Jefferson Morley | January 10, 2019
Putin’s Crickets? A Noisy Bug Can’t Explain CIA Injuries in Cuba
This story only deepens the weird continuing mystery of the medical problems suffered by two dozen U.S. Embassy staffers in Cuba in recent years.
Investigators have concluded the 22 (or 24) victims had suffered some kind of “sonic attack” that caused tissue and neurological damage. According to the New Yorker, several undercover CIA officers in Cuba reported troubling sensations that left them with serious injuries. When the agency sent reinforcements to Havana, at least two of them were afflicted as well, according to reporters Adam Entous and Jon Lee Anderson
All the victims described being bombarded by waves of pressure in their heads. Unlike Lee, though, the C.I.A. officers said that they heard loud sounds, similar to cicadas, which seemed to follow them from one room to another.
The U.S. Embassy has drawn down its staff as a result of the so-called attacks. The Cuban government denies involvement and has cooperated in the investigation. The U.S. State Department does not say its employees were the victim of an “attack.” What happened is unknown.
The reports of the Havana Syndrome have coincided with–and disrupted–improved U.S.-Cuban relations since the two countries restored diplomatic relations in 2017.
The political context for the medical dispute is important. Hardliners in both Cuba and the CIA are wary of the rapprochement and might have motive to disrupt it.
The Cubans fear the CIA will never stop trying to overthrow their government, which it has tried and failed to do for the last 70 years. The agency’s ugly record of attempted assassinations and successful terror bombings on Cuban targets justifies such worries.
The agency, which has been repeatedly outplayed by Cuba’s Diregencia General de Inteligencia (DGI) over the years, doesn’t care to concede a victory to a long-time rival.
NBC News has reported, without much evidence, that unnamed U.S. officials say Russia mounted the attack with an unknown weapon.
Now researchers say, an ordinary bug, not a technological innovation, was responsible.
Researchers in the UK and US now say there is “strong evidence that an echoing cricket call, rather than a sonic attack or other technological device” was responsible for the noises
The researchers say the sounds heard on a tape that supposedly contained sound impulses heard in the attack is identical to the sound of a bug that lives in Cuba.
The study was done by Dr Fernando Montealegre-Zapata, professor of sensory biology at the University of Lincoln, and Alexander L Stubbs from the University of California Berkeley. The bug in question is the Indies short-tailed cricket, otherwise known as Anurogryllus celerinictus.
You can listen to the tape here.
What’s Going On?
It would be easy to conclude the “sonic attack” is a U.S. government hoax designed to impugn Cuba and Russia, long-time targets of the CIA. This is where The Intercept seems to be going.
One could speculate, a la NBC, that the Russian’s are behind the attack. But there’s no real evidence of that–only unnamed “U.S. officials” saying the claim is confirmed by unspecified signals intelligence. That’s weak sourcing and there’s every reason to be skeptical of it.
But the fact that a pro-CIA reporter at NBC has overhyped a weak story doesn’t mean that nothing happened in Cuba. The New Yorker reporters, Entous and Anderson, can’t be accused of being dupes of the agency. Their story, along with many others, confirms that real people suffered real injuries, which had certain common characteristics and other marked differences.
The medical evidence is disputed. Doctors at the University of Miami and University of Pennsylvania came to the same conclusion: the victims showed signs of brain trauma–“a concussion without a concussion,” one doctor said.
The Guardian reports that other doctors said these specialists had over-interpreted the evidence and suggested other possible causes needed further investigation.
About the only indisputable facts are that people suffered injuries and no one has a good idea of why. NBC’s lousy reporting doesn’t change these facts.
Mark Zaid, a Washington attorney who represents eight of the State Department employees involved, said the crickets are irrelevant.
“People want to say because it’s the sound of a cricket, therefore nothing happened. All the doctors agree my clients suffered visible injuries. It is inappropriate and insulting to ridicule their injuries.”
The mystery deepens.
One could speculate, a la NBC, that the Russian’s are behind the attack but there’s no evidence of that–only unnamed “U.S. officials” saying the claim is confirmed by unspecified signals intelligence. That’s weak sourcing and there’s every reason to be skeptical of it.
So the mind wanders.
Is it possible the sounds generated by the crickets cause the damage suffered by the CIA officers and U.S. diplomats? After all, the CIA officers said they heard a sound “similar to cicadas.”
But then why didn’t Cubans in the vicinity of the crickets fall ill?
Did Putin (or Cuban intelligence) weaponize the crickets against the Americans? Not even NBC has not suggested that.
Like I said, it is a weird story that has yet to be explained. I’ll be speaking to some doctors for answers.