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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.

Go deeper

Mike Allen, author of AM
2 hours ago - Politics & Policy

Biden's "overwhelming force" doctrine

President-elect Biden arrives to introduce his science team in Wilmington yesterday. Photo: Kevin Lamarque/Reuters

President-elect Biden has ordered up a shock-and-awe campaign for his first days in office to signal, as dramatically as possible, the radical shift coming to America and global affairs, his advisers tell us. 

The plan, Part 1 ... Biden, as detailed in a "First Ten Days" memo from incoming chief of staff Ron Klain, plans to unleash executive orders, federal powers and speeches to shift to a stark, national plan for "100 million shots" in three months.

Off the Rails

Episode 2: Barbarians at the Oval

Photo illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios. Photo: Jim Watson/AFP/Getty Images

Beginning on election night 2020 and continuing through his final days in office, Donald Trump unraveled and dragged America with him, to the point that his followers sacked the U.S. Capitol with two weeks left in his term. This Axios series takes you inside the collapse of a president.

Episode 2: Trump stops buying what his professional staff are telling him, and increasingly turns to radical voices telling him what he wants to hear. Read episode 1.

President Trump plunked down in an armchair in the White House residence, still dressed from his golf game — navy fleece, black pants, white MAGA cap. It was Saturday, Nov. 7. The networks had just called the election for Joe Biden.

Fringe right plots new attacks out of sight

Illustration: Aïda Amer/Axios

Domestic extremists are using obscure and private corners of the internet to plot new attacks ahead of Inauguration Day. Their plans are also hidden in plain sight, buried in podcasts and online video platforms.

Why it matters: Because law enforcement was caught flat-footed during last week's Capitol siege, researchers and intelligence agencies are paying more attention to online threats that could turn into real-world violence.