Ironically, being a peacekeeping diplomat has always been a dangerous job. Brave ambassadors occupying embassies in hostile countries at least could look out of the windows and see their attackers or peer inside lamps and find listening devices. However, what’s been happening to workers at the U.S. Embassy in Cuba has taken this danger to a new level. After many reports of strange sounds at the embassy and at their hotel and homes, employees were examined by doctors and found to be suffering from headaches, stress, hearing loss and other ailments. Now, physicians have discovered that some of them show signs of brain damage … damage that was not caused by sounds or ultrasounds. Is this how diplomacy will end?
Major news organizations reporting on this new development are warily avoiding linking the previously-reported “sonic attacks” with what the physicians have found because the brain damage is sop strange. It’s being found in so-called “white matter tracts” or white matter fibers, which are the white areas in between the grey areas in typical drawings of brain tissue. They connect the cortex – the outer layer of the grey matter – with other areas such as the brain stem, cerebellum and spine … so it’s very important and obviously disconcerting when inexplicably damaged.
That seems to be the case, although information on the 24 patients is being kept as secret as possible in this leaky world. While the FBI has been working unsuccessfully for months on finding a cause for the loud sounds and now the brain damage, the doctors are writing an article to be published soon in the Journal of the American Medical Association. Perhaps opening the details of the brain damage to the medical world will help them identify the cause. So far, the only similar instances of white matter damage have occurred in war zones after soldiers suffered concussions from the shock waves of explosives, but the embassy workers reported feeling no such cranial blows.
The search for an explanation of the mysterious sounds hasn’t stopped. The strange noises were most often described as a high-pitched chirp but occasionally as a low-pitched hum. Oddly, while some sleepers were awakened by the sounds, others in the same room heard nothing. Those who heard them sometimes felt vibrations and a number of them suffered vision problems almost immediately.
The Cuban government continues to deny any involvement with these problems, but the US State Department (understaffed as it is) has stepped up monitoring the health of its workers in Havana while the FBI keeps its ears to the ground, the walls, the air and everything else around the embassy.
Will we find another explanation or is this an intentional program to make diplomacy more dangerous than war? What would Orwell say?