“El periódico ha de estar siempre como los correos antiguos, con el caballo enjaezado, la fusta en la mano y la espuela en el tacón.  Debe desobedecer los apetitos del bien personal y atender imparcialmente al bien público”.
José Martí

Does Cuba have Weapons of Mass Destruction against Diplomat Eardrums?

News that Cuba supposedly has a sonic weapon, unknown to the Pentagon, and that it had been used to make some US diplomats deaf, has become a joke on social media ever since the news became public last week.

It reminds me of another accusation that came from Florida a few years ago. A newspaper there published an article claiming that shark attacks against tourists on its beaches were due to Cuban communists training sharks for this end.

However, beyond jokes on social media and the time for mocking, we should take things seriously. The existence of a “Cuban sonic weapon” might seem like a crazy idea but it was a crazy idea to say that Iraq had weapons of mass destruction.

The incident took place amid negotiation talks between President Raul Castro and President Barack Obama and could have been an attempt to boycott normalizing bilateral relations. It was most certainly kept a secret for months for this reason.

Este fin de semana la embajada de los EEUU fue “atacada” con música y danza. Foto: Raquel Pérez Díaz

This weekend the US embassy was “attacked” with music and dance. Photo: Raquel Perez Diaz

The questions we should be asking are: Why is this case only being “filtered” to the press now if the incident took place in 2016 and the Cuban diplomats were expelled from Washington 3 months ago? And what political effects are being sought by making this conflict public right now?

Crime requires a motive and given the negotiations that were taking place in 2016, there were two groups with a clear interest in sabotaging the rapprochement process, extremists in Cuba and extremists in the US, both better off at times of confrontation rather than at times of peace.

The other fundamental thing you need to commit a crime is a weapon and that’s where I pretty much rule out the Cuban extremists, who would have it really hard to get access to technology for a sonic attack not even with the support from scientists or intelligence services to sabotage their own government.

The Spanish Private Intelligence and Security Consultancy (AICS) told Cibercuba that a common “sweep” is enough to detect listening devices, “these are standard procedures and involve Technical Surveillance Counter-Measures (TSCM) operations.”

The AICS added that the detection of a sonic attack is very simple because “in order to carry out an ultrasonic attack you need an emission source, which needs to even be placed at a certain distance away from the objective, but can be located by current detection systems.”


According to the US Department of State’s version, US diplomats were being attacked with a mysterious sonic weapon that leads to hearing loss. Photo: Raquel Perez Diaz

The danger lies in the idea, which has already been planted into our minds, that such a thing is possible. We all talk about “sonic weapons” and “sonic attacks”, jokingly or more seriously, as if they have been used in one of the many wars that have taken place in this world.

A well-organized media campaign can be crushing, even without the green light from the “most-used” media platforms, like what happened with the New York Times in the Iraq war. The self-criticism that came afterwards didn’t bring the many dead in Baghdad back to life.

The news has traveled across the globe in spite of US diplomats in Havana suffering hearing loss being the only thing that is known. No mention has been made about who it was, nor whether some sonic weapon exists in the world but we are talking about a “sonic attack”, as if there’s no doubt about it.

It is still too early to know if the “filtering” of the news is part of a plan to reverse bilateral relations, closing down the embassy, for example, in the face of the “danger” that their officials will end up deaf, or whether it has to do with other situations like that in North Korea, Caracas or US relations with Putin.

The truth is that when the neighborhood thug – the one who is threatening to launch a nuclear war in Asia or invade Venezuela – tells you that you are responsible for the “evil eye” his son is suffering, it’s fitting that you take heed, even though it makes you burst into laughter at first.

And things have escalated quickly; US Secretary of State, Rex Tillerson said that “We hold the Cubans responsible just as every host country has a responsibility for safety and security of diplomats in their country.” That is to say that if Havana doesn’t find a sonic weapon, it will be in trouble.

The Cuban response has been poor; the official statement doesn’t even explain what the accusation is. On the Segunda Cita blog, Rene Rodriguez Rivera says that there “is news on Cuban TV and the radio about an incident involving US diplomats which is what I call NEWS WITHOUT NEWS.”

Cuban authorities will need all of their political skill to maneuver within this minefield which they are being placed in. To do so they will need to “update” their communication mechanisms first because it isn’t enough for Caesar’s wife to be honorable; she needs to look honorable too.


This diplomatic conflict only benefits those, on both sides, who dream about returning to the time of the Cold War. Photo: Raquel Perez Diaz

Translation: Havana Times

About Fernando Ravsberg

Nacido en Uruguay, corresponsal de Público en Cuba y profesor del post grado de “Información internacional y países del Sur” de la Universidad Complutense de Madrid. Fue periodista de BBC Mundo, Telemundo de EEUU, Radio Nacional de Suecia y TV Azteca de México. Autor de 3 libros, El Rompecabezas Cubano, Reportajes de Guerra y Retratos.


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