US and Canada baffled by health 'attacks' on diplomats in Cuba

It’s not just the U.S. State Department that is baffled by the health problems of diplomats who’ve worked in Cuba. The Canadian government said Wednesday it also has no idea who or what is behind the mysterious ailments.

At a briefing in Ottawa, a Canadian official said eight of their citizens stationed in Havana, out of 27 tested, required medical care after reporting symptoms that ranged from dizziness and headaches to nosebleeds. Three diplomatic families left Cuba as a result, the official said.

The United States says 24 Americans affiliated with the embassy in Cuba have reported similar symptoms and signs consistent with traumatic brain injury. The State Department recalled all nonemergency personnel in late September and has no plans to return them, straining ties with Cuba.

Cuba has welcomed FBI agents to Havana to investigate. But officials told NBC News that the probe found no evidence of attacks. Additionally, some U.S. officials have questioned whether there’s a single cause for the symptoms.

The State Department says the phenomenon is real.

“Is there any thought given to the fact that this is a case of mass hysteria? That a bunch of people are just being hypochondriacs and making it up?” Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Fla., asked during a Senate Foreign Relations subcommittee hearing on Tuesday.

“Twenty-four people have had symptoms and findings consistent with what looks like a mild traumatic brain injury. The objective tests that were done were not ones that could basically be easily faked,” State Department Medical Director Dr. Charles Rosenfarb testified.

“The findings suggest that this is not a case of mass hysteria,” he said.

While officials in Washington initially theorized that the staffers and their family members were sickened by some kind of sonic attack, other possible culprits are under investigation.

“I think there’s viral, there’s ultrasound, there is a range of things that technical experts are looking at,” Todd Brown, diplomatic security assistant director at the State Department, said during the hearing.

“When you say viral, you are talking about somebody intentionally implanting a virus?” Sen. Tom Udall, D-N.M., asked.

“That could be a possibility,” Brown said.

Image: Hearing about the U.S. Embassy in Cuba on Capitol Hill in Washington

Francisco Palmieri of the State Department told a Senate subcommittee it’s “incomprehensible” that Cuba doesn’t know who is behind alleged attacks that harmed U.S. and Canadian diplomats.