Here's how Boeing's updated F/A-18 may compare to the F-35 - We Are The Mighty
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Here’s how Boeing’s updated F/A-18 may compare to the F-35

President-elect Donald Trump caused a genuine uproar in the combat-aviation community when he tweeted in December, “Based on the tremendous cost and cost overruns of the Lockheed Martin F-35, I have asked Boeing to price-out a comparable F-18 Super Hornet!”


The idea that an F/A-18 Super Hornet could be “comparable” to the F-35 met swift and intense condemnation, and Lockheed Martin quickly lost billions in value on its stock.

Related: F-35s, F-22s will soon have artificial intelligence to control drone wingmen

“No, Mr. Trump, You Can’t Replace F-35 With A ‘Comparable’ F-18” a headline at Breaking Defense said.

“You can’t replace the F-35 with an F-18 any more than you can replace an aircraft carrier with a cruise ship,” a headline at Popular Science said.

The Boeing concept for the Advanced Super Hornet, pictured here without enclosed weapons pods. | Boeing

Lt. Col. David Berke, a former commander of the US Marine Corps’ first operational F-35B squadron, told Business Insider the idea of upgrading a legacy fighter to do the F-35’s job was plainly “preposterous.”

Virtually everyone pointed to a single aspect of the F-35 that the F/A-18 lacked: stealth.

But the US and other countries already have in their sights a modern update on the F/A-18 that is meant to complement the F-35. The update may be poised to deliver even more capability than Lockheed Martin’s Joint Strike Fighter in some areas, even without being as stealthy.

Dan Gillian, Boeing’s vice president of F/A-18 and EA-18 programs, told Business Insider that even with the coming F-35C naval variant, US carrier air wings would still field versions of the F/A-18 into the 2040s. The company is planning considerable updates that will focus on “addressing the gaps” in naval aviation.

Gillian and the Boeing team call it the Advanced Super Hornet, a modern update on the F/A-18E/F Super Hornet, which itself was an update on the original F/A-18 Hornet. Gillian says Boeing designed the Super Hornet “from the beginning in an evolutionary way with lots of room for growth in power, cooling, and weight so it could adapt to changes over the years.”

An F/A-18F Super Hornet assigned to the Fighting Swordsmen of Strike Fighter Squadron (VFA) 32 makes an arrested landing on the flight deck of the aircraft carrier USS Dwight D. Eisenhower (CVN 69) (Ike). | U.S. Navy photo by Petty Officer 3rd Class Andrew J. Sneeringer

“We have a legacy with the F-18 — on time on cost,” Gillian said, which one could contrast to the F-35 program, which has faced constant production overruns in cost and time. In fact, a recent report says the Navy’s version of the F-35 just hit yet another setback that could take years and billions to fix.

Gillian says Boeing could start fielding Advanced Super Hornets by the early 2020s at the latest, while some limited contracts to bring elements of the Advanced Super Hornet are already underway. So even though the designs of the F-35 and the F/A-18 reflect different missions, they certainly are comparable in terms of price, availability, and capability.

So what does a 2017 update of the F/A-18E/F Super Hornet look like?

Boeing

“When we talk about the Advanced Super Hornet package, it can be delivered to a build of new airplanes and it can be retrofitted to existing airframes,” Gillian said.

“An airplane that I’m building today off the line has some systems that have matured over time that a Super Hornet would not have,” he added, saying there would essentially be no difference between a 2017 Advanced Super Hornet and a Super Hornet plucked off an aircraft carrier and brought up to date.

The physical characteristics of a fully decked out Advanced Super Hornet would be as follows:

  • Shoulder-mounted conformal fuel tanks to carry 3,500 pounds of fuel and reduce drag. These fuel tanks could “extend the reach about 125 nautical miles,” meaning the planes can “either go faster or carry more,” according to Gillian.
  • An infrared search and track radar, which would be the first such capability included on a US fighter jet since the F-14 Tomcat. This will allow the Advanced Super Hornets to counter enemy stealth capability and to get a read on heat-emitting entities without emitting any radar signal of their own. “There was a fixation on stealth attributes,” Gillian said of fifth-gen fighters, “which is an important attribute for the next 25 years, but tactical fighters are designed for stealth in one part of the spectrum, all planes emit heat.”
  • Advanced electronic warfare capabilities. Currently, the F-18 family leads the US military in EW platforms with the Growler, an EW version of the Super Hornet in which Boeing has “taken out the gun and installed more EW equipment … Instead of missiles on the wing tips it has a large sensing pods,” Gillian said. The Navy has scheduled the F-35C to eventually carry the advanced EW pod, but the initial generation of F-35s will have to rely on Growlers for EW attacks. The Advanced Super Hornet will have EW self-protection, but not the full suite present on the Growler.
  • An advanced cockpit system with a new 19-inch display. Basically “a big iPad for the airplane, allowing the pilot to manage all the information and data that’s out there,” Gillian said, comparing its utility to the F-35’s display.
  • Improved avionics and computing power as well as increased ability to network to receive targeting data from platforms like the F-35 or the E-2 Hawkeye. The Advanced Super Hornet would also feature an improved active electronically scanned array radar.

Further enhancements still to be considered by the US Navy for Advanced Super Hornets include the following:

  • An enclosed weapons pod would make the plane more aerodynamic while also cutting down on the plane’s radar cross section. Combined with the form-fitting fuel tanks, the Advanced Super Hornet could cut its radar signature by up to 50%.
  • An improved engine could increase fuel efficiency and performance. Boeing hasn’t yet begun earnestly working toward this, and it could add to the overall cost of the project significantly.

Hypothetically, Advanced Super Hornets could field IRST before F-35Cs come online. Growlers will also serve in the vital role of EW attack craft, without which the F-35 cannot do its job as a stealth penetrator.

So while an Advanced Super Hornet will never be comparable to the F-35 in all aspects, it could certainly develop some strengths that the F-35 lacks.

Additionally, Gillian said the Advanced Super Hornets would not cost much more than the current F/A-18E/F Super Hornets, which run about $70 million apiece. Even if that price rose by $10 million, it would still be lower than that of the cheapest expected F-35s, which come in at $85 million.

Conclusion: Could Boeing create an F/A-18 ‘comparable’ to the F-35?

It’s unanimous. The F-18 will never do the F-35’s job, and vice versa. | Lockheed Martin

“The Advanced Super Hornet is really a collection of systems and design changes that when implemented achieve a significantly different capability for the air wing,” said Gillian, who stressed that the Super Hornet and Growler platforms were “well positioned” to improve in scope and capability over time.

Gillian made it clear, however, that the Advanced Super Hornet program had been, since its inception, meant to accompany the F-35, with carrier air wings consisting of three squadrons of Super Hornets and one squadron of F-35s into the 2040s.

The US Navy has contracts already underway to update its existing Super Hornet fleet with elements of the Advanced Super Hornet package, and it seems the US will end up with both Advanced Super Hornets and F-35s, each with their own strengths and weaknesses.

The F/A-18, not designed with all-aspect stealth in mind, will most likely never serve as a penetrating aircraft for heavily contested airspace, but its future onboard America’s aircraft carriers is well defined for decades to come.

But with Boeing’s field record of delivering F/A-18 projects on time and on budget, and the US Navy left waiting by overrun after overrun in the F-35 program, the two planes are starting to look like apples and oranges — both good choices. Choosing which to buy and when may simply come down to what is available on the market.

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Hollywood legend Jimmy Stewart was a World War II hero

Today I found out Jimmy Stewart was a two star general in the United States military.


In 1940, Jimmy Stewart was drafted into the United States Army, but ended up being rejected due to being five pounds under the required weight, given his height (at the time he weighed 143 pounds).  Not to be dissuaded, Stewart then sought out the help of Don Loomis, who was known to be able to help people add or subtract pounds.  Once he had gained a little weight, he enlisted with the Army Air Corps in March of 1941 and was eventually accepted, once he convinced the enlisting officer to re-run the tests.

Initially, Stewart was given the rank of private; by the time he had completed training, he had advanced to the rank of second lieutenant (January of 1942).  Much to his chagrin, due to his celebrity status and extensive flight expertise (having tallied over 400 flight hours before even joining the military), Stewart was initially assigned to various “behind the lines” type duties such as training pilots and making promotional videos in the states.  Eventually, when he realized they were not going to ever put him in the front line, he appealed to his commanding officer and managed to get himself assigned to a unit overseas.

In August of 1943, he found himself with the 703rd Bombardment Squadron, initially as a first officer, and shortly thereafter as a Captain.  During combat operations over Germany, Stewart found himself promoted to the rank of Major.  During this time, Stewart participated in several uncounted missions (on his orders) into Nazi occupied Europe, flying his B-24 in the lead position of his group in order to inspire his troops.

For his bravery during these missions, he twice received the Distinguished Flying Cross; three times received the Air Medal; and once received the Croix de Guerre from France.  This latter medal was an award given by France and Belgium to individuals allied with themselves who distinguished themselves with acts of heroism.

By July of 1944, Stewart was promoted chief of staff of the 2nd Combat Bombardment wing of the Eighth Air Force.  Shortly thereafter, he was promoted to the rank of colonel, becoming one of only a handful of American soldiers to ever rise from private to colonel within a four year span.

After the war, Stewart was an active part of the United States Air Force Reserve, serving as the Reserve commander of Dobbins Air Reserve Base.  On July 24, 1959, he attained the rank of brigadier general (one star general).

During the Vietnam War, he flew (not the pilot) in a B-52 on a bombing mission and otherwise continued to fulfill his duty with the Air Force Reserve.  He finally retired from the Air Force on May 31, 1968 after 27 years of service and was subsequently promoted to Major General (two star general).

Bonus Facts:

  • Both Stewart’s grandfathers fought in the American Civil War.  He also had ancestors on his mother’s side that served in the American Revolution and the War of 1812.  His father served in the Spanish-American War and World War I.  His adopted son, Ronald, was killed at the age of 24 as a Marine in Vietnam.
  • The full list of military awards achieved by Stewart are: 2 Distinguished Flying Crosses, 4 Air Medals, 1 Army Commendation Medal, 1 Armed Forces Reserve Medal, 1 Presidential Medal of Freedom, 1 French Croix de Guerre with Palm.
  • As a child, Stewart was a Second Class Scout and eventually became an adult Scout leader.  He was also the recipient of the prestigious Boy Scouts of America Silver Buffalo Award, of which only 674 to date have been given out since 1926.  Of the other recipients besides Stewart, 14 have held the office of President of the United States.
  • A brigadier general is equivalent to a lower rear admiral in the navy.  A major general is equivalent to a rear admiral and is typically given 10,000-20,000 troops to command and is authorized to command them independently.
  • U.S. law limits the number of general officers that may be on active duty at any time to 302 for the Army, 279 for the Air Force, and 80 for the Marine Corps.
  • Eligible officers to be considered to promotion for the rank of brigadier general (one star) are recommended to the President from a list compiled by current general officers.  The President then selects officers from this list to be given the promotion.  Occasionally, the President will also nominate officers not on this list, but this almost never happens.  Once the President makes their selection, the Senate confirms or rejects the selected individuals by a majority vote.
  • The name “brigadier general” comes from the American Revolutionary War when the first brigadier generals were appointed.  At that time, they were simply general officers put in charge of a brigade, hence “brigadier general”.  For a time in the very early 19th century, this was the highest rank any officer in the military could achieve as the rank of major general (two star) had been abolished.  The rank of major general was later re-established just before the war of 1812.
  • At Princeton, Stewart excelled at architecture and was eventually awarded a full scholarship for graduate work by his professors as a result of his thesis on airport design.
  • Stewart and Henry Fonda were roommates early in their careers.  Later in life, they still shared a close friendship and, when they weren’t working, they often spent their time building and painting model airplanes with each other.
  • Jimmy Stewart also was an avid pilot before his military service.  He received his private pilot certificate in 1935 and used to fly cross-country to visit his parents.  Interestingly, when he did so, he stated that he used rail road tracks to navigate.
  • Stewart was also one of the investors and collaborators who helped build Thunderbird Field, which was a pilot training school built to help train pilots during WWII.  During the WWII alone, over 10,000 pilots were trained there.
  • After WWII, he strongly considered abandoning acting and entering the aviation field, due to personal doubts that he could still act.
  • His first film after the war was Frank Capra’s It’s a Wonderful Life which, at the time, was considered somewhat of a flop with the public, though it was nominated for five Academy Awards, including Best Actor for Stewart.  Partially due to this film’s poor showing at the box office, Capra’s production company went bankrupt and Stewart began to further doubt his ability to act following the war.
  • On January 5, 1992, It’s a Wonderful Life became the first American program ever to be broadcast on Russian television.  A translated version, courtesy of Stewart and Lomonosov Moscow State University, was broadcast to over 200 million Russians on that day.
  • Stewart went on to act in several flops, as well as several critically acclaimed films, and by the 1950s was still considered a top tier actor over all.  This was important because in 1950 he became one of the first top tier actors to work for no money up front, but rather a percentage of the gross of the film.  Others had done this before, but it was rare and generally only lower end actors on the tail of their careers would agree to this.  He did this on the movie Winchester ’73 where he had asked for $200,000 pay to appear in that movie and Harvey.  The studio rejected, so he countered that he’d work for a percentage of the gross.  He ended up taking home nearly $600,000 for Winchester ’73 alone.  Hollywood’s other top-tier stars took noticed and this practiced began becoming the norm for top tier actors.
  • By 1954, Stewart was voted the most popular Hollywood actor in the world, displacing John Wayne.  He also was the highest grossing actor that year.
  • Stewart was also known somewhat for his poetry.  He frequently would appear on Johnny Carson’sThe Tonight Show and would read various poems he had written throughout his life.  One of his poems, written about his dog, so moved Carson that, by the end, Carson was choking back tears.  Dana Carvey and Dennis Miller, in 1980, parodied this on Saturday Night Live.  These poems were later compiled into a book called Jimmy Stewart and His Poems.
  • Later in life, Stewart appeared in The Magic of Lassie (1978), much to the dismay of critics and the general public, as the film was a universal flop and seen to be beneath him.  Stewart’s response to them was that it was the only script he was offered that didn’t have sex, profanity, or graphic violence.
  • Stewart’s final film role was as the voice of Wylie Burp, in the 1991 movie An American Tail: Fievel Goes West.
  • Stewart devoted much of the last years of his life to trying to enhance the public’s understanding and appreciation of the U.S. constitution and the Bill of Rights as well as promote education.  He died of a blood clot in his lung on July 2, 1997.  Over his life, his professions included a hardware store shop-hand; a brick layer; a road worker; an assistant magician; an actor; an investor; a war hero; and a philanthropist.  He also held a bachelors degree in architecture from Princeton.

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Air Force gives F-15 major air-to-air superiority upgrade

The Air Force is reving up electronic warfare upgrades for its F-15 fighter as a way to better protect against enemy fire and electronic attacks, service officials said.


Boeing has secured a $478 million deal to continue work on a new technology called with a system called the Eagle Passive Active Warning Survivability System, or EPAWSS.

Also read: Navy Super Hornets hit targets hard as Mosul offensive heats up

“This allows the aircraft to identify a threat and actively prosecute that threat through avoidance, deception or jamming techniques,” Mike Gibbons, Vice President of the Boeing F-15 program, told Scout Warrior in an interview a few months ago.

 These updated EW capabilities replace the Tactical Electronic Warfare Suite, which has been used since the 1980s, not long after the F-15 first deployed. The service plans to operate the fleet until the mid-2040’s, so an overhaul of the Eagle’s electronic systems helps maintain U.S. air supremacy, the contract announcement said.

US Air Force photo

Boeing won the initial contract for the EPAWSS project last year and hired BAE Systems as the primary subcontractor. 

Overall, the US Air Force is vigorously upgrading the 1980s-era F-15 fighter by giving new weapons and sensors in the hope of maintaining air-to-air superiority over the Chinese J-10 equivalent.

The multi-pronged effort not only includes the current addition of electronic warfare technology but also extends to super-fast high-speed computers, infrared search and track enemy targeting systems, increased networking ability and upgraded weapons-firing capability, Air Force and Boeing officials said.

“The Air Force plans to keep the F-15 fleet in service until the mid-2040’s.  Many of the F-15 systems date back to the 1970’s and must be upgraded if the aircraft is to remain operationally effective. Various upgrades will be complete as early as 2021 for the F-15C AESA (Active Electronically Scanned Array) radar and as late as 2032 for the various EW (electronic warfare) upgrades,” Air Force spokesman Maj. Rob Leese told Scout Warrior a few months ago.

The Air Force currently operates roughly 400 F-15C, D and E variants. A key impetus for the upgrade was well articulate in a Congressional report on the US and China in 2014. (US-China Economic and Security Review Commission —www.uscc.gov). Among other things, the report cited rapid Chinese technological progress and explained that the US margin of superiority has massively decreased since the 1980s.

As an example, the report said that in the 1980s, the US F-15 was vastly superior to the Chinese equivalent – the J-10. However, Chinese technical advances in recent years have considerably narrowed that gap to the point where the Chinese J-10 is now roughly comparable to the US F-15, the report explained.

Air Force and Boeing developers maintain that ongoing upgrades to the F-15 will ensure that this equivalence is not the case and that, instead, they will ensure the superiority of the F-15.

A F-15 Eagle on the flight line in St. Louis. | Boeing photo

Among the upgrades is an ongoing effort to equip the F-15 with the fastest jet-computer processer in the world, called the Advanced Display Core Processor, or ADCPII.

“It is capable of processing 87 billion instructions per second of computing throughput, translating into faster and more reliable mission processing capability for an aircrew,” Boeing spokesman Randy Jackson told Scout Warrior.

High tech targeting and tracking technology is also being integrated onto the F-15, Gibbons added. This includes the addition of a passive long-range sensor called Infrared Search and Track, or IRST.

The technology is also being engineered into the Navy F-18 Super Hornet. The technology can detect the heat signature, often called infrared emissions, of enemy aircraft.

“The system can simultaneously track multiple targets and provide a highly effective air-to-air targeting capability, even when encountering advanced threats equipped with radar-jamming technology,” Navy officials said.

IRST also provides an alternate air-to-air targeting system in a high threat electronic attack environment, Navy, Air Force and industry developers said.

The F-15 is also being engineered for additional speed and range, along with weapons-firing ability. The weapons-carrying ability is being increased from 8 up to 16 weapons; this includes an ability to fire an AIM-9x or AIM-120 missile. In addition, upgrades to the aircraft include adding an increased ability to integrate or accommodate new emerging weapons systems as they become available. This is being done through both hardware and software-oriented “open standards” IP protocol and architecture.

The aircraft is also getting a “fly-by-wire” automated flight control system.

“Fly by wire means when the pilot provides the input – straight to a computer than then determines how to have the aircraft perform the way it wants – provides electrical signals for the more quickly and more safely move from point to point as opposed to using a mechanical controls stick,” Gibbons explained.

A formation of F-15C Eagles, assigned to the 493rd Fighter Squadron, and an F-15E Strike Eagle, assigned to the 492nd Fighter Squadron, fly over Gloucestershire, England. | U.S. Air Force photo by Senior Airman Erin Trower

Along with these weapons upgrades and other modifications, the F-15 is also getting upgrades to the pilot’s digital helmet and some radar signature reducing, or stealthy characteristics.

However, at the same time, the F-15 is not a stealthy aircraft and is expected to be used in combat environments in what is called “less contested” environments where the Air Force already has a margin of air superiority over advanced enemy air defenses.

For this reason, the F-15 will also be increasing networked so as to better support existing 5th-generation platforms such as the F-22 and F-35, Air Force officials said.

The intent of these F-15 upgrades is to effectively perform the missions assigned to the F-15 fleet, which are to support the F-22 in providing air superiority and the F-35 in providing precision attack capabilities, Leese said.

“While these upgrades will not make these aircraft equivalent to 5th generation fighters, they will allow the F-15 to support 5th generation fighters in performing their missions, and will also allow F-15s to assume missions in more permissive environments where capabilities of 5th generation fighters are not required,” Leese added.

Gibbons added that the upgrades to the F-15 will ensure that the fighter aircraft remains superior to its Chinese equivalent.

“The F-15 as a vital platform that still has a capability that cannot be matched in terms of ability to fly high, fly fast, go very far carry a lot. It is an air dominance machine,” Gibbons explained.

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‘Timbuktu’ Is One Of The Most Important Movies Ever Made About Terrorism

Photo: Youtube/screenshot


Violent jihadism as a governing ideology has been a significant feature of the global scene for nearly two decades.

There are certainly differences between say, the nature Al Shabaab’s control over Somalia in the early 2010s, the Taliban state’s governance of Afghanistan from 1996 until the US-led invasion in 2001, and ISIS’s “caliphate” in the present day.

But militant groups spurred by a combination of religious radicalism, violent disenchantment with the existing state system, revisionist philosophies of Islamic history, and a rejection of secularism and Enlightenment value systems have morphed into territorial political units with alarming frequency in recent years.

One such instance was in Mali in early 2012, when jihadists piggybacked on a long-simmering Tuareg autonomy movement — itself empowered by the collapse of Mali’s government in the wake of a shocking military coup — in order to take control of several population centers in Mali’s desert north. Among them was Timbuktu, a legendary center of trade and Islamic scholarship.

The jihadist occupation of Timbuktu was brutal but thankfully brief: In early 2013, a French-led coalition liberated the city after 10 months of militant control. Now, the rule of Al Qaeda-allied militants over the city is the topic of what might be the important movie of the past year.

The hypnotic and visually overwhelming “Timbuktu,” the work of Mauritanian director Abderrahmane Sissako and an Oscar nominee for best foreign language film, is an intimate and terrifying inquiry into one of the defining authoritarian ideologies of the 21st century, as told from the perspective of the people who are actually suffering under its yoke. (The film is currently playing in New York and LA and will open in various other US cities in February and March.)

US movie audiences have usually met jihadists through the lenses of American sniper rifles, or lying prone in front of CIA interrogators. “Timbuktu” is hardly the only movie that’s portrayed them as political and social actors. “Osama,” a multi-national production about a girl living in Taliban-ruled Afghanistan that won the 2004 Golden Globe award for best foreign-language film, and Iranian director Moshen Makhmalbaf’s highly regarded “Kandahar,” about a Afghan woman who sneaks into Taliban Afghanistan to try to stop her sister from committing suicide, succeed in giving viewers a first-hand look at the societies that jihadists create and the horrors this visits upon the people trapped in them.

Photo: Youtube/screenshot

In the wake of ISIS’s takeover of a Belgium-sized slice of the Middle East, “Timbuktu” has more immediate resonance than either of those films. The movie opens with a pickup truck of fighters flying a black flag nearly identical to ISIS’s. As the opening credits roll, the fighters eviscerate a row of traditional figurines in a hail of machine-gun fire.

But the firmest sign that jihadist rule is something external, alien, and deeply unwanted comes in the next scene, when gun-toting fighters enter a mud-brick mosque without taking their shoes off. They tell the imam that they have come to wage jihad. The imam replies that in Timbuktu, people wage jihad (which has the double meaning of spiritual reflection and self-purification, in addition to earthly holy war) with their minds and not with guns.

The next hour and a half is a grisly survey of what happened when this 1400-year-old precedent was inverted.

The jihadists ban music — one of the most celebrated aspects of Malian culture — and then whip violators in public. They ban soccer, and then break up a group of children miming a game in silent protest. The jihadists speak a smattering of local languages and broken Arabic; their leader bans smoking only to sneak cigarettes under the cover of the town’s surrounding sand dunes.

In one of the more illustrative scenes, a female fish seller is told by one jihadist that women can no longer appear in public without wearing gloves. She explains to him that she can’t work unless she’s barehanded and then dares the fighter to cut her hands off on the spot.

In “Timbuktu,” the jihadists are power-tripping, thuggish and hypocritical. They are in the city to create a totally new kind of society and revel in their own insensitivity to local concerns.

But crucially they are not entirely outsiders, and some of the film’s most affecting scenes involve a Tuareg who joins with the jihadists occupying the town, a reminder that there are local dynamics at play. Just as importantly, the film hints at the context of state collapse and social chaos that allowed the jihadists to take over in the first place.

The movie’s primary narrative follows a Tuareg herder who accidentally kills a fisherman from a different ethnic group during an argument over his cows’ access to drinking water along a disputed riverbank. The film’s central conflict encapsulates the unresolved questions of ethnicity and resources that kept northern Mali in a state of crisis that the jihadists later exploited.

The herder’s treatment at the hands of Timbuktu’s new overlords depicts the imposition of an an outside ideology. But the killing is itself is a pointed example of how social turmoil can feed into a violent, totalitarian mania seemingly without warning. It harkens back to ISIS’s swift takeover of Iraq this past summer, a national-level instance of the dynamics that “Timbuktu” manages to boil down to an intimate, dramatic scale.

“Timbuktu” has a happy ending. Even if it isn’t part of the movie, the city was eventually liberated from jihadist control. The film depicts a now-extinct regime.

But the nightmare of “Timbuktu” is far from over. The liberation of the areas that ISIS rules will come at some indeterminate future date, and parts of Afghanistan, Yemen, Somalia, and Nigeria are still under the control of extremists whose ideologies are not categorically different from what appears in the film.

“Timbuktu” is maybe the best cinematic depiction ever made of what millions of people around the world are suffering through.

More from Business Insider:

This article originally appeared at Business Insider Defense Copyright 2015. Follow BI Defense on Twitter.

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This is how special operators respond so quickly when sh-t hits the fan

Special operators are often America’s 911 call, flying to the scene of emergencies and safeguarding American interests while outnumbered and sometimes outgunned. Years of training and military exercises hone them into deadly weapons.


But it takes a lot of logistics to get the premier warfighters from their home bases or staging areas and into the fight, ready to kill or be killed on America’s behalf. Here’s a glimpse of the process:

1. Step one of deploying special operators is preparing gear and recalling personnel.

(Photo: U.S. Air Force Airman 1st Class Sean Carnes)

2. Operators and support personnel rush vehicles and other gear to loading areas. The exact makeup depends on the planned mission.

This photo is from an exercise. Rumor is there are less smiles and jokes for actual combat missions. (Photo: U.S. Air Force Senior Airman Erin Piazza)

3. The vehicles are secured for transport. Often, this means the gear is going into planes. Gear that will roll off is secured to the plane itself while gear that will be airdropped is typically secured to a pallet.

(Photo: U.S. Air Force Senior Airman Erin Piazza)

4. Operators sometimes take part in securing their gear since it guarantees that it will come out as expected on the objective.

(Photo: U.S. Air Force Senior Airman Erin Piazza)

5. Once the gear is ready to go, the personnel have to get strapped in. While these guys are strapping on parachutes, some missions require they run off the ramp on the ground instead.

(Photo: U.S. Air Force Staff Sgt. Michael Battles)

6. Attention to detail is critical since any mistake on the objective can cost lives.

(Photo: U.S. Air Force Staff Sgt. Michael Battles)

7. While MC-130Js are one of the more famous planes for special operators, there are plenty of other aircraft that will do the job, such as this MC-12.

(Photo: U.S. Air Force Staff Sgt. Matthew B. Fredericks)

8. Or Black Hawks… Black Hawks are good.

(Photo: U.S. Air Force Senior Airman Jasmonet Jackson)

9. Of course, operators on the ground like to have fire support, and they can’t be guaranteed artillery on the ground. So they’ll often fly in with extra firepower as well.

(Photo: U.S. Air Force Senior Airman Jordan Castelan)

10. The AC-130s can bring everything from 20mm miniguns to 105mm howitzers. The typical modern armament is 25-105mm cannons. Jets and helicopters can bring the boom when necessary.

(Photo: U.S. Air Force Senior Airman Jordan Castelan)

11. And then the operators get to work, grabbing bad guys, ending threats, and chewing bubble gum.

(Photo: U.S. Air Force Senior Airman Jasmonet Jackson)

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American and Kurdish fighters advance on the ISIS capital in Syria

Photos released this week by Agence France-Presse feature American special operations troops wearing the patches of the Syrian Kurdish YPG. The YPG, or People’s Protection Units, are part of the U.S.-backed Syrian Democratic Forces who are rapidly advancing toward the de facto ISIS capital at Raqqa.


That campaign was launched last week from the Kurdish stronghold at Ayn Issa, some 35 miles from Raqqa. That’s also where the special operators were photographed.

 

While friendly forces’ proximity to Raqqa should delight those fighting against ISIS, one ally is not at all pleased with the photos. The Turkish government sees the YPG as the Syrian arm of the Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK). The PKK is an internationally-recognized terrorist organization and has been fighting the Turkish government for independence since 1984.

While the United States recognizes the PKK as a terror group, it disputes Turkey’s claim that the YPG is a Syrian extension. Still, Tukish President Erdoğan was probably surprised to see photos of U.S. forces wearing the YPG insignia. The U.S. spokesman for Operation Inherent Resolve wrote it off as esprit de corps:

 

Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu told the BBC the U.S. is “two-faced” and said the patches were “unacceptable.”

The U.S. military has 300 troops in Syria in an advisory capacity, 50 of those are special operations forces.

On June 1st, the SDF seized nine villages in an effort to cut off ISIS-held territory from Turkey, closing the last pathway for foreign fighters traveling to fight for the terror group.

 

 

In the meantime, the White House maintains that American special operations troops are not in direct combat.

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This is how Russia could sweep NATO from the Baltic Sea

If the Baltics are a flashpoint where a war between Russia and NATO breaks out, it might be the Baltic Sea where those first shots are fired.


Things are so tense that during his Senate confirmation hearings, retired Marine General James Mattis indicated he supported a permanent U.S. military presence in the Baltic states of Estonia, Latvia, and Lithuania.

A paratrooper assigned to Company D, 2nd Battalion, 503rd Infantry Regiment, 173rd Airborne Brigade, launches a missile from a Tube-launched, Optically-tracked, Wire-guided missile system at a live-fire training exercise in Drawkso Pomorskie, Poland, as part of Operation Atlantic Resolve Aug. 19. The operation includes combined training exercises with U.S., Polish, Estonian, Latvian, and Lithuanian military forces to foster cohesive relationships and demonstrate a commitment to NATO obligations. (U.S. Army photo by Spc. Hector Membreno)

Tensions in that region have been high. This past April, the Daily Caller reported that Su-24 Fencers buzzed the Arleigh Burke-class destroyer USS Donald Cook (DDG 75). A closer look at that event, though, can give a sense as to what America could be facing.

Like it or not, in the event of war, American forces will have to get to the Baltic States. With their membership in NATO, defending them is a solemn obligation due to the provisions of Article V of the North Atlantic Treaty.

A Russian Sukhoi Su-24 attack aircraft makes a low altitude pass by USS Donald Cook (DDG 75) April 12, 2016. Donald Cook, an Arleigh Burke-class guided-missile destroyer forward deployed to Rota, Spain, is conducting a routine patrol in the U.S. 6th Fleet area of operations in support of U.S. national security interests in Europe. (U.S. Navy photo)

So, America has an obligation to defend them. That means getting reinforcements there in a hurry.

For armored brigade combat teams, like the one on rotation to Europe, this means a seaborne convoy. That probably means using at least a couple dozen military sealift ships and escorts to move a division of troops and supplies.

How might Russia take down such a convoy? Part of it would be using the geography of the Baltic Sea. It is a very narrow, confined body of water. Furthermore, the short distances involved mean that any convoy could have only a few minutes’ warning of an air attack.

As the Daily Caller notes, the Donald Cook was buzzed largely because she had very little warning of the Fencers’ approach.

U.S. Navy photo by Heather Judkins

The Baltic is also full of places where diesel-electric submarines like the Kilo-class or Lada-class could hide and carry out ambushes. The submarines would likely sit at chokepoints like the Kattegat or Skagerrak – targeting escorts like Arleigh Burke-class destroyers.

Once some of the escorts are taken out, Russia would then send Su-24s at low level to attack the sealift vessels and surviving escorts, likely using missiles like the AS-20 “Kayak” – the Russian equivalent to the AGM-84 Harpoon.

Destroying the convoy may be the Russians’ best chance to defeat NATO in a war over the Baltic States. That said, if the United States were to bring back the old POMCUS (Prepositioning Of Materiel Configured in Unit Sets) system, that would greatly reduce the time it took to reinforce any force initially in the Baltic States.

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The US military once successfully used a psychic to locate a lost plane

During the Cold War, pretty much anything that would give the U.S. the upper hand vs. Communist Russia was considered worthy of research. Everything from catching satellites with airplanes to full airbases carved into Arctic ice. With this in mind, would it really surprise anyone that the CIA was concerned that a psychic gap existed between the U.S. and Soviet Union?


In 1972, the Agency started funding paranormal research in a program that would last more than 23 years. Called “remote viewing,” it was an ability some people supposedly posses enabling them to psychically “see” events, sites, or information from a great distance. The psychics were gathered to perform parapsychic intelligence and research operations.

A young airman named Rosemary Smith was given a map of Africa. She was told that sometime in the past a Soviet Tu-22 bomber outfitted as a spy plane crashed somewhere in Africa. U.S. intelligence services wanted to recover the top secret Russian codes and equipment the Tu-22 carried.

The plane went down in the Central African Republic. Despite orienting multiple satellites to locate the plane, the DoD kept coming up short. Using her remote viewing, the psychic pinpointed the wreckage, even though it was completely covered by the jungle canopy.

As Vice-President, Richard Nixon once used the Force to kill Joseph Stalin.

President Jimmy Carter admitted to U.S. media that that the CIA, without his knowledge, had consulted a psychic to find the missing plane. He told them the plane had been Russian, not American.

“The woman went into a trance and gave some latitude and longitude figures.” The former President said. “We focused our satellite cameras on that point and the plane was there.” When asked how he processed the news that a psychic located the plane, Carter replied: “With skepticism.”

The “Remote viewing” venture was part of the Stargate Project, a secret Army unit at Fort Meade, Maryland set up in 1978 in an effort to bridge the purported “psy gap.”

Overall, the project never gave the CIA any other real, meaningful information but was still funded until 1995 when the American public found out about the project from an episode of ABC’s news magazine show “Nightline.”

The finding of the Tu-22 is the only instance of a successful remote viewing. The project was the subject of the 2004 book and 2009 movie The Men Who Stare At Goats.

MIGHTY HISTORY

Legends about the most decorated Marine in US history

Lewis “Chesty” Puller (1898-1971), was a 37-year veteran of the USMC, ascended to the rank of Lieutenant General, and is the most decorated Marine in the history of the Corps. He served in: WWII, Haiti, Nicaragua, and the Korean War. The concrete facts surrounding his military service are astounding, but his grassroots legacy is carved out by stories echoed through generations of Marines that sound crazy enough to be true only for Puller.


His nickname “Chesty” came from the legend that he had a false “steel chest.” 

There are many legends surrounding how Lewis “Chesty” Puller got his nickname. One says that it came from his boisterous, commanding, voice that was miraculously heard over the sounds of battle. There are even some that say that it is literal— and that his chest was hacked away in the banana wars and replaced with an iron steel slab.

“All right, they’re on our left, they’re on our right, they’re in front of us, they’re behind us, they can’t get away this time.” 


This is one of the most iconic quotes from Puller. His men were completely surrounded, and what initially seemed like doom, would soon be revealed to them as the beginnings of victory.

Puller surveying the land before mobilizing in the Korean conflict

He always led by example.

Puller famously put the needs of his men in front of his own. In training, he carried his own pack and bedding roll while marching at the head of his battalion. He afforded himself no luxuries his men did not have—usually meaning a diet consisting only of “K” rations. When in New Britain, legend has it that he slept on the bare floor of an abandoned hut and refused to let the native people make him a mattress of banana leaves. And he always refused treatment when wounded until his men had been attended to.

He was awarded: 5 Navy Crosses, a Distinguished Service Cross, and the Silver Star.

Among the many reasons for his highly decorated resume,Puller earned them for: leading his men into five successful engagements against super numbered armed forces in Nicaragua, after a 6 day march he reversed and defeated an ambush on an insurgent platoon that tripled his men in size, held the front against mile-long enemy forces in Guadalcanal, and defended crucial division supply roots against outnumbering forces in sub-zero weather in the Korean War.

Look at that stack…

Smoked a pipe while under bombardment at Guadalcanal.

In 1942 “Chesty” was a Lt. Col, and commander of 1st battalion, 7th Marine Regiment at Guadalcanal. He was the only man with combat experience, and many of his men did not dig foxholes. Lt. Col. Puller’s leadership was immediately tested as they were bombarded their first night. Puller ran up and down the line, instructing his men to take cover (behind whatever they could) and when it was nearing over, Puller walked the lines while casually smoking a pipe and reassuring his Marines of their eventual victory.

The Incredible Story Of The Most Decorated Marine In American History

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He is portrayed in multiple films.

Puller’s most notable appearances in film are in HBO’s The Pacific where he was played by William Sadler, and (perhaps his most iconic representation in American storytelling) in the John Ford documentary about his life Chesty: A Tribute to a Legend narrated by John Wayne.

“Where the hell do you put the bayonet?”

This quote is taken from Puller while at… a flamethrower demonstration.

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15 clichés every military recruit from Texas hears in basic training

Being from Texas bring a certain set of expectations. Some are good, some are funny, and some are just ridiculous.


There are many, but here are 15 clichés every recruit hears at boot camp:

1. “Only steers and queers come from Texas private cowboy, and you don’t much look like a steer to me so that kinda narrows it down” – Sergeant Hartman, “Full Metal Jacket” (1987)

You know how it goes. You get to a new unit and the first thing someone asks is what’s your name and where you’re from. You say, “my name is ____” followed by, “I’m from Texas.” The first thing you get is the Gunny Hartman quote about steers and queers. It doesn’t get more original than that (note my sarcasm).

2. The drill instructor calls you “Lone Star” to single you out.

Photo: Cpl. Caitlin Brink/USMC

What the hell are you doing Lone Star? Why are you out of formation!? This one is worth owning.

3. Everyone calls you “Tex” instead of your name. This usually happens for the first two weeks of boot camp while everyone is still learning names.

Photo: YouTube Screen Grab

“There was Dallas, from Phoenix; Cleveland – he was from Detroit; and Tex… well, I don’t remember where Tex come from.” – Forrest Gump, “Forrest Gump” (1994)

4. Everyone assumes you have a horse back home.

Photo: Reddit

Nope. Too expensive.

5. Everyone from Texas goes hunting.

Photo: @outdoorhunters/instagram

Not really. But we do have a friend that does who’d let us tag along with if we wanted to.

6. The other recruits assume you know your way around a rifle because everyone in Texas has a gun.

… because Texas has that open carry law.

7. You eat BBQ for every meal.

Photo: @jdslaugh/instagram

We f–king love BBQ! And, we don’t settle for that nonsense other states call BBQ. Your choice of meat with pepper and salt over misquite is all you need.

8. All Texans are stupid.

Photo: mike_who/instagram

They’re just mistaking our Texan drawl for being slow.

9. You grew up on a ranch.

Photo: @jmd.x/instagram

Where do you think we do all our BBQing, shooting, and hunting? Actually, no. Cities like San Antonio, Dallas/Fort Worth, and Houston are among the largest in the country. There’s no room for a ranch in the asphalt jungle.

10. You must have an oil well in your backyard.

Photo: @asoto217/instagram

Who do you think we are, the Beverly Hillbillies?

11. You probably have a big truck.

Photo: @lonestar_diesel

If we don’t have one, we really want one. Who doesn’t?

12. People from Texas are the definition of “Murica.”

Photo: evan_el_jefe/instagram

We’re very patriotic, which is why there’s always a handful of recruits from the great state in your unit.

13. Football is your religion.

Photo: @katytexans_tyfa/instagram

Yes. We go to church every Friday (high school football), Saturday (college football), and Sunday (NFL football).

14. You have long horns over your fireplace or on your vehicle.

Photo: @jon_jp/instagram

Nope. Not so much. It would go well with UT Longhorn gear though.

15. You’re from Texas, so therefore you’re a redneck. Nope, I’m a Texan.

Photo: American Sniper/imdb

“Texans tend to ride horses whereas rednecks ride their cousins.” — Chris Kyle, “American Sniper” (2014)

MIGHTY TRENDING

Inside the strange mystery of the Havana Embassy attacks

It was a cool night for Havana, with the temperature falling into the mid-70s, and the diplomat and his family were feeling very good about their assignment to Cuba. They were still settling into their new home, a comfortable, Spanish-style house in the lush enclave that had been called “el Country Club” before wealthy families abandoned it in the early years of the revolution. “We were just thrilled to be there,” the diplomat recalled. “The music, the rum, the cigars, the people — and a very important moment for diplomacy.”


Eight months earlier, in March 2016, President Barack Obama had swept into town to commemorate the two countries’ historic rapprochement, vowing to bury “the last remnant of the Cold War in the Americas.” Now, weeks after the election of Donald Trump, that entente was suddenly doubtful. Fidel Castro had just died, opening a new chapter in the Cuban saga. The diplomat could hardly have imagined a more fascinating time to arrive.

As the sun slid into the Florida Straits on that late-November evening, the diplomat folded back the living room doors that opened onto the family’s new tropical garden. The warm night air poured in, along with an almost overpowering din. “It was annoying to the point where you had to go in the house and close all the windows and doors and turn up the TV,” he recalled. “But I never particularly worried about it. I figured, ‘I’m in a strange country, and the insects here make loud noises.'”

A few nights later, the diplomat and his wife invited over the family of another American embassy official who lived next door. Around dusk, as they chatted on the patio, the same deafening sound rose from their yard again.

“I’m pretty sure those are cicadas,” the first diplomat said.

“Those are not cicadas,” his neighbor insisted. “Cicadas don’t sound like that. It’s too mechanical-sounding.”

The colleague had been hearing the same noises at home, sometimes for an hour or more at a stretch. After he complained to the embassy housing office, a couple of Cuban maintenance workers were dispatched to look around. They checked for electrical problems and scanned the yard for strange insects, but they left without finding anything out of place. In February, the nightly racket finally began to fade. Then it went away altogether.

It was not until a Friday in late March that the diplomat realized he might be facing something more dangerous than bugs. At work that day, an embassy colleague with whom he was friendly took him aside and said he was leaving Cuba right away. A fit-looking man in his thirties, the colleague said he had just been in Miami, where medical specialists found he had a series of problems including a serious hearing loss. In late December, he said, he had been struck by a strange, disturbing phenomenon — a powerful beam of high-pitched sound that seemed to be pointed right at him. The following Monday, the diplomat’s friend played him a recording of the noise: It sounded a lot like what the diplomat had heard in his backyard.

The diplomat, who agreed to discuss his experience on the condition he not be named, said neither he nor his wife had felt any signs of illness or injury. But within days, they, too, would be on their way to Miami to be examined by medical specialists. Along with 22 other Americans and eight Canadians, they would be diagnosed with a wide array of concussion-like symptoms, ranging from headaches and nausea to hearing loss. They would also find themselves caught up in an extraordinary international dispute, one that the Trump administration would use to sharply reverse the course of U.S. relations with Cuba.

Even in a realm where secrets abound, the Havana incidents are a remarkable mystery. After nearly a year of investigation that has drawn on intelligence, defense and technology expertise from across the U.S. government, the FBI has been unable to determine who might have attacked the diplomats or how. Nor has the bureau ruled out the possibility that at least some of the Americans weren’t attacked at all. Officials who have been briefed on the inquiry described it as having made strikingly little progress in answering the basic questions of the case, with frustrated FBI agents reporting that they are running out of rocks to overturn.

Further reading: The ‘sonic attacks’ on US diplomats in Cuba baffle doctors

Those frustrations have roiled the U.S. national-security community, putting the FBI increasingly at odds with the CIA over the case. In early January, after more than eight months of analysis, the bureau ruled out its initial hypothesis that the Americans were targeted with some type of sonic device. That left the FBI without a weapon, a perpetrator or a motive, and still struggling to understand how the diplomats could have been hurt or fallen ill. Intelligence officials, for their part, have continued to emphasize a pattern they see as anything but coincidental: The first four Americans to report being struck by the phenomenon — including the fit-looking man in his 30s — were all CIA officers working under diplomatic cover, as were two others affected later on. The CIA and other agencies involved in the investigation also have yet to concur with the FBI’s conclusion about sonic technology.

More broadly, the Cuba problem has raised questions within the national security community about how the Trump administration is using intelligence information to guide its foreign policy. At a time when the White House has vowed to act more forcefully against North Korea, Iran and other threats, some officials see the Cuba problem as yet another lesson in the dangers of using intelligence selectively to advance policy goals. “Trump came in opposing better relations with Cuba,” said one national security official who, like others, would discuss the case only on the condition he not be named. “The administration got out in front of the evidence and intelligence.”

A ProPublica investigation of the case, based on interviews with more than three dozen U.S. and foreign officials and an examination of confidential government documents, represents the first detailed public account of how the Cuba incidents unfolded. Although the State Department has generally emphasized similarities in the medical files of the 24 affected Americans, officials and documents consulted for this story indicated that the nature and seriousness of the patients’ symptoms varied rather widely. The experiences that precipitated their illnesses were also quite different, officials said, and the experiences and symptoms of the eight Canadians differed from those of the Americans.

Many U.S. officials who have dealt closely with the problem — including several who asserted that it has been distorted for political purposes — said they remain convinced that at least some of the Americans were deliberately targeted by a sophisticated enemy. Medical specialists who reviewed the patients’ files last summer concluded that while their symptoms could have many causes, they were “most likely related to trauma from a non-natural source,” the State Department medical director, Dr. Charles Rosenfarb, said. “No cause has been ruled out,” he added. “But the findings suggest this was not an episode of mass hysteria.”

Yet it appears that secrecy, psychology and politics may all have played some part in how the phenomenon spread through the staffs of the two Havana embassies. Administration officials have been reluctant to discuss psychological factors in the case, in part because they fear offending or antagonizing the stricken diplomats (many of whom already feel badly treated by the State Department leadership). But as the mystery has deepened, U.S. investigators have begun to look more closely at the insular, high-pressure world of the Havana embassy, and they have found a picture that is far more complex than the rhetoric and headlines have suggested.

Despite the many unanswered questions, Trump administration officials have repeatedly blamed Raúl Castro’s government for failing to protect the diplomats, if not actually attacking them. Early last fall, the State Department withdrew more than half of the diplomatic staff assigned to Havana, while ordering a proportional number of Cubans to leave Washington. The department also warned U.S. citizens they could be “at risk” of attack if they visit the island. “I still believe that the Cuban government, someone within the Cuban government, can bring this to an end,” Secretary of State Rex Tillerson said January 2018.

What the Diplomats Heard

(AP Digital Products | YouTube)

Such assertions have outraged the Cuban leadership. Since early last year, U.S. officials said, Castro and his senior aides have insisted they had nothing to do with the incidents and would help in any way they could to investigate and stop them. The FBI team has found no evidence of Cuban complicity in the incidents, officials said, and has privately emphasized the government’s cooperation with its investigators. Tillerson’s statements notwithstanding, some State Department officials have also told members of Congress privately that they have assessed the Cubans’ denials of involvement to be credible, officials said. “They believe the Cuban government wants better relations with the United States,” one Senate aide said.

The other obvious suspect has been Russia, which intelligence analysts have seen as having both a possible motive and the possible means to carry out such attacks. The Putin government has harassed U.S. diplomats routinely in Moscow and sometimes abroad; during the Obama administration, it appeared determined to disrupt American foreign policy around the world. Russia also has a capacity to engineer sophisticated new weapons and a longstanding security alliance with Cuba. But investigators have not found even significant circumstantial evidence of a Russian hand in the incidents, officials said, and some analysts doubt Russia would imperil its relationship with Cuba by so brazenly undermining one of its key foreign policy goals.

While the mystery continues, U.S. policy toward Cuba hangs in the balance. With Castro scheduled to step down from the presidency in April, Washington is represented in Havana by only a skeleton staff at a potentially critical moment of transition. American travel to and business with the island have fallen sharply in recent months, and the processing of visas for Cubans wanting to emigrate to the United States has plunged, calling into question the fulfillment of a longstanding migration agreement between the two countries. The Trump administration may also have limited its options: On March 4, the State Department will face a deadline to either send its diplomats back to Havana or make permanent staff reductions. But the Secretary of State, who reportedly made the decision to pull out the diplomats, has shown no signs of changing his position.

“We don’t know how to protect people from this, so why would I do that?” Tillerson told the Associated Press when asked about returning diplomats to Cuba. “I will push back on anybody who wants to force me to do that until I’m convinced that I’m not putting people in harm’s way.”

In the crossfire of accusations, ordinary Cubans might be forgiven for wondering if they have been transported back in time. As the country prepares to be led for the first time in almost 60 years by someone not named Castro, a tectonic shift that could profoundly affect how it is governed, cold war rhetoric has again filled the air. The next-generation Communist leader who is expected to succeed Raúl Castro, Vice President Miguel Díaz-Canel, 56, is among those who have warned of yet another imperialist plot against Havana. They are “incredible fairy tales without any evidence,” he said of the Trump administration’s claims, “with the perverse intention of discrediting Cuba’s impeccable conduct.”

Related: The US is now claiming some of its spies were attacked in Cuba

The first two incidents occurred around Thanksgiving weekend of 2016, which coincided with the death of Fidel Castro on Nov. 25. During the nine days of official mourning that followed, neither American official told the embassy’s leadership what they had experienced. But both men, intelligence officers working under diplomatic cover, would later say they heard sharp, disorienting sounds in their homes at night. At least one of them would later tell investigators the noise had seemed oddly focused, officials said. Moving out of the way or into another room, it seemed almost to disappear.

If the stories sounded like science fiction, the CIA’s Havana station and the embassy leadership suspected something more mundane. Since the United States and Cuba restored limited diplomatic relations in 1977, reopening their embassies as “interests sections” in each other’s capitals, the Cubans kept a constant, often aggressive watch over American diplomats in Havana. Diplomats might come home to find a window opened, or a television set turned on (often to government news), or their belongings slightly but obviously rearranged. Some part of the game — including more provocative actions like smearing dog feces on the handles of diplomats’ car doors — was considered almost routine. There was also some noted reciprocity from the American agents who trailed Cuban diplomats around Washington.

During periods of particular tension with Washington, the Cubans sometimes went further. In the early and mid-1990s, American diplomats who met with Cuban dissidents or otherwise annoyed the government occasionally returned from meetings to find their car tires punctured. In the mid-2000s, as the Bush administration openly pursued efforts to subvert the Castro regime, Cuban harassment of the 51 American diplomats then stationed on the island ranged from delays in the release of food shipments to “the poisoning of family pets,” the State Department’s inspector general wrote in a 2007 report.

The man who headed the American diplomatic mission in late 2016, Jeffrey DeLaurentis, knew that history of harassment well, officials said. A measured, laconic career diplomat with an air of hardened patience, DeLaurentis had taken over as the chargé d’affaires in the summer of 2014, bringing more Cuban experience than perhaps any other senior official in the U.S. government. He had done previous tours in Havana as both a consular officer and a political officer, with a stint in between managing Cuban affairs on the National Security Council staff. After Obama announced a plan to normalize diplomatic relations with Cuba in December 2014, he nominated DeLaurentis to be Washington’s first ambassador to Havana since 1961, when President Eisenhower severed diplomatic relations. (Although his confirmation was blocked by Senator Marco Rubio of Florida, who argued that Cuba should demonstrate greater respect for human rights before the post was filled, DeLaurentis remained as the chargé d’affaires.)

Obama’s visit in March 2016 had left Cuban leaders ambivalent about the hand of friendship he extended: Fidel Castro, ailing and almost 90, stirred from his retirement to attack the American president’s “syrupy words,” and what he saw as an insidious plea for Cubans to forget the Americans’ dark history with the island. At a Communist Party congress that April, Raúl Castro and others peppered their rhetoric with references to “the enemy” to the north. Diplomats also noted some palpable discomfort among senior Cuban officials with the burst of capitalist bling that marked the easing of U.S. commercial restrictions — a Chanel fashion show, a free Rolling Stones concert, the brief takeover of Havana streets to film scenes for a new “Fast and Furious” movie.

Cuban President Raúl Castro (left) shakes hands with former US President Barack Obama, 2015. (Photo courtesy of the White House.)

But in the last months of 2016, official Cuban hostility toward the American diplomats in Havana was hovering somewhere near a 50-year low. No serious harassment had been reported for at least a few years, officials said. Most close analysts of Cuba believed the ruling party had forged a solid consensus for ending hostilities with the U.S. Fidel Castro’s last, angry diatribe notwithstanding, U.S. officials told ProPublica that he had been consulted on the rapprochement and given his approval.

While Cuban officials were notably slow to move forward with many of the proposed American business deals that poured in, they did plod ahead with work on bilateral agreements on law-enforcement cooperation, environmental protection, direct mail service and other matters. “Of course, there is a range of preferences within the regime on the speed and depth of reform,” said Fulton Armstrong, a former senior CIA analyst who handled Cuba issues on both the National Security Council staff and the National Intelligence Council. “But the debate is about the pace; there is no alternative to the Raúl strategy.”

The Cubans’ attention became more focused after the Nov. 8 presidential vote, American officials said. Although Trump had vowed during his campaign to renegotiate Obama’s “very weak agreement” with Havana, the Castro government had seemed to discount the possibility that he could be elected. Once Trump was elected — and with Obama administration officials urging the Cubans to consolidate improvements in the relationship — the Cuban government hurried to conclude work on pending agreements before the Jan. 20 inauguration.

It was during that same period between the election and the inauguration that the first U.S. intelligence officers were struck by what they described as strange noises. The initial three victims lived in the upscale neighborhoods of Havana’s western suburbs. Fidel Castro kept a home in one of those neighborhoods, Cubanacán, as do Vice President Díaz-Canel and other members of the island’s most-privileged elite. The elegant old mansions and tropical-suburban homes of the enclave are also favored by senior foreign diplomats and business executives. There is relatively little car or pedestrian traffic, and a considerable presence of private security guards as well as the Cuban police.

More reading: The mystery behind potential sonic weapons in Cuba is getting weirder

Although the first two officers would later report having first heard strange sounds in their homes back in late November, it was not until the end of December that the first victim sought help at the small medical clinic inside the embassy. That officer — the fit younger man in his 30s — came with a more serious complaint: He had developed headaches, hearing problems and a sharp pain in one ear, especially, following a strange experience in which something like a beam of sound seemed to have been directed at his home.

The younger man’s trauma was reported to DeLaurentis and the embassy’s diplomatic security chief, Anthony Spotti, on Dec. 30, State Department officials said, and followed by word that the two other CIA officers had experienced something similar about a month before. But inside the modernist glass-and-concrete chancery building that rises up along Havana’s iconic seawall, the Malecón, both the intelligence officials and senior diplomats guessed that the noises were “just another form of harassment” by the Cuban government, one official said. They also seemed carefully targeted to CIA officers working under diplomatic cover. If members of Cuba’s state-security apparatus did not know the men were intelligence officers, they would probably have suspected them anyway, the Americans believed.

The US flag flaps in the stiff breeze off the Florida Straits at the U.S. Embassy in Havana, Cuba, on March 22, 2016. (Photo from US State Department.)

The incidents were discussed discreetly among members of the embassy’s “country team,” the group of roughly 15 senior diplomats that would often meet daily to discuss significant issues. But, because of counterintelligence concerns, they were kept secret from most of the other American personnel — about 32 other diplomats and eight Marine guards — a decision that was later criticized by some of those who became sick. “We have security officers at every embassy and they give us constant updates,” one diplomat said. “Somebody gets pick-pocketed, somebody got their car broken into … And then somebody got attacked by this mystery weapon and they didn’t tell us?”

By mid-January, after the other two intelligence officers also sought medical attention at the embassy, the matter began to take on a more ominous cast, several officials said. Around the time that the first intelligence officers were sent to the U.S. for treatment on Feb. 6, the wife of another embassy staffer, who lived near the Havana coastline in the neighborhood of Flores, reported hearing similar, disturbing sounds, two officials familiar with her account said. The woman then looked outside and saw a van speeding away. The vehicle had apparently come from the same end of the street on which there was a house that was thought by U.S. officials to be used by the Cuban Interior Ministry. The officials acknowledged that the report was vague and uncertain. Yet they said it also constituted one of the more significant pieces of circumstantial information they had about the incidents.

In Havana, officials said, senior members of the embassy staff argued to their counterparts in Washington that they should formally protest the incidents to the Cuban government. Given the uncertainties, others thought they should try to gather more information before lodging such a complaint. Although it was a matter of concern at both the State Department and the CIA, it is unclear whether it was raised to the National Security Council staff before the decision to protest was made (one former senior official said it was not). Nor, officials said, was Secretary of State Tillerson informed of the situation until days after the department’s acting assistant secretary for Western Hemisphere affairs, Francisco Palmieri, finally called in the Cuban ambassador in Washington, José Ramón Cabañas, to present a diplomatic note of protest on Feb. 17.

The Cuban government responded promptly. A few days later, officials said, DeLaurentis was called to a meeting with Josefina Vidal, the senior diplomat who had led the Cuban team that negotiated the normalization of relations with the U.S. (DeLaurentis declined to comment, referring questions about the Havana incidents to the State Department.) Vidal was joined by other officials from the Interior Ministry, which controls the country’s foreign-intelligence and internal-security apparatus. The Cuban security officials questioned DeLaurentis about the incidents, what the diplomats had experienced, what symptoms they had suffered and what other circumstances might shed light on the episode, officials said.

On Feb. 23, less than a week after the U.S. démarche to the Cuban government, DeLaurentis accompanied two visiting U.S. senators, Richard Shelby of Alabama and Patrick Leahy of Vermont, to see President Raúl Castro at the Palace of the Revolution. During the conversation, officials said, Castro mentioned that he had something to discuss with the chargé, and when the meeting concluded, he asked DeLaurentis to stay behind. During what officials described as a fairly brief but substantive conversation, Castro made it clear that he was well aware of the incidents and understood that the Americans saw them as a serious problem. His response, one State Department official said, was “We should work together to try to solve it.”

Read more: More US diplomats are allegedly being attacked by these weird weapons in Cuba

The Americans’ meetings with Cuban diplomatic and security officials continued. The Cubans said they would bolster security around the homes of American diplomats, adding police patrols and installing closed-circuit television cameras in some areas. In a more unusual step, the Cubans also allowed a team of FBI investigators to come to Havana to investigate for themselves, building on improvements in the law-enforcement relationship that were formalized with a bilateral agreement in late 2016. (An FBI spokeswoman said the bureau would not comment on details of the investigation.)

From the start, U.S. officials were themselves reluctant to share information with Havana about the incidents. The Cubans asked to interview the Americans identified as victims; the State Department refused. The Cubans asked for detailed medical information about their injuries; the State Department demurred, citing privacy concerns. “You could not rule out” the Cuban government’s possible involvement in the incidents, one department official said. “When you are dealing with a possible perpetrator, one is careful.”

While the first embassy staff members were sent to be evaluated by specialists at the University of Miami’s Miller School of Medicine, officials in Washington also began to look more widely at what might be causing their symptoms. Initially, U.S. intelligence officials hypothesized that either the Cuban government or some other foreign regime — possibly with Cuban participation — had created a new kind of Long-range Acoustic Device, or L-Rad, enabling them to somehow focus and direct powerful sonic waves of the sort that are used by police agencies to disperse crowds, or by cargo ships to drive away pirates.

But the physics were puzzling to experts inside and outside of government. The incidents had mostly taken place at night, inside victims’ homes. Whatever sonic or directed-energy weapon was used seemed to have penetrated walls and windows. Yet others living in the immediate vicinity apparently heard nothing out of the ordinary. With known L-Rad technology, sound waves generally radiate out from the device. No one seemed to understand how it could be focused in an almost laser-like fashion and still penetrate hard surfaces.

After a lull of several weeks, the incidents began again — and there were more of them. One woman was struck in her apartment. Other diplomats were hit in their homes in the western suburbs. The differing circumstances only complicated the picture, but the effects of the phenomenon became clearer: The first patients examined in the U.S. were all found to have concrete medical symptoms, and in the case of the younger man, they were fairly serious.

On Friday, March 24, the diplomat who had first heard the noises in his backyard around Thanksgiving encountered the younger man at work and heard about his frightening diagnosis in Miami. Doctors said the man had serious damage to the small bones inside one of his ears, among other issues, and would need to wear a hearing aid. The next Monday, he played the diplomat a recording of the noise with which he had been targeted. The diplomat was stunned: It sounded much like the noises that he and his family had heard from their garden for several months.

A day later, the diplomat went to see DeLaurentis in the spacious, fifth floor ambassadorial suite that looks out over the Malecón, officials familiar with the episode said. The diplomat explained that he, too, had been exposed to strange sounds that seemed similar to what the younger man had experienced. DeLaurentis said he and others who knew about the incidents believed they were confined to a “small universe of people” whom the Cubans probably suspected of doing intelligence work, whether they were CIA officers or not. The diplomat wasn’t reassured, and he suggested that others would not be, either. “You need to call a meeting,” the diplomat told DeLaurentis. “The rumor mill is going mad.'”

The next day, March 29, DeLaurentis gathered about four dozen members of the embassy’s American staff — everyone in the building who had a security clearance. This time, after surrendering their cell phones, they crowded into a windowless conference room that had been outfitted as a Sensitive Compartmented Information Facility, or SCIF (pronounced “skiff.”) It had already been more than a month since DeLaurentis delivered his formal complaint to the Cuban government, but most of the people in the room were hearing about the incidents for the first time.

According to three officials who attended the meeting, DeLaurentis calmly laid out the basic details of what some of the diplomats had experienced. There was much they still did not understand about what had happened and who might be behind it, he said, but investigations were underway, and the Cuban authorities were taking steps they had promised to increase the diplomats’ security. He encouraged anyone who thought they might have been exposed, or who had any information that could be relevant to contact him or speak with the embassy’s security officer. Medical specialists were available to examine anyone who showed signs of a problem.

If DeLaurentis was hoping to calm his troops, he appears to have been only modestly successful. Part of the problem, diplomats said, was that he concluded the meeting by asking the assembled staff to avoid talking about the situation outside the secure confines of the embassy, even with their families. Although the matter was still classified, that request struck at least some of them as unreasonable, even outrageous. “We thought that was nuts,” said one official who attended the meeting. “There were family members who were attacked at home. How could we not tell them to watch out for this?”

Concerns among the staff and their dependents about their health exploded. Within barely a month, diplomats reported a flurry of new incidents. By the end of April, more than 80 diplomats, family members and other personnel — a very high proportion for a mission that included about 55 American staff — had asked to be checked out by the Miami medical team. That group was led by an ear, nose and throat specialist, Dr. Michael E. Hoffer, who has worked extensively with military veterans who suffered vestibular trauma from explosions and fighting in Afghanistan and Iraq. Based on examinations in both Miami and Havana, it quickly identified almost a dozen new cases — nearly half the number that would eventually be confirmed.

The affected diplomats experienced a wide range of sensations: Some heard sharp, piercing noises or a cicada-like buzz. Others felt concentrated “beams” of sound or auditory vibrations like those from the half-open window of a fast-moving car. Still others heard no sound at all. According to a one-page summary of the cases that was jointly prepared for the Cuban government by the State Department’s bureaus of Medical Services and Western Hemisphere affairs, “Some voiced feeling shocked or shaken by the exposure, or awoken (sic) from sleep, and others described a more gradual onset of symptoms that continued for days to weeks afterwards.”

Amid the fear that gripped many, some embassy staff came forward saying they might have heard or felt similar phenomena, but were found after being interviewed not to require medical attention. Among the first 20 people examined by specialists in Havana and Miami, nine were found to have no discernable symptoms, while nine others had “moderate” effects like headaches, nausea, tinnitus and dizziness. Only two had what were termed “the most severe” effects, including the younger man who reported the first symptoms in late December.

After another lull of a few weeks, a disturbing new incident occurred in late April at the Hotel Capri, a 19-story landmark that was once a favorite of various Mafia dons and the actor Errol Flynn. Now run by a Spanish firm, the hotel was one of several used by the U.S. Embassy to put up diplomats and official visitors. Around April 21, an embassy staffer who was staying there during renovations on his apartment was shaken at night by a piercing noise in his room. A day or two later, an American doctor who had just flown in with the University of Miami team experienced a similar phenomenon. Both men had rooms with relatively large windows, an official said, yet other guests apparently nearby heard nothing.

This time, the embassy responded to the Cubans more vehemently. The diplomats who had been affected earlier had been living in their homes for some time. But the two new Americans who reported being struck were in hotel rooms that were presumably known only to a small number of U.S. and Cuban officials, and the hotel staff. The doctor had just arrived on the island a day or two earlier. “Who knew that he was there?” DeLaurentis demanded of the Cuban foreign ministry, according to one official familiar with the exchange. “The U.S. government. And the Cuban government.”

Within the Trump administration, anger over the incidents grew. On May 20, Cuba’s independence day, the president issued a statement warning that “cruel despotism cannot extinguish the flame of freedom in the hearts of Cubans.” Three days later, the State Department expelled two Cuban diplomats in Washington who had been identified by the U.S. as spies. The expulsions were not made public, and no word of the acoustic mystery in Havana leaked to the news media. Yet even as diplomats and law-enforcement officials from the two countries continued to collaborate on the investigation in a limited, low-key way, the relationship veered back toward confrontation.

The Trump administration was by then finalizing plans to undo Obama’s rapprochement. Exactly what it would roll back to was uncertain; Trump suggested that the Cubans had gotten off easy on human rights, but he offered no particular rebuttal to the argument made by State Department officials and others in the government that greater engagement with Cuba was the most effective way to promote economic and eventually political liberalization there. Some American business groups and more moderate Cuban-American political groups also pushed for continued engagement. But in a new administration that had not filled senior Latin America posts at the State Department or on the NSC staff, many officials said there was a vacuum of policy leadership on the issue.

Related: These Marines lowered the flag at the US Embassy in Cuba 54 years ago. Now they’ll raise it again.

That vacuum was filled above all by the former campaign rival whom Trump had disparaged as “Little Marco.” Starting soon after the administration’s first closed-door intelligence briefing to Congress on the Havana incidents, Rubio pushed for a tougher response, officials said, and also advocated a series of hardline proposals to the broader Cuba policy. The White House “asked for my input on basically every issue in Latin America and the Western Hemisphere and … we’ve been engaged with them and they’ve been very open,” Senator Rubio told McClatchy newspapers. “In some ways, the fact that they didn’t come in with preconceived ideas of what to do has created the space for that debate to occur.”

On June 16, Trump traveled to Miami to announce he was “canceling the last administration’s completely one-sided deal with Cuba.” Although the changes fell short of that, Trump ordered government agencies to revise regulations on travel and business to prohibit any transactions with hotels, restaurants, stores and other companies tied to the large tourism and business operations of the Cuban military. Americans other than Cuban-Americans would not be allowed to travel on their own for general tourism purposes, but only with organized educational and other groups on pre-set itineraries. Any further improvements in the bilateral relationship, Trump said, would be contingent on human rights improvements in Cuba. “Now that I am president,” Trump promised, “we will expose the crimes of the Castro regime!”

In Havana, the diplomat who had first heard the noises in his garden was sent off to Miami in early April for medical testing with a cluster of other embassy personnel. He and his wife would return only to pack their things. Before leaving Cuba, though, he stopped to say goodbye at the home of one of his Canadian neighbors and tell him a bit about why they had to leave. The Canadian diplomat was worried: His family had been hearing similar sounds, he said. Could they have caused a mysterious nosebleed his son had suffered? Or headaches his wife had had?

In late April, DeLaurentis had invited over a small group of ambassadors from countries closely allied with the U.S. — Canada, Britain, France and others — to let them know what had been happening to his staff and ask if anyone else had experienced something similar. Other than one report from a French diplomat that was quickly discounted, the only significant response came from the embassy of Canada. In early May, the Canadian ambassador, Patrick Parisot, gathered the 18 diplomats on his staff to relay the Americans’ warning and ask if anyone had heard strange noises or suffered unusual illness. Several people reported back, a Canadian official said, including one (apparently the American diplomat’s neighbor) who said he had heard strange noises in his garden back in March.

As at the American embassy, fears about what was happening spread quickly through the Canadian staff. In all, 27 Canadian diplomats, spouses and children, representing 10 of the embassy’s families, sought medical attention. Of those, eight people from five families — including two children — would be diagnosed with symptoms that were milder than those of almost all the American patients: nosebleeds, dizziness, headaches and insomnia. All would recover fairly quickly.

In general, a Canadian official involved with the case said, the experience that triggered the Canadian diplomats’ symptoms was quite different from those reported by the Americans. In addition to the Canadian diplomat who said he had heard noises in his garden, members of another diplomatic family reported one day in June that they had heard a sudden, twanging sound, like a piece of sheet metal being waved; one family member later became ill. But the other six Canadians who were sickened did not hear or experience anything similar.

“In most cases, there weren’t really attacks that we could point to,” the Canadian official said. “The American experience was all about acoustic events and people feeling ill, and we had people feeling ill with limited connections to acoustic events.”

The Canadian foreign ministry also managed the issue very differently from the Americans, avoiding any criticism of the Cuban government. The ministry said it had no plans to reduce diplomatic staffing levels in Havana, and it quickly replaced the three embassy families that chose to return home because of the problem. The government also said the Royal Canadian Mounted Police had received all the assistance it asked of the Cuban government. “The Cubans are pretty attached to the 1.2 million Canadian tourists who come to Cuba every year, so they’ve got a pretty strong incentive to nip this in the bud,” the official said. “They’ve been very proactive in trying to help us.”

However, the Canadian police have made virtually no real progress in their investigation, the official said, despite help from both the Cuban security forces and the FBI. After consulting with intelligence and technology experts, U.S. and Canadian security officials have recommended that diplomats and their families move away as quickly as possible from any unusual sound they might hear. The U.S. embassy also handed out high-frequency recorders so diplomats could record the noises, and relocated some of them from homes where the sounds or vibrations had been felt repeatedly.

The FBI investigative team, which has included members of a Miami-based unit that investigates crimes against U.S. citizens in Latin America, has visited Cuba four times since May. The group has interviewed diplomats and other officials of both countries, examined the homes and hotels where incidents took place, and conducted other inquiries. Their assessments have fed into elaborate matrices comparing the physical circumstances of the reported incidents with the sensations that the Americans described and the medical problems they later suffered. They also contributed to the still-secret report of the bureau’s Operational Technology Division on Jan. 4 that concluded that the Americans’ symptoms were not caused by some type of sonic device. (A State Department diplomatic security official, Todd Brown, said the investigators are still considering the possibility that sound was used to mask some other harmful agent or technology.)

The Havana investigation has also involved a wide range of U.S. scientific and technological agencies, including the CIA’s Directorate of Science and Technology and the Pentagon’s Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency. But officials said it is not clear that any of those have made significant progress, either. In addition to ultrasonic and infrasonic technologies, they have examined other directed-energy technologies. Some inquiry has also focused on the possible use of microwaves, harking back to the Moscow Signal, an episode from the 1970s in which Soviet intelligence beamed microwave signals into the U.S. embassy in Moscow to activate a passive receiver hidden in the office of the United States ambassador, officials said. Americans in the embassy were later reported to have been sickened by the phenomenon, but their symptoms did not closely resemble those suffered by diplomats in Cuba.

In interviews, former U.S. intelligence officers said they were also skeptical of the idea that the U.S. diplomats in Cuba might have been subjected to some new surveillance effort gone awry. Because the Cubans have always kept close tabs on American diplomats in Havana, they said, the security forces generally know they have little to fear from the recruitment or intelligence-gathering efforts of American spies stationed on the island. The intelligence experts also noted that the monitoring of diplomats at home is a labor-intensive task that would likely be reserved for the most important targets.

“In my experience, those operations at residences mean you end up sifting through a lot of trash,” said Charles S. (Sam) Faddis, a former senior CIA operations officer. “The product you get is filled with extraneous noise, daily life, every marital disagreement, the sounds of the TV, the kids, the dog. It seems like a lot of effort for that kind of target.”

Among the scientists whom the FBI team has sought out was Allen Sanborn, a biologist at Barry University in Miami Shores, Florida, who has spent 30 years studying cicada populations in Latin America and elsewhere. Dr. Sanborn said that while cicadas do make very loud noises, “it’s doubtful they could cause injury in Cuba because of the size and species.” He estimated that the Cuban cicada could reach a deafening 95 decibels at a distance of about 20 inches, but emphasized that the sound-pressure level would drop six decibels with every doubling distance. So, at 40 inches away, the sound intensity would fall to 89 decibels, and at 80 inches it would fall to 83 decibels, and so on. “It wouldn’t really hurt you unless it was shoved into your ear canal,” he said in an interview.

The four FBI agents who came to Dr. Sanborn’s home for the interview asked him a series of questions about insect calls in general and cicadas in particular. Then, they asked him to listen to about a dozen recordings made by American diplomats in Havana who had experienced what they thought at the time was some type of sonic attack. Some were shorter, some longer, Dr. Sanborn said, but all were about the same frequency and seemed to be the same sort of sound. He cautioned that the recordings were not of an extremely high quality, but he offered the agents his best judgement.

“The three possibilities are crickets, cicadas and katydids,” he said. “They sounded to me like cicadas.”

Dr. Sanborn said he gave the agents a couple of academic papers he has written that include analyses of the temporal patterns and spectral frequency of various cicada calls, but has not heard from them again.

Only the medical side of the investigation has produced somewhat more conclusive results. In early July, the State Department’s medical services bureau assembled a panel of neurological, otolaryngological and other experts to review the medical files of the Havana patients. The physicians allowed that at least some of what the diplomats had experienced could have come from other sources, including “viral illnesses, previous head trauma, aging, and even stress,” Dr. Rosenfarb said. But, he added, the experts’ consensus was that “the patterns of injuries that had so far been noted were most likely related to trauma from a non-natural source.”

There had been no new attacks since April, although some of those affected only reported their symptoms weeks or months later. But then, around Aug. 21, two more incidents were reported, at least one of them at the Hotel Nacional, a fortress of 1930s luxury not far from the Capri. Shortly after doctors confirmed on Sept. 1 that the two patients showed symptoms associated with the incidents, the State Department put the Havana mission on a “voluntary departure” status, allowing any of those serving there to leave with their families. The reason the department gave for the order was the impending Hurricane Irma, which raged across the north coast of the Island a few days later.

But many of those who left temporarily would not return, or would go back only to gather their belongings. In a sweeping, punitive action on Sept. 29, the State Department ordered home 24 of the 47 diplomats assigned to Havana, including all of those with families. It effectively shut down the embassy’s consular section except for emergency services. The department then ordered 15 more Cuban diplomats to leave Washington, including some involved in visa-processing and commercial affairs.

The department still did not accuse the Cuban government of direct involvement in what it called the Havana “attacks.” But it warned Americans not to travel to the island in terms more ominous than those sometimes used for some countries wracked by political upheaval, and caveats it offered about the continuity of diplomatic relations were quickly lost in the surging rhetoric. “There is no way that someone could carry out these number of attacks, with that kind of technology, without the Cubans knowing about it,” asserted Senator Rubio, who had again been urging a more forceful response. “They either did it, or they know who did it.”

The Cubans, Trump declared, “did some very bad things.”

President Donald Trump. (DoD photo by Tech. Sgt. Brigitte N. Brantley)

It was a script that the Cuban government seemed to recognize. The foreign minister, Bruno Rodríguez, who had earlier called Trump’s Miami speech in June “a grotesque spectacle,” emphasized one point above others: The United States had presented no evidence whatsoever that the Cubans had done anything but try to help investigate the problem. Although the United States has suggested that Cuba have failed to live up to its responsibilities to protect foreign diplomats under the Vienna Conventions, Cuban officials have emphasized that Washington has not cited any specific actions the Cuban government has failed to take toward that end.

“Cuba has taken absolutely no measures at all against the United States,” Rodríguez said, referring to American sanctions. “It does not discriminate against its companies. It invites its citizens to visit us, promotes dialogue and bilateral cooperation.” The actions taken by the United States, he added, “can only benefit the sinister interests of a handful of people.”

Foreign-policy experts inside and outside the government generally agree that the Havana incidents seem to run counter to the interests of the Castro government. “The Cuban regime was not interested in antagonizing the Trump administration,” said Craig Deare, who was fired last February as the National Security Council’s senior Latin America specialist after he criticized Trump’s confrontational approach to Mexico. “It didn’t make sense to me then and it doesn’t make sense to me now.”

The diplomats’ expulsions and the travel warning, along with the earlier tightening of the embargo and the hurricane, have already cut the flow of American tourists to the island. American business activity has dropped off further, in part due to the departure of Cuban diplomats in Washington who set up meetings and processed visas. Cuban dissidents also have complained that declining tourism has badly hurt small, independent businesses like guest houses, family restaurants and the like.

The Cuban government’s own investigation into the incidents has been another central piece of its public relations counteroffensive. According to Cuban news accounts, some 2,000 people have been involved in the inquiry, in which police detectives have questioned neighbors of the diplomats (who said they did not recall hearing anything unusual), Cuban doctors (who wondered why the Americans had never sought attention for their acute problems) and their own battery of scientists and technologists.

Cuban engineers also analyzed recordings that officials said were made by the American diplomats. The engineers also concluded that the noises were at decibel levels too low to cause hearing loss — but that the primary sounds on the recordings were made by cicadas. Other Cuban scientists have suggested that the Americans’ illnesses were psychosomatic.

Despite months of scrutiny by American intelligence assets, officials said U.S. intelligence agencies have gathered virtually no secondary evidence that Cuba might have assisted directly or indirectly in attacks on the Americans. Nor is there any indication that the Cuban government has identified some rogue faction of security forces that might have wanted to undermine the rapprochement with Washington, officials said.

The idea of such a rogue element working to subvert a major government initiative has been bandied about frequently in Washington in recent months. Although the inner workings of the Castro regime have always been somewhat opaque to outsiders, many longtime analysts of the Cuban politics are skeptical. “It’s hugely ironic that the rogue faction theory is coming from exactly the same people who say the Cuban government knows absolutely everything that’s going on in the country,” Armstrong, the former senior CIA analyst, said. “But there has never been any evidence of rogue factions working outside the system.” He recalled that in the one case that perhaps came closest — the show-trial conviction of several influential military and intelligence officers for drug trafficking and other crimes in 1989 — there was even some circumstantial evidence that the illicit activities had been tolerated by superiors.

Other than a few wildly far-fetched possibilities — North Korean agents running around Havana, or perhaps a secret team of Venezuelan spies subverting their own government’s closest ally — that would seem to leave only Russia. For Moscow, helping to derail the hard-won entente between Washington and Havana might constitute a geopolitical masterstroke, some U.S. officials said. It would fit into the Kremlin’s aggressive campaign to undermine its western adversaries, using everything from espionage operations to election cyberattacks. Russia also has a long history of harassing American diplomats, a pattern that has intensified in Moscow since 2014, said Andrew Foxall, director of the Russia Studies Center at the Henry Jackson Society, a London think tank.

After some years of Cuban hostility following the Soviet Union’s collapse and Russia’s withdrawal of the vast subsidies it had provided for decades, the Kremlin has made new efforts to solidify the two countries’ strategic bond. Russia has helped to offset the loss of Venezuelan oil imports with 1.9 million barrels of fuel (estimated to be worth $105 million at discounted rates), and Russian exports to Cuba nearly doubled last year. In December, Raúl Castro received the head of the Russian state energy giant Rosneft, stirring speculation that a major oil-exploration or supply deal might be in the works. The two countries’ security relationship has also grown. In December of 2016, just as the incidents affecting U.S. personnel began, Russia and Cuba signed a new agreement on defense and technology cooperation.

Related: The Cuban Missile Crisis: 13 days that almost ended the world

Along with a possible motive, the Russians might have the technological means — or at least the capacity to have plausibly developed a directed-energy weapon that U.S. scientists could not identify. Yet by now, officials said, intelligence analysts would also have expected to have culled from electronic intercepts of overseas conversations at least some secondary evidence that the Russians might be involved — suspicious telephone or email conversations, suggestive messages, movements of Russian agents — something. But officials said they have found virtually nothing that would constitute real evidence. They also wonder whether Russia would risk its growing relationship with Cuba by carrying out an operation that could undermine the island’s most important diplomatic initiative in decades.

Even if Russia had developed some new and compact directed-energy weapon that could have been used to attack the American diplomats, there would still have been extremely complex logistical challenges to its deployment. Russian agents would presumably have had to locate at least two dozen American diplomats in Havana, reach them covertly and repeatedly, and in some of the most heavily policed areas of what many consider a police state. Nor have intelligence agencies documented tests of a similar weapon on some other target, or signs that Russia might have moved agents into Cuba to carry out such an operation.

In the continuing absence of any real evidence of how the Americans were stricken, the Trump administration appears to have no easy path forward. About 10 of the diplomats and spouses continue to undergo vestibular and neurological rehabilitation, both in Washington and at the University of Pennsylvania’s Perelman School of Medicine. Some have moved on to new jobs in Washington or overseas, or have been kept busy in the Western Hemisphere Affairs bureau with such tasks as processing Freedom of Information Act requests or handling employment applications with the human resources staff, officials said.

By March 4, the State Department will have to decide whether to make the withdrawal of the diplomats a permanent reduction in staff. An internal department document obtained by ProPublica also suggests that the slowdown of consular activity may make it difficult for the United States to meet its commitment to processing at least 20,000 immigrant visas for Cubans this year, an annual target that is important to Cuban-Americans seeking to bring relatives from the island. American diplomats — including some of those forced to leave Havana — also say that the department has also reduced its ability to see, understand and perhaps influence what is happening in Cuba at a potentially historic transition point.

“Our diplomats want to go back,” one American official who has been extensively briefed on the developments in Havana said. “But if you can’t get to the bottom of this situation, how does that happen?”

MIGHTY TACTICAL

Russia announces a new plane that might already be obsolete

The CEO of the Russian MiG corporation said on Aug. 17, 2018, that work on an experimental design for a MiG-41 fifth-generation interceptor will begin “in the immediate future.”

“No, this is not a mythical project, this is a long-standing project for the MiG and now we are carrying out intensive work under the aegis of the [the United Aircraft Corporation] and will present it to the public soon,” Ilya Tarasenko said, according to TASS, a Russian state-owned media outlet.


The MiG-41, or Prospective Aviation Complex of Long-Range Interception, would be the successor to the speedy fourth-generation MiG-31 interceptor, which was known to have chased away SR-71 Blackbirds.

Tarasenko, who previously claimed that the MiG-41 would be able to “operate in space,” a highly unlikely prospect, also said that the MiG-41s are expected to start being delivered to the Russia military in the mid-2020s.

But Vasily Kashin, a Russian defense analyst at Moscow’s Higher School of Economics, told The National Interest in 2017 that he thought the MiG-41 wouldn’t fly until the mid-2020s, and wouldn’t be delivered to the Russian Air Force until 2035-2040.

An SR-71B “Blackbird” over the Sierra Nevada Mountains of California in 1994.

“I don’t hold out much hope for an even less proven design concept to make it into series production anytime soon,” Justin Bronk, a combat-aviation expert at the Royal United Services Institute, told Business Insider in an email.

“The Mig-31BM is already a highly capable interceptor platform and there are plans for a second modernisation upgrade of what is a relatively new aircraft for a very specific Russian territorial defence requirement,” Bronk said.

And given that the T-14 Armata tank and Su-57 stealth fighter “have had series production cancelled recently,” Bronk said, “my take is, ‘I’ll believe it when I see it,’ and will remain extremely skeptical until that point.”

But “never say never I suppose,” Bronk added.

Richard L. Aboulafia, Vice President of Analysis at Teal Group, told Business Insider that Tarasenko’s announcement “keeps the idea alive, and you never know, even a chance in a 100 is better than no chance at all.”

“It also, of course, doesn’t hurt in sales campaigns for current generation planes, like the [MiG-29SM],” Aboulafia said. “In other words, people don’t like buying fighter planes from a company with no future.”

Aboulafia also said that the idea of creating a pure next-generation interceptor is like “living in the past” since surface-to-air missiles “are generally a better way of intercepting things.”

This article originally appeared on Business Insider. Follow @BusinessInsider on Twitter.

Articles

13 funniest memes for the week of Oct. 7

For all of you who still have the Internet, here are the 13 funniest military memes we could find. For those of you who have lost the Internet to Hurricane Matthew, get out there and get it back. You signed for that Internet.


1. He might not be able to find where he’s supposed to put it, but he will still definitely set it off (via Devil Dog Nation).

There’s always something that needs blowing up.

2. You must reach a perfect spiritual center before you are ready to eviscerate the enemy and leave their entrails hanging from trees (via Military Memes).

3. Travel all over the planet to find new and exciting decks to sweep (via Military Memes).

You never notice how much of the Earth is water until you sail in it for months on end.

ALSO SEE: 5 things we’d love to do with the Army’s surplus battleship ammo

4. This is why scratching your face is an important part of pre-formation checks, pre-formation inspections (via The Salty Soldier).

Maybe someone in 4th squad will switch spots with you.

5. Be sure to pack plenty of sunscreen (via The Senior Specialist).

Everyone needs to give up their ponchos to protect the crew-served weapons.

6. Maybe the clown can make you a good balloon rifle or sword (via Pop Smoke).

At least get yourself a nice puppy to play with on the way home.

7. Seriously, man. Skating is only funny when you’re not blue falconing your buddies (via Decelerate Your Life).

Stop being the other guy.

8. This is how you retain your humanity while fighting terrorists (via Military Memes).

You turn each artillery round into a personalized experience.

9. See, this is why it was better when a “trip to the woodline” was an actual trip to the woodline (via What the piss, trainee?).

No one had to fill out paperwork, and no one had to worry about their promotion paperwork.

10. Man, Hurricane Matthew has really expanded the port possibilities for the Navy (via Sh-t my LPO says).

Might be able to pull the sub right up to the DFAC if anyone needs chow during the tour.

11. Get them nice and sweaty, then nice and clean (via Military Memes).

Just don’t let sergeant major see you using his grass for corrective training.

12. It’s a trap! (via Team Non-Rec)

Ain’t no party like a Marine Corps party ’cause a Marine Corps party don’t stop.

13. These sticks can go anywhere (via Military Memes).

Just keep a good mental map of where each one is.