Congress Wants Answers About Diplomats' Illnesses in Cuba Last Year

Aide: 'The real question is what the Obama administration knew and why they didn't do anything about it'

The US Embassy in Havana / Getty Images
The U.S. Embassy in Havana / Getty Images
August 10, 2017

Key House and Senate Committees, as well as individual lawmakers, want to know why they were caught flat-footed by media reports of incidents in Cuba late last year that left a group of U.S. diplomats ill and reportedly suffering from hearing loss attributed to covert sonic devices.

The members have requested a classified State Department briefing, and one is scheduled for Monday for committee staffers only because members of Congress are on their August recess, according to a Congressional aide.

The lawmakers want to know why the Trump administration has waited so long to publicly say anything about the incidents in Cuba, which the State Department has acknowledged first began at the end of last year, and why the Obama administration also remained silent about it. Trump in late May expelled two Cuban diplomats from the Cuban embassy in Washington in response to the incidents against the U.S. diplomats in Havana.

"The real question is what the Obama administration knew and why they didn't do anything about it," a congressional aide told the Washington Free Beacon.

They specifically want to know what information Jeffrey DeLaurentis, President Barack Obama's chief of mission in Cuba, knew about the incidents in questions and whether he and others in the administration tried to cover it up in an effort to protect Obama’s diplomatic détente with Cuba.

With the Canadian government acknowledging that its diplomats also suffered from similar symptoms and were treated for hearing loss, members of Congress want to know whether there is any evidence that Russia—which has complained about Canadian support for the U.S. embargo against Moscow—was involved. Some congressional officials are questioning whether Russia may have carried out an action against Canadian and American diplomatic officials without the Cuban government’s knowledge.

They also will ask why Josefina Vidal Ferreiro, Cuba's ambassador to Canada who served as the public face of normalization talks with the United States and previously served as the Castro regime's head of North American affairs, was in Moscow at the end of July. Cuban ambassador to Russia Emilio Lozada Garcia also met with Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Sergei Ryabkov Wednesday.

"It could be a coincidence, but the timing is interesting," the source said.

State Department spokeswoman Heather Nauert remained tight-lipped about details of the incidents in Cuba that led to the departure of several U.S. diplomats from Cuba and their subsequent treatment for hearing loss.

She would not confirm reports that "acoustic weapons" may have caused the "medical ailments" in question and said the investigation into what exactly happened is still ongoing.

"We consider these to be incidents. We still are trying to determine the actual cause of their situation," she said, referring to the diplomats who have left Cuba. "They have had a variety of symptoms. This is an active investigation, and that investigation is ongoing at this time."

Nauert also would not confirm reports that the U.S. is working with the Canadian government to try to find out exactly what occurred and would not speculate whether Russia may have played a role.

"This is a situation we are still assessing," she said. "We can't blame any one country. We have spoken extensively with the Cubans, as you know. The reason we had [the diplomats] leave is we said this is the agreement that the U.S. has with the Cuban government. They are responsible for the safety and security of our [diplomat]. They are not safe, they are not secure because something happened to them."

She said the U.S. embassy in Havana, however, is "fully operational, fully staffed" but would not elaborate if all the posts have been filled by those diplomats who left in the wake of the incidents.

Some members of Congress, she said, have been informed but could not say exactly which lawmakers.

"There have been conversations going on between the inter-agencies, and that means Congress as well," she said. "So Congress, certain folks—I can't tell you exactly who, I don't know off the top of my head."

"This is not something that certain members of Congress are learning for the first time," she added.

Published under: Cuba , State Department