Wednesday, October 25, 2017

The Affair of the Sonic Weapons Attack: Cuba Goes on the Offensive Against the Science and the Evidence

(Cuban Interior Ministry's Colonel Ramiro Ramirez, who leads a team investigating U.S. complaints of "attacks" on diplomats in Havana, speaks during an interview at the Hotel Nacional in Havana, Cuba, October 22, 2017. REUTERS/Alexandre Meneghini)

In an earlier post I had suggested  that the United States and Cuba have begun the "litigation" phase of their state-to-state conflict in the courts of public opinion. "The objectives are fairly simple--to sway Western public opinion (and thus to manage pressure in the liberal Western democratic traditions of the rules of play, and to stoke the usual fears in the Cuban population-the fear of invasion, the fear of subversion, and the fear of the old imperial power seeking some sort of new neo-colonialist relationship with the people (that is the state). . . . During the litigation phase both parties begin a process of strategic disclosures and assertions based on evidence that they produce to suit the development of their "case."" (HERE)

The U.S. has been carefully developing its case the way American prosecutors eager for victory might approach a prosecution: tight control of witnesses, careful deployment of the science, and the development of plausible interpretation of events from the construction of a case built on circumstantial evidence and interpolations (e.g., here, and here). The consequence. of course, is that there is relatively little by way of vigorous cooperation from the U.S. side.  

On the Cuban side, there is also little incentive to cooperation.  Cuba does not trust the U.S. And Cuba has secrets of its own, even without the distraction of the Affair of the Sonic Weapons Attack.  Cuba has been approaching the case, then, the way a defense lawyer might consider: denial, demand for proof, the assertion that the U.S. bears the burden of proving (perhaps without a reasonable doubt) that there was an attack and that the Cubans had a hand in it (or someone else).

At this stage, of course, the denials and demand for (usually public persuasive) proof has put the U.S. to its evidence and raised the stakes. That has become clear from recent reporting from Reuters: Sarah Marsh and Nelson Acosta, Cuban Investigators Call US Sonic Attack Allegations ‘Science Fiction’ Reuters (24 October 2017). The reporting follows below.

Read carefully, what is clear is not that the attacks are implausible, but that the United States must be put to its proof, and that, at this stage, that proof is lacking. The political difficulty, though, is that this is not a criminal case, and the United States is not the state prosecutor with substantial authority over the body of the defendant (the Cuban state). The two states provide mirror images of each other in both their approaches and action. The current posture, though,will provide only momentary advantage.

At some point and soon, the case will have to advance  beyond controlled disclosure and name calling.  It is at that point that this Affair will become interesting-- both states appear to be hiding something and both appear willing to protect their secrets even as they gamble that they can make the other side disgorge valuable (in terms of political advantage) their secrets. Or more likely, it will serve as the excuse the right wing factions of both governments need to shift their respective governments away from normalization.  For the Cubans that will include a calculation that they can survive a renewed American hostility, which will in turn result from a calculation of the weakness of the current American administration in global circles. This is a miscalculation that Cuba and other states have made to their regret at various times since 1945 and reflects the error of relying too much on the propaganda and pseudo analysis in social media the purpose of which has always been to present a calculated vision for mass consumption. For the U.S. that will include a calculation of Cuban weakness and of the ability to use popular pressure to change Cuban internal policy. Implicitly, it is also a calculation that Cuba will have no place else to turn--a miscalculation that the U.S. has made with some frequency since the 1960s.

Substituting hope for analytical rigor, when that may entail giving up on ancient dreams and objectives is a hard thing for key players on both sides of this Affair.  It is regrettable that the rest of the stakeholders in both states have abdicated any responsibility for setting this right without unnecessary disadvantage to either state. Yet there is a calculation to all of this as well, one in which news media tend to be complicit. And that is the shared calculation by both sides--that U.S. and Cuban political classes, and those in the media and intelligentsia that serve them, can act to personal advantage because all consequences of risky behavior are borne by their respective populations. It is this detachment between action and consequence (the risk takers do not bear the costs of risk) that has unbalanced the entire calculus in this instance.  

Cuban Investigators Call US Sonic Attack Allegations ‘Science Fiction’

Havana: Cuban officials investigating US complaints of attacks on diplomats in Havana said talk of acoustic strikes was “science fiction” and accused Washington of “slander” while it refused to cooperate fully with Cuba’s enquiry.

US President Donald Trump said last week he believed Havana was responsible for 24 diplomats being harmed. Washington expelled 15 Cuban diplomats and recalled more than half the US diplomatic personnel from Havana earlier in October.

While Cuba had already denounced the expulsions as “unjustified” and accused the US of insufficient cooperation, three Interior Ministry officials and a doctor heading the inquiry provided more details in an interview in Havana on Sunday.

Cuba had deployed about 2,000 security officials and experts, from criminologists to audiologists and mathematicians, to investigate the incidents after it became aware of them in February, the investigators said.

The probe has not ended but it had so far failed to uncover any evidence to corroborate allegations of attacks that the US says have caused hearing loss, dizziness, fatigue and cognitive issues in diplomatic personnel while based on the Communist-run island.

“This is slander by the US,” said Coronel Ramiro Ramirez, responsible for the security of diplomats in Cuba.

There was no immediate comment from the White House or the US State Department.

Washington officials have raised the possibility that sonic weapons were used to harm the diplomats, according to US media reports. However, Cuban investigators denied such weapons could even have been used by third parties without affecting the health of others or attracting attention.

“It’s impossible. We are talking about science fiction,” said Lieutenant Colonel Jose Alazo, an expert in the criminal investigation unit of the Interior Ministry. “From a technical point of view, that argument is unsustainable.”

Hard to explain

The investigators said the US had supplied 14 recordings of the sound it says the victims heard during the attacks and recorded, for example, on cellphones.

These, however, did not contain anything that could damage human health, they concluded. The noises included the usual suburban sounds such as traffic, footsteps and voices.

They were also characterized by a deviation peak of 7 kiloHertz (kHz) in the frequency band of 3 kHz, similar to the song of a cricket.

An audible sound would need to be very loud – above 80 decibels or akin to a plane’s engine – to have a health impact, they said. Yet only the victims heard the noise, not their families living in the same houses, nor their neighbours.

“We interviewed more than 300 people in the neighborhood, we also evaluated more than 30 medically, and no one heard these things,” Alazo said.

Even if the US diplomats’ report of loud sounds was misleading and the source of the attacks were infra- or ultrasonic and therefore inaudible to human ears, it would be hard to explain how it could go undetected, the Cuban investigators said.

“You would need a source that could be seen from a satellite, it would be enormous,” said Dr Manuel Villar, an ear, nose and throat specialist.

Finally, only two or three of the alleged victims had hearing problems, according to the US information provided, whereas any kind of sonic attack would cause them in everyone, Villar said.

‘Anti-Cuban mafia’

The US has not formally accused Cuba of carrying out attacks, but Trump’s comments further damaged relations between the old Cold War foes, which have rapidly deteriorated since he took office.

Canada has said several Canadians had reported similar symptoms to the U.S. diplomats but it has not taken any action against Cuba and has said Cuba had been very cooperative with the investigation.

“There is an anti-Cuban mafia in Miami and we are victims of their dirty work that involve certain people very close to the governing circles of the United States,” Ramirez said.

Anti-Castro Cuban-Americans such as Republican Senator Marco Rubio of Florida have guided Trump’s policy on Cuba, including a partial rollback of the historic detente forged by his Democratic predecessor Barack Obama.

Washington insists its drawdown at its embassy was motivated by concern for the health of its diplomats.

Investigators said US actions did not add up with their accusations. More than 200 friends and relatives of US diplomats based in Havana had asked for visas to visit them between February and July, despite the alleged attacks.

The fact the information the US provided was late was a major obstacle to resolving the mystery, said the investigators, who refused to comment on the state of cooperation with Canada.

So far, Washington had only officially reported 14 cases of alleged attacks to Cuba, compared with the 24 it had announced to the media, they said.

“It will be impossible to resolve this investigation without more cooperation,” Ramirez said.

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