News & Politics

U.S. Intel Agencies Say Russia Behind Attacks on Embassy Staff in Cuba

In this Sept. 29, 2017, photo, a worker carries cardboard inside the compound of the United States embassy in Havana, Cuba, Friday, Sept. 29, 2017. (AP Photo/Desmond Boylan)

U.S. intelligence agencies investigating the mysterious sickness that afflicted embassy personnel in China and Cuba have determined that Russia is the main suspect in the attacks.

According to intel sources contacted by NBCNews, the suspicion “is backed up by evidence from communications intercepts, known in the spy world as signals intelligence, amassed during a lengthy and ongoing investigation involving the FBI, the CIA and other U.S. agencies.”

Those same sources say that “the evidence is not yet conclusive enough, however, for the U.S. to formally assign blame to Moscow for incidents that started in late 2016 and have continued in 2018, causing a major rupture in U.S.-Cuba relations.”

Since last year, the U.S. military has been working to reverse-engineer the weapon or weapons used to harm the diplomats, according to Trump administration officials, congressional aides and others briefed on the investigation, including by testing various devices on animals. As part of that effort, the U.S. has turned to the Air Force and its directed energy research program at Kirtland Air Force Base in New Mexico, where the military has giant lasers and advanced laboratories to test high-power electromagnetic weapons, including microwaves.

Although the U.S. believes sophisticated microwaves or another type of electromagnetic weapon were likely used on the U.S. government workers, they are also exploring the possibility that one or more additional technologies were also used, possibly in conjunction with microwaves, officials and others involved in the government’s investigation say.

To answer the question “why” one need only ask, “why not?” If Russia has developed a new weapon, why not test it on American embassy personnel? Targeting American tourists would raise a huge ruckus and be a PR nightmare for the Cubans. Attacking embassy employees is more low-key and might lead to diplomatic repercussions but far less news coverage.

Reinforcing the idea that the attack on the embassy was designed to generate the least amount of publicity is the fact that several of the injured Americans in Cuba worked for the CIA. The agency is not going to advertise its casualties to the world.

Otherwise, the motive remains a mystery:

In the search for answers, on Aug. 14 the U.S. convened officials from the Energy Department, the National Institutes of Health, the State Department and the Canadian government at the Sandia National Laboratories in Livermore, California, according to State Department medical officials. U.S. experts attending a neurotrauma conference in Toronto were linked in by videoconference as Penn physicians presented their most recent technical findings. But the summit ended with no new medical revelations.

The most recent theories of what the weapon was discount microwaves as the culprit, which pretty much sends science investigators back to square one.

If the U.S. ever determines to a degree of certainty that Russia was behind what the State Department insists are “attacks” on our diplomats, the result could be a serious rupture in our already problematic relations with Moscow.