State Department says consulate employees in China suffering similar symptoms to those sickened in Cuba

The mystery illness that struck several employees at the U.S. embassy in Cuba appears to have hit some U.S. diplomats in China.

The State Department says it has evacuated some employees and their families from our consulate in Guangzhou, China after one diplomat was sent home with symptoms eerily similar to the sickness that caused the U.S. government to recall more than half of our embassy staff in Havana. 


Heather Nauert, the State Department's spokeswoman, said "several" consulate employees had returned to the United States from China for further evaluation after they were screened as part of a task force Secretary of State Mike Pompeo created last month.  The force is investigating reports of hearing, vision, balance and memory damage.

The medical screenings in China are continuing, Nauert said.  There are about 170 U.S. diplomats or employees and their families in Guangzhou.

The State Department said in a health alert last month that the employee in Guangzhou reported "subtle and vague, but abnormal, sensations of sound and pressure" that had no immediate explanation.  Pompeo said then that the employee's symptoms were eerily similar to those reported by the Cuban embassy staff.

Doctors said in February that the symptoms among some 24 Havana embassy staffers were similar to those caused by concussions – headaches, balance problems, sleep disturbances and visual and hearing difficulties.

U.S. experts have said they know of no technology that would explain the symptoms.  But President Donald Trump and other U.S. officials have accused Cuba of having targeted U.S. personnel with some kind of "acoustic sonic weapon" for unknown reasons, an allegation the Cuban government has forcefully denied.

It isn't just diplomats who reported the symptoms.  Some U.S. tourists were also affected.

Some researchers at the University of Michigan say they may have an answer.

Miami Herald:

A team of computer scientists from the University of Michigan may have solved the mystery behind strange sounds heard by American diplomats in Havana, who later suffered a variety of medical disorders.

Professor Kevin Fu and members of the Security and Privacy Research Group at the University of Michigan say they have an explanation for what could have happened in Havana: two sources of ultrasound – such as listening devices – placed too close together could generate interference and provoke the intense sounds described by the victims.

And this may not have been done intentionally to harm diplomats, the scientists concluded in their study, first reported by the Daily Beast.

Those who have followed the case closely say the new theory makes sense.

"This is a variation of what I have always thought," James Cason, a former top U.S. diplomat in Havana, told el Nuevo Herald.  "It explains the sonic part, that no one was spotted planting new devices inside the homes and doing it from the outside would require something huge."

The only similarity between China and Cuba is that they are communist countries that keep extremely close tabs on Americans.  So the explanation makes sense in theory – but what is still unexplained is how the noise causes these specific symptoms.

I would not be so quick to dismiss the idea that this is some kind of attack rather than an "accident."  This is especially true since the news about our State Department employees' troubles in Cuba was widely reported.  Even if it was an "accident" in the placement of listening devices, the Chinese knew by now that their bugs cause health problems to Americans.  Perhaps it would have been difficult to remove them.  But the idea that this is some kind of psychological warfare cannot be dismissed.

It's unknown if the symptoms from the illness will be permanent.  The residual effects apparently last quite a while.  If it continues, the U.S. government will have to consider countermeasures, or permanently reducing their staff at these postings.

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