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United States

US health agency joins investigation into ‘sonic attacks’ in Cuba and China

The unexplained health incidents, which began last year, have injured US diplomats and their family members

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 12 July, 2018, 4:36am
UPDATED : Thursday, 12 July, 2018, 4:56am

The US Centres for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) have joined the investigation into the sonic incidents that have injured American diplomats and have confounded US officials and scientists since first discovered last year in Cuba.

Kenneth Merten, a former ambassador and now an acting principal deputy assistant secretary of state, told the House Foreign Affairs Committee on Wednesday that the CDC has joined a task force created by Secretary of State Mike Pompeo that is investigating the unexplained health incidents.

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“I don’t know if they have plans to travel yet, but their involvement in this is relatively recent,” Merten said. “But there is a possibility that they could become be more involved.”

The addition of the CDC reflects the continuing trouble the United States is having trying to determine the cause of the incidents that have left more than 25 Americans and US personnel experiencing headaches, hearing loss and other mysterious ailments in Cuba and China.

The bizarre incidents first made public last year helped upend two years of thawing relations between the United States and Cuba and raised new speculation whether Cuba was bringing back cold war tactics.

Referring to the incidents as “attacks,” the United States has not specifically accused Cuba, but holds them responsible for not keeping American diplomats safe.

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Cuba has denied responsibility and accused the US of slander. The Chinese government has warned the United States against politicising the cases.

The move to add the CDC to the inquiry comes as frustrated congressional leaders, including US House Foreign Affairs Chairman Ed Royce, a Republican, and his Democratic counterpart Eliot Engel, have called on the State Department to enlist the health organisation’s aid and send it to Havana to help the investigation.

“Why has the CDC not yet been deployed to Cuba?” Engel said on Wednesday. “It certainly seems to me we should if we want to get to the bottom of this. I don’t understand why that hasn’t happened.”

Royce said he and Engel would meet on Wednesday with Deputy Secretary of State John Sullivan, who leads the task force, to discuss the issue further.

Last month, Pompeo told the committee that Sullivan’s task force would investigate the incidents after a new case this spring involving a consulate worker in China that increased diplomatic concern and intrigue.

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A year-long FBI investigation has failed to find any cause of the incidents. Merten said the United States still did not know the source of the incidents or who was responsible.

Earlier this month, the Trump administration kicked nearly two-thirds of Cuba’s embassy personnel out of the United States after pulling many American diplomats from the US embassy in Havana.

“We remain very concerned about this and we’re looking for any tools we can find to what is causing this,” Merten said.