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Rubio Presses State Department on Response to Attacks on U.S. Diplomats in Cuba
Washington, D.C. – U.S. Senator Marco Rubio (R-FL), chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations’ Subcommittee on Western Hemisphere, Transnational Crime, Civilian Security, Democracy, Human Rights, and Global Women’s Issues, today chaired a hearing entitled “Attacks on U.S. Diplomats in Cuba: Response and Oversight.” The goal of the hearing was to establish the facts surrounding the attacks on U.S. diplomats in Cuba, and conduct oversight over the State Department’s handling of the attacks.
Key excerpts of Rubio’s remarks are roughly transcribed below.
RUBIO: There are two goals to the hearing today. The first is to establish the facts of what has occurred. And the second is to conduct oversight over the conduct and activities of the United States State Department.
Here are the facts as will be testified to today by our panel: In late 2016, staff at the United States Embassy in Havana had began complaining of strange noises. And among the descriptions that they complained of, high-pitched beam of sound, incapacitating sound, baffling sensation akin to driving windows partially open in a car, or just intense pressure in one ear.
At the time of this report, the post’s leadership and the supporting office here in Washington, D.C. viewed this activity as harassment from forces hostile to the United States or U.S. presence in Cuba. Later, there was information gathered from additional individuals, including some of these, which suggested that the events that led to these complaints actually began as early as November of 2016.
The initial events that were reported occurred at diplomatic residences. But later, these events occurred at hotels. Individuals first visited the medical unit at the Embassy in December of 2016 and January of 2017. From February through April of 2017, there was an evaluation conducted of 80 members of the Embassy community. 16 of these were identified with symptoms and medically verifiable clinical findings of some combination similar to what you would see in patients that ‘have had a mild traumatic brain injury or concussion.’
In early July, the Bureau of Medical Services at the State Department convened a panel of academic experts to review case histories and the test results up to that point. And they arrived at a consensus. And the consensus is ‘the patterns of injuries were most likely related to trauma from a non-natural source.’
Later in August of 2017, the brain injury center at the University of Pennsylvania reevaluated embassy employees that were reporting symptoms. Additional individuals and incidents prior to April  were added to the list of confirmed cases. Subsequently, two additional individuals reported exposure in mid-August of last year. And those cases were medically confirmed as well, bringing the total number of cases to 24.
While the symptoms may vary, all of the medically-confirmed cases, all 24 of them, have described some combination of the following symptoms: sharp ear pain, dull headaches, ringing in one ear, vertigo, visual focusing issues, disorientation, nausea, and extreme fatigue.
As we’ve said earlier, the timeline of the reported incidents are as follows: the initial wave that [was] reported in December may have begun as early as November of 2016, and they occurred through late March of 2017. For March of 2017 through late April of 2017, there was a sporadic period of reported incidents. Then they stopped. And then, two additional reports happened in close proximity in August of last year. They were medically confirmed in September. These are the facts that will be testified to today by our panel.
Why was [the accountability review board] not done within 120 days of May 1, when we knew that there was serious injury?
Well that’s not what the law reads. It says that ‘in any case of serious injury, loss of life, etc, related to a United States government mission abroad.’ It does not say that you need to know who did it. In fact, that is one of the reasons for an accountability review board.
The bottom line is the State Department did not follow the law in setting one up within the 120 day period, in my opinion – and, I believe, in the opinion of others – given the fact that by early May we knew serious injury had occurred to U.S. personnel and their dependents related to their service and government mission abroad. It wasn’t one person – it was several people, as has been testified here.
I think it’s really unfair for any suggestion that people working on behalf of the U.S. government were not injured in Havana – imagine you are one of these people who are out there working on our behalf, who have now suffered from these injuries, and reading in a newspaper somewhere that what happened to you didn’t happen. Not only is it demoralizing, I think it’s incredibly unfair to them.
We can say that we don’t know how it happened. We can even say we can’t know for sure who did it. But two things we know for sure: people were hurt and the Cuban government knows who did it.
They just won’t say for some reason. And I think that’s the biggest take away from this hearing, other than I remain concerned about the State Department’s unwillingness to stand up to the ARB (Accountability Review Board) in a timely fashion in accordance with the law. And I imagine that would be a topic of further discussion down the road.