The U.S. has confirmed at least 16 Americans associated with its embassy in Havana suffered negative health symptoms from mysterious attacks in Cuba, but the Canadian government still won’t say how many of its diplomatic staff have been impacted.
“We can confirm that at least 16 U.S. government employees, members of our embassy community, have experienced some kind of symptoms,” State Department spokeswoman Heather Nauert said Thursday.
“They have been provided medical treatment in the U.S. and in Cuba. We take this situation extremely seriously.”
The unexplained attacks, which caused a variety of symptoms including unexplained loss of hearing, are no longer, according to Nauert, which started in the fall of 2016 and were last reported in April.
Global Affairs has said it is aware that Canadian “diplomatic personnel and their families” have been affected.
“We are aware of unusual symptoms affecting Canadian and U.S. diplomatic personnel and their families in Havana,” Global Affairs Canada spokeswoman Brianne Maxwell said in a statement Aug. 10. “The government is actively working — including with U.S. and Cuban authorities — to ascertain the cause.”
Global News reached out to the department for an update Thursday but Maxwell said there was no further comment.
Previous reports had suggested the diplomats had been attacked with an advanced sonic weapon that operated outside the range of audible sound and had been deployed either inside or outside their residences.
But Nauert said Tuesday no device has been found so far and no perpetrator has been identified. Cuba is co-operating with the U.S. investigation, according to U.S. officials.
CBS News reported Wednesday that a doctor who evaluated American and Canadian diplomats working in Cuba diagnosed them with conditions as serious as mild traumatic brain injury and damage to the central nervous system. The diplomats had complained of symptoms including hearing loss, nausea, headaches and balance disorders after what were described as “incidents”, CBS News said.
Ward Elcock, who served as director of the Canadian Security Intelligence Service from 1994 to 2004, called the incident a “fairly aggressive act” and it doesn’t make sense why Canadian officials would be targeted.
“Unless the [Canadian] was simply in the wrong place at the wrong time when the Americans were targeted,” Elcock said.
Canada helped facilitate talks between Cuba and the United States that led to restored diplomatic relations and in 2015 the United States reopened its Havana embassy.
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Other experts who spoke with Global News called the attack unprecedented and suggested another foreign country like Russia could be behind the incident.
But Elcock said there are still many unanswered questions.
“There isn’t a whole lot of information drifting around about the incident and no one is really wanting to talk about it much,” Elcock said. “None of it really makes sense with the amount of information that is available.”
The U.S. had previously expelled two Cuban embassy officials in Washington over the incidents and held Cuba responsible for protecting foreign diplomats.
“We hold the Cuban authorities responsible for finding out who is carrying out these health attacks on not just our diplomats but, as you’ve seen now, there are other cases with other diplomats involved,” Secretary of State Rex Tillerson told reporters earlier this month.
*With files from the Associated Press
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