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Still No Answer For What Caused U.S. Diplomats' Illnesses In Cuba

Feb 14, 2018
Originally published on February 14, 2018 9:16 am

More than a year after U.S. diplomats in Cuba fell mysteriously ill, there is still no explanation for the high-pitched noises they heard. Steve Inskeep talks with ProPublica's Tim Golden.

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STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:

Now we have the story of a mystery in Cuba. And we should warn you right up front - the ending is not going to be satisfying. Think of this as a kind of thriller novel that you picked up and you started reading. And it's really good, and then you find out somebody ripped out the last chapter. Because the truth is the FBI does not yet know why U.S. diplomats grew mysteriously ill in Cuba. Theories of possible culprits range from Cuba's government to Russia and beyond. But let's start the story at the beginning. Tim Golden with ProPublica has spent the past several months investigating the reports of illnesses and mysterious sounds.

TIM GOLDEN: A fit young man who worked at the embassy came into the nurse's office saying that he had had a kind of a beam of sound that seemed to be directed at him inside his home and left him with bad headaches and ringing in his ears and serious pain in one of his - in one side.

INSKEEP: What did it sound like?

GOLDEN: People have described it in different ways - but a sort of piercing, metallic kind of buzz or shaking sheetmetal.

INSKEEP: Did anybody record this? I mean, everybody's got a phone now. You could just hit record and get the sound.

GOLDEN: People did record it. The Operational Technology Division of the FBI put out a report, which is still classified, on January 4 that says that they don't think it was some kind of sonic technology, that this was not what caused these symptoms as far as they understand.

INSKEEP: OK. There were these mysterious sounds. Authorities think the mysterious sounds may not have been responsible for the mysterious illnesses, but there really was a concentrated amount of mysterious illnesses.

GOLDEN: There may also be a psychological component or a stress component. However, there seemed to be a lot of serious Americans, including people who think that these events have been manipulated for political purposes, who are convinced that something real and insidious was done, probably by some kind of foreign enemy.

INSKEEP: Who would manipulate these mysterious illnesses for political purposes? And what would the purpose be?

GOLDEN: President Trump came to office, obviously, vowing that he was going to get rid of what he saw as a bad deal that President Obama had made with Cuba. He didn't really know exactly how he was going to do that. But when these events started to happen, I think it added to the view that Cuba was up to no good and should be punished, probably by the reimposition of restrictions on Americans' travel and business dealings with Cuba.

INSKEEP: So we've got the theory that Americans were targeted through sounds. We've got the theory that Americans might have been targeted in some other way. We have the actual illnesses of Americans and then the theory that the Trump administration might be seizing upon this as a pretext to be harsher against Cuba than it might otherwise be.

GOLDEN: The Trump administration has not blamed the Cubans directly for the attacks, but it has said that they're responsible for failing to protect American diplomats. The Cubans respond by saying, what is it that you want us to do that we haven't done? But behind the scenes, they've been very cooperative with the FBI, so there's contradictions at every turn.

INSKEEP: You've reported out this story. The story doesn't have an end. We don't really know what happened here. What questions are on your mind?

GOLDEN: The full might of the U.S. national security apparatus has been brought to bear here. And it's extraordinary that somehow there could be a technology or a weapons technology that we don't know about. The FBI has gotten a little frustrated. They're obviously doing a criminal investigation, and they have no weapon, no motive and no perpetrator. So as they've described it to people, they're sort of running out of rocks to overturn.

INSKEEP: Tim Golden of ProPublica, thanks very much.

GOLDEN: Thank you.

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