The Sound and the Fury: Inside the Mystery of the Havana Embassy 2

One of the U.S. diplomats affected by the health incidents reportedly lived in this home in Havana. (Courtesy of NBC News)

More than a year after American diplomats began to suffer strange, concussion-like symptoms in Cuba, a U.S. investigation is no closer to determining how they were hurt or by whom, and the FBI and CIA are at odds over the case. A ProPublica investigation reveals the many layers to the mystery — and the political maneuvering that is reshaping U.S.-Cuba relations.

by Tim Golden and Sebastian Rotella

It was a cool night for Havana, with the temperature falling into the mid-70s, and the diplomat and his family were feeling very good about their assignment to Cuba. They were still settling into their new home, a comfortable, Spanish-style house in the lush enclave that had been called “el Country Club” before wealthy families abandoned it in the early years of the revolution. “We were just thrilled to be there,” the diplomat recalled. “The music, the rum, the cigars, the people — and a very important moment for diplomacy.”

Eight months earlier, in March 2016, President Barack Obama had swept into town to commemorate the two countries’ historic rapprochement, vowing to bury “the last remnant of the Cold War in the Americas.” Now, weeks after the election of Donald Trump, that entente was suddenly doubtful. Fidel Castro had just died, opening a new chapter in the Cuban saga. The diplomat could hardly have imagined a more fascinating time to arrive.

As the sun slid into the Florida Straits on that late-November evening, the diplomat folded back the living room doors that opened onto the family’s new tropical garden. The warm night air poured in, along with an almost overpowering din. “It was annoying to the point where you had to go in the house and close all the windows and doors and turn up the TV,” he recalled. “But I never particularly worried about it. I figured, ‘I’m in a strange country, and the insects here make loud noises.’”

A few nights later, the diplomat and his wife invited over the family of another American embassy official who lived next door. Around dusk, as they chatted on the patio, the same deafening sound rose from their yard again.

“I’m pretty sure those are cicadas,” the first diplomat said.

“Those are not cicadas,” his neighbor insisted. “Cicadas don’t sound like that. It’s too mechanical-sounding.”

The colleague had been hearing the same noises at home, sometimes for an hour or more at a stretch. After he complained to the embassy housing office, a couple of Cuban maintenance workers were dispatched to look around. They checked for electrical problems and scanned the yard for strange insects, but they left without finding anything out of place. In February, the nightly racket finally began to fade. Then it went away altogether.

Feature continues here:  Sound & Fury

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Cuba Replaces Spy-Diplomat Who Directed US Relations Within Cuba’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs 2

DI Officer Josefina Vidal

Cuba Replaces Official Who Led Talks to Resume Ties with U.S.

HAVANA, Feb. 12 (Xinhua) — The Cuban government has replaced Josefina Vidal, head of U.S. relations at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, who chaired the island’s delegation during the talks to restore formal ties with the U.S.

A government statement published on Monday announced that Vidal‘s position will be taken by the “experienced diplomat” Carlos Fernandez de Cossio.

“Fernandez de Cossio is one of the most complete Cuban diplomats,” said Johana Tablada, the deputy head of U.S. relations, on Twitter.

A former ambassador to Canada and South Africa, Fernandez de Cossio already held this position at the U.S. office during the 1990s, at a time of great tension between Washington and Havana.

According to the statement, Vidal handed over her duties to Fernandez de Cossio on Feb. 9 after a formal ceremony.

“In her almost 12 years at the Directorate-General of the U.S. Office, Josefina Vidal carried out her complex job with efficiency, talent and sensibility,” read the statement.

Josefina Vidal was considered the Cuban face of the long process of negotiations that concluded in the restoration of U.S.-Cuba diplomatic relations in August 2015.

After 54 years of political enmity, respective embassies in Havana and Washington were re-opened, and former president Barack Obama visited the Caribbean nation in March 2016.

However, relations have soured once again since President Donald Trump promised to roll back formal ties “in search of a better deal with Havana.”

Thus, Fernandez de Cossio returns to his previous office in similar conditions to those he had to deal with two decades ago.

The statement did not clarify what functions Vidal will be taking on.

Editor’s Note: Career Directorate of Intelligence (DI) officer Josefina Vidal, expelled from the US in 2003, is one of Havana’s premier experts in US affairs. Numerous accounts of her DI service can be found in the Cuba Confidential archives.

DI officer Johanna Tablada concluded her tour as Cuba’s ambassador to Portugal in late 2017. She is suspected of being assigned to Department M-I, the elite element focused on targeting the US intelligence community, universities, and Congress.

19 American Travelers to Cuba Report Symptoms Similar to Those Suffered by Diplomats Reply

The State Department has warned American travelers about staying at the Hotel Capri in Havana, one of the sites in which alleged attacks have taken place. Emily Michot – emichot@miamiherald.com

By Nora Gámez Torres, ngameztorres@elnuevoherald.com

Nineteen American citizens have reported symptoms similar to those suffered by U.S. diplomats who had been identified as victims of alleged attacks in Cuba.

“Since September 29, the Department of State has been contacted by 19 U.S. citizens who reported experiencing symptoms similar to those listed in the Travel Warning after visiting Cuba,” a spokesperson for the State Department’s Bureau of Western Hemisphere Affairs told the Miami Herald in an email.

“We continue to urge U.S. citizens to reconsider travel to Cuba,” she added.

In late September, the State Department issued a travel warning advising Americans not to travel to Cuba because they could become victims of mysterious attacks such as those suffered by 24 diplomats and their families while they were stationed in Havana. The U.S. also removed most of the staff at its embassy in the Cuban capital. Among the symptoms described in the travel warning are: “ear complaints and hearing loss, dizziness, headache, fatigue, cognitive issues, and difficulty sleeping.”

In January, the State Department changed the wording and currently recommends “reconsidering” traveling to Cuba. However, officials stressed that the situation on the island had not changed, nor their message to American travelers. The list of possible symptoms remained unchanged in the new travel advisory.

“Because our personnel’s safety is at risk, and we are unable to identify the source of the attacks, we believe U.S. citizens may also be at risk,” the latest advisory says. “Attacks have occurred in U.S. diplomatic residences and at Hotel Nacional and Hotel Capri in Havana.”

Feature continues here:  Sonic Attacks Target Tourists

American Terrorist Tied to 130 Bombings Is Awarded One of Cuba’s Highest Awards 3

From the Cuban propaganda outlet and intelligence front, Prensa Latina:

American Terrorist Oscar Lopez

Havana, Nov 14 (Prensa Latina) Puerto Rican Patriot Oscar Lopez Awarded Order of Solidarity (+Photos)

Puerto Rican pro-independence fighter Oscar Lopez was awarded today, in a solemn ceremony, the Order of Solidarity given by the Council of State of the Republic of Cuba.

At the request of the Cuban Institute of Friendship with the Peoples (ICAP), the Order of Solidarity recognizes ‘the integrity, courage and solidarity implicit in the resistance shown by our dear friend during the years he was imprisoned’, said Fernando Gonzalez, ICAP president.

At the ceremony, held at the Jose Marti Memorial in Havana, Gonzalez said that almost 36 years of imprisonment, torture and repression failed to wipe out Oscar’s identification with his people and his commitment to his ideals of freedom and social justice.

‘The long-lasting imprisonment and the attempts to wipe out or weaken his willingness to be free also failed,’ said Gonzalez, Hero of the Republic of Cuba.

Gonzalez said that the important Order of Solidarity praises also the actions of ‘a responsible father, attentive grandfather, a fighting comrade, a determined lover of his island, his people, the sea and monarch butterflies, and a humble and cultured man with great artistic sensibility.’

‘But particularly, it is a fair recognition of the attitude kept during decades imprisoned for the sole reason of fighting for the independence of his country’, said Gonzalez.

More photos here:  Terrorist Honored

Editor’s Note:  ICAP is another decades-old intelligence front, with a large pool of collaborators at the service overseen by a small team of ICAP-embedded Directorate of Intelligence (DI) officers.

Miami Cuban American Faces Long Sentence in Havana Under Alleged Espionage Charges 2

Alina López Miyares – Courtesy of Telemundo 51

By Nora Gámez Torres, ngameztorres@elnuevoherald.com

The parents of Alina López Miyares left Cuba in 1969 to escape Fidel Castro’s revolution. But that did not keep her from falling in love and marrying a former Cuban diplomat years later, and then traveling frequently to the island to be with him.

Now López Miyares seems likely to stay on the island for a while, serving a 13-year prison sentence allegedly on charges of spying after an Oct. 2 trial. Her husband, the ex Cuban diplomat Félix Martín Milanés Fajardo, was reportedly sentenced to 17 years in prison.

López Miyares, a 58-year-old former Miami teacher, was arrested in January in Havana after she traveled there to be with Milanés Fajardo, said her mother, Alina López, 89. She added that for months she did not know what had happened to her daughter, and learned about her arrest only after she went to Havana to ask.

The mother told el Nuevo Herald that she was allowed to see her daughter before and after the trial and was allowed to visit her in a Havana prison, but she declined to confirm reports by a son, Eugenio López, and Martinoticias that she was charged with spying. It’s not clear for which country Cuban authorities allege López and her husband were spying for.

El Nuevo Herald has not seen the court documents in her case, but Eugenio López has said that his sister was accused of spying and sentenced to 13 years in prison.

“My sister is the furthest thing from a spy. They made a fool out of her,” he told el Nuevo Herald. He told Telemundo 51, which first reported the case, that she was also accused of trying to help her husband escape the island.

“That man was evil-minded. He did his dirty business and involved her,” the mother said. She described the husband as a “degenerate” and supporter of the Castro government. But she added that neither she nor her husband had never met him. The couple wed in Cuba.

Her daughter “has lost weight (under arrest), been sick four or five times,” the mother said. “She suffers from high blood pressure, and has never experienced anything like this. She can’t eat that food. I have to go and buy whatever there is.”

According to information posted online, López Miyares worked as an “itinerant teacher” at the Merrick Educational Center and Bruce Ball Educational Center, which are part of the Miami-Dade public school system, teaching special needs students at their homes or in hospitals. The school system did not answer questions about her employement.

López Miyares’ brother said she met Milanés Fajardo in 2007 or 2008 in New York, where he worked as a Cuban diplomat. The details of the relationship are not clear, and it’s not known if López Miyares has established legal residency on the island.

Read more here: American Jailed for Espionage

 

Living and Loving the Cold War: The Wild Ride of a Canadian Diplomat and Spy Reply

Former Canadian high commissioner Bill Warden, centre, stands with his daughter, Lisa, in an arms bazaar in Darra, Pakistan, 1982. (Submitted by Lisa Warden)

From spying for the CIA and dodging the KGB, to rallying Afghan warlords, Bill Warden’s life was an adventure

(CBCNews – Canada) They don’t make careers like this anymore.

Dodging the secret police in Cold War Berlin. Cranking up the music to deafen the KGB bugs in Moscow. Spying for the CIA in Havana. Rallying Afghan warlords to thrash the Russians. Wrangling former prime minister Pierre Trudeau’s meditation session with Indira Gandhi. Faking documents to spirit a hostage out of Tehran.

Diplomacy is not designed to be a wild ride, but Bill Warden’s lasted three decades. He died in 2011, before his vivid journals were collected and published this fall by his daughter, Lisa, under the title, Diplomat, Dissident, Spook.

A sometime spy and eventual peacenik, Warden is little known to Canadians but well known to the likes of Mikhail Gorbachev, who writes a glowing forward to the book.

Roaming, off the radar, from Havana to Hong Kong, Warden relished the halcyon days of diplomacy when real spies wore fedoras and before, he says, ambassadors became trade commissioners. He watched the “Great Game” of the superpowers from the front row and didn’t mind jumping into the ring.

To all appearances, the polite Niagara Falls, Ont., kid was a dutiful member of the striped-pants set, patiently enduring the rants of Iranian mullahs or Fidel Castro.

But behind the scenes, his life was intrigue and adventure.

A typical chapter begins like this:

“Berlin, 1961. As I rounded the corner onto Unter den Linden and headed for the café, the black Wartburg sedan slid to a halt and four men in the black uniforms of the East German Security Service emerged looking as if they meant business. My back was drenched in instant perspiration.”

That’s where Bill Warden got his start, as a student in the world’s spy capital — ambling with fake nonchalance from the West to the​ Communist East, before the Berlin Wall was built. He rebuffed the CIA’s bid to recruit him and soon, RCMP officers back in Niagara Falls came to grill his father about why young Bill was spending so much time in the East.

Cockroaches and the KGB

His interest in fighting the Cold War was the reason — and he got his wish in his first Foreign Service posting: Moscow, in the tense aftermath of the 1962 Cuban missile crisis.

Warden was constantly tailed by KGB goons, partly because he spoke Russian — so there was a danger he might learn something.

Article continues here:  Canadian Spy in Cuba

 

 

Associated Press Reports Sonic Attacks in Cuba May Have Begun Years Earlier Than Claimed By White House 3

The view from Chris Allen’s room at Hotel Capri in Havana in April 2014. (Chris Allen / Associated Press)

U.S. Tourist, FBI Agent May Have Been Victims of Cuba Sonic Attacks

(Associated Press) Chris Allen’s phone started buzzing as word broke last month that invisible attacks in Cuba had hit a U.S. government worker at Havana’s Hotel Capri. Allen’s friends and family had heard an eerily similar story from him before.

Allen, from South Carolina, had cut short his trip to Cuba two years earlier after numbness spread through all four of his limbs within minutes of climbing into bed at the same hotel where U.S. Embassy and other government workers were housed. And those weren’t the only parallels with the latest reports. Convinced the incidents must be related, Allen joined a growing list of private U.S. citizens asking the same alarming but unanswerable question: Were we victims, too?

It may be that Allen’s unexplained illness, which lingered for months and bewildered a half-dozen neurologists in the United States, bears no connection to whatever has harmed at least 22 American diplomats, intelligence agents and their spouses over the last year. But for Cuba and the U.S., it matters all the same.

It’s cases like Allen’s that illustrate the essential paradox of Havana’s mystery: If you can’t say what the attacks are, how can you say what they’re not?

With no answers about the weapon, culprit or motive, the U.S. and Cuba have been unable to prevent the attacks from becoming a runaway crisis. As the United States warns its citizens to stay away from Cuba, there are signs that spring breakers, adventure seekers and retirees already are reconsidering trips to the island. After years of cautious progress, U.S.-Cuban relations are now at risk of collapsing entirely.

That delicate rapprochement hadn’t even started to take hold in April 2014 when Allen felt numbness overtake his body on his first night in the Havana hotel.

“It was so noticeable and it happened so quickly that it was all I could focus on and it really, really frightened me,” said Allen, a 37-year-old who works in finance.

The Associated Press reviewed more than 30 pages of medical records, lab results, travel agency records and contemporaneous emails, some sent from Havana, provided by Allen. They tell the story of an American tourist who fell ill under baffling circumstances in the Cuban capital, left abruptly, then spent months and thousands of dollars undergoing medical tests as his symptoms continued to recur.

One troubling fact is true for tourists and embassy workers alike: There’s no test to definitively say who was attacked with a mysterious, unseen weapon and whose symptoms might be entirely unrelated. The United States hasn’t disclosed what criteria prove its assertion that 22 embassy workers and their spouses are “medically confirmed” victims.

So it’s no surprise that even the U.S. government has struggled to sort through confusing signs of possible attacks, odd symptoms, and incidents that could easily be interpreted as coincidences.

LA Times feature continues here:  Did Sonic Attacks Begin in 2014?

 

 

 

The view from Chris Allen’s room at Hotel Capri in Havana in April 2014. (Chris Allen / Associated Press)

Cuban Military Court Sentences US Citizen to 13 Years in Prison for Alleged Espionage Reply

According to a source related to the case, the couple was being investigated by Cuban counterintelligence after suspicions arose that they were providing classified information that could jeopardize state security. (Twitter)

By Karina Martín – Pan Am Post

A military court in Havana, Cuba has sentenced a US citizen and her husband, a former Cuban diplomat, to a long-term prison sentence for crimes of espionage.

According to a source related to the case, the couple was being investigated by Cuban counterintelligence after suspicions arose that they were providing classified information that could jeopardize state security.

Alina López Miyares was detained last January at Havana airport as she was preparing to travel to Miami, Florida. Her husband, Félix Martín Milanés Fajardo, had been arrested the month prior, in December.

Both were tried on October 2 after the court date had been postponed twice. The delay caused the Cuban justice’s decision to take place just three days after the United States decided to withdraw most of their diplomatic staff from its embassy in Havana.

The family of the accused could have get the trial waved, according to a source consulted by the newspaper Martí Noticias. The mother of López Miyares, a resident of Miami, was able to see her daughter at the entrance of the court, but could not enter the room.

“The prisoners had been instructed to change their statements in order to influence the verdict,” the same source said.

The couple, who has been married for more than 10 years, each received lengthy sentences: 13 years in prison for López Miyares and 17 years for Milanés Fajardo. The sentence will be finalized on October 24. The defendants are reportedly expected to file an appeal.

The ruling comes amid growing bilateral tensions over alleged “sonic attacks” on the island against two dozen US diplomats.

US Spies in Cuba Were Among First Victims of Mysterious Sonic ‘Attacks’ 8


The Hotel Capri in Havana is one of the sites of apparent sonic ‘attacks’ on US diplomatic personnel. Photograph: Desmond Boylan/AP

The incidents, which have caused hearing loss and brain injury, began within days of Donald Trump’s election but the motives and culprits remain obscure

(The Guardian) US intelligence operatives in Cuba were among the first and most severely affected victims of a string of baffling sonic attacks which has prompted Washington to pull out more than half of its diplomatic staff from Havana, the Associated Press has learned.

 It was not until US spies, posted to the embassy under diplomatic cover, reported hearing bizarre sounds and experiencing even stranger physical effects that the United States realized something was wrong, individuals familiar with the situation said.

 The attacks started within days of Donald Trump’s surprise election win in November, but the precise timeline remains unclear, including whether intelligence officers were the first victims hit or merely the first victims to report it. The US has called the situation “ongoing”.

 To date, the Trump administration has largely described the 21 victims as US embassy personnel or “members of the diplomatic community”. That description suggested only bona fide diplomats and their family members were struck, with no logical motivation beyond disrupting US-Cuban relations.

Behind the scenes, though, investigators immediately started searching for explanations in the darker, rougher world of spycraft and counterespionage, given that so many of the first reported cases involved intelligence workers posted to the US embassy. That revelation, confirmed to the AP by a half-dozen officials, adds yet another element of mystery to a year-long saga that the Trump administration says may not be over.

The state department and the CIA declined to comment for this story.

The first disturbing reports of piercing, high-pitched noises and inexplicable ailments pointed to someone deliberately targeting the US government’s intelligence network on the communist-run island, in what seemed like a bone-chilling escalation of the tit-for-tat spy games that Washington and Havana have waged over the last half centuryBut the US soon discovered that actual diplomats at the embassy had also been hit by similar attacks, officials said, further confounding the search for a culprit and a motive.

Of the 21 confirmed cases, American spies suffered some of the most acute damage, including brain injury and hearing loss that has not healed, said several US officials who were not authorized to speak publicly on the investigation and demanded anonymity. They heard an unsettling sound inside and in some cases outside their Havana homes, described as similar to loud crickets. Then they fell ill.

Over time, the attacks seemed to evolve.

Feature continues here:  “US Spies Were Targets of “Sonic Attacks”

 

 

 

 

 

 

U.S. Diplomats, Families in Cuba Targeted Nearly 50 Times by Mysterious Sonic Attacks: Official 2

By KTLA 5

Some of the 21 US diplomats believed to have been impacted by mysterious acoustic attacks in Cuba were targeted multiple times, CNN has learned from a senior US official.

There were nearly 50 attacks in total, the official said.

The incidents have challenged the US government’s assessment that Cuba is a safe country for US diplomats and their families and threatened the future of the newly reopened embassy.

Despite the often-empty supermarkets and antagonistic relations with the communist-run government, Cuba for years offered US diplomats a rare benefit: It was safe.

Unlike in many other countries, in Cuba, US Embassy employees didn’t have to worry much about terrorist attacks, kidnapping or even petty crime. The Cuban government’s tight control over the island made Havana one of the safest cities in the world.

Diplomats — especially those Cuba suspected of being spies — might suffer harassment at the hands of the powerful state security apparatus, but there were established lines neither of the Cold War adversaries would cross.

But starting early this year, US diplomats heading to the island to begin their postings were quietly warned they could face a mysterious threat that was causing American Foreign Service officers to fall ill, some with long-lasting symptoms.

Investigators haven’t determined the cause of the incidents, but US officials told CNN they are convinced someone has targeted American diplomats in Havana with a sophisticated device never deployed before, at least not against US personnel.

Canadian diplomats have suffered similar health problems, according to US and Canadian officials.

Despite the often-empty supermarkets and antagonistic relations with the communist-run government, Cuba for years offered US diplomats a rare benefit: It was safe.

Unlike in many other countries, in Cuba, US Embassy employees didn’t have to worry much about terrorist attacks, kidnapping or even petty crime. The Cuban government’s tight control over the island made Havana one of the safest cities in the world.

Diplomats — especially those Cuba suspected of being spies — might suffer harassment at the hands of the powerful state security apparatus, but there were established lines neither of the Cold War adversaries would cross.

Feature continues here:  Sonic attacks