foreign policy

Tillerson Says U.S. May Shut Down Embassy in Cuba Over Sonic Attacks on Diplomats

Tillerson said they’re evaluating the situation. Photo: Leon Neal/Getty Images

When President Trump canceled what he called President Obama’s “completely one-sided deal with Cuba” back in June, he announced new travel and business restrictions, but left diplomatic relations intact and the U.S. embassy in Havana open. Now, however, the administration says the embassy may close due to a bizarre attack on American diplomats.

“We have it under evaluation,” Secretary of State Rex Tillerson said Sunday on Face the Nation of a possible closure. “It’s a very serious issue with respect to the harm that certain individuals have suffered. We’ve brought some of those people home. It’s under review.”

At least 21 American diplomats and their family members have experienced strange health symptoms in the last year, including permanent hearing loss, mild traumatic brain injury, loss of balance, severe headaches, brain swelling, and concentration problems. Others have experienced temporary nausea, headaches, and ear ringing.

The cause is still unknown, but it’s believed that they experienced some kind of sonic attack. Some reported vibrations or loud sounds that were only audible in parts of rooms, while others heard nothing but developed symptoms.

Some victims felt vibrations or heard loud sounds mysteriously audible in only parts of rooms, leading investigators to consider a potential “sonic attack.” Others heard nothing but later developed symptoms. The Americans began reporting the incidents in November 2016, and the last incident occurred on August 21, just a few weeks after the issue became public.

Initially the Cuban government was at the top of the list of suspects, but their response has called that theory into question, as the AP reported over the weekend:

In a rare face-to-face conversation, Castro told U.S. diplomat Jeffrey DeLaurentis that he was equally baffled, and concerned. Predictably, Castro denied any responsibility. But U.S. officials were caught off guard by the way he addressed the matter, devoid of the indignant, how-dare-you-accuse-us attitude the U.S. had come to expect from Cuba’s leaders.

The Cubans even offered to let the FBI come down to Havana to investigate. Though U.S.-Cuban cooperation has improved recently — there was a joint “law enforcement dialogue” Friday in Washington — this level of access was extraordinary.

The incidents began at a delicate time in U.S.-Cuba relations, as Trump was elected president, Cuban leader Fidel Castro died, and the Obama administration was scurrying to lock in the new policies it had negotiated with Havana. According to one theory, it isn’t the Cuban government behind the attacks, but a rogue element of its security forces unhappy with the U.S. detente. It’s also possible that Russia or North Korea were somehow involved.

But there’s another bizarre clue. Last spring, the homes of five to ten Canadian diplomats were hit too. Canada and Cuba have had good relations for decades, so it doesn’t make sense that someone upset with U.S. policy would harm their diplomats.

While the culprits and their motives remain unclear, U.S. politicians are growing impatient with the situation. On Friday five Republican senators — Tom Cotton, Richard Burr, John Cornyn, Marco Rubio, and James Lankford — sent Tillerson a letter urging him to close the embassy in Havana and kick all Cuban diplomats out of the U.S.

“Cuba’s neglect of its duty to protect our diplomats and their families cannot go unchallenged,” the senators said.

Tillerson: U.S. May Shut Cuba Embassy Over Sonic Attacks