- The Washington Times - Wednesday, July 11, 2018

Nearly two years have gone by since American diplomats were sickened by mysterious sensations from sound and pressure at the U.S. embassy in Cuba, but according to the top State Department official for Latin America, investigators still haven’t figured out what caused the incident or who was behind it.

While many believe the diplomats were victims of some sort of sonic attack, or effected by malfunctioning spy technology, acting Principal Deputy Assistant Secretary of State Kenneth H. Merten testified on Capitol Hill Wednesday that U.S. officials are still examining data from the late-2016 development.

A similar phenomenon was reported earlier this year by an employee working at a U.S. diplomatic facility in China, although that incident also remains unexplained.

In addition to a State Department-led interagency task force examining the Cuba case, Mr. Merten told lawmakers during a House Foreign Affairs Committee hearing that “we have ongoing FBI investigations” into the situation.

“FBI has traveled on a number of occasions to Cuba to investigate the sites where this has happened [and] our diplomatic security agents in the State Department are investigating,” he said, adding that experts from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention are also involved in an ongoing probe.

Mr. Merten, a veteran American diplomat currently overseeing the State Department’s Bureau of Western Hemisphere Affairs, said U.S. officials “are really examining all of the data that we’ve thus far been able to bring together.”

“But as of today,” he said. “We still do not know what the cause of this is, nor who is responsible.”

His comments came after Rep. Joe Wilson, South Carolina Republican, raised the issue during Wednesday morning’s hearing titled “Advancing U.S. Interests in the Western Hemisphere.”

Mr. Wilson suggested Cuba was responsible and that the incident may have been a result of “static surveillance,” an apparent reference to the alleged use by Cuban officials of listening equipment to spy on American diplomats.

“Sadly, American diplomats in 2016 were subject to unexplained sonic attacks in Cuba,” he said. “The Cuban dictatorship continues to deny knowledge or involvement in [the] attacks, but its a totalitarian regime with heavy static surveillance.”

Mr. Wilson later told Mr. Merten that “with the technology we have today ambassador, this should be determined and so I hope you will make every effort to proceed.”

Wednesday’s back-and-forth came roughly two months after U.S. officials revealed an employee at the U.S. consulate in Guangzhou, China, had experienced the abnormal sensations apparently relating to pressure from sound waves.

Secretary of State Mike Pompeo raised eyebrows during testimony on Capitol Hill in May, when he told lawmakers that the sensations reported in China were “very similar and entirely consistent” with symptoms felt by the American diplomats sickened in Cuba.

While Chinese officials have said they are probing the incident and working with U.S. investigators, there has still been no official conclusion as to what caused the symptoms.

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