WASHINGTON - President Donald Trump's administration believes the Cuban government has the capability of stopping the frightening attacks on U.S. personnel in Havana, according to the White House.
The first reports of piercing, high-pitched noises and inexplicable ailments pointed to someone deliberately targeting the U.S. presence on the communist-run island.
"We believe that the Cuban government could stop the attacks on diplomats." John F. Kelly, the White House chief of staff, told reporters during a news conference.
Of the 22 confirmed cases, American spies suffered some of the most acute damage, including brain injury and hearing loss that has not healed, said several U.S. officials who weren’t authorized to speak publicly on the investigation and demanded anonymity.
Some of the patients treated at the University of Miami reported hearing an unsettling sound inside and in some cases outside their homes in Havana. Some described a noise similar to loud crickets. Then they fell ill. There were victims at the National Hotel and at the Hotel Capri when the attack occurred.
In many of the more recent cases, victims didn’t hear noises and weren’t aware an attack was occurring, identifying the symptoms only later. That has raised concerns among investigators that the attacks may be getting more sophisticated and harder to detect, individuals briefed on the investigation said.
Though the State Department has called all the cases "medically confirmed," several U.S. officials said it’s unclear whether all of the victims’ symptoms can be conclusively tied to attacks. Considering the deep sense of alarm among Americans working in the embassy, it’s possible some workers attributed unrelated illnesses to attacks.
The State Department warned Americans to stay away from Cuba and ordered more than half the embassy staff to leave indefinitely. The U.S. had previously given all embassy staff the option to come home, but even most of those struck by the mysterious attacks had opted to stay, individuals familiar with the situation said.
The most obvious motive for attacking Americans in Havana would be to drive a wedge between the U.S. and Cuba. If that’s the case, the strategy appears to be succeeding.
The Associated Press' Michael Weissenstein, Josh Lederman and Matthew Lee contributed to this report.
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