The US government is considering the possibility of closing down its embassy in Cuba. It comes after a number of embassy officials started suffering from strange symptoms after a range of what has been described as a ‘sonic attack’.

The Secretary of State Rex Tillerson described it as a ‘very serious issue’ during an interview on CBS’s Face of the Nation. “We’ve brought some of those people home,” he said, as authorities are still struggling to determine the exact nature of the attack, as well as the possible culprits.

The embassy only re-opened two years ago when relations started to normalise between the two countries. But the attacks have repeatedly occurred since December 2016 and now more than 21 people are reportedly suffering from the strange symptoms.

Amid their failure to identify the actual problem, US officials are scrambling for answers. “The US has not identified either a culprit or a device,” the Associated Press reported.

Deciphering the attacks

The victims have suffered from hearing loss, concussions, nausea, and headaches, while others are struggling to concentrate. “Government employees, members of our embassy community, have experienced some kind of symptoms,” spokesperson for the Department of State Heather Nauert said during a briefing in August, “They have been provided medical treatment in the United States as well as in Cuba.

Officials say “Investigators have explored the possibility of sonic waves, an electromagnetic weapon, or an advanced spying operation gone awry,” reported the AP.

According to a paper by cyber security analyst Ryan Littlefield, infrasonic frequencies or infrasound, which has had a military application since World War I, result in similar symptoms as those experienced by the embassy staff.

He cites a table listing the different applications of the non-lethal weapons. In certain instances, the use of infrasound can lead to nausea, vomiting, and disorientation. Meanwhile, high power, very low frequency acoustic bullets from a 1-2 m antenna dish can result in anything from discomfort to death.

High frequency ultrasound is another possibility, but given the fact that it dissipates over long distances, it is improbable, yet still a possibility.

As none of the victims from the attacks have succumbed to their symptoms, it is clear if it was in fact an infrasound attack, it was not applied as is described above. But these weapons were meant for use by the state, which raises alarms as to who the culprits are.

Appropriating blame

Given the 007-like nature of the incident, it would be impossible to rule out any scenario. Serious questions need to be asked if these weapons were used by civilians and how they were able to use them in a number of instances. What about the involvement of a so-called ‘third rogue force’ trying to undermine diplomatic relations between the countries. These could include individuals from either governments or even, should you entertain the idea, extra-terrestrial life forms. (Conspiracy theorists assemble)

While Nauert insists they will first try and identify the culprits before ‘assigning responsibility’, Havana has already distanced itself from the attacks.

“The Cuban authorities set up an inter-institutional expert committee for the analysis of the facts; expanded and reinforced the protection and security measures of the mission, its staff and diplomatic residences; and new channels were made available for direct communication between the Embassy and the Department of Diplomatic Security,” the Ministry of Foreign Affairs said in a statement in early August.

It has also launched an investigation into the attacks and proposed cooperation between the authorities of both countries.

“The Ministry categorically emphasizes that Cuba has never, nor would it ever, allow that the Cuban territory be used for any action against accredited diplomatic agents or their families, without exception,” the statement concluded.

The information remains very limited about the attacks. But if the matter is not treated with the required urgency and sensitivity, it could result in yet another diplomatic crisis between two countries that only managed to normalise relations half a century later. Although embassy staff are experiencing the symptoms, the attack was very clearly directed at the relationship between the two countries.