Investigators had previously hypothesized that the hearing, vision, balance, and memory problems the victims experienced were the result of a type of sonic weapon, based on the victims’ reports they heard loud but localized high-pitch sounds in their rooms before they started to experience symptoms. The discovery of changes to their white matter tracts, which are involved in communication within the brain, casts serious doubts on that theory, leaving officials struggling once again to explain what kind of invisible attack could trigger such damage.
According to the AP, U.S. officials are now saying the sounds the embassy personnel heard before experiencing ear-ringing and hearing loss might have been a side effect of something else that caused the more serious brain damage.
The patients began falling ill in homes and later in hotels not long after the U.S. Embassy in Havana reopened in 2015. In November 2017, it was revealed a USAID officer based at the U.S. Embassy in Uzbekistan in September suffered symptoms similar to those in the Cuba cases, raising suspicions of Russian involvement. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson said Wednesday he was “convinced these were targeted attacks” but didn’t know who was behind them, according to the AP.
The incident has led to greater tension between Cuba and the United States, even prompting Tillerson to threaten to close the embassy in Havana. Cuba has bristled at accusations of involvement, trumpeted its own investigation, argued that it could not have been behind the attacks, and called on the U.S. to release all its information on the incident.
U.S. officials haven’t said whether all 24 patients experienced the brain damage, the AP reports, and we don’t know exactly how the brain damage relates to the symptoms. Most have recovered, but some still have persistent symptoms. The last of the mysterious attacks in Cuba was reported in August, but given the State Department is requiring its employees going to Cuba to undergo various tests, it seems it hasn’t ruled out the possibility of future mystery attacks.