The FBI is investigating the targeting of U.S. personnel at the embassy in Havana with a sonic device that caused hearing loss in at least one individual that could be permanent.
State Department press secretary Heather Nauert told reporters Wednesday that “some U.S. Government personnel who were working at our embassy in Havana, Cuba on official duties — so they were there working on behalf of the U.S. embassy there — they’ve reported some incidents which have caused a variety of physical symptoms.”
Nauert said U.S. officials “don’t have any definitive answers about the source or the cause of what we consider to be incidents.”
“We can tell you that on May 23rd, the State Department took further action. We asked two officials who were accredited at the Embassy of Cuba in the United States to depart the United States. Those two individuals have departed the United States. We take this situation very seriously,” she said. “One of the things we talk about here often is that the safety and security of American citizens at home and abroad is our top priority. We’re taking that situation seriously and it’s under investigation right now.”
Nauert said the State Department first heard about the incidents in “late 2016.”
“My understanding is that it has only affected State Department employees. This has not affected any private U.S. citizens down there. We take this very seriously,” she said. “…What this requires is providing medical examinations to these people. Initially, when they started reporting what I will just call symptoms, it took time to figure out what it was, and this is still ongoing. So we’re monitoring it. We provide medical care and concern to those who believe that they have been affected by it, and we take this extremely seriously.”
She added that the Cuban government has “a responsibility and an obligation” to protect U.S. diplomats on the island.
State Department officials elaborated on background to CNN that a sonic device outside the range of audible sound was targeted at the residences of U.S. diplomats, operating either inside or outside their homes. Officials are investigating whether a third country looking for “payback” against the U.S. was involved, possibly with the assistance of Cuban security services.
The physical symptoms suffered by the diplomats resembled that of concussions. One diplomat now needs a hearing aid.
Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) noted Wednesday that the Cuban government “has been harassing U.S. personnel working in Havana for decades.”
“This has not stopped with President Obama’s appeasement,” Rubio said. “Personal harm to U.S. officials shows the extent the Castro regime will go and clearly violates international norms.”