More Americans flee US consulate in China as mysterious sonic sickness linked to Cuba illness spreads
A US worker and his family were evacuated from the Guangzhou consulate after they had symptoms like those that left 24 people in Cuba with ‘brain injuries’
More US citizens have been evacuated from a US consulate in Guangzhou, China, after suffering what appears to be the same strange, sound-related illness that befell Cuba consulate workers in 2016, it emerged on Wednesday.
Consulate worker Mark Lenzi and his wife heard strange noises over the course of several months before falling ill with what they described as neurological symptoms, The New York Times reported.
On Wednesday night they were flown to the US with their children, including a three-year-old boy who was also affected.
Speaking to The Washington Post that same day, Lenzi described the sound as being like “marbles bouncing and hitting a floor then rolling on an incline with a static sound”.
They asked their neighbour if he was responsible, but he denied it. Months later, the couple began to develop excruciating headaches and suffer sleep deprivation – as did their son. Consulate doctors prescribed painkillers and sleeping tablets, they said.
Then, last month, he found out that their neighbour had been evacuated from the consulate, having suffered similar symptoms. Those included “subtle and vague, but abnormal, sensations of sound and pressure”, the State Department said at the time.
He was checked and diagnosed with a “mild traumatic brain injury”, the State Department said.
That statement also said the government did not know of any other cases - which was a lie, Lenzi told The Washington Post; he said he’d filed reports with both the consulate and the State Department.
He also said that the State Department froze out his security clearances after he spoke up, making it impossible for him to work at the consulate, and that he is now calling for the resignation of the US ambassador to China, who is based in Beijing.
“Mark is a very capable guy,” Lenzi’s friend, political consultant Michael Getto, told the Post. “If he says something is wrong or amiss, then it is.”
A State Department medical team has flown in to Guangzhou and is performing tests on other employees and their family members, the Times reported. There are around 170 workers at the site, plus family members.
The Guangzhou illnesses follow identical cases that occurred at the US embassy in Havana, Cuba, in 2016, when 24 people - all embassy workers and their families there - suffered the same symptoms.
Those symptoms included dizziness, headaches, tinnitus, fatigue, cognitive issues, visual problems, ear complaints and hearing loss, and difficulty sleeping, the State Department said at the time. Tests concluded that they had suffered injuries consistent with concussion or minor brain injury.
In the wake of the initial illnesses, speculation on the cause included the possibility of targeted sonic attacks that might cause such disruption. The US, blaming Havana, expelled Cuban dignitaries following the incident. The Associated Press later obtained a recording of what it said were the sounds heard by the sufferers before they fell ill.
Other theories in the matter include bacterial poisoning, a toxic attack, surveillance devices that have emitted disabling sounds and mass hysteria.
On Tuesday, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo announced the launch of The Health Incidents Response Task Force, which had been created to respond to the unexplained ailments, including testing workers and families at the Guangzhou consulate.
The task force’s role includes “identification and treatment of affected personnel and family members, investigation and risk mitigation, messaging, and diplomatic outreach”.
In the same announcement, he said that “24 US government personnel and family members who served in Cuba have been medically-confirmed as having symptoms and clinical findings similar to those noted following concussion or minor traumatic brain injury”, as well as the initial China consulate victim.
“The precise nature of the injuries suffered by the affected personnel, and whether a common cause exists for all cases, has not yet been established,” he added.
On May 24, Chinese foreign ministry spokesman Lu Kang said in a regular press briefing that China had investigated the initial May 16 case, but had not found a reason for the illness.
“China has conducted a very careful investigation and has given preliminary findings to the US, and we haven’t found the reason or clues that led to the situation mentioned by the US,” he said.
“China has always followed the Vienna Convention on diplomatic relations and consular relations to protect the US diplomatic staff and staff from other countries.”