Back in 2016, US and Canadian diplomats stationed in Havana reported hearing “intensely loud” noises coming from a specific direction, described as humming, buzzing, grinding metal, or a piercing squeal (though a few described more low-pitched sounds). According to Business Insider, some of the same diplomats and their families later reported having trouble balancing, speaking, and hearing, with some saying they felt "mentally foggy."
On Tuesday, in the Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA), a study compared brain scans from the diplomats (all of whom were stationed in Cuba at the time of the strange sounds) against scans of 48 other healthy adults who were not exposed. The findings suggests the mysterious noises may have altered the diplomats' brains in disturbing ways. The sounds affected their brain volume, tissue, and connectivity all appear different now.
According to CNN, the forty diplomats, twenty-three men and seventeen women showed variations in brain structure and functional connectivity, which measures relationships among different brain regions, when compared with forty-eight other adults. The scans were taken between August 2017 and June 2018. Ragini Verma, one of the authors of the study, told CNN, "There were group differences all over the brain, especially in an area called the cerebellum, which is also implicated in the kind of clinical symptoms that most of these patients were demonstrating, which is balance, eye movement, dizziness, etcetera.”
Cuba has repeatedly denied being responsible for the attacks. The BBC took a statement from the lead Cuban scientist involved in the study, Professor Mitchell Valdés-Sosa. "The changes in the brain images are very small, very diverse and very diffuse," said Professor. Valdés-Sosa. “I was so frustrated by the study's methodology and inconclusive results that my fellow scientists and I took the unusual step of convening a news conference...They do not correspond to a coherent explanation," he concluded.
The shutdown of Havana’s US embassy in response to the alleged sonic attack has taken a toll on Cuba. The Miami Herald reported that since the United States withdrew all but a bare-bones staff from its embassy in Havana, no Cubans have been admitted to the United States as refugees and the US will likely fall short of its annual commitment to admit Cuban immigrants. As a result of the staff reduction, diplomats are struggling to “cover significant economic and political developments in Cuba,” reach out to human rights activists and members of Cuban civil society, and monitor how the Cuban government is treating returned migrants, according to a memorandum released this week by the Congressional Research Service.
An independent investigation carried out by neuroscientist R. Douglas Fields reportedly found multiple cases disproving the diplomats were attacked by a sonic weapon. Fields points out that the magnetic resonance imaging scans published in the JAMA study showed damage to white matter in the brains of the embassy employees. Fields wrote “Such damage would require violent concussive forces, something I learned in my own laboratory research on blast injury and myelin. The lead author of the investigation finding white matter damage in embassy employees was identified by the Miami Herald as Michael Hoffer, a University of Miami ear, nose and throat specialist and former U.S. Marine physician. Hoffer referred my inquiries to the University of Miami Press Office, which declined comment, unable even to clarify whether a manuscript showing white matter injury in the U.S. diplomats had been submitted for publication. At this point, no medical evidence of white matter damage is known to have been reported.”