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CDC joins investigation into ‘sonic attacks’ in Cuba and China

Workers at the U.S. Embassy in Havana leave the building on Sept. 29, 2017, after the State Department announced that it was withdrawing all but essential personnel from the embassy because Cuba could no longer guarantee diplomats' safety. (Emily Michot/Miami Herald/TNS)

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has joined the investigation into the sonic incidents that have injured U.S. diplomats and have confounded U.S. officials and scientists since first discovered last year in Cuba.

Ambassador Kenneth Merten, an acting principal deputy assistant secretary of State, told the House Foreign Affairs Committee Wednesday that the CDC has joined a task force created by Secretary of State Mike Pompeo that is investigating the unexplained health incidents.

“I don’t know if they have plans to travel yet, but their involvement in this is relatively recent,” Merten said. “But there is a possibility that they could become be more involved.”

The addition of CDC reflects the ongoing trouble the United States is having trying to determine the cause of the incidents that have left more than 25 Americans and U.S. personnel experiencing headaches, hearing loss, and other mysterious ailments in Cuba and China.

The bizarre incidents first made public last year helped upend two years of thawing relations between the United States and Cuba and raised new speculation whether Cuba was bringing back Cold War tactics. Referring to the incidents as “attacks,” the United States has not specifically accused Cuba, but holds them responsible for not keeping U.S. diplomats safe.

Cuba has denied responsibility and accused the United States of slander. The Chinese government has warned the United States against politicizing the cases.

The move to add the CDC to the probe comes as frustrated congressional leaders, including House Foreign Affairs Chairman Ed Royce, R-Calif., and Democratic counterpart Eliot Engel of New York, have called on the State Department to enlist the health organization’s aid and send it to Havana to help the investigation.

“Why has the CDC not yet been deployed to Cuba?” Engel said Wednesday. “It certainly seems to me we should if we want to get to the bottom of this. I don’t understand why that hasn’t happened.”

Royce said he and Engel will meet Wednesday with Deputy Secretary of State John Sullivan, who leads the task force, to discuss the issue further.

Last month, Pompeo told the committee that Sullivan’s task force would investigate the incidents after a new case this spring involving a consulate worker in China that increased diplomatic concern and intrigue.

A yearlong FBI investigation has failed to find any cause of incidents. Merten, who referred to the incidents as “attacks,” said the United States still does not know the source of the incidents nor who is responsible.

Earlier this month, the Trump administration kicked nearly two-thirds of Cuba’s embassy personnel out of the United States after pulling many American diplomats from the US embassy in Havana.

The CDC did not immediately respond to a request for comment. Merten is a member of the task force investigating the incidents. He would not discuss specifics about CDC’s role, but said they’re part of weekly interagency meetings with the task force.

“We remain very concerned about this and we’re looking for any tools we can find to what is causing this,” Merten said.


© 2018 McClatchy Washington Bureau

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