That’s right, I’m using scare quotes. That’s because there is not and has never been any evidence, at least any that the public is privy to, that U.S. embassy personnel were attacked in Cuba.
It’s a near certainty that whatever happened in Cuba, it wasn’t a sonic attack, as I’ve been saying since September. After a months-long investigation, the FBI has concluded the same thing. According to the Associated Press,
Following months of investigation and four FBI trips to Havana, an interim report from the bureau’s Operational Technology Division says the probe has uncovered no evidence that sound waves could have damaged the Americans’ health, the AP has learned.
In a beautiful example of motivated reasoning, the Trump administration has shifted to an even goofier theory.
The United States is standing behind its claim that personnel in Cuba were deliberately attacked, with the Trump administration raising the possibility on Tuesday that a virus could have been used to infect workers despite lawmakers and the FBI questioning the theory of “sonic attacks.”
Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, New Jersey Senator Bob Menendez, and Florida Senator Marco Rubio remain convinced that SOME kind of attack must have taken place, as do unnamed State Department Officials (Newsweek again):
The report is the clearest sign of the U.S. ruling out the sonic weapon theory to date. It states that the FBI tested the hypothesis of air pressure waves via audible sound, infrasound or ultrasound being used to hurt Americans in Cuba and found no evidence that this could have been the case.
Still top State Department officials testifying before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee have maintained that even if it wasn’t a “sonic attack,” they felt certain it was an attack of some kind.
Officials told Congress there are a number of theories that have yet to be ruled out, including the possibility of a virus being used to intentionally infect workers. However, no evidence was presented for why a virus to could be to blame.
Officials briefed on the investigation have also told AP previously that the possibility of a virus or other pathogen being behind the alleged attacks had never been high on their list of theories on what caused the incident.
This is so revealing: before the FBI investigation, when sonic attacks were the preferred explanation, viruses weren’t “high on [the] list of theories.” Now that the FBI has said the sonic attacks didn’t happen, suddenly it’s a virus, even though “no evidence was presented for why a virus to could be to blame.”
In fact, no evidence has ever been presented that an attack of any kind took place. But of course, it has to be an attack, because otherwise the excuse for removing embassy personnel from Cuba would evaporate.
…the State Department’s diplomatic security director Todd Brown said investigators are not ruling out various possibilities, including a “viral” attack.
“There’s viral, there’s ultrasound — there’s a range of things that the technical experts are looking at as, could this be a possibility?” Brown said.
Tom Udall, a Democratic senator from New Mexico, pressed him further: “When you say viral, you are talking about someone intentionally implanting a virus?” he asked.
“That would not be ruled out,” Brown said, “it could be a possibility.”
In other words, we’re fine with any explanation, as long as it fits our attack narrative. Here’s the thing: the sounds that some embassy personnel reported were part of the reason an attack was suspected in the first place. Now that we know that the sounds did not indicate a sonic attack (which we should have known from the beginning, since it was never plausible), what reason do we have to think that any kind of attack occurred?
Some people in Cuba got sick. At first we thought it was just U.S. embassy personnel, but now we know that it was also Canadian embassy personnel and American tourists. Some of the U.S. embassy personnel who got sick heard noises, which led the State Department to suspect a sonic weapon, even though no known or plausible sonic weapon could explain all the symptoms.
We could safely conclude that the illnesses were due to an attack if attacks were the only thing that made people sick. Since that’s not the case, evidence of an attack would be evidence that rules out all the other reasons that people get sick. No such evidence has ever been presented (at least not to the public).
Some, including sociologist Dr. Robert Bartholemew, have suggested mass hysteria (or “collective stress response”) as an alternative explanation (Psychology Today, Slate). Those articles are worth a read, but I don’t think it’s even necessary to invoke such an explanation. As I said before,
The State Department is convinced that some kind of attack took place, so you can bet that anyone who was there is being asked to recall any health complaint, no matter how minor. Naturally any health complaint the embassy staff can recall is going to be shoehorned into the attack narrative.
The mass hysteria explanation implies that the “victims” believe they were attacked, but we don’t even know that that’s the case. All we know is that the State Department thinks they were attacked, a convenient belief given President Trump’s campaign promise to roll back relations with Cuba.
I predict that, just as with mythical sonic weapons, no evidence will be found of an intentionally introduced virus. Mainly, it seems implausible that any one virus could explain the wide range of reported symptoms. But that explanation also requires that such a virus could have been transmitted only to intended victims and that the method of transmission would have gone completely undetected. Since Cuba desperately wants improved relations, and since the administration “has never claimed Cuba perpetrated the attacks“, we’re back to where we started: no means, no motive, and no suspect.