hearing high-pitched noises before suffering a slew of health problems in 2016. PHOTO: REUTERS

WASHINGTON (NYTIMES) - Some of Cuba's top scientists and medical specialists on Thursday (Sept 13) denounced claims that two dozen American diplomats in Havana had been the targets of mysterious attacks over the last two years.

The experts were careful not to offer a definitive explanation for the episodes, in which the diplomats reported hearing strange noises that led to symptoms similar to those after a minor traumatic brain injury or a concussion.

But they complained that the United States had concluded, with no evidence, that an attack had been carried out.

"We believe there can be a few individuals who have some sort of illness," said Dr Mitchell Joseph Valdes Sosa, the director general of the Cuban Centre for Neurosciences. But he said the possibility that psychological factors may have played a role could not be eliminated.

In late 2016, diplomats posted to the US Embassy in Havana reported hearing high-pitched noises before suffering a slew of health problems.

The symptoms resembled those caused by mild brain trauma, including sharp ear pain, dull headaches, tinnitus, vertigo, disorientation, nausea and extreme fatigue.

In all, 25 US Embassy personnel appear to have been sickened.

The Cuban government has repeatedly denied any responsibility.

Dr Valdes, responding to recent reports that suggested a microwave weapon might have been the cause, dismissed the idea.

"If you're going to try to explain why donkeys fly, you're first going to have to see a flying donkey," he said. "And we haven't seen a flying donkey."

Mass hysteria could be one explanation, the Cuban experts suggested.

Even after investigations by the FBI, top medical authorities and the State Department, the cause of the illnesses has not been confirmed.

Officials have frankly admitted in background conversations that they still have no idea who or what may be responsible.

But outside experts argue that some sort of microwave weapon, not a sonic one, is the most plausible explanation.

Some analysts cite a phenomenon known as the Frey effect in which microwaves can trick the brain into perceiving what appear to be ordinary sounds.

As the number of US Embassy personnel and their family numbers believed to have been affected began to grow, the Trump administration responded by expelling more than a dozen Cuban diplomats from the US.

The decision escalated tensions between the countries, the latest in a series of moves by President Donald Trump to unwind the detente undertaken by former president Barack Obama.

The medical mystery only broadened after a US government employee at the consulate in southern China complained of similar symptoms in May, raising questions about whether other countries might be to blame.

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