Mysterious "sonic" attacks targeting American diplomats in Cuba are so unlike anything State Department and FBI officials have ever seen that the Cuban government's claim that the high-pitched whirring sounds reported by U.S. Embassy staff are just cicadas seems almost plausible. Doctors treating victims of the attacks, though, have now found visible, perceptible damage to patients' brains, marking the first solid evidence that the sophisticated weapon described by embassy staff is entirely real, The Associated Press reports.
The futuristic attacks began last fall when U.S. diplomats abruptly started to lose their hearing. Eventually, at least 24 people reported symptoms including "mild traumatic brain injury, permanent hearing loss, loss of balance, severe headaches, and brain swelling," The New York Times reports, adding that "the FBI has been unable to duplicate the effects the diplomats have experienced in a lab." The United States pulled approximately 60 percent of its staff off the island as a safety precaution. In November, evidence arose that a USAID officer working out of Uzbekistan experienced a similar attack, giving credence to the theory that Russia is responsible.
American doctors discovered that the attacks led to changes in the white matter tracts of the brain — the material that allows brain cells to communicate with each other. Some officials cautioned that the attacks might not be "sonic" at all, and rather the sounds heard by victims are "the byproduct of something else that caused damage," AP writes. Sound waves have never before been known to cause damage to white matter tracts.
While many of the embassy victims have recovered from their symptoms, about a quarter experienced persisting issues. Either way, AP writes that "epidemiologists, who track disease patterns in populations, will monitor the 24 [American victims] for life."