Jeanne Shaheen: Cause of illness sickening U.S. diplomats in Cuba must be probed
Sen. Jeanne Shaheen, a Democratic lawmaker, on Tuesday called for a congressional investigation into new reports that Russia may be behind the mysterious case of numerous American diplomats in Cuba reporting health and vision problems from a still unexplained “sonic event.”
Ms. Shaheen, a member both the Senate Foreign Relations and Armed Services committees, made the request following a press report earlier Tuesday that investigations by the FBI, CIA and other U.S. agencies point to Russia as the lead suspect in the attacks that caused concussion-like injuries for more than two dozen diplomats and embassy personnel stationed in Havana.
“I am not surprised by indications that the Kremlin has a hand in the ongoing and debilitating attacks against U.S. personnel overseas,” she said in a statement Tuesday.
The senator from New Hampshire said, “Republicans and Democrats must be united in condemning these attacks and defending U.S. personnel stationed around the world.” With inconclusive evidence, U.S. investigators have been awash in theories over what happened to 26 workers at the U.S. Embassy in Havana over the course of several months in 2016, when high-pitched sounds bombarded their homes and hotel rooms.
On Tuesday, NBC News reported that multiple unnamed sources within the U.S. intelligence community said that communications intercepts point toward involvement by the Kremlin. Russia’s intelligence service is also seen as one of the few in the world with the technical sophistication to carry out such an attack.
The Cuban government has denied any role in the attacks. The State Department has yet to formally accuse anyone of being behind the incidents and sounded a distinct note of caution Tuesday about the latest reports.
“There is no known cause, no known individual or group believed to be responsible at this time,” State Department spokeswoman Heather Nauert told reporters on Tuesday. “We have not assigned any blame and we continue to look into it.”
But the attacks have contributed to a distinct chill in U.S.-Cuba relations under President Trump after a major diplomatic outreach to Havana pushed by President Obama.
Conjuring up images of Cold War-era psychological warfare, American personnel in Havana complained of a host of unexplained physical symptoms, including brain injuries, hearing and vision loss, and cognitive and balance difficulties. This summer in Guangzhou, China, a U.S. employee experienced similar symptoms.
The Pentagon has reportedly tried to reverse-engineer what happened, while the FBI has said sound waves alone couldn’t have caused the symptoms.
Speculation has also swirled around electromagnetic weapons, or the possibility that accidental feedback from improperly installed listening devices mushroomed into a toxic sound cloud.
The State Department’s internal Accountability Review Board is exploring all options. The board’s director, retired Ambassador Peter Bodde, told a congressional panel last week that officials at least know there was a series of “attacks.”
Cuba’s foreign ministry last August said it was investigating the “incidents,” while professing no knowledge of what happened.
“Cuba has never, nor would it ever, allow that the Cuban territory be used for any action against accredited diplomatic agents or their families,” the foreign ministry said at the time. “It reiterates its willingness to cooperate in the clarification of this situation.”
Sen. Marco Rubio, Florida Republican and a staunch critic of Cuba’s Communist regime, has theorized that whoever is behind the events did so perhaps to increase “friction between the U.S. and the Cuban government” and undercut the momentum for improved relations.
Mr. Rubio has speculated that the Castro regime’s efforts to open a dialogue with the U.S. in recent years makes it unlikely that Havana itself would work to undermine the improving situation.
That, he has said, points to either “a rogue element” within the Cuban government, or a “third country” looking to gain from worsening relations between the U.S. and Cuba.
“The logical conclusion is Russia and Vladimir Putin,” Mr. Rubio said earlier this summer.