The attacks have usually come at night. Many victims say they never noticed anything amiss. Others insist they have definitely felt or heard something — either vibrations or any number of odd sounds including a loud ringing, a scraping noise and a high-pitched chirping like the noise made by crickets or cicadas. Several said the noises came in minute-long bursts.
One diplomat described being jolted awake in a Havana hotel room by a grinding, blaring cacophony. When he moved a few feet across the room, the noise stopped. When he got back into bed, the agonising sound hit him again — as if, he told doctors, he had walked through some invisible wall cutting straight down the middle of his room.
Whether they heard anything or not, the consequences have been unmistakable — symptoms ranging from nose bleeds, nausea, dizziness and severe headaches to mild brain damage and permanent hearing or memory loss. Oddly, as soon as some of the victims left Cuba, they stopped hearing noises.
Or maybe it wasn’t so odd, given the astonishing explanation that has surfaced as to why at least 21 U.S. diplomats, as well as others from Canada, have been brought low while serving in Communist Havana. Although America hasn’t pointed any finger at the likely culprit, Washington believes they were victims of a secret sonic weapon.
Frankly, it’s difficult to think of a more bizarre case of Cold War-style skulduggery since Bulgarian dissident Georgi Markov was assassinated in a London street with a poison-tipped umbrella in 1978.
While no one has lost their life, the effects have been dramatic. Months later, some of the victims are still struggling to concentrate or even recall common words — evidence of long-term mental damage that has hardened the U.S. attitude against Cuba.
Now, the repercussions are being felt in diplomatic shockwaves powering across the Caribbean sea in the direction of the Communist state.
The scandal threatens to derail the historic resumption — after a 50-year hiatus — of relations between the two old foes when their respective embassies reopened in 2015.
At the weekend, the U.S. Secretary of State, Rex Tillerson, revealed the Trump administration was taking the controversy so seriously that it was considering closing its embassy in Havana. Some U.S. senators have gone further, demanding that the government also kicks out every Cuban diplomat in America (the U.S. expelled two in May as a protest over the scandal).
Meanwhile, other countries have become concerned, and now France has tested its own Havana staff for potential sonic injuries.
The controversy certainly helped sour President Trump’s speech to the UN General Assembly, in which he accused Cuba of delivering only ‘anguish and failure’ to its people. How long before he’s ranting about ‘totally destroying’ Cuba as he did about North Korea this week?
The trouble for the Americans is that — like a plot from a sci-fi film when an alien weapon completely outfoxes humanity — scientists, doctors and intelligence experts remain utterly baffled.
So far, investigations involving the FBI, CIA, U.S. State Department and even the Canadian Mounties have found nothing.
‘None of this has a reasonable explanation,’ says Fulton Armstrong, an ex-CIA official who served in Havana before it reopened its embassy there. ‘It’s just mystery after mystery after mystery.’ U.S. officials say the episodes were first reported last November, while the latest incident emerged as recently as late last month.
Most diplomats were affected in their homes — which were provided by the Cuban government. But at least one incident occurred on an upper floor of the Hotel Capri, a historic high-rise building popular with tourists, where two diplomats were living.
Nobody else at the hotel made a similar complaint. The targeting, if indeed a weapon is involved, is so specific that it affected only certain parts of certain rooms.
Colleagues of the diplomat in the Hotel Capri experienced a similar effect — waking with a ringing in their ears and reaching mistakenly for their alarm clocks, then getting up, only to discover the ringing stopped when they moved away from their beds.
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