US spies and diplomats are suggesting a Trump administration cover-up after officials in Cuba, Russia, and China got mysteriously sick

US spies and diplomats are suggesting a Trump administration cover-up after officials in Cuba, Russia, and China got mysteriously sick
The US Embassy in Havana, Cuba, in November 2019.Reuters
  • Since 2016, several US officials in Cuba and China have reported falling ill with symptoms including balance and vision problems. Studies said they might have been exposed to a microwave radiation attack.
  • On Monday, The New York Times reported that US diplomats and spies in other countries, including Russia, had reported similar symptoms.
  • CIA and State Department employees who say they were affected in China and Russia told The Times they were fighting for proper treatment, with one suggesting a "cover-up" by the Trump administration.
  • According to The Times, some officials suspect Russian involvement in the mysterious illnesses, though the CIA director is not convinced that attacks took place or that Russia could be involved.

US spies and diplomats are accusing the Trump administration of refusing to properly investigate mysterious illnesses that have affected officials in Cuba, China, and Russia, and some are suggesting a cover-up, The New York Times reported on Monday.

In 2016, US and Canadian diplomats in Cuba started hearing strange sounds and reporting symptoms like nerve damage and headaches. Doctors said they were caused by mild traumatic brain injuries.In 2018, several US officials in Guangzhou, China, also said they heard mysterious sounds and had similar symptoms. They were diagnosed with brain injuries.
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The Times reported on Monday that some senior CIA officers who visited foreign stations, including in Moscow, experienced similar symptoms but that the agency is not convinced an attack took place.

The cause of the illnesses is unclear, but studies have pointed to microwave radiation as the main suspect. According to The Times, some government scientists think a psychological illness could be the cause.

US spies and diplomats are suggesting a Trump administration cover-up after officials in Cuba, Russia, and China got mysteriously sick
Guangzhou, China, in December 2005.MIKE CLARKE/AFP via Getty Images

'They have hung us out to dry'

The Times reported that the State Department treated the cases in Cuba and China differently. The newspaper said the department did not consistently assess the cases, ignored medical diagnoses from outside experts, and "withheld basic information from Congress."
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After reports about US personnel falling sick in Cuba, the Trump administration took action against the country, withdrawing embassy staff members and expelling Cuban diplomats from the US. In 2017, President Donald Trump said, "Cuba is responsible."

The administration in 2018 announced an independent review of the "unexplained medical conditions." Cuba denied involvement.But the administration "took a softer approach with China," The Times said. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo first said the cases were "very similar and entirely consistent" with the Cuban cases, and some employees were evacuated. But the State Department later described them as "health incidents," and no investigation was opened.
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Six US officials told The Times that the department realized it could not take the same route with the Chinese cases as it did with the Cuban cases without crippling the US's diplomatic and economic relationships with China.

US spies and diplomats are suggesting a Trump administration cover-up after officials in Cuba, Russia, and China got mysteriously sick
Secretary of State Mike Pompeo.Gabriel Kuchta/Getty Images

Citing interviews with more than 30 government officials, lawyers, and doctors, The Times reported that the American personnel affected in China "have spent more than two years fighting to obtain the same benefits given to the victims in Cuba and others attacked by foreign powers."

They said this fight had resulted in retaliation from the government that might have harmed their careers forever.
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Mark Lenzi, a State Department employee who said he experienced symptoms like memory loss after being in Guangzhou, told The Times that he had filed a disability-discrimination lawsuit against the department.

"This is a deliberate, high-level cover-up," he said. "They have hung us out to dry."

Some lawmakers are pushing the State Department to release a study into the cases that it got in August from the National Academies of Sciences, according to The Times.
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More reports from Moscow

A former senior CIA officer this week said he believed he was the victim of a similar attack in Moscow in December 2017.

Marc Polymeropoulos, who helped run clandestine operations in Russia and Europe, told The Times that he experienced nausea and vertigo in his hotel room and developed migraines that ultimately forced him to retire.

Polymeropoulos also told GQ that the CIA did not give him and other affected officers the medical care they needed.
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"It's incumbent on them to provide the medical help we require, which does not include telling us that we're all making it up," he said. "I want the agency to treat this as a combat injury."

He said another CIA colleague who was with him in Moscow also became sick and lost his hearing in one ear.Polymeropoulos also told GQ that a private doctor had diagnosed him with nerve damage but that the agency said it wasn't necessary to refer him to a hospital.
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He said the CIA needed to investigate the cases, adding that the leadership "has not done right by us."

"The agency is going to have to answer for this," he said.

CIA representatives told GQ in a statement: "The Agency's top priority is the health and well-being of our officers followed very closely by collecting on hard targets, including Russia, and providing that intelligence to policymakers. Suggestions otherwise in your story are simply not true."
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Many point to Russia

The Times reported that some of the CIA's senior Russia analysts, some officials at the State Department, some outside scientists, and some of the victims think Russia is most likely responsible. Russia has denied involvement.

US spies and diplomats are suggesting a Trump administration cover-up after officials in Cuba, Russia, and China got mysteriously sick
CIA Director Gina Haspel.Reuters

Two US officials told The Times that CIA Director Gina Haspel knew that Russia had a motive to harm US operatives but was not convinced that attacks had taken place or that Russia could be responsible.

Polymeropoulos blamed Russia in his interview with GQ.
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And Lenzi told The Times that senior officials "know exactly which country" was responsible and that it was not Cuba or China but another country "which the secretary of state and president do not want to confront."
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