U.S. intelligence officials now say they suspect Russia is responsible for attacks on U.S. embassy and diplomatic personnel in Cuba that caused some hearing loss and brain damage.
According to NBC News, five sources confirmed to the network that suspicions Moscow is behind the attacks is based, in part, on signals intelligence (SIGINT) via intercepted communications.
The network noted:
The suspicion that Russia is likely behind the alleged attacks is backed up by evidence from communications intercepts, known in the spy world as signals intelligence, amassed during a lengthy and ongoing investigation involving the FBI, the CIA and other U.S. agencies. The officials declined to elaborate on the nature of the intelligence.
The attacks began in late 2016 and continued, off and on, into 2018, and have caused a major rift in U.S.-Cuban relations.
Though Russia is suspect, U.S. officials have said publicly the evidence is not conclusive enough to formally blame Moscow. The Cuban government has denied involvement.
Over the course of months, U.S. intelligence officials have been attempting to ‘reverse-engineer’ the type of weapon they believe was used to carry out the attacks.
“As part of that effort, the U.S. has turned to the Air Force and its directed energy research program at Kirtland Air Force Base in New Mexico, where the military has giant lasers and advanced laboratories to test high-power electromagnetic weapons, including microwaves,” NBC News reported.
Initially, U.S. officials believed some sort of “acoustic” weapon was used to injure 26 American officials at the Cuban embassy, which has since been evacuated.
But since then, officials increasingly suspect a new type of sophisticated microwave or electromagnetic weapon. In addition, intelligence agencies and the Pentagon are also considering the possibility that one or more new technologies may also have been used, perhaps together with microwaves.
Medical conditions the former U.S. diplomatic personnel are experiencing include brain injuries, hearing loss, and problems with cognition, balance, vision and hearing issues.
For a time, U.S. officials considered that the effects experienced by embassy personnel were unintended consequences of new spying technologies. But since then, the administration has come to view them as “attacks.”
“The State Department has come to the determination that they were attacks,” Ambassador Peter Boode, who leads the task force responding to the incidents, told a House Foreign Affairs Committee panel last week.
Separately, a U.S. official told the news network that the U.S. has “no reason to believe this was anything but an intentional act.”
Also, a State Department official posted to the U.S. Consulate in Guangzhou, China, in May reported hearing similar noises before being diagnosed with a brain injury and other symptoms similar to those in Cuba.
Analysis: Though the Cuban government has been cleared of being responsible for the attack, U.S. officials consider Havana at least partially responsible for failing to protect American embassy personnel. There is also some thought that perhaps Cuban intelligence was aware of the alleged Russian attack and may have worked in concert with Moscow.
As for the kind of weapon used, Russia has made substantial advances in EW — electronic warfare — in recent years, surpassing U.S. capabilities and forcing the Pentagon to play catch-up. As early as 2016, Russian EW capabilities were being seen on battlefields in Ukraine and Syria.
Has Russian EW research produced a new kind of ‘acoustic’ or ‘microwave’ weapon? It’s not beyond the realm of possible. The U.S. will have to figure that out first before the Pentagon can develop countermeasures and defenses.
The larger issue is the attack itself. Russia appears to have ramped up its military operations short of war — low intensity, asymmetrical, unconventional ‘warfare’ and tactics employed against adversaries that do not rise to the level of traditional armed conflict — in an effort to more directly challenge the U.S. and West.
China is doing similar things. From firing lasers at U.S. pilots in Djibouti in an area where Beijing and Washington have neighboring military bases to reassigning the China Coast Guard to the People’s Liberation Army Navy, asymmetrical tactics short of war that seek to intimidate, influence, or harass on behalf of foreign policy and military objectives appear to be the new norm for America’s principal adversaries.
How President Trump responds will determine whether our adversaries ramp up their attacks and harassment or curb it.