An aggression against US diplomats in Havana? A groundless story

The unbelievable story of US diplomats that would have suffered hearing loss and other health problems during their tour of duty in Cuba, was published by the media in August last year. The first of such alleged incidents dates back to November 2016 and the last one to only a few weeks ago.

However, to date there is no credible explanation for the variety of symptoms described, and experts deny that the laws of physics could even apply in some of the hypothesis stated.

The story, which seems a science fiction story, has been taken very seriously in Havana.

On instructions from the senior Government, the Cuban authorities opened their own investigation as soon as they were first notified of the alleged incidents by the US Embassy in Havana and by the US State Department on February 17, this year.

“According to the preliminary results and the information we’ve shared with the US authorities, there is no evidence so far that would confirm the causes or origin of the alleged health problems experienced by the US diplomats and their family members”, stated a familiar source with the Cuban investigation.

The US investigations do not shed any light into the story either. Members of the US specialized agencies were invited to Cuba to conduct an on-site investigation, but the results have not been conclusive. “The truth is that we don’t know what or who have caused this”, acknowledged a spokesperson with the US Department of State, Heather Nauert. “This is why the investigation is still ongoing”.

The complexity of the investigation and the perplexity of the experts have not prevented some from trying to point at Cuba as the nation responsible, as they also try to reverse the progress achieved in the US-Cuba bilateral relations that has been taking place as from December 17, 2014.

Marco Rubio, a senator of Cuban-origin and a hardliner against any rapprochement with Havana, sent a letter recently to the US Secretary of State, Rex Tillerson, requesting the expulsion of all Cuban diplomats from Washington D.C. and the eventual closing of the US Embassy in Havana as retaliation for the alleged “sonic attacks” that would have caused the health problems to the US officials in Cuba.

However, the letter signed also by the Republican senators Tom Cotton, Richard Burr, John Cornyn and James Lankford, mentions no proof of the “Cuban guilt” and leaves out the willingness that the Cuban authorities expressed from day one, to cooperate and conduct the investigation.

Rubio was one of the minds behind the review of the Cuba policy adopted by the Trump Administration in June this year to intensify the application of the blockade. The legislator, who holds a seat in the US Senate Select Committee on Intelligence, has used every means available to him to restrain the ties between both countries.

Unbelievable facts

The hypothesis of a “Sonic attack” and the use of sophisticated “Sonic devices” against US diplomats have been constant since the story hit the headlines despite the lack of evidence and the criteria of experts indicating that no device is able to cause the symptoms described in the conditions stated.

The US Department of State has remained tight-lipped on the particular damages to the health of its personnel in Havana, but the media has reported a wide variety of symptoms. In some cases, these symptoms include severe headaches, dizziness and hearing loss, while others have experienced cognitive disruption, memory loss and mild brain damage.

The diagnosis provoke confusion among experts, the FBI, the State Department and the US agencies involved in the investigation, according to reports of the Associated Press (AP).

“Brain damage and concussions, that’s not possible”, said Joseph Pompei to AP, a former MIT researcher and psychoacoustics expert. “Somebody would have to submerge their head into a pool lined with very powerful ultrasound transducers”.

Dr. Toby Heys, Leader of the Future Technologies research center at Manchester Metropolitan University in the UK, told New Scientist last month that directing ultrasound into the ear cavity could theoretically cause permanent hearing damage but it would require the use of huge devices in great volumes, which would be difficult to hide.

Sonic weapons used to disperse crowds and for the protection of some vessels in the face of pirate ships, work with the same type of equipment. The devices cover a considerable area and every person within its reach is affected.

However, most of the alleged incidents in Havana, according to US public sources, took place in enclosed spaces, sometimes even inside one single room, and with precision laser, affecting one person in particular, without affecting the rest.

Some of the alleged attacks would have taken place in the residence of diplomats and even in public buildings such as the Hotel Capri recently refurbished, a 19-story tower of concrete and 250 rooms, where there are no reports of other hotel guests affected.

According to AP reports, the FBI itself travelled to Havana and investigated some of the rooms where the attacks would have taken place, but found no trace of sonic devices.

The Cuban specialized services have not detected “possible perpetrators or individuals with motivation, intention or means to carry out this sort of actions”, according to sources linked to the investigations. “The presence of suspicious individuals or means have not been established at the places or surrounding areas where the incidents were reported”.

In Cuba, there is no precedent of this sort of actions. “The Cuban authorities don’t have nor are they familiar with the equipment or the technology that could be used for purposes similar to those described as sonic attacks”, added the same source.

Cuba has always been willing to cooperate

After they were notified for the first time by the US Embassy in Havana, the Cuban authorities set up an inter-institutional expert commission to analyze the facts. They expanded and intensified the measures that guarantee the protection, security and safety of the Embassy premises, its staff and the diplomatic residences. They also opened new direct communication channels between the US Embassy and the Cuban Department for the Security and Safety of Diplomats, as stated in the official statement by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs dated August 9, 2017, when the news were made public.

The Cuban side insisted that the US specialized agencies should travel to the country and conduct the investigations on-site, which occurred in June 2017. Other visits by these agencies took place in August and September.

“The three meetings held between representatives of the Cuban authorities and the US specialized agencies took place against a constructive and professional backdrop”, said a source with knowledge of the exchanges. The US side, he stated, expressed the intention to cooperate “more substantially with the investigation of the incidents”. Likewise, the members of the US specialized agencies who have visited Cuba, have acknowledged that the Cuban local authorities have acted promptly and with professionalism.

“We value positively the continuity of these visits. The Cuban authorities have great interest in expediting and completing the investigation, for which purpose, cooperation from the US authorities is essential”, said the source.

In the face of countless of variables to the case, influenced by the long history of conflicts between the two countries, cooperation is essential. Some of the fundamental aspects for the success of this cooperation and to achieve the results in any case scenario should include actions such as: timely notification of the incidents; submitting evidence; sharing information that would help establish the facts and identify possible perpetrators, should there be any; having access to those affected and to the medical doctors who diagnosed, and exchange with those experts who are familiar with the incidents and the alleged technology used.

Not even in the worst moments

Another fact that does not add up to the story of the sonic attack is timing. In November 2016, the governments of Cuba and the United States advanced quickly towards the completion of an important number of agreements for the benefit of both peoples.

After a long history of aggressions and attempts to subdue the Cuban people out of hunger and necessity, to transform the Cuban political system, the Obama Administration acknowledged on December 17, 2014, that the blockade had failed and accomplished the isolation of the United States.

The political backdrop between the two countries changed completely. Diplomatic ties were reestablished and 22 agreements on different areas were signed, including but not limited to environmental protection, the reopening of non-scheduled flights and the cooperation in the area of security and safety. Who would even think of sabotaging the relationship with Washington?

In addition, if the Cuban government never resorted to the use of aggressive methods against US diplomats out of its revolutionary principles, even when tension was at its height, what would be the logic to start doing so now, after the sovereign decision to reestablish ties with Washington?

On May, the State Department expelled two Cuban officials from the United States as a consequence of the alleged attacks that damaged the health of members of its staff in Havana, a measure considered by Cuba as “groundless and unsubstantiated”.

Now we know that, at the same time the Cuban officials were being expelled, the Cuban authorities were conducting the investigation and expressing their complete willingness to collaborate with their US counterparts.

The official statement by the Cuban Ministry of Foreign Affairs reads that Cuba “strictly and seriously” observes and has always observed its obligations deriving from the 1961 Vienna Convention on Diplomatic Relations, which refer to the protection of the integrity of diplomatic agents and local staff of the mission. “Our country’s impeccable track record in this area is recognized internationally and Cuba is universally considered as a safe destination for both visitors and foreign diplomats, including the Americans”, he said.

In line with the statement, a Cuban high-ranking diplomat reaffirmed that “that Cuba has never perpetrated nor will it ever perpetrate actions of this nature, and has never permitted nor will it ever permit any third-party use of its territory for this purpose”.

Facing the lack of evidence and the complexity of this case, the Cuban authorities keep the investigation open and are willing to collaborate with their US counterparts to establish the facts.

  • Published in Specials

‘Time running out’: Moscow warns it may expel US diplomats over seized Russian property

Moscow warned that it may take retaliatory measures and expel US Embassy staff unless Washington does something to break the stalemate in the closure of two Russian diplomatic compounds in the US.

Russian Foreign Ministry stated that it is hard to cooperate with the US in the light of diplomats’ repatriation and confiscated Russian property, which was under diplomatic immunity during its illegal seizure by the Obama administration in 2016.

“The seized objects have not been returned. Washington has not only failed to cancel the decision to expel our employees, but also refuses to issue visas to those who are to replace them,” Russian Foreign Ministry spokesperson Maria Zakharova said on Friday.

 
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She added that at least Washington could have given access to Russian diplomats to the compounds while the issue is stalled.

Moscow is ready to retaliate unless the situation does not change, Zakharova warned.

“We have something to retaliate with: the personnel of the US Embassy in Moscow greatly exceeds the number of our embassy staff in Washington,” she said.

Zakharova did not elaborate on an exact time when Moscow would take retaliatory measures. She noted that everything depends on coming talks in Washington, but “time is running out.”

“For now we have the date of consultations on the issue and a clear position that time is running out,” she said. She added that Moscow did not react immediately as it considered the move of the Obama administration as “provocative” and an attempt to disrupt bilateral relations under the new authorities.

Zakharova stressed that the US had enough time to deal with the “disgusting legacy and to start building relations based on mutual respect,” but still nothing has changed.

READ MORE: Russian FM proposes expulsion of 35 US diplomats in sanctions tit-for-tat

“It's been half a year, but we do not see concrete steps. However, nothing impedes the new administration from showing independence and doing it. We have repeatedly raised this issue during bilateral contacts, we were ready to consultations, negotiations, an exchange of possible options, but this also did not happen.”

 
The Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the Russian Federation building in Moscow. © Vladimir Pesnya

The statement came on the heels of US President Trump’s assistant, Sebastian Gorka, who said in an interview that the compounds may be handed back to Russia if the US sees “acts of good faith” from the Kremlin, similar to the recently-brokered ceasefire in Syria.

Moscow will not negotiate any conditions to get the diplomatic property back, as the situation is “unacceptable” and the seizure violates international law, according to Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov, who responded to Gorka’s statement.

“Taking the diplomatic property back to Russia cannot and should not be conditional on anything, it vehemently violates international law,” Peskov said.

“So far the head of state, who determines Russian foreign policy principles, has not taken any decisions. However, we have repeatedly stressed that the situation with the diplomats, the diplomatic property continues to be unacceptable,” the Kremlin spokesman stated, adding that it “is a serious test of Russia’s patience.”

Earlier, Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov condemned the unresolved situation with the Russian diplomatic property, calling it “shameful.” Lavrov also mentioned that Russia is preparing retaliatory measures, while Deputy Foreign Minister Sergey Ryabkov warned that if Washington continues to drag its feet on the issue, there will be a “tough response.”

At the end of 2016, the US expelled 35 Russian diplomats and denied Russian diplomatic staff access to the New York and Maryland compounds.

Then-US President Barack Obama justified the move as a response to alleged Russian meddling in the US election. Denying the allegations, Moscow was outraged with the situation, as it believes the property had diplomatic immunity and was thus confiscated in violation of the 1961 Vienna Convention on Diplomatic Relations.

  • Published in World

Russia Upset US Banned Its Diplomats from Observing Election

The Russian Foreign Ministry denounced the intimidation attempts against its diplomatic staff in Washington. 

The government of Russia called the United States government's ruling to limit Russian diplomats' access to polling stations to observe the presidential election “unacceptable,” while Washington formally accused the Kremlin of attempting to “interfere” in the U.S. electoral process.

RELATED: WikiLeaks Did Not Receive Clinton Emails from Russia, Assange Says

"The US administration's law enforcement officials stop at nothing to cut off Russian representatives from an opportunity to assess the provisions of holding the upcoming elections," Deputy Foreign Minister Sergey Ryabkov told state-run agency RIA Novosti Tuesday.

Meanwhile, the spokesperson for the Russian Foreign Ministry, Maria Zakharova, published a statement on Facebook denouncing intimidation against her country's diplomatic staff.

“Things went as far as open intimidation of Russian diplomats. The State Department recommended them not to approach the polling stations on their own, and authorities in some states went further and threatened (the diplomats) with criminal prosecution.”

RELATED: ​WikiLeaks Lays Bare Clinton's Collusion With Mainstream Media

Last month the Russian Embassy in Washington said that its diplomats on U.S. soil had been threatened with criminal prosecution if they attempted to monitor the upcoming presidential and congressional elections at polling stations.

U.S. spy agencies have suggested that the Russian government had directed the recent revelations about the emails of Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton's campaign in an attempt to influence the election. However, these claims have not been proven.

Moscow has denied its involvement in any hacking scandal, and WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange – whose organization released the hacked documents and emails – recently denied any Russian involvement.

  • Published in World
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