Jan 9, 2018

State official can't guarantee American diplomats' safety in Cuba

A classic car drives past the U.S. Embassy in Havana

Photo: Yamil Lage / AFP / Getty Images

The State Department's diplomatic security assistant director told a Senate Foreign Relations subcommittee this morning that the safety of American diplomats in Cuba could not be guaranteed after a series of mysterious attacks.

Why it matters: This suggests that the State Department is no closer to knowing their method or culprit more than a year after the Havana attacks began. And that matters because the current guidance to diplomats stationed in Cuba is entirely reactive if an attack is suspected, as there is no known method to mitigate the attacks' effects without knowing their source.

What's been happening:

  • Dr. Charles Rosenfarb, the medical director for State's Bureau of Medical Services, described the damage from the attacks as "trauma from a non-natural source."
  • Those affected describe hearing a loud sound or feeling an auditory pressure, which has resulted in some victims having clinical damage "similar to what might be seen following a mild traumatic brain injury or a concussion."
  • The attacks were initially reported as coming from a "sonic weapon" but American officials stopped using that term last year. However, Brown told the subcommittee today that he "wouldn't rule out" that the attacks might have an acoustic component.

What's next: Francisco Palmieri, the acting assistant secretary for State's Bureau of Western Hemisphere Affairs, said the department is in the process of convening an Accountability Review Board, which must investigate "any case of serious injury, loss of life, or significant destruction of property at, or related to, a United States Government mission abroad."

One more thing: With news of warming economic ties between Cuba and Russia, Palmieri said that any discussion of potential Russian involvement in the attacks would have to be discussed in a classified setting.

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