United States and Canadian officials are conducting investigations after diplomats posted to Havana fell ill, amid reports that they may have been targeted by a mysterious sonic weapon.
In a statement, a spokeswoman for Global Affairs Canada said the country is "aware of unusual symptoms affecting Canadian and U.S. diplomatic personnel and their families in Havana". US diplomats are among the most closely monitored people on the island, and victims lived in housing owned and maintained by the Cuban government, but the use of sonic devices to harm diplomats would be unprecedented, The New York Times noted.
The controversy began after a spokeswoman for the US State Department revealed that last May two of its diplomats had to be withdrawn from the island nation as a result of the alleged "acoustic attack" suffered by both State Department employees and their families, during their stay on the island. The health symptoms included severe hearing loss, possibly caused by a covert sonic device, and affected were a group of American diplomats in Havana and at least one Canadian diplomat, the Associated Press reported. Several of the diplomats were recent arrivals at the embassy, which reopened in 2015 as part of President Barack Obama's reestablishment of diplomatic relations with Cuba.
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Heather Nauert, speaking for the U.S. State Department, told reporters that the exact cause of the incidents was unclear.
A USA official confirmed to The Washington Post that the diplomats suffered hearing damage and neurological symptoms that remain unexplained. There's been no documented use of such a device for the purposes of attacking diplomatic personnel, so if the American investigators are right, then this would be the very first deployment of one. The official spoke on the condition of anonymity because of a lack of authorization to discuss the investigations on the record.
Cuba's Foreign Ministry said United States officials had alerted it to "some alleged incidents affecting some officials of that diplomatic mission and their families" on Feb 17. USA authorities have said that they do not have the permission to speak publically about what's happening, but the Associated Press explains that the symptoms of the mystery illness have in some cases been severe enough that the diplomats have had to return to the U.S. to recover.
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The Cuban government said it "has never permitted, nor will permit, that Cuban territory be used for any action against accredited diplomatic officials or their families, with no exception".
About five diplomats, several with spouses, were affected, the AP said. The FBI and Diplomatic Security Service are investigating. Like virtually all foreign diplomats in Cuba, the victims of the incidents lived in housing owned and maintained by the Cuban government.
Officials familiar with the probe told AP that investigators were looking into the possibilities that the incidents were carried out by a third country such as Russian Federation, possibly operating without the knowledge of Cuba's formal chain of command. The cause? A covert sonic device - an acoustic weapon - that's being used to terrorize the diplomatic staff.
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