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State Dept. wraps up review of ‘sonic attacks’ against U.S. Embassy in Cuba

August 30, 2018

A senior-level State Department review board has wrapped up its investigation of a series of unexplained “sonic attacks” last fall that left a number of U.S. diplomats suffering from a range of symptoms including severe headaches, nausea and hearing loss.

Members of the department’s Accountability Review Board released a summary of their inquiry and subsequent recommendations Thursday, after a four-month review of the circumstances leading up to the incidents at the U.S. Embassy in Cuba. Interviewing over 100 embassy officials and staff members, board members sent their findings to Secretary of State Mike Pompeo in June, he then provided his official report on the so-called attacks to Congress Thursday.

At the onset, Mr. Pompeo and board members made clear the panel’s mandate was not to determine the origin or nature of the incidents which left 21 U.S. embassy personnel wounded but to examine the department’s response to the occurrences.

In its findings, the State Department review found the “security systems and procedures were overall adequate and properly implemented” at the embassy at the time of the incidents. Further, the review board “did not find any U.S. government employee engaged in misconduct or performed unsatisfactorily in a way that contributed to these incidents.”

Review board members did fault embassy staff and the department writ large for leaving critical diplomatic security positions vacant at the embassy, noting their absence resulted in “some challenges with information sharing and communication,” which could have aided in the department’s response to the incidents.

“The [board] found the lack of a single designated senior-level [State] Department official with responsibility for responding to the attacks resulted in insufficient communications with employees and impeded coordination within the Department and with other agencies,” according to a summary of the board’s findings.

The incidents, which took place at Washington’s main diplomatic outpost in Havana last September, had prompted calls for the embassy’s closure. “We have it under evaluation,” then-Secretary of State Rex Tillerson said of a possible embassy closure.

“It’s a very serious issue with respect to the harm that certain individuals have suffered,” he told CBS’s “Face the Nation” at the time. “We’ve brought some of those people home. It’s under review.”

Washington has yet to identify those responsible for the incidents, but investigators are reportedly looking at the use of sonic waves or an electromagnetic weapon being fired at the embassy. Other scenarios suggest the incidents were the result of an advanced spying operation gone awry.

As far as treating the affected department personnel in Cuba, board members determined the embassy’s medical capabilities had been up to the task, in the immediate aftermath of the incidents. However, department officials in Havana and Washington responsible for medical care had “insufficient resources to support the long-term care and follow-up needed for these types of incidents,” board members found.

As a result, the board recommended the formation of a “formal multi-disciplinary working group” to address the types of incidents experienced at the U.S. embassy in Cuba.

Led by the assistant secretary of state for diplomatic security, the working group “has increased communication among the various interagency investigative representatives, and ensured action items are addressed quickly and comprehensively,” in the case of future incidents, board members wrote.

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