WASHINGTON — Dec 6, 2017, 5:47 PM ET

Doctors find brain abnormalities in victims of Cuba mystery

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Doctors treating the U.S. embassy victims of suspected attacks in Cuba have discovered brain abnormalities as they search for clues to explain hearing, vision, balance and memory damage, The Associated Press has learned.

It's the most specific finding to date about physical damage, showing that whatever it was that harmed the Americans, it led to perceptible changes in their brains. The finding is also one of several factors fueling growing skepticism that some kind of sonic weapon was involved.

Medical testing has revealed the embassy workers developed changes to the white matter tracts that let different parts of the brain communicate, several U.S. officials said, describing a growing consensus held by university and government physicians researching the attacks. White matter acts like information highways between brain cells.

Loud, mysterious sounds followed by hearing loss and ear-ringing had led investigators to suspect "sonic attacks." But officials are now carefully avoiding that term. The sounds may have been the byproduct of something else that caused damage, said three U.S. officials briefed on the investigation. They weren't authorized to discuss it publicly and demanded anonymity.

Physicians, FBI investigators and U.S. intelligence agencies have spent months trying to piece together the puzzle in Havana , where the U.S. says 24 U.S. government officials and spouses fell ill starting last year in homes and later in some hotels. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson said Wednesday he's "convinced these were targeted attacks ," but the U.S. doesn't know who's behind them. A few Canadian Embassy staffers also got sick.

Doctors still don't know how victims ended up with the white matter changes, nor how exactly those changes might relate to their symptoms. U.S. officials wouldn't say whether the changes were found in all 24 patients.

But acoustic waves have never been shown to alter the brain's white matter tracts, said Elisa Konofagou, a biomedical engineering professor at Columbia University who is not involved in the government's investigation.

"I would be very surprised," Konofagou said, adding that ultrasound in the brain is used frequently in modern medicine. "We never see white matter tract problems."

Cuba has adamantly denied involvement, and calls the Trump administration's claims that U.S. workers were attacked " deliberate lies ." The new medical details may help the U.S. counter Havana's complaint that Washington hasn't presented any evidence.

Tillerson said the U.S. had shared some information with Havana, but wouldn't disclose details that would violate privacy or help a perpetrator learn how effective the attacks were.

"What we've said to the Cubans is: Small island. You've got a sophisticated intelligence apparatus. You probably know who's doing it. You can stop it," Tillerson said. "It's as simple as that."

The case has plunged the U.S. medical community into uncharted territory. Physicians are treating the symptoms like a new, never-seen-before illness. After extensive testing and trial therapies, they're developing the first protocols to screen cases and identify the best treatments — even as the FBI investigation struggles to identify a culprit, method and motive.

Doctors treating the victims wouldn't speak to the AP, yet their findings are expected to be discussed in an article being submitted to the Journal of the American Medical Association, U.S. officials said. Physicians at the University of Miami and the University of Pennsylvania who have treated the Cuba victims are writing it, with input from the State Department's medical unit and other government doctors.

But the article won't speculate about what technology might have harmed the workers or who would have wanted to target Americans in Cuba. If investigators are any closer to solving those questions, their findings won't be made public.

The AP first reported in August that U.S. workers reported sounds audible in parts of rooms but inaudible just a few feet away — unlike normal sound, which disperses in all directions. Doctors have now come up with a term for such incidents: "directional acoustic phenomena."

Most patients have fully recovered, some after rehabilitation and other treatment, officials said. Many are back at work. About one-quarter had symptoms that persisted for long periods or remain to this day.

Earlier this year, the U.S. said doctors found patients had suffered concussions, known as mild traumatic brain injury, but were uncertain beyond that what had happened in their brains. Concussions are often diagnosed based solely on symptoms.

Studies have found both concussions and white matter damage in Iraq and Afghanistan war veterans who survived explosions yet had no other physical damage. But those injuries were attributed mostly to shock waves from explosions. No Havana patients reported explosions or blows to the head.

Outside medical experts said that when the sample of patients is so small, it's difficult to establish cause and effect.

"The thing you have to wonder anytime you see something on a scan: Is it due to the episode in question, or was it something pre-existing and unrelated to what happened?" said Dr. Gerard Gianoli, an ear and brain specialist in Louisiana.

As Cuba works to limit damage to its reputation and economy, its government has produced TV specials and an online summit about its own investigation. Cuba's experts have concluded that the Americans' allegations are scientifically impossible.

The Cubans have urged the U.S. to release information about what it's found. FBI investigators have spent months comparing cases to pinpoint what factors overlap.

U.S. officials told the AP that investigators have now determined:

— The most frequently reported sound patients heard was a high-pitched chirp or grating metal. Fewer recalled a low-pitched noise, like a hum.

— Some were asleep and awakened by the sound, even as others sleeping in the same bed or room heard nothing.

— Vibrations sometimes accompanied the sound. Victims told investigators these felt similar to the rapid flutter of air when windows of a car are partially rolled down.

— Those worst off knew right away something was affecting their bodies. Some developed visual symptoms within 24 hours, including trouble focusing on a computer screen.

The U.S. has not identified any specific precautions it believes can mitigate the risk for diplomats in Havana, three officials said, although an attack hasn't been reported since late August. Since the Americans started falling ill last year, the State Department has adopted a new protocol for workers before they go to Cuba that includes bloodwork and other "baseline" tests. If they later show symptoms, doctors can retest and compare.

Doctors still don't know the long-term medical consequences and expect that epidemiologists, who track disease patterns in populations, will monitor the 24 Americans for life. Consultations with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention are underway.

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AP Medical Writer Lauran Neergaard contributed to this report.

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Reach Josh Lederman on Twitter at http://twitter.com/joshledermanAP. Follow the AP's coverage of the Cuba attacks at http://apnews.com/tag/CubaHealthMystery

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  • John Hargreaves

    I’ve been followed around by surveillance operatives for at least the last three years and attacked with remote weapons, possibly infrasonic, ultrasonic, electroshock or electromagnetic, as well as poisons, since at least July 2015. If intelligence agents want to harass you, they will attack any time, from any angle, with any method that might leave you shocked, bewildered and distressed.

    Many reporters on the present attacks on US diplomats seem to assume that a single type of weapon must have been used and that the perpetrators will have made little effort to disguise the methods or technology used. In fact the perpetrators probably used diverse weapons to disguise both their technological capability and their identity.

    Thus, a line of inquiry that focuses on identifying specific symptoms, looking for a unique cause and then seeking an attacker is unlikely to be effective. It would be better to decide which intelligence agencies are plausible perpetrators, assess all the relevant tools and techniques they have at their disposal and then consider which weapons might have caused which effects.

    However, such an investigation might involve publicising secret, high-tech weaponry developed and used covertly by intelligence agencies generally. In my personal case, the agents following me are probably not Russians; they are probably Indonesian, British or allied agents. This suggests that most intelligence agencies of technologically advanced countries, including the USA itself, possess covert anti-personnel weapons able to inflict neurological damage invisibly and remotely. But of course they want this technology to remain secret, which will militate against a comprehensive and effective investigation of the harm suffered by the US diplomats in Cuba and of the optimal cure.

  • Annie

    Most symptoms look like hallucinations to me. My guess is something toxic.

  • ToothyGrinn

    Someone dropped a vial in the embassy lab, easier to just blame the Cubans for having some fancy tech.

  • Robert Wilson

    I wish the article mentioned if any non-U.S. or non-Canadian people have been affected. Have any Cuban citizens reported similar incidents? We may not know because if they did report it to a Cuban doctor or police officer, the Cuban government may have kept that information secret. However, it would be nice if there was some comment about this in the article, even if it said "we don't know if any Cuban citizens have suffered from similar incidents."

  • Liberal_2017

    They should sue Obama for their injuries.

  • jane schlachter

    Thank Obama. Cuba is still a communist country. Why should we expose "any of our personal" to the intention acts on the part of the communist government to harm them?

  • SwampOgre

    The effects might be from some sort of electronic signal absorbed by the body that matches brain signals that produce adverse effects. Our bodies after all absorb electromagnetic waves like an antenna or piece of meat in a microwave oven.

  • kritikosman

    Warning, danger Will Robinson!

  • John Cavaquinho

    The Cubans don't want Americans in their country and are doing everything they can to discourage them from coming. One requirement of normalization is to allow investment and privatization by US corporations. The US government wants to create the conditions for the shysters to buy up the leases on the best real estate, build hotels and golf courses, and charge high prices for everything. Everywhere the American goes, he thinks that he should be in charge and the natives should work for him as dishwashers, waiters, caddies, and "escorts".

  • Fatesrider

    A few complaints here:

    First of all, the headline isn't correct. They didn't IDENTIFY the abnormalities. They merely found them.

    Secondly, the term "attack" is being used as if they know it was deliberate, targeted and malicious, which isn't necessarily the case. It's only one of a diminishing number of possibilities. From the SOUND of it, the conditions aren't from a weapon. It might be from some kind of poison, an environmental effect (toxic waste site over which diplomatic housing/offices were built, for example) or other things that were neither deliberate nor targeted.

    BAD PLUMBING could be the cause.

    But the biggest point that people are missing, even though the articles all say it, is that THEY DO NOT KNOW WHAT IT IS causing these things. That means calling it an "attack" in the first place is misleading and even inflammatory. It's certainly a PROBLEM, and one that needs to find a cause, and, hopefully, a solution/cure. But without knowing what's causing it, and without hearing about others who might be affected by the same kind of thing (which no one has mentioned, focusing as they have on the diplomatic corps from the U.S. and Canada), it's inaccurate (at BEST) to call this an "attack" without knowing more about what's causing it.

    Adversely reacting to this without having proof of what's causing it and who is responsible (if there IS a who involved in it), would be both premature and irresponsible. Investigate it vigorously, find out what's going on, yes. But let's not beat the war drums quite yet on this.

    And most of the posts here (thus far) that promote their favorite conspiracy theories are talking about things that are exceptionally unlikely to induce the lesions/symptoms described here (and elsewhere) without being horribly obvious while in use or otherwise exceptionally easy to rule out.

  • Furrmin The Cat

    Tesla drew up plans and patented a machine that could do this. It uses what he called scaler waves. Anything Tesla drew up actually worked. The US government has his patent.

  • MCDisqus

    I am wondering if the mysterious sonic weapon is actually the mysterious microwave weapon which Mr. Mike Beck, former spy for NSA, is claiming from the Labor Department, for causing Parkinson disease. The United States Department of defense has tested this kind of weapon to disable enemy electronics with 100% success rate and the test results were 100% as expected. If this microwave weapon can fry electronic equipment, why it could not fry human electronics, i.e, the nervous system? Mr. beck mentioned a rogue country which he could not name. I lived among Cubans in Miami and Puerto Rico and know first hand what this rogue country can do. Yep, they would do something like that and much more. This Cubans around my building hate me for political reasons and what a coincidence that there is no history of Parkinson's disease in my family and my mother died of that while exposed to it when she was here with me. What a coincidence that I am 30 years younger than her and I have those symptoms that Mr.Beck and the diplomats have. It does not run on my family. What a coincidence that my nemesis hostel is across the street where I seen US and foreign soldiers that hate me there. What a coincidence that there is someone upstairs from me who will never leave the apartment before I do and i never get to see or run into whoever is there and always had their balcony closed so no one can see inside from outside. What a coincidence that a possibly lesbian Federal "Fiscal" that most likely has seen me as a rival for her lover the administrator, a woman, who has pushed me around perhaps to secure her lover playing the male part -ridiculous-, because she saw her lover was interested in me and had hated my guts before wanting that I fell into the snare set by my upstairs neighbor who provokes me constantly in the hopes i do something stupid or illegal, tis federal "Fiscal" whom after exposing her lesbian love she has changed her attitude towards me, out of fear i guess, - anyways I do not rust her with a ten foot pole - did not care to investigate this case when she has been pivotal in money laundering operations. I also heard of an FBI person living in the same building whom I do not know and no one ever showed any interest in my complains about these things. I have gone to the FBI in Puerto Rico to complain about this mysterious symptoms long before the diplomatic case and I was told there that I had no case. This was long before Comey was ousted. According to the defense department, in order for the microwave missile payload to be effective those microwaves need to be close but not tens of feet. The enemy is not going to have all their electronics in the open air or behind glass so this microwaves, it is my guess, must be able to penetrate concrete walls to be effective. What is to say that someone has facilitated this kind of weapons perhaps to their kids distancing themselves from prosecution to play with a non grata persona like me? I have noticed strange behavior in all my electronics and i am tired of unexplained mishaps.

  • mark donnelly

    This is possibly the strangest news story I've ever heard. Since it first appeared I've been intrigued, and very much interested in learning the explanation, assuming we get one.

  • Tikbalang

    Yes, it's the Russians. The sound is a diversion. The etiology is carbon monoxide poisoning. The motive? It is Russian policy to just mess with the rest of the world in any way possible, like elections, because they can take advantage of messes.

  • helicohunter

    It could only be the Russians. No one else has done as much weapons research, is as unprincipled about using it, and has it in for the U.S. They have no problem carrying out assassinations, so they sure wouldn't be bothered by causing physical harm to Americans. I don't know how Russia feels about Canada. Maybe they were unintended targets.

  • caliento

    The E.U./with Britain, France, Germany, along with Russia, The Arab/Muslim nations will forge a peace deal...Trump/U.S.A. are now being ignored on the world stage. The media can play up their role as much as they want to but they lost there way after Carter....... in being an unbiased broker for peace.

  • Jesse Riddles

    The FBI is investigating this? No wonder there's no solution! Better turn it over to Military Intell. or the NSA.

  • Alex Ross

    Trump was in Cuba? Who knew!

  • Dicazi

    Some drugs can cause tinnitus, like high doses of aspirin.
    But not in everybody.
    Might explain why only some "heard" sounds. Anything unknown in the blood work?
    And were any other embassies affected?
    Canada never closed their embassy.

  • J-dawg

    So...some kind of poison/agent that attacks the nervous system?

  • AntiLimbaugh

    It’s probably “The Thing” look it up on Wikipedia.

  • rontron

    High energy L band pulses or EMPs could penetrate windows and walls. L band is used in search RADAR and microwave ovens.

  • Omegacron

    Figures - we go back to Cuba right before the aliens attack.

  • Tralfaz Gottrockets

    It this was a weapon, it's interesting. I would then wonder about its range, size, portability, power needs, etc. Quietly causing hard to notice brain damage in your enemies could be pretty effective, depending on your goals.

  • JBump

    Any Cuban suffering from these symptoms?

  • ChrisSnyder60

    Would be interesting if victims would perceive sounds that weren't there because of some other cause - like smells or visual hallucinations. This has been going on so long that they should have been able to record any sounds... a major clue would be if victims "heard" something at a specific time that wasn't recorded.

  • Saint

    Russia sticking it to us again. What will Trump say?

  • Randy rjjd

    Should test the white house next.

  • icraftit

    I would assume the American embassy has been closed for years while the US boycotted Cuba. And with antiquated cooling systems, tons of humidity, etc., the situation is ripe for all kinds of diseases. Sounds could actually be coming from poorly-functioning equipment.

    We are all familiar with amoebas that can cause white matter brain damage - shower water could be infested.

    Legionnaire's disease, which is often linked to especially antiquated air conditioning systems, is known to cause brain damage including hearing loss.

    The damage to white matter could also be attributed to radiation damage.Who knows what Cuba authorities did in the days of the Cuban missile crisis? The half life of radioactive materials is often much more than mere centuries. So, the current Cuban authorities may actually be clueless to the cause of this problem if it is something like radiation.

    There are other scenarios, but these are a good start.

  • Hoyt Armstrong

    just a thought, Didnt bummer give Cuba a free pass to do as they want? hummmm

  • Tertulliano

    Brain abnormalities found in Cuban senators? Is this even news?

  • Uncle Bob

    Now, they all weren't just Republicans were they?
    That would be one explanation.

  • pbgd

    US scientists are supposed to be pretty smart. How come the Cubans (or Russians or Chinese) got something Americans can't figure out?

  • Andy Hardwood

    Prions.

  • PierceEye

    Damaged White Matter is what leads to Alzheimer's

    Maybe they better check Pelosi and Schumer and Bernie and Conyers office as well as Feinstein's offices for the same thing as they Must have Alzheimer's

  • Jay-me Seven

    Find the culprits and take it out of their hides.

  • Joseph Collins

    Might wanna look into technology that involves high-frequency &
    high-intensity micro-bursts of concussive enegy. If it were simply a
    sonic attack, then, the symptons would be similar to previously known
    studies involving the same... The chirping/humming sounds that have been
    documented are likely to be secondary as the pulse force affects the
    air and objects around the target and so it's difficult for the target
    to separate the effects from the actual cause. There was also sometimes
    a grinding noise reported, which may very well be the sound of
    components in the target's inner ear being adctively damaged due to the
    forces applied.

    Also, consider how similar Cuba is politically in
    comparison with, say, Pakistan... A government with ties to opposing
    countries/factions will often have individuals throughout its heirarchy
    that are continually influenced by members of those opposing nations.
    It's not likely a coincidence that these attacks in Cuba came pretty
    soon after the US sought to ease tensions with the Cuban government, and
    who's to say that that, in and of itself, wouldn't be enough incentive
    for Russian diplomats to use their established ties in the Cuban levels
    of government to undermine that effort. They would have rather detailed
    information and technology that could make such undermining quite
    effective while maintaining an image of having nothing to do with it.
    The leader of a country doesn't always know what's being done by their
    underlings, much like how it's quite reasonable to assume the leader of
    Pakistan at the time had no knowledge that Bin Laden was taking refuge
    in Abbottabad.

    Proxy wars are a favored tool of malicious actors.

  • Blkhawksgrl

    so no Cubans effected? sounds odd!!! But hey Cubans are buddy buddy with Russians right

  • Lissa Hattersley

    Sorry, but I, a lifelong Democratic voter and feminist, do NOT believe Senator Franken should resign. And I am very upset that these women should insist that he does.
    There's a matter of equivalency. Punishment that matches crime. And due process!

    (And honestly, I don't believe the Tweeden woman's story is truthful. His career should definitely not be hanging on that, or ANY theory that the Republicans would act similarly to clean house.)

  • Mr. Logical

    Scary stuff. Imagine a world where nukes aren't the scariest weapon anymore?

  • mm

    I did some surfing on the net and found that it could be Solvent Neurotoxicity, some solvents used for cleaning reactors or tanks can cause some of the symptoms depending on the exposure level. I am thinking the hearing loss was due to an explosion and if Organic solvents mix with nitric acid it can explode, just a thought.

  • Mark

    Not certain it is the Cubans although it doesn't appear to be high tech. As I had something similar happen to me this summer located here in the States. I really doubt Cuba was attacking Indiana. It first started as something akin to a cell phone hum when I was working outside. As similar events happened, such as when I was working in our attic. I was damn near knocked unconscious, becoming disoriented (vertigo and loss of balance) banging my face on the flooring we were installing. One bloody nose later and after the third event I began to realize I was becoming impaired mentally as well as physically (short-term memory issues, blurred vision and so far, permanent hearing loss). The strange thing is this event has happened hand in hand with local "gang stalking" events. It is humiliating and aggravating but someone is finding value in it. By the way, I had excellent hearing yet it was BARELY audible, you can feel it as much as hear it. When it happened in Cuba it was an "ah-ha" moment!

    The final humility to it all is having it happen to family members and you cannot stop it. My opinion is that it is used to incite; for what purpose, I do not have a clue.

  • ralphpetrillo

    It sounds very similar to whst occurred to dolphins from “naval incidents “ in the pacific. The energy has no where to be released so it alters change in the structure.

  • Nathan Broussard

    Are we to believe that the Cuban government is made up of little green aliens? I already am pretty sure we currently have one, a pretty big one with tiny hands and he has a quite and group of followers.

  • P Miller

    No doubt all these embassy workers will get the very best medical research, care and treatment the world has to offer.
    While the average US citizen...the employers of the embassy workers...can not afford any health care at all. Hunh.