Speed Reads

sonic attacks

Cuba accuses U.S. of 'deliberately lying' about mysterious alleged sonic attacks on U.S. diplomats

On Thursday, Cuban Foreign Minister Bruno Rodriguez said the Trump administration was "deliberately lying" about purported sonic attacks on U.S. diplomats and spies in Havana, using the mysterious health issues "as a political pretext for damaging bilateral relations and eliminating the progress made" while Barack Obama was president. Starting last November, 24 U.S. officials or their relatives in Havana were attacked somehow by unknown culprits, the Trump administration says, with many of the diplomats reporting a strange noise before falling ill. In response, the U.S. pulled 60 percent of its diplomatic staff from Cuba and expelled two-thirds of Cuba's diplomatic staff in Washington.

Cuban officials up to and including President Raul Castro have insisted Cuba had nothing to do with the sounds, and the U.S. only accuses Havana of failing to protect the U.S. diplomats. In his press conference Thursday, Rodriguez said Cuba doesn't have any such sonic weaponry and argued that the range of symptoms reported — hearing loss, headaches, even concussions — could not have been caused by a single device.

Acoustics experts broadly agreed with that assessment, telling The New York Times in October that the "sonic weapons" theory is "more appropriate to a James Bond movie" than real life. Infrasound — frequencies to low for humans to hear — are hard to focus and mostly just annoying to humans. Ultrasound — frequencies too high human ears — is a possible culprit, but isn't known to have been weaponized and would be neutered by such things as walls and distance.

"I believe those people got something that hurt them," Jun Qin, an acoustic engineer at Southern Illinois University, told the Times. "But it could be something in the environment," like a virus or bacteria, or other toxins. Timothy Leighton, a professor of ultrasonics at Southampton University, suggested another possible culprit: "If you make people anxious that they're under attack from an ultrasonic weapon, those are the symptoms you'll get."