Covert Cuban Device Likely Responsible For Hearing Loss Of U.S. Diplomats
ARI SHAPIRO, HOST:
Now we have a bizarre story of what appears to be international sabotage coming out of Cuba. Over the last couple of years, some U.S. diplomats in Havana lost their hearing. Some had to cut short their mission and return to the U.S. for medical treatment. In retaliation, the U.S. kicked two Cuban diplomats out of the country. The Associated Press reports that American officials have concluded that the diplomats in Havana were exposed to an advanced device that operated outside the range of audible sound. Michael Weissenstein of the AP joins us from Havana. Welcome to the show.
MICHAEL WEISSENSTEIN: Thanks.
SHAPIRO: Tell us more about what happened to these diplomats.
WEISSENSTEIN: So these are mainly diplomats that arrived last summer. And it's a normal change out of diplomatic tours. And some time in the fall, several of them began to suffer symptoms that included loss of hearing, headaches - I've also heard nausea.
And it was so severe some of them had to go back to the States for medical treatment. And they - U.S. launched an investigation and came to conclude sometime between then and recent months that these diplomats were either attacked deliberately with a sound device or were somehow exposed in a way that caused them to suffer these very severe symptoms.
SHAPIRO: And this device was likely placed somewhere near or outside of their homes in Havana?
WEISSENSTEIN: It seems to have been right inside or outside the homes. Or, if it was some sort of sound weapon, fired from outside into inside. It's - see, it's unclear, at least to us, at this point what it was, and I think to the U.S. investigators as well.
SHAPIRO: If it was a weapon of the sort that you're describing, was it necessarily deployed by the Cubans? Or could it have been someone else?
WEISSENSTEIN: We've been hearing since this came to light that there is a serious look at whether a third country was involved in this. And the third country that comes up repeatedly in our reporting and others is Russia.
SHAPIRO: Because Cuba has a legal obligation to protect foreign diplomats who are in their country, right?
WEISSENSTEIN: That's right. Cuba is denying vehemently - it issued a statement last night - that it had anything to do with this and is saying that it takes extremely seriously its obligation under the Geneva Convention to protect any and all diplomats that are inside the country. Now, Cuba is an extremely monitored and controlled country. And nobody here is more monitored than U.S. diplomats. So it raises the question of, how could anyone have done anything to these diplomats without the Cubans knowing?
SHAPIRO: This all took place after President Obama opened up relations with Cuba. How does this incident change the narrative of the relationship between these two countries over the last couple of years?
WEISSENSTEIN: You know, I'm not sure that it's going to have broader implications for the relationship in the long term. I mean, the relationship has already changed somewhat with President Trump's rollback of some of the Obama measures. Both countries seem to be, at least in public, not making a huge scandal out of it. We only found out about it yesterday, many months after some of these events had occurred. But it is like something out of the Cold War. I mean, we thought these sort of incidents had ended. But this is - whoever did it, it's very serious and something that we didn't expect to see in this new U.S.-Cuba relationship.
SHAPIRO: Michael Weissenstein is the AP's news director for the Caribbean speaking with us from Havana, Cuba. Thanks very much.
WEISSENSTEIN: My pleasure.
SHAPIRO: And the Canadian government said today that at least one of its diplomats in Havana has been treated for hearing loss as well.
(SOUNDBITE OF LESTER, NOWHERE AND SAITO'S "SIDEWALKIN'") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.