WASHINGTON — A senior federal law enforcement official told NBC News on Thursday that several U.S agencies are investigating allegations that the Cubans directed some kind of ultrasound energy at American diplomats that left several with damaged hearing.
The official said the State Department’s office of Diplomatic Security is leading the investigation. The FBI has one person in Havana, a legal attache with the American embassy, who can help. The FBI may be asked to provide technical assistance in the probe.
One State Department official confirmed reports that the “incidents” involved symptoms of hearing loss. And a Cuban government official told NBC News that the Americans had complained of an acoustic “incident.”
The State Department has also left open the possibility of a third country being involved. Iran, North Korea and Russia all have a significant diplomatic presence in Cuba.
“We don’t have any definitive answers about the source or the cause of what we consider to be incidents,” State Department spokeswoman Heather Nauert told reporters Wednesday.
She said that there are a “variety of physical symptoms in these American citizens who work for the U.S. government. We take those incidents very seriously, and there is an investigation currently under way.”
Cuban officials have denied directing any actions against the diplomats and have launched their own investigation.
“Cuba has never, nor would it ever, allow that the Cuban territory be used for any action against accredited diplomatic agents or their families,” the Cuban foreign ministry said in a statement Wednesday. “It reiterates its willingness to cooperate in the clarification of this situation.”
The U.S. first learned of the health issues toward the end of 2016, more than a year after the U.S. reopened its embassy in Havana.
Nauert said the Americans working in Cuba had returned stateside for “medical reasons.”
Two Cuban officials in Washington were asked to leave the U.S. in May as a result of the incidents.
The development threatens to set back relations between the two countries, which then-President Barack Obama took major steps to repair. President Donald Trump has undone some of the previous administration’s strides, but the U.S. embassy in Havana remains open.
“The Cuban government has a responsibility and an obligation under the Geneva Convention to protect our diplomats,” Nauert said. “That is part of the reason why this is such a major concern of ours, why we take this so seriously…in addition to the protection and security of Americans.”