Physicians announce clinical findings of 'sonic' attacks at US embassy in Cuba

'Something really did happen,' doctor says, though what remains uncertain

MIAMI – Physicians from the University of Miami have released the clinical findings from the first report of Cuba's mysterious "sonic" attacks.

Doctors from the University of Miami's School of Medicine held a news conference Wednesday morning to discuss their report on the victims.

"This is objective," Dr. Michael Hoffer, professor of otolaryngology and neurological surgery, said. "It's not controversial. The evidence is there. The people had abnormalities."

File: Acute Findings in an Acquired Neurosensory Dysfunction

In late 2016, multiple U.S. Embassy personnel in Cuba began reporting symptoms, including sharp ear pain, headaches, ringing in one ear, vertigo, disorientation, attention issues and signs consistent with mild traumatic brain injury or concussion.

Then in June, another U.S. diplomatic employee in Havana suffered "health effects" consistent with those previously experienced by employees at the embassy there, the State Department confirmed at the time.

"We're not saying it's not an injury to the brain. It may be," Hoffer said. "We do know, for sure, that it's an injury to the ear and that the brain is affected."

Cuban President Miguel Diaz-Canel has denied his country had any involvement. The Cuban government also cast doubt on whether they actually occurred.

But the study shows that, in fact, something did happen, Dr. Carey Balaban, professor of otolaryngology at the University of Pittsburgh, said.

"What I think is important that we show in this public study is that we can have measurable, quantifiable evidence that something really did happen," Balaban said. "It's not just hysteria."

Balaban, who contributed to the report, cautioned, however, that what happened remains uncertain.

"I want to make it eminently clear that we don't know what they were exposed to and certainly can't make any inferences as to whether it was deliberate or inadvertent," he said.

In Havana, the Cuban government remains adamant was not behind or involved in the attacks.

'No concrete data' 

"It will be interesting to look at that new information," Carlos Fernandez de Cossio, who heads the U.S. Section at Cuba's Foreign Ministry, told Local 10 News reporter Hatzel Vela. 

The Cuban government has been highly critical of how the health incidents affecting American embassy workers were handled by the U.S. government. 

"There is no concrete data on the medical situation of the patients, who they are, their clinical records, the evidence of a laboratory, the evidence in image," Fernandez de Cossio said.

Up to this point, he said, it's all speculation and manipulated information without any cooperation from the U.S. government. 

"What is the U.S. government hiding? Why is it not capable of putting forward concrete, real information?" Fernandez de Cossio asked. 

But things get complicated for Cuba because the Canadian government also reported similar health incidents with their embassy workers.

In late November, the Canadian government announced it is considering all options regarding its embassy in Cuba after another diplomat was found to have fallen mysteriously ill.

A senior Canadian government official said Thursday that the latest diplomat affected first reported symptoms in the early part of the summer. Testing then confirmed it.

Canada, which is an ally of Cuba, has confirmed 13 cases of mysterious health problems since early 2017.

Twenty-six American embassy workers in Cuba have also been affected, suffering a range of symptoms and diagnoses, including mild traumatic brain injury.

"There is no evidence that can prove that something occurred in Cuba that could have damaged the health situation of a few U.S. diplomats," Fernandez de Cossio said.

About the Authors:

In January 2017, Hatzel Vela became the first local television journalist in the country to move to Cuba and cover the island from the inside. During his time living and working in Cuba, he covered some of the most significant stories in a post-Fidel Castro Cuba.