February 19, 2018

U.S. government personnel in Havana report "incidents" causing physical symptoms

10 August 2017, 02:23 | Rufus Hill

A guard stands at the entrance of the newly opened Cuban embassy in Washington D.C. in 2015. Andrew Harnik AP via Miami Herald

A guard stands at the entrance of the newly opened Cuban embassy in Washington D.C. in 2015

It is a mysterious episode ripped from the pages of a Cold War spy novel.

The State Department has expelled two diplomats from the Cuban Embassy in Washington following a series of unexplained incidents in Cuba that left U.S. officials there with physical symptoms that one official said includes potentially permanent hearing loss.

The incidents resulted in a "variety of physical symptoms", prompting some USA government personnel to leave the island, Nauert said at the State Department's press briefing on Wednesday.

Investigators were looking into whether elements of the Cuban government placed sonic devices that produce non-audible sound inside or outside the residences of roughly five US Embassy staffers with the intent of deafening them, AP cited one unnamed official as saying.

This would not be unusual.

On May 23, the State Department took punitive action and asked two officials accredited to the Embassy of Cuba to depart the United States.

That the spy equipment would cause harm, however, is new, and the reason was not immediately clear.

"We don't have any definitive answers about the source or the cause of what we consider to be incidents", Nauert said at the daily State Department press briefing.

She added that the State Department first heard about them in late 2016, and asked the Cuban diplomats in Washington to leave in May, which they did.

She said two Cuban diplomats were expelled from Washington in retaliation in late May.

Staff began complaining of the odd symptoms late a year ago, Nauert said.

President Donald Trump announced his intent to restrict US citizens ability to travel to Cuba in late June after the Obama administration restored relations with the country in 2016. Before then it was a low-level facility with a skeleton crew.

However, other U.S. officials said that the symptoms included hearing loss.

"We don't know exactly what...what this requires is providing medical examinations to these people", Nauert said. "Initially, when they'd started reporting what I will just call symptoms, it took time to figure out what it was, and this is still ongoing".

U.S. diplomats are among the most closely monitored people on the island.

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