Estrada Portales, head of Criminal Investigation Section of the Ministry of the Interior.
HAVANA, Cuba. – Last February 17, the State Department and the U.S. Embassy in Havana reported for the first time the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and the Cuban diplomatic headquarters in Washington, the occurrence of alleged acoustic attacks between November 2016 and February 2017.
As the US authorities have communicated, these incidents occurred with the use of long-range sonic devices and caused health affectations to officials at that diplomatic headquarters and their families.
What is an acoustic attack? It is defined as the emission of high decibels of sound to generate different physical and cognitive reactions for purposes of neutralization, through the use of non-lethal weapons or equipment available in the market.
Lt. Col. Juan Carlos Molina Campos, telecommunications engineer, Ministry of the Interior.
In Cuba there is no such technology and the commercial importation of any equipment with these functions is prohibited, so that its introduction to the country could only be done illegally.
Since the first notification of the alleged acoustic events, the Cuban authorities seriously assumed the information transferred by the Americans. A thorough investigation was carried out, indicated by the maximum direction of the Cuban Government, in which multiple actions of instruction, experts, techniques and operatives were deployed, to clarify the alleged facts in a new area, since there are no precedents of this kind of aggression in Cuba nor other parts of the world.
In accordance with the provisions of the Law on Criminal Procedure in force in Cuba, the investigative dossier number 10/17 was settled, to the clarification of a possible crime of act against the heads and diplomatic representatives of foreign States.
In this regard, Lt. Col. Francisco Estrada Portales, head of the Criminal Investigation Section of the Ministry of the Interior, revealed a group of developed instructional actions, including: the taking of statements to resident witnesses in the areas adjoining the places of occurrence of the facts; issuing dispatches to different institutions to certify matters of interest to the investigation; measurements of the radio electronic and sonorous spectrum in the areas of occurrence of the events, as well as the taking of specifically sound samples in these environments.
He also said that when the American authorities gave samples of those collected by them in the so-called acoustic events, expert opinions were made.
Lieutenant Colonel Ernesto Pico Abello, the first criminalist in the Ministry of the Interior.
A permanent working group was formed, responsible for the investigative process, in which different specialties of the Ministry of the Interior intervened, and a committee of experts on acoustic subjects was constituted, composed of specialists of the Ministries of Science, Technology and Environment, and Public Health.
Immediately and in the face of the situation raised by the American side, the Government of Cuba, in compliance with its obligations with the Vienna Convention on Diplomatic Relations, increased all the necessary measures to prevent any action against US diplomats.
In this sense, Lt. Col. Estrada Portales noted that “in exchanges with U.S. Embassy officials, they have acknowledged they appreciate the increase in security and protection measures, and requested that they be maintained in terms of guaranteeing the tranquility of their diplomatic officers in our country.”
Equipment, Patients, Intentions, Noises…?
The State Department through a diplomatic note reported that the alleged sonic attacks were made from long-range acoustic equipment, and it did not provide further information on this.
However, in the investigation carried out by the Cuban authorities, no information or elements were obtained indicating the existence of any sound-emitting equipment such as the one described by the American side.
Nor were intentions or plans to enter the country these devices by air or sea borders, where surveillance was strengthened in coordination with the General Customs of the Republic.
Team of Cuban physicians and scientists involved in the investigative process.
The United States Government has also publicly managed that its diplomats had presented a variety of symptoms such as: nausea, dizziness, facial pain, abdominal pain, hearing impairment, cognitive problems and even brain damage, experienced in very different circumstances and contexts, which means that the alleged use of multiple devices is assumed.
Renowned scientists of the world, authors of numerous research in different fields of knowledge such as medicine and physics, associated with sonic phenomena, have sustained several hypotheses that question the occurrence of alleged acoustic attacks.
Cuban physicians examine people living in areas surrounding the residences of American diplomats.
These specialists, linked to prestigious academic institutions and research centers, consider unlikely that the wide variety of symptoms have been provoked by a known equipment, and explain that it is not possible to cause brain damage from these incidents.
They claim that hearing loss can only be caused by exposure to audible sources and that there are not medical precedents of this condition because of inaudible sounds, as American authorities and media insist on presenting.
They argue, moreover, that there are no infrasonic weapons capable of causing the described conditions, which has been demonstrated in animal experiments. Such damage could only occur with the use of powerful large-sized equipment, which would affect several people in a particular range of action and not selectively as Americans allege.
Despite the alleged damage to health, no Embassy official went to hospital where they usually receive medical care.
“And so far to any unit of our health system, no patient has come to us with the symptoms associated with being allegedly attacked by a sound weapon,” confirmed Dr. Martha Beatriz Martinez Torres, who specializes in Otolaryngology and is a member of the Committee of Experts created for the investigation.
In this sense, Lt. Col. Estrada Portales commented that it was received response from the Municipal Directorate of Health of Playa, where they certified they had not treated patients by pathologies that could be associated with acoustic attacks or anomalous noises of high decibels. “In addition, it was checked if some of the people living in the vicinity of the homes where these attacks were supposed to be occurring, would have been affected, cared for in their health areas, with negative results,” he added.
Noise levels determined inside the rooms after the experiment.
During the investigation, 20 witnesses were interviewed, neighbors of the supposedly assaulted diplomats, who said they had not heard strange noises nor presented health or hearing problems similar to those reported by the American diplomats.
The head of the Criminal Investigation Section confirmed that all the witnesses were subjected to a thorough medical examination, and none had hearing health conditions that could be related to the facts investigated.
For his part specialist in Audiology, Dr. Alida Suarez Landrian explained that as part of the work with the witnesses, the neighbors of the places supposedly involved in the hearing conditions were submitted to audiometric tests. “Of such tests none gave positive to an acoustic trauma, that is, that this audiometric curve was negative for acoustic trauma. On the other hand, there were also tests of stapedii reflex and all were also negative,” he said.
For experts it is striking that locals have not been affected or at least perceived the alleged noises.
Cuban experts perform ambient noise measurements at night time.
Dr. Martha Beatriz Martinez Torres says that if inside a house or a place there are more than 90 decibels, the exterior has to have a greater number in the listening frequency. “What are we saying with this? It means that not only the person who is in a home or a local would be affected, but the whole environment, all the people who are in the outside environment, would also suffer,” she added.
According to international standards, the group of experts on acoustic issues conducted measurements of environmental noise at different times and areas adjacent to the residences of American diplomats, however no anomaly was detected.
For its part, the Central Criminology Laboratory of the Ministry of the Interior also carried out prolonged checks of acoustic surveillance and made recordings of ambient noise in a random way, which offered results within the normal parameters.
Among the limited actions of cooperation by the American side, there was the late delivery of some sound samples linked, allegedly, with the facts reported, hence they received a thorough technical expert opinion.
In this sense, Lt. Col. Juan Carlos Molina Campos, an engineer in telecommunications, said that after the analysis made to the signals of the three recordings delivered by the Americans, “you can say, without doubt, that the people who performed these recordings were not subject to a high level of sound pressure “, because to be affected people must be exposed to “levels of more than 80, 90, 100 decibels of signal “.
Specter of Cicada Sound.
On the other hand, Dr. in Physical Sciences Carlos Barcelo Pérez said: “The levels we manage to measure are in the order of 74 decibels approximately, and that level does not take the area of traumatic hearing damage, because for a permanent traumatic damage you need levels on 120, 130 decibels. But in all light, what is in the recording, the sound levels do not approach, not even remotely, to the levels that would harm hearing.”
The parameters established by the American Academy of Otolaryngology and Head and Neck Surgery in relation to damage to humans exposed to acoustic weapons are in intensities greater than 90 decibels. In none of the cases the delivered audio samples exceeded these levels, a fact proven technically, expertly and scientifically.
While it was not verified the use of technical means to carry out these alleged aggressions in an intentional way, during the rigorous analysis recordings showed coincidences with the sounds emitted by some species of insects, especially crickets and cicadas.
Lieutenant Colonel Molina Campos revealed the following: “We did a test, we took a recording in a park in our capital and characterized it.”
“We apply the same techniques of digital processing that we applied with the audio samples they gave us, to the cicada sound we recorded, and coincidentally we could verify that it is also a sound that is on seven kHz, that has a bandwidth of approximately equal to three KHz and very similar audibly. We also made comparisons of spectra of all the signals brought with the spectrum we recorded and obviously this common noise is very similar to the noise of a cicada.”
These insects inhabit coastal, rural and urban areas throughout the Cuban archipelago and were identified in the field test conducted in areas surrounding the residences of American diplomats.
American researchers recognize that noises caused by a group of cicadas can reach 90 decibels; while those produced by crickets can record an intensity of 95 decibels.
In both cases, prolonged exposure to these sounds can lead to hearing loss, irritation, and hypertension.
Cuban researchers demonstrated through a thorough study the similarity between the delivered sound samples and the sound of these insects. This result was presented to the American counterpart as the plausible cause of some reported sound incidents.
So far, the United States has not responded to the information delivered, however, by the authorities of that country, quoted by international media under the condition of anonymity, have pointed out that the alleged noises resemble the sounds of these Insects.
Timely Response to “Suspicions”
Two presumed acoustic attacks were reported on April 25. This time, U.S. officials informed the Cuban Chancellery about sonic aggression in rooms at Capri Hotel, where an Embassy diplomat and one of the doctors who arrived on the island to examine the hypotheticals victims of the alleged incidents were hosted.
Regardless of the fact that several days elapsed between the alleged events and the complaint, the Cuban authorities carried out rigorous investigative proceedings. Local, surrounding areas and other distant areas were inspected, and no physical traces or material evidences of interest for the investigation were found.
The administration and service personnel, as well as several guests, declared that they had not heard any strange sounds or any symptoms due to noise exposure.
As part of the analysis, sound samples were taken which recorded a predominantly silent atmosphere and checked the room windows´ tightness. In addition, an experiment was developed through which sounds were emitted more frequently and more powerful than those recorded in the American audio samples, and it was corroborated that could not be audible inside any of the two rooms.
In this regard, Lt. Col. Ernesto Pico, first criminal expert in the Ministry of the Interior, explained: “In the perimeter of the exterior areas to the installation up to 150 meters there is no building at the level of the rooms allowing to place a sound source even at the power of 120 decibels which is considered harmful to the human ear, or which can be recorded with the window closed in these rooms and cause harmful noise pollution for guests.”
In the face of an alleged uncertain aggression against American diplomats, measures of security and protection of personnel should have been taken, as well as the restriction of movements in Cuban territory and the limitation of travel to Cuba for officials and relatives.
However, the behavior turned out to be totally different. An example of this was that after February 17, when they first reported the attacks, and until February 26, American diplomats notified the Cuban chancellery 15 trips out of the capital for recreation. On the other hand, between February and June, the U.S. Embassy requested a total of 293 visas, 158 of them for relatives and friends of accredited officials on the island, who also moved freely around the country on leisure trips.
In this situation, Lt. Col. Estrada Portales drew attention to a specific topic. He revealed that “at the time of reporting these facts by the U.S. Embassy, the head of the Diplomatic Security Department of the MININT called the head of the security area of that headquarters to an interview, and when inquiring with him about the occurrence of the facts, in order to verify some data needed to develop our investigation, it turned out that this official did not know the occurrence of these facts.”
He added: “It is very significant for two fundamental reasons: one, later it turned out that the chief officer of the security area who did not know the occurrence of the facts, was reported as one of the attacked; and the second, as important as the first one, is that he did not know the occurrence of attacks against its officials and family, when his function in Cuba is precisely to preserve these officials and family.”
Obstacles to Investigate
During this period of investigation it was evident the lack of will of the American authorities to cooperate in the clarification of the facts, since they did not facilitate the delivery of the necessary information, nor collaborated with the investigative proceedings of the Ministry of the Interior.
In practice, only the untimely access of Cuban investigators to the allegedly affected buildings and the delivery of new signs of alleged sound aggressions have been experienced.
In this sense, Lt. Col. Estrada Portales said: “The U.S. authorities held Cuba accountable with the investigation, determination and elimination of these facts, without assuming the full responsibility that corresponds to it as a country affected by participating in the investigation. They have not given access to the investigators nor the facts because they reported it months, days and hours after the incident, neither to the victims, nor to the witnesses. There is no way to know what a victim can bring without interviewing him.”
He added that “however, the US authorities have not agreed to interview the victims and not even to give us the statements they were asked to take, not only for their use in the strict sense of police research, but also to bring them to experts, scientists, specialists who could analyze what these victims were referring to the occurrence of the facts denounced.”
American diplomats affected by alleged acoustic attacks constituted a major evidence to be assessed by Cuban experts for the clarification of the facts. However, the US Government denied access to these people and moved them to their territory, preventing them from being given an expert opinion.
Besides, the United States did not facilitate the exchange between Cuban scientists and investigators and the State Department’s medical team that visited the island to assess the alleged damage to diplomats.
“We were willing all the time to take care of those patients, to investigate what had happened.” The Cuban health system has all the resources, but in fact the cooperation was nil and we have only had communications, which in our opinion are not expert, on what had happened, Dr. Manuel Jorge Villar Kuscevic, specialist of second degree in otolaryngology and head and neck surgery said.
For its part, the medical opinion delivered by the American authorities with the assessment of the 20 persons allegedly affected by the exposure to intense noises, has a single page, is very general and lacks the technical elements required in this kind of reports.
Dr. Villar Kuscevic added they developed all the investigation from incomplete data. “We have not really had any information that is scientific and reliable for us to be able to reach a conclusion in any sense,” he clarified.
For her part Dr. Alida Suarez Landrian said: “The only thing we have received from the counterpart has been unspecific opinions. Vestibular studies were performed, audiometric studies, but where are the studies, where are the results of these studies? If we do not see the studies, we do not see the results of the studies, how can we talk about the existence of such damage or if it did not exist? We don’t have a scientific basis, nor a solid foundation to be able to diagnose.”
“Nor have we had the possibility to do a physical- otorhinolaryngology examination and in general we do not know the whole health environment surrounding these people,” said Dr. Martha Beatriz Martinez Torres.
The lack of opportunity to report alleged acts by the US authorities was also recurrent throughout the process. All were reported belatedly even though the Ministry of the Interior’s Diplomatic Security Department enabled five exclusive telephone numbers for the U.S. Embassy in Havana to directly notify any incidents.
In this sense, Lt. Col. Estrada Portales commented: “The United States authorities have reported all the facts in a belated and partial manner. On April 25 they reported an incident supposedly occurred 30 days earlier, on March 30. On April 6 at 14:00 hours, the Embassy reported a fact allegedly occurring in hours of the night before; when our forces were in the place to carry out the investigation, they were not allowed them to access either the victims or the scene. Thus they hampered the development of the police actions corresponding to the clarification despite the lateness of the information.
Although the alleged sonic attacks are linked to areas and technologies little known to Cuba, the US authorities have not agreed to the Cuban proposal to conduct a technical exchange at experts’ level, nor have they facilitated the use of their technologies in the field of sonic and infrasonic records.
It is contradictory that the United States did not want to cooperate fully at this level, when positive experiences are known in areas of security such as drug trafficking, money laundering and terrorism, most in a scenario where there were no diplomatic relationships, which shows results when there is a real political will.
An example of this was bilateral collaboration in 2013 in the area of information and communications technologies, when Cyber actions were recorded against American technological and military facilities. In this incident Cuban machines were previously controlled from the outside, according to use national infrastructures as bridges and present the island as an alleged attacker.
On that occasion, bilateral exchanges were carried out at technical, operational and political level, which allowed a quick clarification of the facts and even the execution of investigative proceedings by the American authorities.
In this regard, Lt. Col. Estrada Portales reflected: “As the United States officials have been reiterated, this is a fully developed investigation. But in order to achieve success in it, the full and responsible participation of the authorities of that country is essential; to allow access to their experts, who have been participating, as they have said, in the investigation on their part; that allow access to the testimony of the witnesses, to allow access to the real saying of the victims on what happened and what were the symptoms and other details that are essential for the police actions that must be developed, in addition to the actions to run by the multifactorial group of experts participating in this research.”
At present, after repeated requests from the Cuban side, only the cooperation with the American specialized agencies for the investigation of the alleged facts has been able to materialize.
So far, it has not been possible to exchange with the medical team that examined the alleged victims, nor with experts on technological and acoustic issues.
In this sense, during the months of June, August and September 2017, three meetings between specialists from the United States and their Cuban counterparts occurred on the island. The exchanges were developed in a constructive and professional climate, in which the American side expressed its intention to cooperate more substantively in the investigation of the alleged incidents.
The members of the American delegation expressed they do not have evidence to confirm the occurrence of the aforementioned attacks, and raised the absence of hypotheses on the origin of health affectations referred to by their diplomats.
The State Department spokesman herself, Heather Nauert, publicly acknowledged that her Government was unable to determine the cause or a culprit of the alleged sound events.
The American researchers pointed out they do not rule out the possibility that the symptoms experienced by diplomats were provoked by other causes outside the so-called acoustic attacks, hence the continuation of investigations.
They also recognized Cuba´s role in the investigative process.
Lieutenant Coronel Estrada Portales concludes that: “in exchanges with U.S. officials, they have recognized that Cuba has no responsibility in the execution of the attacks they are denouncing. They have also recognized that Cuba is a place where they have historically developed their diplomatic activity in a calm and protected manner, and that our country has always guaranteed the necessary measures for the development of this work by the officials of the U.S. Embassy. ”
Partial Investigation Conclusions
The Cuban authorities deployed all the investigative possibilities based on the information provided by the American side.
• The absence of evidence indicating the occurrence of the alleged acoustic attacks was demonstrated;
• It has not been possible to establish investigative hypothesis about the origin of these facts, which by their nature are eminently sensory and do not leave traces, an aspect backed by the representatives of the specialized agencies of the United States that traveled to Cuba.
• No authors or individuals with motivation, intent or means to carry out such actions have been identified. The work carried out by the Cuban investigators and the information provided by US officials has not established the incidence of suspicious people or means in the places of occurrence, nor their vicinity.
• After the expert technical analysis of the sound samples delivered by the United States, the Cuban medical and scientific team certified the impossibility that they caused the health effects described by the diplomats.
Throughout the investigative process, the Cuban authorities have kept their U.S. counterparts up-to-date through verbal notes delivered to the U.S. Embassy and diplomatic and security encounters.
The politicization of this issue, evidenced in the recent decisions of the US Government to minimize its diplomatic staff in Cuba and request the departure of fifteen Cuban Embassy officials in Washington, without being supported by evidence or conclusive results of the ongoing investigation, only benefits a small group of the extreme right anti Cubans, led by Senator Marco Rubio, who persists in maintaining hostile policy against the island to the detriment of national genuine interests of the United States and its people, who have shown support for the normalization of relations between both countries.
Rubio, an opponent of any rapprochement with Havana, recently sent along with four other senators a letter to Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, calling for the expulsion of all Cuban diplomats in Washington and the eventual closure of the Embassy of that country in Cuba, in retaliation for the so-called “acoustic attacks”.
The decision to reduce American diplomatic personnel in Cuba caused the rejection of Bárbara Stephenson, president of the American Foreign Service Association, a union representing American diplomats and grouping 16 thousand members. The officer said the alleged health problems do not justify a large-scale withdrawal.
This position has been supported by important American personalities and politicians who categorized the White House’s reaction as excessive and erroneous. They felt that this meant a return to the failed Cold War policies and that it responded to the interest of some individuals for disrupting the normalization process.
The implementation of the aforementioned measures, together with others such as the indefinite suspension of the bilateral meetings on the island, the visit of official delegations to Cuba, the restrictions on the issuance of visas of the United States Consulate in Havana and the warning to American travelers so they do not visit Cuba, are a setback in bilateral relations, as they undermine exchanges and cooperation in several areas of common interest, especially in the limited economic ties and in the immigration area.
This situation, originated by political interests, jeopardizes the preservation of the national security of both countries, because it would affect the agreements on immigration and enforcement and enforcement of the law, with direct impact on the confrontation of transnational crimes such as terrorism, drug trafficking, cyber-attacks, trafficking in persons, among others.
Throughout the revolutionary history, Cuba has been shown to fulfil its international obligations rigorously and seriously, including the protection of all diplomats without exception.
Moreover, it is universally recognized as a safe destination. An analysis of the Data World Company, published in early April 2017 and based on travel warnings issued by the State Department during the last seven years, revealed Cuba as one of the most secure countries for American tourism. During that period, the State Department did not address any of its security warnings for our country, nor did it contemplate the island on the list of the 25 most dangerous nations for the physical integrity of its citizens.
In the last two years, from the beginning of the process of normalization of relations, the number of American visitors to Cuba has increased, and only this year are recorded more than half a million, not counting the travel of Cubans living in that country that amount to more than 320 thousand.
The island would never attack or allow the use of its territory to affect diplomats or U.S. citizens, or any country in the world.
However, more than 150 attacks have been perpetrated against diplomatic missions and Cuban entities in about 20 countries, including the Cuban Embassy to the United Nations and the then Cuba Interest section in Washington. These terrorist acts, executed by groups settled in US territory, have left a considerable balance of dead or injured diplomatic officials, including the case of Felix Garcia Rodriguez, murdered on September 11, 1981 in New York City.
Since the triumph of the Cuban Revolution, the island has been a direct target of constant aggressions of all kinds sponsored by different American administrations, who practiced State terrorism.
The sabotage to La Coubre steamer and El Encanto department store, the mercenary attack to Bay of Pigs, the detonation of a Cuban civil aircraft in flight and the bombs in different hotels and resorts of the country, among many other aggressions, marked the suffering of a whole people, with a balance of 3 478 fatal victims and 2 099 physically incapacitated for life.
Despite these permanent aggressions against the Cuban people, the Revolution has maintained as principle the respect for the physical and moral integrity of all human beings.
As it has been repeated in dissimilar occasions, Cuba has the will to continue negotiations on bilateral affairs with the United States, on the basis of equality and absolute respect for our sovereignty and independence. Cuba and the United States can cooperate and coexist in a civilized manner, despite the profound differences, and promote benefit to both peoples.
Taken from Granma