Skip to main content

tv   Attacks on U.S. Diplomats in Cuba  CSPAN  January 11, 2018 4:27am-6:01am EST

4:27 am
4:28 am
this period of the
4:29 am
subcommittee on civilian, security, democracy, human rights and global women's issue sz going to come to order. and the u.s. tax on cuba oversight. we have one government panel testifying with it following three witnesses here. the acting assistant secretary of state for the bureau of western hemisphere affairs. international programs that department of state and dr. charles, the medical director at the bureau of medical services for the department of state. thank you all again for being here on this important topic. there are two goals. the first is to establish the facts. and of what has occurred and the second is to conduct oversight over the conduct and the activities of the united states state department. here are the facts as will be testified to today by our panel.
4:30 am
in late 2016 staff at the united states embassy in havana began complaining of strange noises and among it descriptions they complained of, high pitched beam of sound, incapacitating sound, akin to driving with windows partially open in the car or just intense pressure in one ear. at the time of this report the post's leadership and the supporting office here in washington d.c. viewed this activity as harassment from forces hostile to the united states or to u.s. presence in cuba. later there was information gathered from aditional individuals, including some that suggested the complaints to november. the initial events that were reported occurred at diplomatic residents. but later these events occurred -- individuals first
4:31 am
visited the medical unit at the embassy in september 2016 and january of 2017. from february of april 2017. and to what you would see in patients that quote have a mild traumatic brain injury or concussion. and the test results up to that point. and they arrived at a consensus and the consensus is and i quote the patterns of injuries were most likely related to trauma from a nonnatural source. and they reevaluated embassy employees that were reporting symptoms and incidents prior to
4:32 am
april 2014 were added to the list of confirmed cases. subsequently two additional individuals reported exposure in midaugust of last year. and those cases were medically confirmed as well, bringing the total number of cases to 24. all -- while the symptoms may vary, all the medically confirmed cases, all 24 of them have described some combination of the following symptoms. dull headaches, ringing in one ear, vert go, visual focusing issues, nausea and extreme fatigue. as we've said earlier the timeline of the reported incidents are as follows. the initial waver may have begun as early as november 2016 and occurred from march 2017 through late april of 2017 there was a sporadic period of reported
4:33 am
incidents and then they stopped. and then two additional reports happen in close proximity in august of last year. they were medically confirmed in september. these are the facts that will be testified to today by our panel and with that i turn to the ranking member. >> thank you, mr. chairman and i'm appreciate that we're starting the new year with a much needed hearing. the braiszen attacks on our diplomats in cuba. it's unfortunate that since the news of these bazar and vicious attacks broke late last summer we have not seen more public out cry against the cuban government for whatever scope of ownership it has over these attacks or more accountability for the health and well being of our diplomats, some who continue to suffer lingering health effects.
4:34 am
the castro regime has proved time and time again it's not a responsible act. the regime can't be counted upon to uphold its responsibilities or commitments and it has no regard for individual human rights, security or human dignity. the cuban government may or may not at the end of the day be directly responsible for attacking our diplomats. but as someone who has personally witnessed the motes apron day of the cuban government, it's -- they were not aware of these attacks. if senior cuban officials did not directly order these attacks, they must have been given approval to foreign agents to operate in cuba. the scope is too specific. so i hope to hear more sound explanations from our witnesses today. now our own diplomats have born
4:35 am
the burden of a simple truth and that is that being in a foreign location in terms of your duty runs risks and in this particular case no amount of playicating, pandering or diplomatic overtures is going to change that. the cuban government has tried to undermine their dangerous and irresponsible behavior by undermining the validity of our diplomats. why would a regime that has demonstrated its ability to opress and harm its own citizens give creedance to our concerns about the well being of americans? they accuse the united states of fabricating the attacks because we have not released the names or diagnoses of the effected people. of course the castro regime doesn't understand in a democratic and free country citizens have a right to privacy and to a government that would
4:36 am
prioritize their privacy and health over using them as political tools and finally turning to our witnesses you cannot be held accountable for the behavior of the cuban government or those responsible for this but you are responsible both for the appropriate diplomatic response and the health and safety of our diplomats and from what i can see the reactions on both counts are simply insufficient and unacceptable. despite much rhetoric from the president about policy changes, the reality is it enjoys many of the benefits it receives. it grandmothered in all contracts. further more because the administration took so long to actually announce these
4:37 am
guidelines. major companies were able to finalize deals and their implementation. that enforcement level, the department of foreign assets control with the understanding that no further staff will be hired. the president has not even nominated an assistant secretary for western hem hads fear affairs. failing to put staff in place in appropriate agencies undermines our ability to protect citizens abroad. completely abricated its obligations to protect our diplomats is laughable. the fact that somehow it's managed to paint a narrative that there were no attacks at all is pretty outrages. to achieve pairty with a number that have to be removed from havana for safety hardly a bold
4:38 am
move. the administration stressed they were not in response to the attack on personnel. and then turning to the impacted foreign service officers themselves, i appreciate the officer over view that's been provided. it department's response was simply bureaucratic, inadequate and troubling. i will have a number of questions later. but let me start by saying the stories we were are shocking. failure of leadership at the department in that post. the sluggish reaction to aflicted personnel, the aloof response of the medical team, silence from the security to the rest of the department is starring. the members of the u.s. foreign service made a commitment to serving overseas. they agree to spend their lives, often taking their families with them in the pursuit of helping americans abroad. some serve in combat zones, and
4:39 am
sometimes on communist islands. according to accounts from those who suffered directly, when diplomats reported symptoms they were rebuffed. it is also our understanding that upon finally accepting that they were suffering life altering health consequences, they took months to arrange for the appropriate care. it was almost a year before they put on status and only after reports surfaced in the media. it's our understanding they did not warn diplomats for permanent or temporary assignments about the risk of their health and their families. as their colleagues were evacuated they failed to notify it rest of the department. those who have been suffering physically also have remaining questions about whether they will receive appropriate care for the rest of their careers
4:40 am
and their lives. this lack of leadership and responsibility is shocking and unacceptable. i sincerely hope this panel can give us answers to a myriad of other questions. they must be held had accountable for its failure and failure to protect american diplomats. they must be held had accountable for the appropriate policies and response and insuring the safety and health of the foreign service. >> thank you and we'll begin with our witnesses. welcome to the committee. >> chairman rubio, ranking member menendez and distinguished members of the committee, thank you for the opportunity to speak about the department of state's efforts in response. i want to thank you for your concern for the safety and security of our diplomatic personnel in havana. as you know this is secretary
4:41 am
tillerson's top priority. it is mine as well. i'm pleased to be here today with my colleagues from the bureau of diplomatic security and medical services with whom the bureau of western hem hads fear affairs has worked closely on this issue. i would also like to emphasize up front that the investigation is ongoing. we have the best experts in the government working to help us understand it. and every step in our response to these events we have worked closely with our medical and technical experts in evaluating health conditions and the nature of the attack. i'll walk you through a timeline which will describe our diplomaticing engagement then i will defer to my colleagues to address the security and medical issues. in late 2016, some servicing
4:42 am
complained about hearing strange noises and a variety of unexplained physical symptoms. as the department investigated, we began to see signs suggesting that these events initially and diplomatic residents and later at hotels may have begun as early as november 2016. as soon as we identified a pattern, connecting these unusual events with certain health symptoms u.s. officials approached the cuban government in midfebruary to demand it meets its obligations under the vienna convention to protect our personnel. the cubans denied involvement, offered their cooperation and opened their own investigation. since then we have engaged the cubans more than 20 times from the working level to the highest level of the cuban government both here in washington and in
4:43 am
havana. in addition to our diplomatic efforts, dr. rosen farb will provide you with additional details. separately we launched a government-wide effort to find the cause and culprits behind these attacks. apart from the investigation we have met with u.s. interagency partners more than a dozen times to discuss and refine our response to the attacks. the attacks initially appear to curb in clusters. but starting in late march, spurattic attack continued until late april and then seemed to stop. beginning in midapril we allowed anyone serving at embassy havana who did not feel safe at post to return to the united states. we also expelled two cuban diplomats in may in order to underscore the cuban
4:44 am
government's responsibility to protect our personnel. after a period without any attacks there were two additional attacks reported in close proximity in late august which were medically confirmed in september. secretary tillerson ordered the departure of nonemergency personnel on 29th. they assessed this was it only way to reduce the risk to the diplomats and their families. we expelled 15 more cuban diplomats in october to insure equity and the impact on our respected operations and to underscore to cuba its obligation to stop the attacks. these decisions both to jar down our personnel at embassy havana and to expel cuban diplomats did
4:45 am
not signal a change from president trump's policy. prior to the decision to implement order departure, our embassy held 17 town hall meetings with embassy staff. since the return of u.s. diplomats to washington, we have held a number of meetings with them. secretary tillerson explained his decision to institute order departure and we have organized a number of meetings to address eeevacuee's concerns. the well being of the 24 confirmed victims as well as the well being of all of our evacuees and those remaining in havana continues to be our priority as does the ongoing investigation. with that i will turn it to my colleagues to discuss their areas of expertise and then i will be happy to answer your questions. >> thank you. mr. brown.
4:46 am
>> good morning. chairman rubio and other distinguished members of the committee. thank you for your invitation to discuss health had attacks involving u.s. personnel in their families. i share your concerns regarding the safety and security of our personnel in cuba and welcome any discussion that may lead to a better ntdsing of this issue and stronger safeguards for our employees. from a security and investigative standpoint we continue to work at embassy havana to counter, mitigate and better understand who or what are causing injuries to our dip wlumatic staff. unfortunately this remains a perplexing case. our regional officer first became aware of attacks involving personnel in late december 2016. in the early stages of trying to understand what may be
4:47 am
occurring, post leadership and supporting offices in washington believed it was likely a form of harassment by forces hostile to the united states and our presence in cuba. as more incidents were reported in early 2017 and greater awareness of the seriousness of symptoms became known our level of concern and mitigation efforts rose exponentially. after meetings with cuban officials in february outlining cuba's responsibility to protect diplomats under the geneva convention, we received information that the cuban government was conducting its own investigation into the matter. senior officials met frequently as part of our ongoing attempt to better understand the nature of the apparent attack and protect staff.
4:48 am
amung other things the embassy deployed devices in an effort to better identify or capture the possible source behind the threat. as many victims had had associated the attack with an acoustic event. after further investigative attempts an expert analysis failed to identify the perpetrator, the federal bureau of investigation opened a case in early may. an fbi case has since visited and the fbi's investigation has conducted surveys of the residents and hotel rooms. however the investigation remains ongoing and we would refer all specific questions concerning the investigation to the fbi. thank you. i'll be glad to answer any questions you may have. >> thank you. >> good morning. chairman rubio, ranking member menendez. thank you for the opportunity to
4:49 am
testify on a department's response to the recent health had attacks in havana. i'll be describing what we currently know about the health effects. from the individual and public health perspective, managing this is challenging. they describe a multitude of symptoms, many of which are not easily attributable to any specific cause. the sharing of information has helped identify more personnel but as with any community outbreak can complicate a situation. however, the most challenging factor is the lack of certainty and therefore the precise mechanism of the injuries suffered. individuals first visited our medical unit starting in late december 2016 and january 2017 reporting various symptoms including air pain, diziness and hearing problems. they associated the onset to
4:50 am
their exposure with oddatory sensations. an incapacitating sound, or just an intense pressure in one ear. since the symptoms first reported primarily effected oodatory functions -- was aidentified to perform additional assessments. between february and april of last year, this specialist evaluated 80 members of the embassy community. 16 were identified to have symptoms and pedically verifiable clinical findings similar to what might be seen following a mel traumatic brain injury or concussion. in july reviewed the case histories and test results gathered to date.
4:51 am
they identified some of the symptoms could be caused by other things such as previous head trauma, aging and stress. the consensus was the patterns of injuries were most likely lated to a trauma of an unlikely source. the nationally recognized brain injury center at the university of pennsylvania was identified those with prior exposures and new exposures. as a result of further evaluations, additionally individuals with exposures prior to april 24th were added to the list of confirmed case said two other individuals that reported exposures in midaugust were also medically confirmed, bringing the total number to 24. i now like the describe the health effects identified so far.
4:52 am
all medically confirmed cases have described some combination of the following symptoms with ginning within minutes to hours of the event. dull unilateral headache, ringing in one ear, vertigo, visual focusing issues, disorientation, nausea and extreme fatigue. they seem to resolve in days and weeks but other health issues emerge. these have included difficulty with concentration, working memory and attention. high frequency unilateral hearing loss and imbalanced walking. the duration and severity have varied widely. defining the prognosis is extremely difficult since no precise an log exists. some patients remain symptomatic
4:53 am
months after their exposure. they have improved to varying degrees in some individuals. however, some over time without treatment. 10 of the 24 have returned to participation of duty. however, at this time we are unable to state whether or not it could result in functional abilities. all government personnel now receive a detailed medical briefing including base line audio grams and testing. the centers for disease control performing a broader -- and to the american public. discussions have also been held with the national instut of neurological disorders and stroke regarding its
4:54 am
participation in ongoing medical investigations. i look forward to your questions. >> thank you. doctor, i'll start with you. is it fair to say may 1st or early may we were aware that at least 16 u.s. government employees and/or dependents had had suffered a serious if hadjury while working in havana for the u.s. government? >> it's fair to say we were aware they had suffered some type of injury. >> was it serious? >> in some individuals it was more serious than others. >> was there at least one u.s. government employee suffered serious injury? >> many cases.
4:55 am
>> in any case of serious ifjury, they should convene an accountability review board. that has to happen within 60 days of an occurrence of the incident and allows for a 60-day delay if they determine more time is necessary for convening by the board. by early may we knew at least one or several as the doctor has testified, resulted in serious ifjury. and certainly by early september an accountability review board should have been set up. i got a letter november 6th saying there was still not an accountability review board. and it secretary decided to delay 60 days to determine whether one was necessary. "allow additional time to better if form the decision whether to convene an arb." has an accountability review
4:56 am
board been set up to this date and why wasn't it set up, as according to law, in the 120 day period in. >> the secretary has made a decision to convene an accou accountability review board. there will be a congressional notification sent shortly. >> why wasn't it done within 120 days since may 1st when we knew there was serious injury? >> throughout this process there were things we knew or at times was later contradicted. throughout this process we have not been able to identify who the perpetrator of such attack was and what the means of that attack was. it was only until late august when there was another round of attacks that it became apparent to us that we should begin the
4:57 am
process of looking at an accountability review board sfwlp that's not what the law reads. in any case of serious ifjury, loss of life related to a united states government mission abroad. it doesn't say you need to know who did it. in fact, that's one of the reasons for the review board. the fact is the state department did not follow the law in my opinion and i believe in the opinion of others given the fact that by early may we knew serious injury had had occurred weilated to their service in government mission abroad. and mr. brown, you testified the conclusion was this was forces hostile to the yunls and/or to our presence in cuba. is that correct? >> that's correct. initially we felt it was a form of harassment and that was attributed to the government.
4:58 am
>> do you know when secretary kerry was made aware? this was it state department conclusion that there was harassment, correct? >> yes, sir. that was the early opinion of the security professionals who looked at it that it was likely a form of harassment. >> when was secretary kerry made aware? do you know? >> i do not know. >> do you know if president obama was ever made aware? >> i know as a regular matter we would have aprized the national security counsel at some point after the late december information became apparent. >> what about secretary tillerson? when was he first made aware? >> i believe that would have been late february, sir. >> do you know if the trump transition team was made awear during the transition period? >> i did not have a contact with them on this issue. i'm not aware if anyone else did. >> when president obama changed
4:59 am
policy towards cuba. we set up the embassy. we had to expand personnel, did we not? we added personnel to expand the mission? >> i would have to go back and check the record. >> we had to secure housing for the additional mission in havana? >> that would be normal practice. >> and we would have to prostlied cuban government the list of all it u.s. employees that would be work sng. >> we would have enlisted additional visas, yes. >> and all of these residents would have been owned by the cuban government? >> that's my understanding too, sir. >> the hotels where these attacks happened were owned by the cuban government. >> that's correct. >> what measures did we take on the expansion of these
5:00 am
residents? >> senator, to talk about residential security, i think historically from a crime p perspective there were not features related to that. our concern and i believe the cuban government selected was aware of which houdsising our personnel would go into. our housing profile is fairly compact. there are not specific security measures in a counterintelligence type if environment. so there wouldn't have been any other physical security in relation to the residents in place and particularly in cuba, we did not have, beyond the harassment element, we did not have a high crime statistics or anything related to political
5:01 am
violence. so there wouldn't have been any residential measures taken above and beyond what was already in place. >> based on what we know and more importantly what we don't know can you today guarantee the safety of any personnel in havana currently stationed or about to be deployed to havana? do we know what they can do to protect themselves from these injurei injuries? can we guarantee today they're safe from the injuries. >> certainly we've not knowing what's causing it or who's behind it or how it's being done gives us very little in the terms of mitigation and being sure that our community in ha vannau and how to respond to
5:02 am
that to have teams in place and how to report those types of incidents. so we have done a lot of work in terms of elevating the knowledge -- >> i guess to cut the chase, mr. brown. if i were being deployed to work in the embassy in havana and asked what could i do to protect yourself, you do not know what i can do to protect myself? >> that's true, senator. our guidance would be in the event of something similar that what has taken place to react in a certain manner. that's a reactive measure. >> do you have any advice to people being deployed to huh rannau how they can protect themselves? >> we try to educate them and make sure they're aware of the risk and what we know about the symptoms that have occurred. as far as we know right now the only mitigation factor is to limit exposure. we inform them should they hear
5:03 am
or feel a sensation to move away as quickly as possible. we know from our patients the less exposure the belter. we also do predeployment screening to ascertain baseline hearing, cognitive function. so should they report any, we're able to refer to the previous status. >> unfortunately i'm going to have to go to the white house so i'm going to have a series of questions for the record. i was looking forward to a second round. i hope those questions will be answered. first, listening to the last set of answers like the times in which we used to have children put their heads underneath their desk for a nuclear attack, ridiculous. move away from sound that you're hearing. it's pretty amazing to me. let me ask the democratic offices of this committee have
5:04 am
requested a classified briefing. to date that briefing as not taken place. do you submit to a classified briefing? >> absolutely. >> and given the fact that so much is tied to classified information, do you submit to responding to classified questions for it record? >> yes, sir. >> would it not be fair to say that in cuba either it is the regime who conducted these attacks or they have full knowledge of who conducted these attacks because the state security apparatus in cuba is one that has every element of cuban society and life fully monitored and if gauged. very difficult to believe that if a third country ultimately if gauged in these attacks that the cuban if thetelligence would not know. >> yells, sir. >> all right. so either it is the cubans or it
5:05 am
is someone else. under the possibility that it is someone else and i think it administration has recognized one possible explanation for these attacks on u.s. personnel is a third country, possibly in collaboration with the cuban government or at least with its knowledge. or if it wasn't with its knowledge, they know who it is and they have not come forth as i understand it? have the cuban government suggested who this might be if not them? >> not that i'm aware of. >> in the theory for a moment that it is a third country in december of 2016 around it same time these attacks first happened, they sign a new defense cooperation agreement, including a series of new technologies and i'd like to release thiz for the record. has the state department raised the attacks against u.s. personnel in cuba with the russia government for example?
5:06 am
>> sir, i think -- that's a very good question. i think it would be better to address that question in a classified setting. >> so if i were to go to a list of countries, your goring to give me the same answer? >> in general, yes, sir. >> so i look forward to that classified moment. let me ask you this. you have said that you will not return individuals if in fact individuals to the post if -- unless the cubans can guarantee that these attacks will not continue. doesn't that indicate the government has at least some knowledge over these attacks? >> the president and the secretary have stated
5:07 am
government -- >> when was the first time a diplomat reported symptoms of the attack? >> the first symptoms -- patients were seen in embassy havana in midjanuary. >> mid-january of? >> 2017. >> of 2017. do we know when the sar jay was first informed of these attacks? >> i believe it shar jay alerted the attacks at the very end of december of 2016. >> so we say some of these attacks took place in may of 2016, right? >> there was a cluster of attacks that occurred between march and mid-april. i do not believe there was an attack in may. ideav'd have to go backing to t
5:08 am
timeline. >> so if it's march or may of -- >> excuse me, senator. i meant 2017. >> okay. so let me ask you this. what was the sarjay informed the effects could be permanent? >> he was informed of the attacks in late december, sir, of 2016. at that point i do not believe we knew we had information about the severity or the depth of the attacks. >> when diplomats reported symptoms to the medical team, why did it take so long to respond? >> senator, i believe to try to clarify how this timeline from investigative standpoint took place, it was december 30th and
5:09 am
2016 when it was first brought to the attention of the regional security officer and the front office of the embassy. at that time it was not clear what was taking place, nor were there related severe medical symptoms. they just simply didn't know and at that point they thought it might be some form of harassment and the regional security officer did note it in a report along with other reports. so that's when they first had had this notice of what was happening. and then there was this long gap that nothing new happened. so this case is sort of amplified by how perplexing and knowledge gaps. but they did seize on this early indicator that something odd had had happened and then i believe it was late -- this was considered a form of harassment early on and then it wasn't
5:10 am
until early february when new incidents were reported that it was sort of this moment of we've got something bigger happening here. >> why were diplomats effected told not to share their symptoms or concerns with family members? >> i'm not awear that was ever done. >> would you review it because if you talk to these individuals they were told not to share their symptoms or concerns with family members. when did you first learn that employees were suffering symptoms associated with traumatic brain injury? >> we medically evacuated the first patient i believe was february 6th, 2017, and for it next two months evacuated 40 more people and we had the specialist from miami go to havana and assess more people. as we saw more and more patients and they were able to do the objective assessments it
5:11 am
became -- the pattern of injuries became consistent with what i testify as being most likely a version of traumatic brain injury and concussion. >> for those employees that were or are currently being treated, will it department continue to cover all of their medical care? >> i would refer that question to the officer of medical services. >> we're committed to do everything we can under existing authorities to provide the care and support -- >> those existing authorities suggest there is some limitation to the treatment you will give these employees? >> the -- we are -- there may be some limitations to family members over the course of -- because typically people injured in the course of duty would be covered by the workers compensation law and family members would not be. >> well, i would ask you in
5:12 am
response to my questions to give the committee a full sense of what limitations there are. i don't think when we send a diplomat abroad who is attacked by whom ever at the end of the day that their health and well beingicide should be limed in response. i think you want to send a message that if they're attacked they will be taken care of and i consider them in this respect a veteran of our diplomatic efforts so i would like to see what limitations there are if any and see if we can respond to that. i have plenty of other question. >> thank you, mr. chairman. i'm not sure who to direct this to. i do agree with mr. brown, this is a perplexing case. does anybody know how many different locations this has been perpetrated at?
5:13 am
>> senator, i don't have the exact locations, several residences and two hotels. >> are you aware of any cuban nationals or people not associated with the diplomatic core? >> subsequent to the issuance of our travel warning on october 1 of 2017, there have been 18 american citizen reports to the department's bureau of councilor affairs. that information has been shared with the investigators. >> of all the reports, what percentage approximately is there inaudible type of attack
5:14 am
opposed to feeling ill or dizzy or experiencing vertigo? is it associated with some kind of high pitched sound or something? >> senator, you're referring to the attacks against the diplomats. we don't have information about the attacks on individuals. >> so with the diplomats, how often is that? 100% of the time? they hear something or -- >> the vast majority of the 24 cases reported hearing or feeling some auditory sensation. >> when you say feel auditory sensation, something, feeling a flutter in your ear or something, like capitation you hear with the lowering the window in your car? >> the descriptions in sensation vary quite a bit. some vibration and some loud sounds. the descriptions have varied. >> have we ever set up any kind of monitoring device in any of
5:15 am
those residences? >> yes, sir. we have provided off the shelf recording devices that are geared to record high frequency sounds. we have successfully recorded some sounds and turned those over to investigators. >> that's interesting. when you recorded those sounds, did people exhibit the symptoms? >> i believe that some of those at least were associated with individuals who later showed symptoms. i defer to the doctor also to comment on that. >> doctor, are you aware of any type of technology that would cause this? >> no, i'm not. >> not that you know exactly what caused this but are you aware of some type of auditory type of weapon that could cause this type of damage? >> no, i'm not, sir. >> mr. palmieri, duo you know i the united states government is
5:16 am
aware of any? >> no, i do not, sir. >> take senator rubio's description and what's required by law. as medical doctor it seems like you hopped on this quick and we had experts come in 2017, literally a month and a half of when embassy personnel were even made aware of this. short of a full-scale orb for medical personnel do you have any regrets in terms of things you didn't do? >> no regrets, sir. it's important to remember when i said serious injuries, at the time the injuries were serious as any acute injury would be. one thing that hasn't become clear and still not certain, what if any long term consequences could be. someone can suffer a serious injury but may improve completely. at that point, they're able to go on and don't have health
5:17 am
consequences. each step of the way, we identified where we had information gaps. we out to fill those gaps and got the best care we could fine for our personnel and made decisions at each point of the investigation. >> an injury from an illness, at what point do you believe an injury was caused by some type of attack or are you still not certain of that? >> after our discussion with the panel of academic experts in july, when the panel reviewed other possible explanations, each explanation seemed to have holes in it. the panel felt the one explanation that could probably best explain or most likely to explain it was a non-natural incident that caused the injuries. >> that was in july of 2017. >> yes. >> my final question, how many embassy personnel requested relocation? is that a decision made by the
5:18 am
state department to move people or the medical core? >> there were eight individuals who requested departure from havana before the secretary's decision that moved the post from an ordered departure status. >> were those requests granted? >> anyone who wanted to depart post was allowed to depart post. >> thank you, mr. chairman. >> thank you, mr. chairman and thank you all for testifying today. i think this committee had a classified briefing on this issue in october. mr. palmieri, you said it was only in a classified briefing?
5:19 am
are there additional instances? >> i think there could be a classified briefing. there have been developments since and we have tried to keep the committee informed to the best of our ability. it would be worthwhile, yes, senator. >> there's an ap headline that you all may have seen that says the fbi doubts the sonic attack. the fbi report has been the clearest report today of the sonic theory, the report say the fbi tested the hypothesis the air pressure waves ultrasound could be used to clandestinely hurt americans in cuba and found no evidence. do you believe that this report is accurate that was in the ap's story? >> senator, i comment it's an fbi report and i would hesitate
5:20 am
to comment on the fbi findings at this point. >> mr. chairman, did we ask the fbi if they would come and testify before the committee about this issue? >> we did not. the fbi generally will not testify because of the jurisdictional issues of the judiciary. >> is there a way to get the information from the fbi report in a classified briefing? >> there is. i think that's one of the things senator menin dez is asking about. >> that would be helpful. how has the cuban government responded about these attacks and have they been cooperative in the investigation? >> senator, i'm not aware they've been uncooperative. we had our own investigative team that went down in may and they had no difficulties entering the country and certainly working the case in terms of the u.s. mission. i'm also unaware if the fbi
5:21 am
encountered any difficulties coming in and out for investigative purposes. beyond that, i do know the cuban government said they would conduct a parallel investigation so to speak. i understand there is increased security presence in our residential areas, purportedly in response to this issue. i honestly don't know if that is a legitimate effort to uncover but know there is increased presence by the cubans in those residential areas. >> knowing what you know about the way the cuban government operates do you believe there could have been deliberate attacks on our personnel without the cuban government knowing about it? >> i find that very difficult to believe that.
5:22 am
cuba is a security state and they have a tight lid on anything and everything that happens in that country. >> have they been more responsive because we asked them to remove their embassy personnel? has there been a change in their behavior? >> the cuban government since we released their personnel, i don't think there is a healthful posture for them to take. >> have they actually investigated the attacks themselves? mr. brown. >> according to the cuban authorities, they said they were opening a parallel investigation. beyond that i'm unaware what
5:23 am
they uncovered. perhaps that could be posed to fbi investigators. >> the state department has not seen the results of any report they have done? >> not that i'm aware of, no. >> senator, if i could clarify that last point? we did have a law enforcement dialogue in september where they did share with the department a document that they purported to be the results of their preliminary investigation into this matter. >> did it shed any light or provide any information we didn't already have? >> i have not seen the report, senator, but i'm not aware any new information surfaced due to a cuban investigation. >> my time is up. if i could ask just one more
5:24 am
question, mr. chairman. mr. palmieri, as someone who watched cuba for some time, given the change in the american policy during the obama administration, to resume a diplomatic relationship with cuba and to begin to resume other commercial and other ties with the country, is there any reason to think it would be in cuba's interests to make deliberate attacks against our embassy personnel at a time when there was an effort to resume ties with the country? >> i am loathe to speculate on cuban government intentions, however, there is a long history and pattern of cuban harassment
5:25 am
of u.s. diplomats stationed in havana. it's entirely possible that they could have escalated that pattern of harassment and caused these incidents. in whatever case, they are responsible for the safety and security of u.s. diplomats stationed in havana under the vienna convention and they have failed to live up to that responsibility. >> thank you. thank you, mr. chairman. >> thank you. >> senator. >> thank you very much, mr. chairman. i obviously care, like you do, very much, and i think all of us here about our personnel overseas, if they get harmed and making sure that they get adequate medical personnel. doctor, you seem to suggest they
5:26 am
get and that some of the care you were drawing lines, some may be workman's comp, others may be that they weren't serving in the line of duty, something along that line. of the 24 cases, which of those would you say are workman's comp? were they off-duty? were all of them off-duty? are some of them on duty situations in the hotel, two hotels and at the residents? >> all 24 are getting the best care available. >> you plan to keep that care, the best care available, like you're talking about? >> right. as individuals they have the option to seek any care they want. in terms of the worker's comp issue, that determines how that care is paid for. any u.s. government employee working an embassy, we consider this an occupational exposure,
5:27 am
therefore we're encouraging our personnel and employees to make a claim with the department of labor for workers compensation. the issue on compensation may be a family member who might be affected because they're not the employee. >> are you aware of any of these 24 or additional individuals now paying for their medical care because the government will no longer provide it? >> no one is actually paying for their medical care right now directly. we have authorities to medically evacuate personnel and to be we seek reimbursement from the medical insurer and we have authority to do it for up to a year overseas and potentially longer. mainly for employees but also have the ability to do that for a period of time for family members as well.
5:28 am
there are no out-of-pocket expenses in cured by family members or employees. >> fbi director concluded this wasn't a sonic attack and basically ruled that out. as you know, the fbi took a number of trips to cuba, they interviewed down there. they were very very thorough with what they did. them coming out with this report, which you can't comment on, would you tell us what your theories are of what happened? they've ruled that out. what are your theories of what you think happened? >> when this thing has been looked at from an investigative standpoint, i don't think solely the acoustic element has been looked at. going back to late february we
5:29 am
had that medical element associated with this it was shared, what possibly could be happening in havana and the acoustic element, there were other possibilities. i'm not familiar with the fbi. i know this report was not put out publicly. >> what -- they've ruled that out. have you ruled it out or you still -- >> i don't know that i would rule it out entirely. the acoustic element could be used as a masking piece. >> on what basis are you claiming it's acoustic? >> i'm not claiming it. i'm saying it's associated with the feelings. i have not seen this report and i don't think it's been released publicly, that doesn't mean that
5:30 am
acoustic element couldn't be part of another style of attack here. i do know other types of attacks are being considered in connection with this. >> what are those. >> viral. ultrasound -- there's a range of things the technical experts are looking at, could this be a possibility. >> when you say viral, you're talking about somebody intentionally implanting a virus? >> that would not be ruled out. that could be a possibility. >> ultrasound, you're saying? >> i've seen the range of what possibly could be taken place, other than the acoustic element. those are things mentioned to be looked at. in some cases they're ruled out from experts and they don't know
5:31 am
how that could be done in that fashion. >> i see my time's up, mr. chairman. i'd like a second round. okay. we're all alone. we may be rejoined. let me also say that, you know, i supported president obama's efforts to re-engage with cuba. i believe president trump's decision to walk back some of those efforts is a major mistake that only harms the cuban people and isolate the united states in the region. cuba has been looking to reopen and grow ties with the u.s. and u.s. businesses, including those in new mexico, arizona, florida and mississippi, and with many u.s. citizens who want to travel there. in my trips to cuba, i've taken a number of trips, the last one
5:32 am
was with several members. senator leahy, senator cochran, this was in february 2017, after this was already unfolding down there, was there with senator leahy, senator cochran, senator bennet, representative mcgovern, we had a very good visit and visited with a number of officials and stayed in hotels down there. as far as i can tell from any of the members that went along, nothing of this sort happened to us. i wonder why, you know, with cuba, there seems to be a huge interest on them wanting to open up and wanting to have the engagement with our business
5:33 am
community and all of these things, what would be their motive when the cuban government was looking to increase ties with the u.s. mr. palmieri or mr. brown? >> again, i can't speculate what motive the cubans would have. it's just -- it has happened in havana, in their country, a country which they generally exercise total security control over. it's incomprehensible to us that they are not aware of how and who is responsible and that they cannot take steps to prevent these kind of attacks from ever happening again. >> well, they have said on a number of occasions, on our trip
5:34 am
down there, the foreign minister has traveled here, that they -- it did not condone the attacks in any way. they weren't a part of them, they had no knowledge of them. they've been very forthright, i think, in that respect. the safety of our diplomats is paramount and i found it interesting that many u.s. diplomats disagreed with the departure orders, as did their employee association, the american foreign service association or afsa, whose president, barbara stevenson said at the time, afsa's view, this is a quote from her, is that america's diplomats need to remain on the field and in the game. we have a mission to do and it's an important mission. what happened here, what the united states did was very different than what was done by the canadians. the canadian diplomats in havana
5:35 am
also reported mysterious ailments yet canada has not reduced its diplomats from cuba or dispelled the canadian diplomat from ottawa. why has it been so different from the canadian response? >> secretary tillerson, from his first day at the department, said the safety, well-being and health and security of u.s. diplomats overseas are his top priority. it is mine as well. this decision to go to ordered departure reflects his belief and his concern, and our concern, that we had to take this step to protect our people. that the cuban government had to do more to assure us that these attacks would stop. >> have any other country in the world done what we've done,
5:36 am
withdrawn all of their diplomats, except a small emergency force? >> in havana? not that i'm aware of, sir. >> are you aware that any canadian diplomats, since all of this has unfolded, have they had additional ailments or additional problems? >> sir, the canadians have withdrawn some of their personnel, but i think we could go into greater detail in the classified briefing on that element. >> thank you. we look forward to that. the trump administration has reversed a variety of steps to improve ties made by the
5:37 am
previous administration. what benefits have we achieve from these actions? how has this impacted american businesses as well as cuba? >> i'm sorry. i missed the first part of that question. >> i say the trump administration has reversed a variety of steps to improve ties made by the previous administration, referring to the obama administration trying to improve ties, trying to open up and engage, trying to help the cuban people. we've seen a big growth in the small business community there in cuba. i'm just wondering now that this administration has reversed all of that, what benefits have we achieved from these actions? are you aware the cuban people are doing better? how has this impacted american businesses as well as the area in new mexico -- excuse me, in
5:38 am
cuba. >> president trump's new national security presidential memorandum on cuba lays out a new policy, you are correct, senator, that is designed to not just help the private sector in cuba, but to insure that the cuban government lives up to its international commitments on human rights, to allow us grow greater freedom on behalf of the cuban people and be sure we are enforcing u.s. law with respect to the embargo and statutory ban on tourism to cuba. the measures we have taken are designed to ensure any engagement and assistance, private sector assistance in cuba benefits the cuban people and not the regime. >> thank you very much. i hope that what will occur here
5:39 am
is that you will continue to share with us how this progresses. this is a very perplexing situation and i think we should continue our investigations here in the congress, both at the -- in private security briefings and those kinds of situations. i think we should be careful not to jump to conclusions until we really know what happened. thank you, mr. chairman. i really appreciate you calling this hearing. >> thank you. any other members appear, i will try to wrap up the loose ends and take off right with senator udall at the end, jumping to conclusions. that's why i thought the important part of this hearing was to lay out the facts. i read this headline a couple days ago said fbi rules out sonic attacks and other things out there about it. you read that and you could conclude nothing happened in essence. i saw at one point the cuban government said it could be
5:40 am
crickets or some insect noise, chicadas? i don't know that word. we don't have that problem in miami. you have them? a lot of concussive effects after? no? >> drive you crazy. >> you could read that headline and conclude nothing happened. there has not been a definitive -- we cannot definitively sit here today and say, this is the machine or this is the thing they used to cause these injuries. no one here has claimed we know that. what i think is not in dispute is there are 24 americans who either worked for the u.s. government or there as a ge dependent as u.s. government employee during their time in havana experienced symptoms consistent what you see with mild traumatic brain injury or
5:41 am
concussion. that is an established fact. we may not know how it came to that point. we know what happened to them and it happened to 24 people while working in havana. dr. rosenfelt, let me ask you, is there any thought given to the fact this is mass hysteria, a bunch of people are hypochondriacs and making it up? >> like you said, 24 people had symptoms consistent with what looks like mild traumatic brain injury. the subjective tests done are not easily fake. they're exact findings our experts say have determined. that being said no etiology or cause been fully ruled out. their doctors are looking at everything. the findings suggest this is not an episode of mass hysteria. >> what we know for a fact is that 24 americans that were in havana, either related to or on government business for a period
5:42 am
of time have come back with these symptoms. that is a fact. when people are out there reporting sonic attack ruled out, perhaps the sonic part has been ruled out. the fact that people -- if that's even true, by the way, that's just what the headlines said, the fact this happened, people have been hurt, that is established fact. does anyone dispute that, that people have been hurt while working in havana on behalf of the u.s. government. okay. the second becomes what's our role in oversight. we're starting to play word games here. this is an oversight committee. the law sayings in the case of any serious injury related to a u.s. government mission abroad the secretary of state should have an accountability board. it doesn't say in the case of permanent injury, in the case of serious injury. i know all the attention being paid to concussions, because of
5:43 am
football and other things concussions are considered serious injury. i would say that to anyone in the world, if i told you i'm going to cause you to have a mild traumatic brain injury, you would think that's serious, whether it's permanent or not. that's what the law says. we know these complaints came in by late 2016. that we were -- there were visits to the medical unit in late december of 2016 and throughout 2017. we know they were serious enough by mid february we approach the cuban government about it. in the early stages after this occurred it was the opinion of the post in havana and washington this is likely some form of harassment by forces hostile to the united states or our presence in cuba. that was the assessment made at that time. we know in late april or early may we had 16 people we could identify with symptoms and medicinically verifiable
5:44 am
symptoms similar to mild traumatic brain injury or concussion. we know by september 29th we ordered the departure of non-emergency personnel. all these things happened. yet we know by october or november 6th of this year and arb was still not up and running. you do the math on the calendar, these facts i laid out extrapolated backward should have led to the appointment. i understand there was a transition and change in administration. we should have had an accountability review board in place for some notification given why it's no longer necessary. of course since then the decision has been made. where are we, mr. palmieri, when was it stood up and activated? >> the secretary took a decision to form and accountability review board on december 11th. i believe a congressional
5:45 am
notification will arrive shortly. that is required before the board is actually constituted? on december 11th. i can tell you that's more than 120 days from all these facts, which i think lead to the argument that we should have had. now, because we don't know how these attacks were conducted, suffice it to say -- let me ask you this, dr. rosenfarb and mr. brown, this would never happen, if someone in the u.s. government said we want to cause these symptoms in people, that technology doesn't exist. we don't know of that technology, is that accurate? we are not aware of a technology that does this, we've never seen a technology anywhere in the world that does this to people? >> that's my understanding, senator, when going to the subject matter experts in both in government and outside government, we have not seen this. >> dr. rosenfarb, have you ever
5:46 am
seen this outside an actual blow to the head or similar? >> i have not. >> that's consistent with everything we've been told. the reason i raise that is obviously this was a pretty sophisticated thing. not something conducted by a fly by night operation. whatever happened to these people happened as a result of some sophisticated technology quite frankly so sophisticated we don't understand it. it leaves you then, you have a sophisticated attack of some sort causing these injuries. we don't know who has the sophisticated material and we know it's pretty sophisticated leaving you to believe it's a nation state that can afford this kind of thing and then leads you down the road of motivation. i think it's fair to say and most members of this committee would argue as well and many of you probably share this view who ever did this did this because they wanted there to be friction between the united states and the cuban government. that would be the motivation behind this, someone who wanted to cause friction between the u.s. and cuban government, particularly look at the timing
5:47 am
of these attacks, november, december 2016 after the election. it makes you start to think, who would do this? someone who doesn't like our presence there and wants this sort of friction between the u.s. who would be motivated for increased friction or not for a u.s. presence in cuba. first, opponents of u.s.-cuba opening under the obama administration. i don't think any credible person on the planet believes some group of anti-castro cubans conducted these attacks in an elaborate scheme to somehow disrupt the obama opening. i don't want to spend any time on that unless someone here thinks that's a viable option i assure you it is not. the second is a rogue element within the cuban government itself. it's interesting, i was reading this associated press report and it talks about the initial reaction, maybe this isn't accurate. on september 15th the associated
5:48 am
press reported in a rare face-to-face conversation castro told u.s. diplomat jerry dorentes he was baffled and concerned and denied any responsibility but u.s. officials were caught off guard by the way he addressed the matter devoid of the indignant how dare you accuse us of this attitude the u.s. has come to expect from their leaders. and there was something troubling that may have gone down in cuban soil. subsequently that's not the position they've taken. this is what the article reports. this suggests to me potentially castro is aware of rogue elements within his own government that may have been behind this, whether you want to call them hardliners other people feel they'd be in a stronger position if this opening had not occurred or increased u.s. presence and perhaps people concerned about an increased u.s. presence in light of the planned transition theoretically supposed to take
5:49 am
place this year. i'm not asking you about anything classified because i don't think such a thing would be classified. mr. palmieri, have we seen reports raul said it wasn't us but could have been someone within us who did this? has raul castro ever said to any u.s. diplomat, i didn't do it but it's possible some of my guys did it without me knowing about it? >> i do that believe that communication has ever occurred. >> is that your answer because you don't want to discuss something that is not in a proper setting or is that just -- you have never heard that? >> that is my recollection, that i've never heard that. but we can check the diplomatic record and see if there was any
5:50 am
exchange like that. i do not believe so. >> okay. >> and then the last one, this is a question. you say, if it wasn't a rogue element within the castro government, maybe it was a third country. which third country would want to disrupt the u.s. presence there. the logical conclusion is russia and vladimir putin. during the cold war, do we have any documented cases of similar attacks against individuals anywhere in the world? >> i'm not aware, senator, of anything similar to this, no, sir. i believe in the latest '50s and '60s, there was some evidence microwave beams or radiation was directed against the u.s. embassy in moscow. i think it stopped in 1975 and 1976.
5:51 am
>> there were some microwave attacks against the u.s. diplomatic presence in moscow between some point in the 1950s through the mid-1970s? >> sir, i'm not knowledgeable enough to say whether attacks or not, but i know they were investigating excess levels of microradiation people were subjected to in that time period. >> senator, you were asked by senator menendez. why would a communication to a foreign government unless it contained sensitive information be classified? is it typical any sort of communication with an on for government because we're aware for example we addressed this with the cuban government. why would the fact or lack of existence of a communication to the russian government be something we can't discuss in public? >> because of the nature of an
5:52 am
interagency discussion to give the context, to give you the full reply would be required and i believe that would be more appropriate in the classified setting. >> then, i think the last point i think is pretty clear here is it's important for us not to ascribe to havana attributes of new york or washington, d.c. cuba, by all accounts is by far the most heavily monitored and surveilled country in the western hemisphere. does anyone disagree with that assessment? it is a police state. does anyone disagree with the assessment the city of havana is the most monitored and surveilled city within the island of cuba? let me ask you, u.s. government personnel, you are an employee of the united states government and you are going to havana, what level of monitoring or surveillance should you expect when you are positioned there? what do we tell our people when
5:53 am
they go, outside of the context? do they have free reign to do anything they want or should we expect they are monitored and kept tabs on. mr. brown. >> i don't want to go into too much detail. >> don't tell me the methods. >> certainly, we prepare our personnel for levels of surveillance and levels of harassment and movements are certainly restricted and movements are anticipated that there will be a cuban element monitoring those movements. >> what other post in the world would you say is comparable to the level of surveillance, history of harassment that a u.s. government employee would find in havana. what other place in the world has similar attributes. >> i feel we're getting close to classified areas and don't want to compare. >> i'm not asking you for the
5:54 am
type, but it's safe to say -- >> the ranking of level of counter-intelligence is a classified area. >> i'm not asking for the ranking, is it like in montreal or quebec? >> it is not. >> the reason why i'm asking this, because i think it's safe to conclude if i'm a u.s. government employee working in the embassy in havana, the cuban government knows where i live and is probably watching me every single day. the idea somehow someone could conduct an attack so sophisticated we don't even know what it is without the cuban government at least knowing about it to one u.s. government employee not to mention 24 over a 12 month period is outside the realm of reasonable -- it's ridiculous. i could understand if somebody was mugged on the street corner, but these are sophisticated attacks, so sophisticated we can't describe how it happened yet, to 24 u.s. government
5:55 am
employees and their dependents in the most heavily monitors city and western hemisphere and the world where u.s. government personnel in particular are watched very carefully for all their movements and activities. the idea someone could put something some sort of action against them, 24 of them, and the cuban government not see it or know about it, it's just not possible. it leads you to conclude the cuban government either did this or they know who did it and they can't say because who ever did it is either a third party country they cannot take on or elements within their own regime they do not want to reveal for purposes of not making it appear to be unstable internally. i think these are all good conclusions from this hearing that conclude by saying my admonition at the beginning, i think it's really unfair for any
5:56 am
suggestion that people working on behalf of the u.s. government were not injured in havana. imagine if you were one of those people out there working on our behalf now suffering from these injuries and reading in a newspaper somewhere that what happened to you didn't happen. not only is it demoralizing, i think it's incredibly unfair to them. we can say we don't know how it happened or we don't know for sure who did it. two things we know for sure. people were hurt and the cuban government knows who did it. they just won't say for some reason. i think that's the biggest take away from this hearing other than i remain concerned about the state department's unwillingness to stand up to arb, the review board in a timely fashion in accordance with the law and i imagine that will be a topic of further discussion down the road. i think that will conclude my questioning. i don't see any other members. do you have anything else?
5:57 am
>> i want to thank all of you for being here. i know this is a unique and perplexing subject matter, something we haven't really seen. you're probably going to -- senator menendez already indicated and some other member, senator flake had to leave, this is a topic he cares about a lot but he had to be at the white house as well as senator menendez on an immigration meeting and they had to leave but both indicated they will have extensive questions for the record. we will keep the record open for 48 hours and ask their questions be answered in a timely fashion so we can close out this hearing and have that information. i also ask my questions that remain unanswered, when was secretary kerry notified? when was president obama notified? whether the trump transition was briefed on this topic also be taken back for the record. i think these are important
5:58 am
questions to have answers for. seeing no other members here, nothing further, the meeting is adjourned.
5:59 am
6:00 am

15 Views

info Stream Only

Uploaded by TV Archive on