Silent sonic attack on U.S. diplomats in Cuba is a piercing wake-up call

Miami Herald Editorial Board

The Americans targeted by the sonic attack worked at the U.S. embassy in Havana.
The Americans targeted by the sonic attack worked at the U.S. embassy in Havana. AP

Currently taking center stage is the diplomacy — or lack of — between the United States and North Korea, and rightly so.

But in this hemisphere, Cuba, once again, is a source of intrigue and concern. State Department officials disclosed this week a mysterious attack against American and Canadian embassy employees in Havana.

U.S. officials said that a months-long investigation on the island reached the stunning conclusion that embassy employees had been attacked with a covert “advanced sonic weapon that operated outside the range of audible sound and had been deployed either inside or outside their residences.”

It’s a disturbing revelation coming from the island nation whose once-frigid relations with the United States have thawed. Some thawing.

Several U.S. embassy employees, and some from Canada, suffered severe hearing problems. They were left so physically impaired that they canceled their tours of duty on the island and left.

Basically, these diplomats came under acoustic attack in the form of a dog-whistle-style sound, unheard by humans. The sound-making devices were placed either inside or just outside the embassy employees’ homes.

The Cold War, “Man from U.N.C.L.E.” nature of this occurrence aside, it was an appalling assault on a nation with which diplomatic relations resumed with much hope and fanfare. We need answers. The Editorial Board has decried Cuba’s total lack of any good-faith effort to reform its repressive regime since relations with the United States restarted.

It’s no secret that U.S. diplomats in Cuba have long suffered occasional harassment before the 2015 diplomatic thaw. All foreign diplomats in Cuba, like the victims of this incident, lived in housing owned and maintained by the Cuban government. And everyone knows Cuba employs a state security apparatus that keeps many people, mainly U.S. diplomats, under surveillance.

But the use of sonic devices to intentionally harm diplomats would be unprecedented.

Apparently those affected arrived in 2016 when embassy staffing was beefed up following former President Obama’s outreach to Cuba.

But who is truly to blame? Here is where it gets interesting. Cuba, as expected, denies any involvement in the sonic assault. Which bring up the question: Could this be more meddling by Russia?

If so, it’s a sorry regression. The Cuban Missile Crisis, in 1962, was the last time Russians used Cuba to so perilously stick it to the United States.

Regardless, the United States expelled two Cuban diplomats from their embassy in Washington on May 23.

The Cuban government said in a lengthy statement late Wednesday that the decision to expel its diplomats was “unjustified and baseless.”

“The Castro regime has a long and documented history of acting in a manner adverse to U.S. national interests,” reminded Congresswoman Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (R-Miami).

The regime said in its defense: “Cuba has never permitted, nor will it permit, that Cuban territory be used for any action against accredited diplomatic officials or their families, with no exception.”

In other words, it, too, hints that a third party is responsible for this attack. U.S. officials say the investigation continues, and the possibility that the incidents were carried out by a third country such as Russia without Cuba’s knowledge is not out of the question.

Either way, it’s unconscionable that our future could slide back to what should be the past.