On September 1, 2019 the CBS news program 60 Minutes raised the question: "Are U.S. diplomats being targeted abroad?" Between 2016 and 2017 a total of 25 Americans working in the US Embassy in Havana, Cuba suffered serious brain injuries and now 60 Minutes "has learned that at least 15 American officials in China suffered unexplained brain trauma soon after."
In the Cuban case this was not solely an American problem because Canadian diplomats were also impacted. Canada has confirmed "14 cases of unexplained health problems." Five Canadian diplomats say in a $21 million lawsuit that the Canadian government "failed to protect them, hid crucial information and downplayed the seriousness of the risks."
CubaBrief has followed the plight of both Canadian and US diplomats and their respective dependents in Havana who have been the victims of mysterious brain injuries.
This blog has highlighted The Washington Post's editorial on July 29, 2019 calling for "much needed accountability on the harm suffered by American and Canadian diplomats in Cuba."
It has also noted that Cuban officials have written off this injuries "as mass hysteria" and been uncooperative.
CubaBrief reproduced an article by Dr. Edward Shorter, the Jason A Hannah Professor of Psychiatry at the University of Toronto, who argues that it is a “disservice” to American and Canadian diplomas to suggest they are suffering from epidemic hysteria when they have suffered traumatic brain injuries.
According to 60 Minutes the FBI is investigating and sources have told them "that in addition to Cuba and China, Russia is a suspect."
The events in Cuba and China have demonstrated that normalized relations with totalitarian regimes are not normal. Worse yet, to continue the trading relationships with these dictatorships the Canadian government has downplayed what has happened in Cuba and the U.S. government has downplayed what has happened in China.
60 Minutes, September 1, 2019
Brain trauma suffered by U.S. diplomats abroad could be work of hostile foreign government
Since 2016, dozens of American officials have come home from Cuba and China with unexplained brain trauma. Evidence shows it may be the work of another government using a weapon that leaves no trace
CORRESPONDENT Scott Pelley
In 2016 and 2017, 25 Americans, including CIA agents, who worked in the U.S. Embassy in Cuba suffered serious brain injuries causing impaired vision and memory loss among other persistent problems. Now we have learned that at least 15 American officials in China suffered unexplained brain trauma soon after. As we first reported in March, the FBI is now investigating whether these Americans were attacked by a mysterious weapon that leaves no trace. Over many months we have been collecting evidence of what appears to be a hostile foreign government's plan to target Americans serving abroad and their families.
60 Minutes Overtime: Is an invisible weapon targeting U.S. diplomats?
Mark Lenzi: For me it was November of 2017, when I started to feel lightheaded a lot. I was getting more headaches, my wife was getting headaches too.
Mark Lenzi is a State Department security officer who worked in the U.S. Consulate in Guangzhou, China. He says that he and his wife began to suffer after hearing strange sounds in their apartment. Mark Lenzi: Picture holding a marble. Then, picture if you had like a six foot in diameter funnel, metal funnel. The sound that marble would make as it goes around and it progressively gets faster as it gets, goes down towards the hole at the end. It's a sound like I've never heard before.
Scott Pelley: Was this subtle? Like, "Did I hear that?"
Mark Lenzi: No. It was, it was actually somewhat loud. I heard it about three or four times. Always in the same spot. Always over my son's crib and always right before we would go to bed.
Lenzi wears prescribed glasses because sensitivity to light is among his persistent symptoms.
Mark Lenzi: The symptoms were progressively getting worse with me. My headaches were getting worse. The most concerning symptom for me was memory loss, especially short-term memory loss.
Mark Lenzi believes he was targeted because of his work. He uses top secret equipment to analyze electronic threats to diplomatic missions.
Mark Lenzi: There is no shadow of a doubt in my mind that this was a directed attack against my neighbor and I. His neighbor was Catherine Werner, who lived one floor up. She's a U.S. Commerce Department trade officer who promoted American business from the Guangzhou Consulate.
Catherine Werner: We hadn't heard about what happened in Cuba. I mean, there were headlines in the news about hearing loss and um, attacks to our diplomats, but we didn't know the details.
Catherine Werner became so ill, her mother traveled from the U.S. to live with her.
Catherine Werner: She spent almost three months with me. During that time she also got very ill. Um, and she and I shared the same symptoms.
Scott Pelley: What sort of symptoms did your mother have? Catherine Werner: Headaches and um, ringing in our ears. Um, we also started to both um, have difficulty recalling words.
After reporting her experiences, Werner was medically evacuated to the U.S. for treatment. U.S. agencies are investigating, but Mark Lenzi has a theory.
Mark Lenzi: This was a directed standoff attack against my apartment.
Scott Pelley: It was a weapon?
Mark Lenzi: Oh, of course it was a weapon.
Scott Pelley: An energy weapon--
Mark Lenzi: Absolutely.
Scott Pelley: What sort of energy is this that we're talking about?
Mark Lenzi: I believe it's RF, radio frequency energy, in the microwave range.
A clue that supports that theory was revealed by the National Security Agency in 2014. This NSA statement describes such a weapon as a "high-powered microwave system weapon that may have the ability to weaken, intimidate, or kill an enemy over time without leaving evidence." The statement goes on to say "…this weapon is designed to bathe a target's living quarters in microwaves." The NSA disclosed this in a worker's compensation case filed by former NSA employee Mike Beck.
In 2018, the secretary of state, Mike Pompeo, confirmed the case of Catherine Werner. U-Penn found her brain injuries matched the Cuba victims.
Mike Pompeo on May 23, 2018: We had an incident in Guangzhou that the medical indications are very similar and entirely consistent with the medical indications that have taken place to Americans working in Cuba.
But for reasons that are unclear, the State Department is raising doubt about the other 14 China cases. The State Department's medical office sent Mark Lenzi this note that says, "We have reached the decision that your symptoms and findings do not correlate with the Havana cohort."
Mark Lenzi: They tried to deny it. They tried to cover it up. They tried to minimize it.
Scott Pelley: Why would the State Department minimize this?
Mark Lenzi: Because it's China, because we have such a large trade relationship with them. You can push around Cuba. Their trade, you know, relations are minimal. With China, that's a different beast. Right?
State Department doctors told Robyn Garfield his illness stems from a baseball injury 17 years ago, which does not explain his wife and children.
Robyn Garfield: It is a very complicated geopolitical relationship between the U.S. and China. So that, to me, feels like why this determination's being made.
Scott Pelley: What does it mean for your benefits today that the State Department is refusing to call this an attack?
Robyn Garfield: It has significant impact on our, our life. Our finances. My career as well, likely. I have not been afforded time for my rehabilitation. Being classified as a preexisting injury means that I don't have access to paid leave. It also means that after one year my medical bills will not be covered currently.
The FBI is also investigating. Intelligence sources told us that in addition to Cuba and China, Russia is a suspect. But if microwaves were used, the technology is not rare. It could be more than one country is using it. U.S. Intelligence is still debating what caused the injuries.
Scott Pelley: You were in harm's way and you didn't know it.
Catherine Werner: Exactly. I didn't know it, and I'm afraid that others may be in harm's way and may not know it. I don't know what the future looks like for me. But I would do anything in my power to prevent this from happening to somebody else serving their country.
In July, the medical team from the University of Pennsylvania published a second study about the victims from Cuba. Using advanced brain imaging, they were able to present the first scientific evidence that the diplomats did in fact have physical damage to the structure of their brains.