NBC News also reviewed hundreds of pages of medical records of U.S. government workers evacuated from both Cuba and China, including those the U.S. has “medically confirmed” were attacked and those it ultimately said were not.
Most of the American diplomatic evacuees have improved enough to resume work, State Department officials said. Some have been granted accommodations, such as shortened work hours, dimmed office lights or special glasses. Meanwhile, the White House National Security Council is preparing legislation to deal with gaps that Workers’ Compensation doesn’t currently cover, such as care for affected spouses or pay-outs for permanent impairment of the brain.
In internal State Department instructions reviewed by NBC News, workers in Cuba and China were told not to discuss what they knew with the public, with reporters or on social media.
In May, Pompeo called Werner’s case “entirely consistent” with the Cuba patients. But now top U.S. diplomats say they’re not sure it’s the same thing, with one telling the House Foreign Affairs Committee it’s “apples and oranges.”
And the State Department, in explaining why it’s not setting up a review board to assess the response in Cuba, told NBC News that Pompeo didn’t believe there was enough information to prove that Werner’s injury was “related to a U.S. government mission abroad.”
Somebody please set us straight here. Wasn’t there an ARB for the Cuba attack? Or was there an ARB Havana but no ARB Guangzhou? How did State made a determination that there wasn’t enough information the injury was “related to a U.S. government mission abroad” without convening an Accountability Review Board? Did they use their Magic 8 crystal ball?
Physicians treating diplomats evacuated from #Cuba, China wouldn't speak on-record. But one recalled a patient with all the same symptoms who was "cleared." He said Penn doctors "getting thrown under the bus" by "doubting voices in the State Department." https://t.co/6I3PUgsxfs
Even more worrying is that some diplomats and doctors say the U.S. government is working to minimize what happened in China, deeming some cases that found similar conditions to those of the Cuba evacuees as “indeterminate.” https://t.co/3CBGATAeb0 (4/7) pic.twitter.com/MNPf9FvKXY
A State Department employee posted at the U.S. Consulate General in Guangzhou is reported to have some “abnormal” “sensations of sound and pressure” which is similar to those reported by personnel at U.S. Mission Cuba. We did hear about this prior to MSM reporting the incident and asked the agency’s US Asia Pacific Media Hub to connect us with Guangzhou but — you guessed it — their black hole inbox also worked really, really well, and we never heard anything back. We are pleased to see the news is out, and folks are not waiting months to react.
USCG Guangzhou is headed by Principal Officer Charles Bennett. We understand that USCG Guangzhou did a townhall for post employees/families 2-3 hours after it sent out the health alert. Another townhall was also supposed to be held on May 25 but we have not heard if that actually happened.
Via USCG Guangzhou: “Throughout the past two centuries, dating back to the presidency of George Washington, Consulate Guangzhou (Canton), as America’s oldest diplomatic post in China and one of America’s oldest posts in the Far East, has played a pivotal role in promoting America’s relationship with China. Today, the Consulate promotes trade and commercial ties, engages China across-the board on key American policy objectives, and promotes public diplomacy through visitor exchanges. The Consulate General is the only U.S. mission in China to process American adoptions and immigrant visas, making it one of the U.S. Department of State’s busiest consular-related posts.”
Note that as of May 2017, the U.S. China Mission (Embassy Beijing, and Consulates General Chengdu, Guangzhou, Shanghai, Shenyang and Wuhan) had representatives from 33 U.S. Government agencies and an authorized staff of 729 U.S. direct-hire American employees, 168 local-hire Americans and 1,807 non-American locally employed (LE) staff members.
In FY2016 Consulate General Guangzhou processed more than 54,000 immigrant visas, making it the third busiest immigrant visa unit in the world. It also had approximately 210 First and Second Tour (FAST) employees, among the largest number of any U.S. overseas mission.
According to State/OIG, Mission China’s Consular Sections provide services to a community of U.S. citizens, both residents and visitors, which the embassy estimated to be as many as 800,000 on any given day. “Factors affecting American citizen services included a growing demand for notarial services and chronic difficulties in obtaining Chinese government permission to visit the approximately 100 U.S. citizens imprisoned in China.”
An American government employee posted in Guangzhou, China has signs of possible brain injury after reporting disturbing sounds and sensations, events that seemed parallel to ailments that affected American diplomats in Cuba https://t.co/vYW9BIvlH2
China's Foreign Ministry on Thu responded to reports that a US consular employee in Guangzhou suffered abnormal sensations of sound and pressure, saying China always protects foreign diplomats and has found no evidence to support the claim. pic.twitter.com/6ljKR4EtpG
The most commonly known use for ultrasound – high-frequency sound waves human ears can’t hear – is a medical device used for examining a fetus during pregnancy. But there are plenty of other uses. Many offices have occupancy sensors that use ultrasound to detect movement and keep the lights on when someone is in a space, and off when nobody is around. These sensors operate at frequencies such as 32 kilohertz, far above what the human ear can hear – which is a range from 20 hertz to 20 kilohertz. Other products use ultrasound to deliver targeted sound, for instance allowing a museum to play a recording for visitors in one area of an exhibit without disturbing others nearby. Electronic pest repellents use ultrasound to keep rodents or insects at bay. A similar product can even be used to disperse teenagers; aging tends to reduce people’s ability to hear higher frequency sounds, so a noisemaker can annoy young people without adults even noticing. (This has also let teens create smartphone ringtones their elders can’t hear.)
2. What can go wrong with ultrasound?
Airborne ultrasound is not inherently bad. But things can go wrong. A former colleague of Kevin’s used to hear strange sounds from his hearing aid when in rooms with occupancy sensors, likely because the hearing aid’s electronics improperly converted the ultrasound into audible noises. These noises were annoying, but not harmful. A similar problem tainted one of our students’ research, conducted in a room that, unbeknownst to him, had an ultrasonic room occupancy sensor in the ceiling.
3. Should people worry about ultrasound causing bodily harm?
It’s well-known that sounds that are too loud can damage people’s ears and hearing. However, there’s little evidence of ultrasound causing bodily harm without prolonged, direct physical contact at high intensity. If you are accidentally subjected to extremely intense ultrasound (such as when holding an ultrasonic arc welder), you could experience an annoyance like a headache or temporary loss of balance. Academics disagree about safe levels of airborne ultrasound. The U.S. Occupational Safety and Health Administration warns of potential health risks from audible subharmonic byproducts of ultrasound, more so than the ultrasound itself. Many animals can hear higher frequencies than humans. Dogs can hear higher-pitched whistles, for instance. One of our students noticed that his pet turtles would begin to dance rhythmically when he performed ultrasound experiments!
4. What might have happened in Cuba?
In early 2017, U.S. diplomats in Cuba reported hearing strange metallic sounds, and suffering hearing loss and other neurological harm. Later reports of similar effects came from Canadian diplomats and tourists from both Canada and the U.S. Possible explanations have varied: Some have alleged Cuba used an unknown sonic weapon, while others have blamed “mass hysteria.”
Our research offers a new explanation not previously considered by others: The true cause could have been equipment trying to listen in on the diplomats’ and visitors’ conversations. We were able to use ultrasonic tones to create sounds like those that were described and recorded in Cuba. No single ultrasonic tone would do this, but as with musical combination tones, combining more than one can create audible byproduct sounds, including by accident.
Further, we created a proof-of-concept eavesdropping device that would record audible conversations and transmit the recordings to a nearby surveillance team over an inaudible ultrasonic link. When we placed a second inaudible ultrasonic device in the area, we were able to create interference – technically called “intermodulation distortion” – between the two signals that made similar sounds to those recorded in Cuba. We were even able to control the volume of the audible sounds by varying the strength of the ultrasonic signals. Without additional evidence, our research does not identify what actually happened in Cuba, but it provides a plausible explanation for what might have happened, even if the eavesdroppers were not trying to harm people.
The University of Pennsylvania’s Center for Brain Injury and Repair was selected to coordinate the evaluation, treatment and rehabilitation of 21 government personnel (11 women and 10 men) identified by the State Department and evaluated an average of 203 days following exposure to reported sound (described as “buzzing,” “grinding metal,” “piercing squeals” or “humming”) and sensory phenomena (described as pressure-like or vibrating and likened to air “baffling” inside a moving car with the windows partially rolled down) at the US Embassy in Havana, Cuba in late 2016.
“Of the 21 individuals assessed at Penn, 17 reported cognitive or behavioral problems such as difficulty remembering, concentrating, or both. “It’s not that any patient can’t do a given task, but it requires way more effort,” said coauthor Randel Swanson, DO, PhD, a brain injury rehabilitation specialist at the University of Pennsylvania’s Center for Brain Injury and Repair. “They don’t have as much cognitive reserve.”
The author and his coauthors signed a nondisclosure agreement with the State Department, “so they cannot discuss whether they know more about what happened in Havana than has already been made public.”
The study concludes that “The unique circumstances of these patients and the clinical manifestations detailed in this report raise concern about a new mechanism for possible acquired brain injury from an exposure of unknown origin.”
Reuters is reporting that Cuba has granted a visa to senior career diplomat Philip Goldberg who will soon take up post as charge d‘affaires at the U.S. Embassy in Havana, “He will head a mission that Washington stripped of many staff four months ago amid a dispute over mystery illnesses among its diplomats on the Communist-run island. He is likely to spend about six months in the position though the length of his stint is not certain, said the U.S. official, who spoke on condition of anonymity.”
On September 29, 2017, the State Department placed the U.S. Embassy in Havana on “ordered departure” status, making the departure of non-emergency personnel and family members from Cuba mandatory. This follows the earlier declaration for an “authorized departure” over Hurricane Irma, and after months of these reported “sonic” attacks. The State Department has also issued a new Travel Warning advising U.S. citizens to avoid travel to Cuba: “Because our personnel’s safety is at risk, and we are unable to identify the source of the attacks, we believe U.S. citizens may also be at risk and warn them not to travel to Cuba.”
An internal Bureau of Western Hemisphere Affairs document obtained by CBS News shows the State Department was fully aware of the extent of the attacks on its diplomats in Havana, Cuba, long before it was forced to acknowledge them.
State Department Spokesperson Heather Nauert only admitted the attacks were occurring after CBS News Radio first reported them August 9. The diplomats complained about symptoms ranging from hearing loss and nausea to headaches and balance disorders after the State Department said “incidents” began affecting them beginning in late 2016. A source familiar with these incidents says officials are investigating whether the diplomats were targets of a type of sonic attack directed at their homes, which were provided by the Cuban government. The source says reports of more attacks affecting U.S. embassy workers on the island continue.
At the time, Nauert said she didn’t believe the number of Americans injured was in the tens or dozens. But a source says that by the time the State Department first publicly acknowledged the attacks, it knew the reports of Americans injured had reached double-digits.
For those interested in the Moscow incidents, we’ve dug up the John Hopkins and subsequent technical reports on the Moscow microwave study (abstract and links below). We understand that there is also an AFSA report prepared on the Moscow incidents but we have not been able to locate a copy.
PB288163 | Evaluation of Health Status of Foreign Service and other Employees from Selected Eastern European Posts, Abraham M. Lilienfeld, M.D., Department of Epidemiology, School of Hygiene and Public Health The Johns Hopkins University (1978): This is a biostatistical study of 1827 Department of State employees and their dependents at the Moscow Embassy and 2561 employees and their dependents from other Eastern European Embassies. Health records, health questionnaires and death certificates were the basic information sources. The study is the impact of the Moscow environment including microwave exposure on the health status and mortality of the employees·. It was concluded that personnel working at the American Embassy in Moscow from 1953 to 1976 suffered no ill effects from the microwaves beamed at the Chancery. Excerpt:
A relatively high proportion of cancer deaths in both female employee groups was noted–8 out of 11 deaths among the Moscow and 14 out of 31 deaths among the Comparison group. However, it was not possible to find any satisfactory explanation for this, due mainly to the small numbers of deaths involved and the absence of information on many epidemiological characteristics that influence the occurrence of various types of malignant neoplasms. To summarize the mortality experience observed in the employees’ groups: there is no evidence that the Moscow group has experienced any higher total mortality or for any specific causes of death up to this time. It should be noted, however, that the population studied was relatively young and it is too early to have been able to detect long term mortality effects except for those who had served in the earliest period of the study. (p.243)
The results of this study may well be interpreted as indicating that exposure to microwave radiation at the levels experienced at the Moscow embassy has not produced any deleterious health effects thus far. It should be clear however, that with the limitations previously discussed, any generalizations should be cautiously made. All that can be said at present is that no deleterious effects have been noted in the study population, based on the data that have been collected and analyzed. Since the group with the highest exposure to microwaves, those who were present at the Moscow embassy during the period from June 1975 to February 1976, has had only a short time for any effects to appear, it would seem desirable that this particular study population should be contacted at periodic intervals of 2 to 3 years, within the next several years in order to ascertain if any health effects would appear. Furthermore, it would be important to develop a surveillance system for deaths in the entire study population to be certain that no mortality differences occur in the future and to monitor the proportion of deaths due to malignancies, especially among the women.
There is also a need for an authoritative biophysical analysis of the microwave field that has been illuminating the Moscow embassy during the past 25 years with assessments based on theoretical considerations of the likelihood of any biological effects.
NTIA-SP-81-12 | The Microwave Radiation at U.S. Embassy Moscow and Its Biological Implications: An Assessment (by NTIA/ERMAC, US Dept. of Commerce; US Dept. of State; and Applied Physics Laboratory, The Johns Hopkins University) 1981: This report presents the results of an assessment of the likelihood of biological effects from the microwave environment within the U.S. Embassy in Moscow, USSR, based on a retrospective analysis of that environment. It contains a description of the microwave fields and models power density distribution within the Embassy from 1966 to 1977; estimated personnel exposures as a function of work and living locations in the Embassy; and the results of an assessment of the biological implications of the type and levels of exposure described. In summary, it was concluded that no deleterious biological effects to personnel would be anticipated from the micro- wave exposures as described. Read the full report here PB83155804 (PDF).
Posted: 9:17 am PT
On September 6, the State Department issued a Travel Warning for Cuba warning U.S. citizens to “carefully reconsider” travel to Cuba due to Hurricane Irma and announced the authorized departure of USG employees and family members. This follows the declaration of “authorized departure” status for the U.S. embassies in Haiti and the Dominican Republic yesterday. As of this writing, no evacuation has been announced for U.S. Embassy Nassau.
The Department of State warns U.S. citizens to carefully reconsider travel to Cuba due to Hurricane Irma, a Category 5 storm that is projected to impact Cuba. This storm may bring significant rainfall and wind that may result in life-threatening flooding, flash flooding, mudslides, and storm surge. Disruptions to travel and services are likely throughout the country. On September 6, the Department authorized the voluntary departure of U.S. government employees and their family members due to Hurricane Irma.