Russian attack: Putin prime suspect for ‘mystery illness’ hurting dozens of US diplomats

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And evidence suggests some sort of sonic weapon could also be responsible for the illness, which has affected than dozens of US officials in several countries. State Department employee Mark Lenzi and his wife suffered lightheadedness, headaches and insomnia, while their children experienced bloody noses, while they were based in Guangzhou in 2018.

Initially he thought it could have been the high levels of pollution in the Chinese city – but he also found himself suffering memory loss, and associated the symptoms with a strange sound which came at night, the New York Times reported.

The mysterious illness is strikingly similar to one which afflicted diplomats and spies at the American Embassy in Cuba in 2016 and 2017, which came to be referred to as Havana Syndrome.

On that occasion, US President Donald Trump pulled out most staff and issued a travel warning, saying US diplomats had been the victims of “targeted attacks”, although Cuba denied any involvement.

However, the approach with the incidents in China has been somewhat different.

Initially Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, who was CIA director three years ago, intially said what had happened in China was “very similar and entirely consistent” with the Havana incidents, and more than a dozen federal employees and their families were evacuated.

However, the State Department subsequently toned down its language, describing the China episode as “health incidents”.

In contrast to staff in Cuba, who were placed on administratative leave, those who had been based in China were expected to use sick days and unpaid leave, their lawyers told the New York Times, while no official investigation was launched.

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Similar incidents have been reported by other diplomats – for example, CIA officer Marc Polymeropoulos, who suffered severe vertigo in his hotel room in Moscow as well as migraines which eventually forced him to retire, and which he believed were also the result of a targeted attack.

Russia analysts within the agency regard Russia as the likely culprit as part of a strategy to disrupt relations between the USA and both Cuba and China.

Senator Jeanne Shaheen, Democrat of New Hampshire, said: “These injuries, and subsequent treatment by the U.S. government, have been a living nightmare for these dedicated public servants and their families.

“It’s obvious how a US adversary would have much to gain from the disorder, distress and division that has followed.”

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It’s obvious how a US adversary would have much to gain from the disorder, distress and division that has followed

Senator Jeanne Shaheen

The Trump administration has not said precisely how many staff have been affected, but the University of Pennsylvania’s Center for Brain Injury and Repair has treatd at least 44 people in Cuba and 15 in China, while at least 14 Canadian citizens in Havana said they had suffered similar symptoms.

The Soviet Union is known to have bombarded the American Embassy in Moscow with microwaves during the Cold War.

A report published by the National Security Agency in 2014 claimed a hostile country was using a microwave weapon to “bathe a target’s living quarters in microwaves,” resulting in nervous system damage.

The document did not name the country suspected of being involved, but insiders said it referred to Russia.

With reference to incidents involving Mr Lenzi and other staff, a statement issued by China in 2018 said: “China has always protected the safety of foreign diplomatic missions in China, including that of the US diplomatic staff, in accordance with the Vienna Convention on Diplomatic Relations and the Vienna Convention on Consular Relations.

“Regarding what was said in those reports, China has carried out an investigation seriously and given an initial feedback to the US. By far, we have found no reason or clue for what was reported by the US.”

Speaking to at the time, Dr Ian McLoughlin, Professor of Computing at the University of Kent, suggested some sort of sonic weapon could be involved – although he also said in the case of the China incidents, it was more likely the result of attempted surveillance.

He added: “We have the tools to detect these sounds in the lab but that’s not where something like this would happen.

“It would be very difficult to detect.

“The effects of ultrasound increase with amplitude – loudness. But heating is mainly a problem with contact ultrasound – when an ultrasonic emitter touches you – rather than waves transmitted through the air.

“Cavitation, by contrast, might occur in the fluid of the inner ear, in body tissue or cells. It can be transitory – the bubble forms and disappears with each frequency cycle – or sustained.”

Asked whether countries were developing sonic weapons, Dr McLoughlin refused to speculate other than to say: “The technology is there.”

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