The State Department has expelled two diplomats from the Cuban Embassy in Washington following a series of unexplained incidents in Cuba that left U.S. officials there with physical symptoms that one official said includes potentially permanent hearing loss.
Spokeswoman Heather Nauert said the two Cubans were asked to leave the U.S. on May 23 after Americans in Cuba “reported incidents which have caused a variety of physical symptoms,” causing them to leave the island.
Nauert said the first of the incidents was reported in late 2016 and that they had continued. She would not say what the symptoms were except that they were not life-threatening. Nauert also declined to provide details about the incidents. The FBI and Diplomatic Security Service are investigating.
However, other U.S. officials said that the symptoms included hearing loss.
One person familiar with the U.S. investigation said investigators were looking into whether elements of the Cuban government placed sonic devices that produce non-audible sound inside or outside the residences of roughly five U.S. Embassy staffers with the intent of deafening them. That individual and the U.S. officials weren’t authorized to discuss the investigation publicly and spoke on condition of anonymity.
It was suggested the hearing loss could have been caused by some kind of sonic device placed outside the diplomats’ homes, emitting inaudible sound waves that can cause deafness.
Staff began complaining of the strange symptoms late last year, Ms Nauert said.
While they were not life-threatening, she revealed a number of people had been brought home to the US as a result.
Ms Nauert said the government was taking it “very seriously, and there is an investigation currently under way”.
It is understood that the two expelled Cuban diplomats left Washington DC in May, the BBC’s Will Grant reports from Havana.
So far, their government has not responded to the reports.
The US believes several State Department employees at the US embassy in Havana were subjected to an “acoustic attack” using sonic devices that left at least two with such serious health problems they needed to be brought back to the US for treatment, several senior State Department officials told CNN.
One official said the employees could have suffered permanent hearing loss as a result.
The employees affected were not at the same place at the same time, but suffered a variety of physical symptoms since late 2016 which resembled concussions.
The State Department raised the incidents with the Cuban government over the course of several months and sent medical personnel to Havana, but have not been able to determine exactly what happened.
“It can be quite serious,” one official told CNN. “We have worked with the Cubans to try and find out what is going on. They insist they don’t know, but it has been very worrying and troublesome.”
“We don’t have any definitive answers about the source or the cause of what we consider to be incidents,” Nauert said. “It’s caused a variety of physical symptoms in these American citizens who work for the U.S. government. We take those incidents very seriously, and there is an investigation currently under way.”
As a result, the United States on May 23 asked two Cuban officials in Washington to leave the country and they have done so, Nauert said.
“What this requires is providing medical examinations to these people,” Nauert said. “Initially, when they’d started reporting what I will just call symptoms, it took time to figure out what it was, and this is still ongoing. So we’re monitoring it.”
A U.S. government official said several colleagues at the U.S. embassy in Havana were evacuated back to the United States for hearing problems and other symptoms over the past six months. Some subsequently got hearing aids, said the official, who spoke on condition of anonymity.