The search for answers to the mysteries surrounding the health incidents that affected U.S. diplomats in Cuba and China may soon be over as the State Department has set up a task force that will direct a multi-agency response to the concern.
Secretary of State Mike Pompeo requested the setting up of the said task force which was established by Deputy Secretary of State John Sullivan. It will include the Departments of Health and Human Resources, Commerce, Justice, Defense and Energy and other members of the foreign affairs community.
The task force is expected to identify and treat those affected, investigate the incidents to get to the bottom of the causes and culprits, if any, mitigate future risks and diplomatic outreach.
The symptoms affecting American diplomats ranged from concussions to hearing loss. It has been medically confirmed that 24 diplomats so far and their family members who worked at the U.S. embassy in Havana are suffering from a range of symptoms that appear to be associated with a high-pitched sound and other auditory sensations. Another U.S. diplomat in China was also recently confirmed as suffering from similar symptoms.
Other than concussions and hearing loss, other symptoms associated with the mysterious auditory sensations included dizziness, headaches, tinnitus, fatigue, cognitive issues, visual problems, ear complaints and difficulty in sleeping.
Some diplomats in Havana as early as November 2016 reported that they heard strange noises in their homes accompanied by the onset of symptoms. Similar incidents were also registered through August last year triggering the U.S. government to withdraw about two-thirds of the staff from its embassy last September.
The U.S. also expelled 17 Cuban diplomats from Washington and issued a travel alert for U.S. visitors to Cuba. The government also suspended allowing family members to accompany the skeletal staff that remains at the U.S. embassy in Havana.
Some State Department officials have gone on to categorically characterize the health incidents in Cuba as “attacks.” Secretary Mike Pompeo said in a statement on Tuesday, however, that “the precise nature of the injuries suffered by the affected personnel, and whether a common cause exists for all cases, has not yet been established.”
The United States has not pinned the blame directly on Cuba for the health incidents, but it said it does hold the Caribbean nation responsible for not protecting its diplomats while they were on their territory.
In China, a single American government employee stationed in Guangzhou in southern China experienced “subtle and vague, but abnormal, sensations of sound and pressure.” Said employee was later diagnosed with “mild traumatic brain injury”, like the diagnosis that some of the diplomats in Cuba received.