Published: Fri, January 12, 2018
Worldwide | By Isabel Fisher

USA probing if 'viral' attack sickened diplomats in Cuba

USA probing if 'viral' attack sickened diplomats in Cuba

Jeff Flake of Arizona, a Republican on the Foreign Relations Committee, said the U.S. had found no evidence of an attack on its diplomats in Cuba, according to the Associated Press.

Rubio countered Flake on Sunday in a series of tweets, saying the attacks are "documented fact".

"There are some people with symptoms happening that are unexplained", Flake, R-Ariz., told CNN last week while visiting the island.

Flake, a Senate Foreign Relations Committee member and a longtime leading advocate of normalizing ties with Cuba, met Friday with high-ranking Cuban officials including Foreign Minister Bruno Rodriguez and officials from the Interior Ministry, which oversees domestic security and works with foreign law-enforcement agencies.

"Maybe it wasn't acoustic, maybe they used microwaves, but that is irrelevant", he told reporters on Capitol Hill.

The AP reported that Federal Bureau of Investigation officials have not found any evidence that suggests sound waves were used to attack the Americans. Sen. "We shouldn't be using that word".

Todd Brown, Deputy Director of Diplomatic Security, said during the hearing that, apart from the possibility of acoustic attacks, other possibilities are being considered, and he cited among them a "viral" attack, that is, someone deliberately infecting the U.S. diplomats with a virus.

"It is impossible to conduct 24 separate and sophisticated attacks on USA government personnel in Havana without Castro regime knowing about it", Rubio said. Marco Rubio, a Florida Republican, shot back to Flake on Twitter.

According to Flake, the Federal Bureau of Investigation told Cuba it hadn't obtained evidence connecting the symptoms suffered by USA officials to the unknown weapon described as creating a sort of "sonic" wave. Officials told Congress there are many theories that haven't been ruled out — including the possibility of a virus deployed intentionally to infect the workers.

Senator Robert Menendez, a Cuban-American and ranking Democrat on the Western Hemisphere subcommittee, said Cuba had failed to meet its worldwide obligations but also that the State Department response had been "inadequate and troubling".

The incidents began in late 2016 when USA government workers and their families in Cuba began to experience unusual symptoms.

Diplomats have been treated for concussion-like symptoms, including hearing loss, dizziness, balance problems, visual complaints, headaches, fatigue, cognitive issues and difficulty sleeping, United States officials said.

"First of all, no matter what, there is no way you can conduct sophisticated attacks targeting American government officials in Havana without the Cuban government at least knowing about it", Rubio said.

FBI agents investigated the incidents in Cuba but so far have not determined what caused the illnesses.

Secretary of State Rex Tillerson convened the board December 11 and will formally notify Congress about its creation soon, Francisco Palmieri, the acting assistant secretary of state for western hemisphere affairs, told senators Tuesday during a Foreign Relations Committee oversight hearing on the attacks that on diplomats and other USA personnel in Cuba.

Palmieri replied that Tillerson has made a decision to convene an Accountability Review Board and that a congressional notification will be sent shortly. The most recent medically-confirmed attack occurred August 21, 2017. Tillerson told the Associated Press.

But US scientists have no idea what kind of weapon or agent could cause the symptoms, or whether the sounds heard were a by-product of the attack or its means of delivery.

Tillerson had told reporters at a news conference last month that the United States is "convinced these were targeted attacks". "Cuba is a security state, the Cuban government in general has a very tight lid on anything and everything that happens in that country".

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