Cuba military officials call alleged sonic attacks against diplomats ‘science fiction’

From left, in the back row: an unidentified officer and Dr. Manuel Villar. In the front row, Lt. Col. José Alazo and Col. Ramiro Ramírez.
From left, in the back row: an unidentified officer and Dr. Manuel Villar. In the front row, Lt. Col. José Alazo and Col. Ramiro Ramírez.

Some 2,000 investigators and scientists were assigned to uncover the mystery behind alleged sonic attacks against U.S. diplomats in Havana. Three hundred people were interviewed. Air and soil samples were analyzed. Hotel rooms and home surroundings were scoured for evidence.

Nothing was found — at least that’s what high-ranking Cuban military officials and investigators told NBC and Reuters this week in separate interviews.

Cuban officials in charge of the investigation in Havana emphatically denied that their government was involved in the attacks and dismissed the idea as “slander.”

“It is impossible. We’re talking about science fiction,” Lt. Col. José Alazo, head of the Interior Ministry’s criminal investigation unit (MININT), told Reuters.

“Cuba has never produced these type of weapons,” he told NBC. “We’ve been unable to find anything to prove this situation exists or ever existed,” Alazo said.

Most of those who spoke to the foreign press are high-ranking officials at the Interior Ministry, the same body that carries out surveillance of foreign diplomats on the island. In fact, one of the officials interviewed is Col. Ramiro Ramírez, who is responsible for the security of diplomats in Cuba.

“Our main concern at the moment is the accusations the U.S. government is making and we are focusing on that because this is a slander,” he told Reuters.

The first attacks were reported in November and the last one in August.

A former MININT intelligence official, who defected to the United States in 1989, told el Nuevo Herald he does not believe the Cuban government accounts.

“I am convinced that it was the Cubans,” said Enrique García, who worked 11 years for the Cuban intelligence and later had ties to the U.S. intelligence community.

“It was the Cubans with Cuban technology. Taking into account they [the attacks] were repeated in August, the intention must have been to do physical harm, to disturb, although they may have miscalculated the intensity of the effects,” he added.

According to the officials interviewed by NBC and Reuters, Cuba deployed 2,000 investigators, including security officials and scientists. They examined two rooms in hotels where U.S. officials reported incidents (at the Hotel Capri and the Hotel Nacional) and the surroundings at homes of the affected diplomats. Almost 300 people were interviewed, officials said.

The Cuban investigation teams also analyzed air and soil samples, ruled out insect-borne diseases, poisoning by toxins or symptoms produced by electromagnetic waves. Cuban doctors evaluated other people to find victims outside the diplomatic community.

“Not even one person was sick,” Dr. Manuel Villar told the media outlets.

“We’ve been unable to find anything to prove this situation exists or ever existed,” Alazo said.

Cuban officials confirmed that FBI investigators have traveled to the island — as recently as this week. But Cuban investigators said they have not been given access to the medical records of the affected diplomats or to their residences in Havana.

The State Department has not directly blamed Cuba for the attacks, but the U.S. has blamed the Cuban government for failing to adequately protect its diplomatic staff on the island.

American investigators also have not found the culprit behind the attacks or determined what kind of weapon was used. So far, the State Department has identified 24 victims with symptoms ranging from headaches, disorientation and hearing loss to even more serious brain damage. Several victims said they heard strange sounds; while others only reported symptoms.

Cuban experts tied to the investigation have dismissed the theory that the attacks were carried out by a sonic device.

U.S. authorities shared 14 recordings of sounds heard by their personnel in Havana but Cuban officials told Reuters they did not find anything harmful. Even if the sounds used to harm the diplomats were not audible, Villar — the doctor — speculated that the source of such an attack would have to be seen from space and that “it would be enormous.”

There are also Canadian diplomats affected but the Cuban government has not publicly commented on those cases. According to García, the former Cuban intelligence official, the inclusion of Canadian diplomats might be intended to mislead public opinion.

The fact that MININT officials gave on-camera interviews to foreign press is a sign of the Cuban authorities’ eagerness to respond to criticism coming from the Donald Trump administration. Last week, Trump said that “Cuba is responsible” for the alleged attacks.

The State Department has pulled out its non-emergency personnel from the embassy in Havana, disrupting travel of Cubans to the U.S. and family reunification.

The truth may never be known, García said, insisting that if the Cuban government is behind the attacks or knows who is responsible, it will be difficult to prove.

“They [Cubans] know that it’s going to be almost impossible to prove it because they are the ones that would have the device.”

Follow Nora Gámez Torres on Twitter: @ngameztorres

Related stories from Miami Herald