Rubio disputes Flake's account that diplomats weren't attacked in Havana

Florida senator says attacks took place although method is unclear

(Getty Images)

MIAMI – Florida Sen. Marco Rubio pushed back against claims that almost two dozen U.S. diplomats in Havana were victims of an illness, not an attack by the Cuban government.

"It’s a documented fact that 24 U.S. government officials and spouses were victims of some sort of sophisticated attack while stationed in Havana," Rubio said Sunday. "Any U.S. official briefed on matter knows full well that while method of attack still in question, that attacks and injuries occurred isn’t."

Arizona Sen. Jeff Flake said Saturday the U.S. has found no evidence the diplomats in Havana were the victims of attacks with an unknown weapon.

Flake, a Senate Foreign Relations Committee member and a longtime leading advocate of detente with Cuba, met Friday with high-ranking Cuban officials including Foreign Minister Bruno Rodriguez and officials from the Interior Ministry, which oversees domestic security and works with foreign law-enforcement agencies.

The Cubans told Flake the FBI has told them that, after four trips to Cuba, its agents have found no evidence that mysterious illnesses suffered by U.S. diplomats were the result of attacks.

Flake said that classified briefings from U.S. officials have left him with no reason to doubt the Cuban account, although he declined to discuss the contents of those briefings.

Washington says 24 U.S. government officials and spouses fell ill in Havana in their homes and some hotels starting in 2016.

Secretary of State Rex Tillerson has said he's "convinced these were targeted attacks," but the U.S. doesn't know who's behind them. The U.S. has withdrawn most of its diplomats from Havana, citing a health risk, and forced many Cuban diplomats to leave Washington.

Several of the 24 U.S. diplomats and spouses reported hearing loud, mysterious sounds followed by hearing loss and ear-ringing, leading some U.S. officials to describe the incidents as “sonic attacks.” But officials are now carefully avoiding that term.

Rubio is one of the harshest critics of the Cuban government in Congress. He also said while the details of what happened to the diplomats are unclear, he said he's convinced the Cuban government was involved.

"It is impossible to conduct 24 separate and  sophisticated attacks on U.S. government personnel in Havana without Castro regime knowing about it," Rubio said.