According to reports, two Russian Mig-29 Fulcrums have been shot down over Libya throughout the recent months of fighting, though the Russian government has yet to acknowledge these losses.
In May, Sandboxx News covered the presence of 14 Russian military aircraft deployed to Libya in support of Russian-backed mercenaries fighting on behalf of General Khalifa Haftar. Haftar’s forces, alongside Russia’s state-sponsored mercenaries, have been engaged in a civil war with Libya’s formally recognized Government of National Accord, led by Prime Minister Fayez al-Sarraj.
Russian fighter jets were recently deployed to Libya in order to support Russian state-sponsored private military contractors (PMCs) operating on the ground there. (U.S. Africa Command)
The Kremlin denied transferring any aircraft to Libya in support of the Wagner Group or General Khalifa Haftar, and rumors were floated online that maybe Libya had simply managed to repair and refit a group of older jet platforms. Those rumors, however, seem to have been intentional misinformation.
“Libyans never had MiG-29s or Su-24s in their inventory, so anyone who says they ‘fixed their old planes’ is not representing the facts.” -Col. Chris Karns, U.S. Africa Command’s (AFRICOM) Director of Public Affairs
Russia has opted to utilize the Wagner Group in Libya just as they have in other war-torn regions like Syria. By utilizing mercenary forces, the Russian government is able to stay one step removed from having to take responsibility for the actions of their troops on foreign soil.
When Russian mercenaries from the same Wagner Group engaged a group of around 40 American Special Forces troops alongside Syrian Democratic Forces in Syria in 2018, the Russians suffered brutal losses, with the mercenaries eventually having to retreat under American air strikes only to return to collect their dead later. No Americans were injured in the battle, but estimates of Russian mercenaries killed reach as high as 400. After the incident, the Russian government claimed no knowledge or affiliation with the Russian forces that took part in the attack, claiming they were all there independently in support of Bashar al Assad’s Syrian regime.
Now, reports are beginning to emerge that indicate not one, but two Russian Mig-29s have been shot down in the months since we first discussed their arrival in Libya, and in keeping with the Kremlin’s policy of pretending they aren’t involved, the Russian government has yet to acknowledge these incidents, despite details finding their way onto social media.
The video does not indicated what type of aircraft the pilot ejected from, nor does it offer any clues as to what forced his ejection. The aircraft may have been shot down by Government of National Accord forces, or the Soviet-era aircraft may have suffered a mechanical failure. Because we know that the Wagner Group brought in both Mig-29s and Su-24s, it seems likely that this pilot ejected from one of those platforms, and because the Su-24 is a two-seater and there are no other personnel present, it seems likely that this footage was captured by a Mig-29 pilot.
The Mikoyan MiG-29 (NATO designator Fulcrum) is a single seat, twin engine air superiority fighter developed by the Soviet Union in the late 1970s to serve as a direct competitor to America’s premier intercept fighter at the time, the F-15 Eagle. In the years since, Mig-29s have been updated to serve as highly capable fourth generation multi-role fighters capable of engaging ground targets and serving in an air support role.
Mig-29 (WikiMedia Commons)
It’s believed that these aircraft are not being piloted by active Russian military pilots, but rather by Wagner Group personnel, which has prompted serious concerns that these fighters will not be beholden to international law.
“USAFRICOM stated in the press release that ‘there is concern that these Russian aircraft are being flown by inexperienced, non-state [Wagner Group] mercenaries who will not adhere to international law; namely, they are not bound by the traditional laws of armed conflict.'” -Lead Inspector General for East Africa And North And West Africa Counterterrorism Operations report.
While it isn’t yet clear if either of these Mig-29s were shot down, it’s certainly possible. While the Mig-29 is a fast and fairly acrobatic Cold War fighter, it lacks any stealth capability and is likely being used in a close air support role in Libya. That means these aircraft are likely flying low, and if the Wagner pilots aren’t particularly well trained, they would have difficulty dodging anti-aircraft or surface to air missile fire.
Magpul officials are challenging a recent Army safety message that states that the Gen M3 PMAG polymer magazine breaks in extreme cold weather conditions.
U.S. Army TACOM Life Cycle Management Command Maintenance Information Message 17-045 states that “tests demonstrate PMAG magazines crack/break in cold (below 0 degrees Fahrenheit) environments when dropped and units should use Army-standard aluminum magazines in basic to severe cold environments.”
But Magpul Vice President Duane Liptak argues that the Gen M3 – the latest version of the PMAG that has been adopted by the U.S. Marine Corps and the Air Force – will continue to function more reliably than the Army’s new aluminum Enhanced Performance Magazine after drop tests at minus 60 degrees Fahrenheit.
“We strongly feel that there is either an error in their test methodology or their criteria for what they are considering pass/fail,” Liptak told Military.com recently.
“We have absolutely seen nothing from an extensive body of cold weather testing laboratory testing as well as extensive field use in arctic conditions to suggest any lack of suitability. In fact we have significant input from both fronts that it is superior to the USGI in those environments.”
The Marine Corps, U.S. Special Operations Command and the Air Force have selected the Magpul Gen M3 PMAG over the Army’s Enhanced Performance Magazine, or EPM.
But the Army has been reluctant to follow the other services and is sticking with its EPM.
Since its 2016 adoption, the Army has fielded more than 400,000 EPMs despite a 2015 U.S. Army Aberdeen Test Center report that shows the Gen M3 outperformed the EMP along with nine other commercial polymer magazines.
When developing the Gen M3, Magpul officials said one of the main goals was to pass a drop test at minus 60 degrees Fahrenheit, the U.S. Army standard for extreme cold weather.
“Negative 60 was the goal for the Gen M3,” Liptak said.
Magpul used test criteria of the Army’s Picatinny Arsenal, Liptak said.
The test involves an M4A1 loaded with a full Gen M3 PMAG after it is kept in a special chamber at minus 60 F for 72 hours, Liptak said.
“The most violent drop is the full weapon drop test; it is five feet in various orientations onto a polished concrete surface, in free-fall” Liptak said.
“It’s dropped in normal orientation which is magazine directly down, and that is the most damaging one to every magazine because that back corner hits. There are also sideways drops, a drop on the top of the rifle, a butt first drop and a nose first drop”
Liptak acknowledges that the Gen M3 PMAG will show minor cracking after the test, but it will continue to function reliably.
Apparently, Picatinny’s criteria only tests for cracking and breakages, not functioning, Liptak said.
“There was no live-fire performance qualification required so an aluminum mag bends all to Hell, binds the follower or spring, but it doesn’t crack so therefore it’s a pass,” Liptak said.
The PMAG will suffer tiny cracks, without spreading, in the floorplate, the over-travel stop and the mag catch – “all those things combined are to some extent sacrificial surfaces where they take some damage but the magazine is completely functional and that is our biggest criteria. Our thing is no matter what happens it needs to function.”
Liptack maintains that the Army’s EPM in many will be unable to function after the same drop tests.
“So what you will see is the base of the magazine will bend to a degree that impinges on the spring or the follower; sometimes the body itself will buckle sideways and that will impinge on the spring or the follower,” Liptak said.
Military.com reached out to the Army about this story but did not receive comment by deadline.
Magpul maintains that there are surfaces on the Gen M3 that are expected to have “small cracks when you drop it at minus 60, which is brutal,” Liptak said. “It’s a tough test. Like I said ‘the USGI doesn’t fair very well nor does anything else.
“Our criteria is function; the only thing we care about is function, so if the magazine fires 30 rounds after the drop it is considered a pass.”
The U.S. Army will take a hard look at Basic Combat Training to see if it’s producing soldiers that are disciplined enough for the operational force.
“In October, we are doing a complete review of the Basic Combat Training period of instruction, what we train in the 10-week red, white and blue phase,” Maj. Gen. Malcolm Frost, commanding general of the U.S. Army Center of Initial Military Training, told Military.com on Thursday.
“Are we doing things in the right sequence? Are we doing things we don’t need to be doing? Should we have more redundancy in some of the basic things the operational force expects?”
The top two things commanders in the operational force want to see in new soldiers is discipline and physical fitness, Frost said.
“Quite frankly, the operational force says ‘give me a physically fit — grounded in the basics of weapons proficiency, fitness, etc. — and a disciplined soldier and we’ll train the rest,” Frost said.
The review will focus on weapons proficiency, physical fitness, communications proficiency and medical proficiency.
“We are going to look at this from the foundation of shoot, move, communicate, treat … the basic four things every soldier needs,” Frost said, adding that discipline, warrior ethos, ethics, values and teamwork will also be of key importance.
As far as other training goes “we have to ask ourselves why are we doing this if it is not creating that foundational soldier … that is fit that is proficient with their weapon, can communicate with communications gear and have some basic medical proficiency,” Frost said.
For instance, Frost said, right now for weapons proficiency and marksmanship the graduation standard is for soldiers to understand how to zero and qualify with the Close Combat Optic.
“Is that really right or should a soldier be able to zero and qualify on iron sights? Because you don’t know what type of optic they are going to get.”
Maj. Gen. Pete Johnson who commands the Army Training Center at Fort Jackson, South Carolina, will lead the review.
“He is the only two-star that is the closest to soldiers every day in this environment,” Frost said. “He is there at Fort Jackson with two brigades and their entire mission is Basic Combat Training.”
The findings of the review will have to go up the chain of command before anything is approved, Frost said.
“We want to make sure that they are grounded in those basics,” Frost said, emphasizing the basics of shoot, move, communicate and perform basic first aid.
“If they can do those things, then that is what we want to deliver to the operational force and that is what they are asking for.”
On the morning of July 6, 2020, Country Music Hall of Famer and Grand Ole Opry member Charlie Daniels died at the age of 83 after suffering a hemorrhagic stroke. Aside from his own band, Daniels played with other music legends like Lynyrd Skynyrd and Bob Dylan.
Daniels was a highly-skilled fiddle player.
Daniels was born on October 28, 1936, in Wilmington, North Carolina. His musical upbringing consisted of Pentecostal gospel and local bluegrass, rhythm blues and country music. By the time he graduated high school in 1955, Daniels had become adept at playing the guitar, fiddle, banjo and mandolin. After high school, Daniels moved to Nashville to pursue his music career.
Most famous for his fiddle-sawing, number-one country hit, The Devil Went Down to Georgia, Daniels also co-wrote It Hurts Me with friend and producer Bob Johnston, which was later recorded by Elvis Presley. It took Daniels a little more time to get his own big break.
Daniels’ first hit, Uneasy Rider, was off of his third album, Honey in the Rock, and peaked at No. 9 on the Billboard Top 100. During this time, he continued to play fiddle for other acts like Marshall Tucker Band and Barefoot Jerry.
In 1979, Daniels won the Grammy Award for Best Country Vocal Performance for The Devil Went Down to Georgia, which reached No. 3 on the Billboard Top 100 in September of that year. The song became Daniels’ most iconic and continues to be played regularly on classic rock and country music radio stations across the country.
Though Daniels never served in the military, he was a strong supporter of the men and women of the armed forces, having played multiple USO Tours for troops overseas. Charlie Daniels Band even released an album called Live from Iraq in 2007. The album was recorded during the band’s 2006 USO tour of Iraq. Daniels was also a supporter of numerous charities, including The Journey Home Project, which aims to help returning veterans adjust to civilian life. “Only two things protect America,” Daniels often said. “The grace of almighty God and the United States Military.”
Daniels’ hit, The Devil Went Down to Georgia, has also become a popular song for fiddle players to cover and demonstrate their skills. One such player named Paddy was covering the song at his bar, Paddy’s Irish Public House, in Fayetteville, North Carolina in early 2007. The establishment was frequented by a Fort Bragg soldier who was there that evening.
It was a slow night and the soldier took no notice of the older man sitting next to him at the bar. As Paddy sawed away and recounted the tale of the battle between the young fiddle player and the Devil, the old man began to chuckle. “This is my song,” he said.
“Yeah, I love this song too.” The soldier responded.
“No, this is MY song!” The old man said with a grin.
“Holy crap! You’re Charlie Daniels!” The soldier was amazed at the country music legend’s presence in the bar. “Hey Paddy!” The soldier called out. “How ’bout letting Charlie here play?”
Similarly amazed at Daniels’ presence in his bar, Paddy gladly gave up his fiddle for the legend to play. That night, Daniels gave a hard-played and passionate performance for a small, but incredibly appreciative audience. In fact, Daniels played so hard at Paddy’s that he broke two of the man’s bows sawing away at the fiddle. It was intimate performances like this that Daniels enjoyed the most. His patriotism and passion for music will be greatly missed.
By now, everybody has seen the picture. A tan dog in a tactical vest, sitting up at the position of attention, perky ears framing a black face. The mouth wide open, the tongue hanging out the side of the mouth, the dog looks happy, almost goofy.
This is the dog that chased down ISIS leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi this past weekend, leading to al-Baghdadi’s death when he detonated a suicide vest he was wearing. The dog was injured in the blast, but has since returned to duty. Assigned to Delta Force, the dog’s identity is classified, even as the dog is being hailed as a hero, with the picture shared on Twitter by President Donald Trump, who called it Conan.
Read on to find out what we know about this dog.
U.S. Marine military working dog Argo rides into the ocean on a combat rubber raiding craft at Red Beach.
(US Marine Corps photo by Lance Cpl. Andrew Cortez)
They are the special forces of military working dogs, attached to special operations forces, such as the Navy SEALS and Army Rangers. Trained to find explosives, chase down human targets, and detect hidden threats, these Multi-Purpose Canines, or MPCs, are also trained to rappel out of helicopters, parachute out of airplanes, and conduct amphibious operations on Zodiac boats. Highly skilled, an MPC named Cairo even assisted in the raid that killed Osama bin Laden in 2011.
These dogs are specially selected and trained to handle the most stressful situations while keeping their cool. In the spirit of the Marine Recon motto, these dogs are swift, silent, and deadly. Barking is forbidden. With the secretive nature of their work, much of the information regarding the selection and training of these dogs is classified.
A military working dog chases a suspect during a demonstration.
(Air Force photo by Airman 1st Class Jacob Derry)
Four times per year, a team of canine handlers, trainers, veterinarians, and other specialists from the 341st Training Squadron at Lackland Air Force Base in San Antonio Texas — the home of the Military Working Dog Program — make the trip abroad to buy dogs. They evaluate each dog to ensure that they will not have any medical issue that will prevent them from serving for at least 10 years. They perform x-rays to ensure that there is no hip or elbow dysplasia or other skeletal defects. Dogs with skin conditions, eye issues, or ear problems are ruled out.
If they pass the medical screening, they are further assessed on their temperament. Over up to 10 days, the dogs are judged on their ability to search and detect, their aggressiveness, and their trainability. While the special forces have their own programs to procure dogs, which are confidential, the traits that they look for are the same. The standards are just higher.
Caro, a five-year-old Belgian Malinois with the 96th Security Forces Squadron, stands by her handler.
(US Air Force photo by Samuel King Jr.)
This hero dog from the al-Baghdadi raid is a Belgian Malinois, one of the most popular breeds among working dogs.
This hero dog from the al-Baghdadi raid is a Belgian Malinois, one of the most popular breeds among working dogs. W
While the military uses labs, retrievers, and other breeds including a Jack Russell or two for detection, the most popular breeds of war dogs are Belgian Malinois, Dutch Shepherd, and the ever popular German Shepherd. These dogs are valued for their intelligence, trainability, work ethic, and adaptability.
The Malinois in particular is valued for its targeted aggression, speed, agility, and ability to survive in extreme heat. Handlers are known to refer to their dogs as either a “fur missile” or a “maligator.”
A Multi-Purpose Canine with U.S. Marine Corps Forces Special Operations Command (MARSOC), prepares for Zodiac boat training inserts on Camp Pendleton, Calif.
(US Marine Corps photo by Sgt. Maricela M. Bryant)
The dogs are hand selected from the best kennels in Europe and around the world, brought to the United States, and trained to the highest level.
They are taught patrolling, searching, explosive or narcotic detection, tracking, and are desensitized to the types of equipment around which they will work. They are familiarized with gunfire, rappelling out of helicopters, riding in Zodiac boats, or even skydiving. All said, the dogs and their training cost up to ,000 each. Including the highly specialized gear of MPCs, the cost can be tens of thousands of dollars higher.
Wearing bulletproof vests outfitted with lights, cameras, communications equipment, and sensors, the dogs can operate off leash, providing a real-time view to the handler while taking verbal commands through the radio.
A Multi-Purpose Canine handler with U.S. Marine Corps Forces, Special Operations Command prepares his canine for a parachute jump.
(US Marine Corps photo by Sgt. Scott Achtemeier)
Over their years of service, a multipurpose canine will conduct dozens of combat missions over multiple deployments, most of which the public will never hear about.
One of these missions resulted in the death of Maiko, a multi-purpose canine with the Army’s 75th Ranger Regiment. Leading the way into a secure compound in Afghanistan in November 2018, Maiko caused the Al Qaeda fighters to open fire, giving away their position, allowing the Rangers to eliminate the threat without injury.
A multi-purpose canine handler with U.S. Marine Corps Forces, Special Operations Command, checks for a pulse while administering medical care to a realistic canine mannequin.
(US Marine Corps photo by Cpl. Bryann K. Whitley)
When dogs are injured on the battlefield, their handlers are trained to provide first aid.
Using specially developed, highly realistic dog mannequins, the handlers are trained to treat massive bleeding, collapsed lungs, amputations, and more. The mannequins respond by whimpering and barking.
Many of the developers of this dog mannequin came from the Hollywood special effects world, working on productions like the Star Wars or Harry Potter films. The simulated dog, with its pulse and breathing responding to the treatment, costs more than ,000.
Military working dog handlers with the U.S. Army Rangers and U.S. Marine Corps Forces Special Operations Command multipurpose canine handlers fast-rope from a U.S. Navy MH-60 Seahawk helicopter.
(US Marine Corps photo by Lance Cpl. Drake Nickels)
If a dog is injured in combat or in training, or is showing signs of Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder, he can be sent to a dog hospital at Lackland Air Force Base for surgery, rehabilitation, or assessment for retirement.
While PTSD is not well understood in dogs, veterinarians, dog trainers, and specialists at Lackland Air Force Base agree that dogs show symptoms of combat stress as much as humans do. Whether they become fearful of loud noises, become more aggressive, forget how to do tasks, or decide that they don’t want to work, these dogs are rehabilitated with the goal of returning them to service. If this is not possible, the dogs are evaluated for transfer to non-combat jobs or potential retirement.
Nero proudly displays his U.S. Military Working Dog Medal during his retirement ceremony aboard Marine Corps Base Camp Pendleton, Calif. on May 21, 2018. During his five years of service, Nero served two deployments. Nero will be adopted and spend his retirement as a companion to his handler.
(US Marine Corps photo by Cpl. Bryann K. Whitley)
Before being retired, the dogs are assessed to ensure that they do not pose a risk to the public.
After up to a decade of devoted service, the goal is to let the dog live out its life on a soft bed, preferably with one of its former handlers.
This article originally appeared on Insider. Follow @thisisinsider on Twitter.
There’s a very good reason Audie Murphy is one of the most decorated veterans to every wear the US Army uniform.
Murphy was born on June 20, 1925 in Texas. His family was extremely poor, partially due to having twelve young mouths to feed. When his father abandoned the family when Audie was fifteen years old, he was forced to pick up some of the slack by hunting and doing what work he could to keep food on the table. Unfortunately, his mother died just a year after his father left.
Shortly thereafter, when the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor, Audie attempted to join the various branches of the U.S. military but was turned down in each case owing to his age and diminutive stature -five and a half feet tall (1.66 meters) and weighing only about 100 pounds (45 kg).
About seven months later, just ten days after he turned seventeen, he tried again. Having gained some weight (getting up to a whopping 112 pounds / 50.8 kg) and with falsified testimony from his sister claiming he was actually 18, this time Audie was able to get into the army. He was then shipped off to North Africa and later deployed to Sicily.
Despite his small size, Murphy proved to be a phenomenal soldier. In 1944, after witnessing the death of a friend during Operation Dragoon, he charged a group of German soldiers, took over their machine guns and other weapons, and proceeded to take out the other enemy soldiers within range using their own artillery. He was awarded a Distinguished Service Cross for his actions that day, the first of many medals.
During another battle shortly after this, to cover retreating Allied soldiers, he jumped onto a tank that had been hit and was on fire, exposing himself to the advancing enemy soldiers. Why did he put himself in such an exposed position on a tank that could potentially explode at any minute? There was a .50 caliber machine gun on the tank.
As Private Anthony Abramski said of the event,
It was like standing on top of a time bomb … he was standing on the TD chassis, exposed to enemy fire from his ankles to his head and silhouetted against the trees and the snow behind him.
Nevertheless, over the course of the next hour, he held off six German tanks and several waves of enemy soldiers, who were all trying desperately to take out the little American who was the only thing in their way at that point. He only retreated when he ran out of ammo. Once this happened, having sustained a leg wound and completely exhausted, Audie said in his book To Hell and Back,
I slide off the tank destroyer and, without once looking back, walk down the road through the forest. If the Germans want to shoot me, let them. I am too weak from fear and exhaustion to care.
Despite the leg wound, as soon as he caught up with his retreating soldiers who had now re-formed, he turned them around and managed to reclaim a stretch of forest from German occupation. According to the official report, in that battle, he killed or severely wounding at least fifty German soldiers by himself. For this act of bravery and for “indomitable courage and his refusal to give an inch of ground [saving] his company from possible encirclement and destruction…” he was awarded the U.S. Medal of Honor.
He rose through the ranks and was a captain when he was pulled out of the war in 1945. All in all, he earned 33 awards and decorations for his exemplary service during the war. He was just 20 years old at the time and, as one movie critic later put it, knew more of death than he did of life.
When Murphy returned from the war, he suffered from post-traumatic stress disorder, a condition that often went undiagnosed at the time. After being featured on the cover of Life magazine, he found himself in Hollywood without work, sleeping in rough conditions. He caught his big break in 1949 when he starred in the film Bad Boy. That same year, he released the aforementioned autobiography titled To Hell and Back, which topped the bestseller charts. He went on to star as himself in a movie with the same title in 1955; it was Universal’s top-grossing film for nearly 20 years until Jaws usurped it.
Acting seemed to suit him. He made no less than 44 feature films while he was in Hollywood, many of them westerns, and also filmed a 26-episode western TV series called Whispering Smith, which aired in 1961 on NBC. It was criticised for being too violent, however, and cancelled after just 20 episodes were aired.
A man of many talents, Murphy also dabbled in poetry and song-writing as well as horse breeding and racing. Thanks to his earnings from acting, he was able to purchase a ranch in Texas. He was living an incredibly comfortable life, far grander than what he had known as a child.
Yet all was not well with Murphy. Back to his post traumatic stress disorder, he became dependent on sleeping pills to combat the insomnia he experienced after the war. Realizing he had become addicted to them, he locked himself in a motel room for a week, while he worked through the withdrawal symptoms. He ended up beating the addiction and went on to break the taboo of talking about the mental disorders many soldiers suffered when they returned home. His willingness to do so opened up discussions about psychological care for veterans upon their return to the US.
Murphy ended up marrying twice, divorcing his first wife after just two years, and having two sons with his second wife. He appeared to be happy with his family, with more than enough money in the bank to keep them comfortable (though he squandered much of it on gambling in his later years); had acted in dozens of movies; and had amazing war stories to tell his grandkids about. Unfortunately, he wasn’t able to get to that stage of his life.
On May 28, 1971, Murphy was in a private plane flying on a business trip from Atlanta, Georgia to Martinsville, Virginia. The weather conditions were less than ideal: rain and fog shortened the pilot’s visibility considerably, and he had a questionable instrument rating. He called in to the Roanoke, Virginia airport to say that he would be landing shortly due to poor conditions. The plane, carrying five passengers including Murphy, never landed in the Roanoke Valley. It crashed into Brush Mountain twenty miles away, close to Blacksburg. Everyone in the crash was killed. Murphy was just 45 years old. The site of the crash has since been turned into a monument, and in the 1990s, the Appalachian Trail was rerouted to go past it.
That wasn’t quite the end for Murphy, though. After a funeral in Arlington Cemetery, where his grave remains the second most visited (after Kennedy’s), he was posthumously awarded his final medal, the Texas Legislative Medal of Honor. It was presented to his last remaining sister, Nadine Murphy, on October 29, 2013 by Governor Rick Perry.
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.
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.
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.”
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.
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 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.”
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.
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.”
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.
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?”
“At first, I wanted to jump across the table and strangle him. But then I started laughing. It was really funny, because he was the one in shackles, not me.”
This was the reaction of CIA officer Jeanne Vertefeuille upon learning that Aldrich Ames, the most damaging mole in CIA history, had once given his Soviet handlers her name when they asked what other CIA official could be framed for Ames’s own treachery.
Fortunately that strategy did not pan out, and instead Jeanne led the internal task force that ultimately brought Ames to justice. It was the pinnacle of a long and memorable career in CIA.
From Typist to Spy Catcher
Jeanne joined the CIA as a typist in 1954, and as professional opportunities for female officers slowly began to grow, she got assignments at various posts overseas. She also learned Russian and found her niche in counterintelligence.
In the spring of 1985, after an alarming number of Agency assets run against the Soviet Union disappeared in rapid succession, Jeanne received a cable from the Soviet/East European Division Chief. As she later recalled, “He said, ‘I want you to come…when you come back, I want you to work for me, and I have a Soviet problem….I want you to work on it.”
She returned to lead a five-person investigative team searching for answers as to how this troubling loss of assets happened.
The task was a long and exhaustive one, complicated by the fact that many did not believe the cause was a traitor. Among the other explanations floated was the idea that outsiders were intercepting CIA communications.
An extensive review of records ultimately yielded the answer: Ames, who was initially working in the Soviet Division counterintelligence, began spying for the USSR in 1985.
He compromised numerous Soviet assets, some of whom were executed. In exchange he received sums of money so great that, of known foreign penetrations of the US Government, he was the highest paid.
His position gave him the perfect cover, as he was authorized to meet with Soviet officers for official purposes. Yet, his extravagant lifestyle came under the task force’s suspicion in November 1989.
Catching a Spy
The breakthrough came in August 1992 when Jeanne’s colleague, Sandy Grimes, discovered Ames made large bank-account deposits after every meeting with a particular Soviet official.
The FBI took over the investigation and used surveillance to build the case against Ames.
He was arrested on February 21, 1994, with further incriminating evidence discovered in his house and on his home computer.
Ames plead guilty and is serving a life sentence in federal prison.
Jeanne had reached the mandatory retirement age in 1992 but immediately returned as a contractor to see the investigation through to its completion.
After it was all over, TimeMagazine asked Jeanne for permission to do a photo shoot. Jeanne protested that there were still members of her family who didn’t know where she worked. Nevertheless, she finally agreed.
As a former CIA Executive Director tells it: “You may have seen Jeanne staring out from a full glossy page of Time, billed as ‘the little gray-haired lady who just wouldn’t quit.’ She was holding a spy glass reflecting the image of Aldrich Ames. I can imagine some relative sitting down at the breakfast table, opening Time Magazine, and exclaiming, ‘My word, that’s Aunt Jeanne. I thought she was a file clerk or something.’
Jeanne was a true CIA icon and legend. Serving our Agency for 58 years, working until just prior to her death in 2012, she blazed a trail for women in the Directorate of Operations, beginning at a time when it was an overwhelmingly male enterprise.
Remembered as a driven, focused officer who demanded excellence and was always devoted to the mission, Jeanne’s life and the legacy she entrusted to us have forever impacted the Agency.
The film Black Hawk Down has left an indelible mark in the minds of United States military members and gun enthusiasts alike. The movie recounts the story of Operation Gothic Serpent, involving the Task Force Ranger mission on Oct. 3 and 4, 1993. Released mere months after Sept. 11, it was one of the first film depictions of urban combat in a post-Operation Desert Storm world.
Firearms for the film were provided by lead armorer Simon Atherton (whose film credits include The Killing Fields, Aliens, and Saving Private Ryan) with the assistance of U.S. Navy S.E.A.L. veteran and military film advisor Harry Humphries.
When discussing film props, the term “hero” is used to describe the main prop weapons used by the lead characters in the film. Hero props are frequently used in close-ups and often garner the most screen time, becoming publicly recognizable or sometimes iconic.
Ironically, many of the M16s and CAR-15s used on screen were actually built as an export variation of the Colt M16. Simon Atherton, Black Hawk Down lead armorer and owner of Zorg Limited, provided examples of M16s and CAR-15s used in the movie. The CAR-15, notably, was configured with components used on the backup Gary Gordon hero prop rifle.
The blank-firing M16A2 (top) was an export M16A2 from Guatemala manufactured by Colt and redressed for The Green Zone. The rubber dummy prop (bottom) was used in the production of Black Hawk Down and carries the distinctive green duct tape used to recreate the Rangers’ weapons.
The blank-firing M16A2 in these photos was, in our best estimate, used as a Third Battalion, 75th Ranger Regiment rifle. It’s nearly identical to the rifle carried by real-life Ranger Matt Eversmann, played on screen by Josh Hartnett. The Ranger M16s were ex-Guatemalan military M16A2s fitted with slings secured with green duct tape. The blank-firing M16 has been photographed, for comparison, with one of the rubber dummy rifles, still configured as used on set for Black Hawk Down.
The Guatemalan export M16A2 was configured with the M16A1 style lower emblazoned with Colt M16A2 roll marks as pictured. The fire control group markings were stamped on both sides of the lower (which is the common configurations for M16A2s) but with a BURST marking replacing the more common AUTO marking.
The rubber dummy prop M16 shows the on-screen configuration for Ranger M16s. Although the dummy’s M16A1 “slab side” lower is slightly different than the blank-firing prop — cast from a civilian Colt HBAR Sporter — it’s similar enough to pass unnoticed to most viewers.
Most CAR-15 rifles were modified M16A2 rifles. This barrel was cut to approximately 10 inches and the front sight post was moved back to accommodate the modified handguards, while retaining the traditional triangular M16A2 handguard cap.
(Photo by Jon Davey)
After receiving the M16s, Atherton’s team converted many of the ex-Guatemalan Colt M16A2s into CAR-15s. The Gordon CAR-15 blank-firing prop is the most iconic weapon in the film. Chris Atherton, Simon Atherton’s son and Zorg employee, was able to immediately locate the last known surviving Gary Gordon hero blank-firing prop CAR-15.
Master Sergeant Gary Gordon’s Colt Model 723 was represented in the film by a Guatemalan export Colt M16A2 modified into a carbine configuration similar to a Colt Model 727. The most significant visual difference between the Colt 723 and Colt 727 is in the rear sights. The Colt 723 uses an M16A1 sight, while the Colt 727 is fitted with a blockier “movable” sight.
To produce the prop, the M16’s 20-inch barrel was cut to approximately 10 inches and the front sight post was moved back. A commercial two-position buffer tube and stock were also added. A 5-inch section of the center of the M16A2 handguard was removed to construct improvised carbine handguards. As a result, the handguards have eight holes (instead of the six- or seven-hole handguards found on production 723 and 727 carbines). This rifle, and many other of Atherton’s CAR-15s, retained the triangular M16A2 handguard cap instead of the circular handguard cap found on Colt-produced carbines.
The Gordon blank-firing prop (top) is fitted with a commercial stock and fake suppressor that carry the original paint scheme used during production. The rifle was subsequently used as the on-screen hero prop in Blood Diamond. The live-fire replica, manufactured by Enhanced Tactical Arms, (bottom) features a fully functional OPS Inc suppressor. The image of the semi-auto replica has been Photoshopped with BURST fire control markings and a full auto sear.
Analysis failed to confirm that the specific stock and dummy suppressor in the photos appeared on screen, but the paint scheme on those components leaves no doubt that those parts were used on an authentic Gordon hero prop. Although it’s impossible to confirm that the CAR-15 pictured was one of the Gordon hero rifles, it has been confirmed that this weapon was later used by Leonardo DiCaprio in Blood Diamond. The Zorg staff indicated that the rifle may have been repainted in the current tan paint scheme for the film The Green Zone.
The 8-hole CAR-15 handguards were manufactured from full-length M16A2 handguards when many of the M16A2s were configured into the CAR-15 configuration.
This CAR-15, manufactured by Enhanced Tactical Arms in Las Vegas, Nevada, is a replica of the on-screen prop representing Master Sergeant Gary Gordon’s CAR-15 — a replica of a replica, as it were. These images were Photoshopped to represent the rifle in its Class III configuration. The replica is fitted with an Aimpoint CompM red dot optic.
The ETAC Arms live-fire replica is equipped with an 8-hole carbine handguard constructed from an M16A2 full-length handguard and a Surefire tactical light. The duct tape and zip tie matches the configuration shown in the film.
Although Aimpoint 3000 and 5000 optics were used during the real-life operation, they were out of production by 2001. Filmmakers selected the CompM, fitted on a B-Square Mount with a 30mm Weaver split ring mount, as a substitute. The dummy suppressor used on the hero prop wasn’t available, so an OPS Inc. suppressor was used in its place. Although Zorg provided access to the Gordon CAR-15 prop, they indicated that the props used to represent Sergeant First Class Randall Shughart’s M14 were rented from Gibbons Limited and returned after filming.
Gibbons sold the eight MDL.M1As to Independent Studio Services in 2008 or 2009. The ISS armory staff indicated that it was likely that the two tan weapons were used as the hero props in filming. Photo analysis by William DeMolee indicates that it is likely that the top MDL.M1A, which is equipped with a Leatherwood scope, was the hero prop used in close-ups. The live-fire replica was painted to match onset production photos and screenshots by Augee Kim.
Mike Gibbons, owner of Gibbons Limited Entertainment Armory provided eight Federal Ordinance MDL.M1A rifles to the production. Mike revealed that the weapons used to represent Shughart’s M14 were sold to Independent Studio Services between 2008 and 2009. Kate Atherton from Zorg provided specific serial numbers for the eight weapons used in the production. Travis Pierce, Enhanced Tactical Arms M14 Subject Matter Expert, then used these serial numbers to determine that most of the rifles were produced in the ’90s.
The fire control selector switch cutouts on the tan Federal Ordinance MDL.M1A have been filled in and the external surfaces refinished. Almost all traces of spray paint had been removed.
The reproduction Shughart M14 film prop is an M1A built on an LBR Arms receiver with primarily USGI Winchester parts. It was originally assembled by M14 enthusiast Cody Vaughan and then reconfigured to match the film prop by Enhanced Tactical Arms with an ARMS 18 scope mount, Aimpoint CompM red dot optic, M1907 sling, and given a screen-matching camouflage pattern by Enhanced Tactical Arms retro firearms expert Augee Kim.
The Norm “Hoot” Gibson CAR-15 rubber dummy prop, built as a rubber stand-in for Eric Bana’s blank-firing carbine, is an iconic prop worthy of special attention. The rubber dummy, cast from a semi-auto Colt AR-15A2 Carbine with a removable carry handle, was used on-screen in the close-up of the “This is my safety” scene. The prop was weathered with water-soluble aging spray and is fitted with a sling constructed from a piece of strap taken from a parachute lowering line assembly, looped through 550 cord and secured with black polycloth laminate tape.
These include the type of handguard, delta ring, castle nut, stock, lower, and carry handle configuration. The lighting and camera angle make the differences difficult to detect as the story unfolds.
The live-firing prop replica, constructed by Enhanced Tactical Arms, was created using screenshots from the film, production photos, and the Hoot rubber dummy carbine as references. Although the Colt Gray lower on the Hoot CAR-15 appears to be an export M16A2, the black upper is distinctive. The Hoot blank-firing CAR-15 is configured with a 14.5-inch barrel, six-hole handguard, circular handguard cap, flat delta ring, and M16A1 birdcage flash hider.
The Hoot replica, which is similar in general configuration to a Colt 727, weighs in at slightly over 6 pounds and is as reliable and accurate as a modern M4. The helmet, goggles, and American flag were props used during production in 2001.
When we asked Mr. Atherton if the rifles used in the film were painted using an airbrush he laughed, indicating that the rifles were painted quickly, using techniques recommended by military advisor Harry Humphries.
The Hoot character is reported to be a composite of several Special Forces veterans involved in Operation Gothic Serpent.
Black Hawk Down is one of the first films to capture post-Vietnam warfare in a realistic manner and set the standard for how modern warfare (and weapons) would be represented in film. When discussing the long-term impact of the film in a 2013 interview, First Sergeant Matt Eversmann (U.S. Army, retired) stated, “…what I’ve found over the last decade is that, there are a lot of folks that really aren’t touched by the war on terror … watch Black Hawk Down and you have a really fair, accurate, and pretty authentic view of what urban combat is like … it is the reference point, both the book and the movie, that people are going to look at when they talk about getting involved in these type of conflicts in these countries we’ve never heard of …”
This endorsement, in conjunction with the pair of Academy Awards earned in 2002, illustrates why the film continues to receive praise from many film aficionados and military veterans nearly two decades after its release.
This article originally appeared on Recoilweb. Follow @RecoilMag on Twitter.
Capt. Stephen Scott (left), and Chief Warrant Officer 4 Eric Carver receive the Distinguished Flying Cross with Valor award at the North Carolina National Guard Joint Force Headquarters in Raleigh, North Carolina on August 18, 2020. (North Carolina National Guard/Lt. Col. Matthew Devivo)
Two North Carolina National GuardAH-64Apache pilots received the Distinguished Flying Cross with Valor last week for providing cover to Army special forces in a remote Afghanistan village in 2018.
Army Capt. Stephen Scott and Chief Warrant Officer 4 Eric Carver, both of the 1-130th Attack Reconnaissance Battalion, received the medals for their support of the 7th Special Forces Group’s Operational Detachment Alpha (ODA) 7225 during Task Force Panther, according to a release.
In November 2018, troops from ODA 7225 were dropped off in a remote area of Afghanistan’s Uruzgan Province when they began taking heavy enemy fire, the release said. Scott and Carver, flying in an Apache, quickly identified enemy positions and “engaged them after permission was given,” it said.
One of the objectives during the night raid was to capture a senior Taliban Leader in Deh Rawud District, Chief Warrant Officer 2 Brandon P. Faia, ground force commander for Special Forces ODA 7225, said in the release.
Acting as co-pilots and gunners, Scott and Carver were “repeatedly engaging a robust enemy force at … close range to friendly forces,” according to their award citations, obtained by The Fayetteville Observer.
Their steadfast reaction “resulted in a successful mission for ODA 7225 without injuries or loss of lives,” the release said.
Faia hailed their achievement, and said the two were consistently reliable in risky situations.
“Pilots and Green Berets have their own languages,” Faia said. “We could always count on Carver and Scott to chime in and say, ‘Oh yeah, the place you are going to is not safe, but you can count us in.'”
He added, “Immediately we became friends.”
Three months earlier that year, Taliban fighters launched an offensive assault in Ghazni province that spilled over into neighboring districts. Insurgent assaults continued weeks following, with many Afghans fleeing to southwest regions like Uruzgan and where Afghan forces faced off against Taliban fighters, according to the Washington Post.
Oil prices were driven higher for the third consecutive day on July 26, 2018, after Saudi Arabia closed a strategic shipping lane in the Red Sea following an attack on two of its large oil-tankers by Iranian backed Houthi fighters.
Brent crude oil futures rose 0.6% to $74.35 per barrel on July 26, 2018, at 6 48 GMT, after a gain of 0.7%, and US oil reserves fell to a three and a half year low, Reuters reported .
US West Texas Crude futures were also up 5 cents to $69.35 to the barrel.
“The announcement this morning that the Saudis have closed some shipping lanes in the Gulf because of rebel Houthi attacks also gives the bulls something to launch off,” Greg McKenna, chief market strategist at AxiTrader, told Reuters.
On July 26, 2018, Saudi Arabia said it was “temporarily halting” all oil shipments through the Bab al-Mandeb shipping lane after the two tankers were attacked, closing off a vital export channel for the world’s largest oil producer.
Khalid al-Falih, the Saudi energy minister said in a statement that the two oil tankers, each carrying two million barrels of oil, had been attacked and one sustained minimal damage.
“Saudi Arabia is temporarily halting all oil shipments through Bab al-Mandeb Strait immediately until the situation becomes clearer and the maritime transit through Bab al-Mandeb is safe,” said the minister.
Much of the Crude oil that leaves Saudi Arabia to the North West via the Suez Canal and the SUMED pipeline is first shipped through the Bab al-Mandeb Strait, which passes close to Yemen.
According to the US Energy Information Administration, around 4.6 million barrels of crude and refined petroleum exports per day flowed through the Strait in 2016, headed towards Europe, Asia and the United States.
The Bab al-Mandeb Strait between Yemen and Djibouti is just 20km wide, making shipping vulnerable to attack from the Houthis in war-torn Yemen. The Iranian backed Houthis have been fighting a Saudi-Arabian led coalition in a bloody civil war in Yemen for around three years, with the Saudi’s exports presenting a strategic target.
The latest disruption is another impact of a conflict which has cost around 50,000 lives through famine and war, which the US and UK have fueled through arms sales to the Saudi-led coalition.
Belarus’s Nobel laureate Svetlana Alexievich rolled her eyes when the creators of Chernobyl approached her for permission to use material from her book “Voices From Chernobyl” for the hit HBO miniseries.
“I told my agent, ‘Galya, they’re going to make another film…’ I was far from convinced. The only thing that convinced me, maybe, was the fee,” Alexievich explained in a recent interview with RFE/RL’s Belarusian Service.
However, the five-part miniseries about the tragic accident at the Ukrainian nuclear power plant has raked in rave reviews from critics and viewers alike, and Alexievich is no exception.
“It really impressed me. It is a very strong film. There is something there in the aesthetics that touches the modern consciousness. There is a dose of fear. There is reasoning. There is beauty. That is something that has always worried me about evil, when it’s not out in the open, when so much is confusing.”
And she said that her fellow Belarusians, hard hit by the nuclear fallout scattered into the air when Reactor No. 4 exploded on April 26, 1986, have now had their eyes pried open to the real scale of the tragedy, Alexievich said.
“We are now witnessing a new phenomenon that Belarusians, who suffered greatly and thought they knew a lot about the tragedy, have completely changed their perception about Chernobyl and are interpreting this tragedy in a whole new way. The authors accomplished this, even though they are from a completely different world — not from Belarus, not from our region,” she explained.
Alexievich said the film has especially struck a chord with young Belarusians.
“It’s no accident that a lot of young people have watched this film. They say that they watch it together in clubs and discuss it. They are different. For them, questions about the environment, especially in the West, it is through that lens that they understand life.”
Alexievich also praised the selection of Johan Renck as director.
“The director is a Swede by nationality. And in the Swedish consciousness there is a deep awareness of the environment,” she said.
Meanwhile, Alexievich’s book has, in turn, received high praise from Craig Mazin, the writer and producer of Chernobyl, who tweeted on June 13, 2019: “I drew historical fact and scientific information from many sources, but Ms. Alexievich’s “Voices From Chernoby”l was where I always turned to find beauty and sorrow.”
From the vintage Soviet furniture and trash bins to the period clothing, Chernobyl has been praised for staying incredibly accurate to detail, even using real dialogue, much of it recorded in Alexievich’s oral history of the disaster, “Voices From Chernobyl.”
“There is a lot of my text in the reactions of the people. For example, when people stand on the bridge and admire the fire. Those are the first impressions following the accident. The world’s, as well. The director even admitted that all of this was created from the book. I have a contract with them and author’s rights of ownership,” Alexievich explained.
Some have suggested that the character of Ulana Khomyuk, a Belarusian nuclear physicist bent on uncovering the truth behind the disaster, is based on Alexievich, although Chernobyl’s creators have said the figure is inspired by a composite of scientists involved in the disaster. Alexievich isn’t convinced the character is based on her either.
“I don’t think they wrote Khomyuk with me in mind. [Eimuntas] Nekrosis (the late Lithuanian theater director) before his death put on a play based on [my] The Boys In Zinc. I was supposedly the main figure, but she was absolutely not like me.”
Alexievich says having a female protagonist like Khomyuk simply made sense, juxtaposing her against Valery Legasov, who was instrumental in the cleanup after the disaster.
“In the film, there is a need for a leading figure, a woman — maybe because they took from my view of life, this sense of femininity, the world of the woman. For me, this is very important. In all my books there are many women heroes, not only in the work The Unwomanly Face Of War. This relationship with the living. A woman is extremely capable of detecting the connection of things. Therefore, it was probably necessary to have a woman, not only Legasov. If there had been two men, there would be no story. They introduced a woman and with a man and a woman you get two perspectives. It is very interesting.”
Asked about some of the inaccuracies in the series that critics have seized on, Alexievich is dismissive.
“First of all, it is a feature film, and the author is entitled to his interpretation and understanding of things. But they say, ‘This minister was fat, old, and now he’s young.’ Or the opposite. Or the windows weren’t like that. If you want to think like that, then if we look at the famous film Battleship Potemkin by Eisenstein, where the baby carriage flies down the steps, then some sailor named Zhalyaznyak would say that that type of revolution never happened. God forbid if the truth about Chernobyl or the gulag system had been in the hands of such people.”
Alexievich noted even Russian media were full of praise for the series, at least at first.
“In the beginning, Russian media was very positive about the series and then probably there was some yelling in the Kremlin and they suddenly became very patriotic. Then there was news they are launching their own series about Chernobyl, about how ‘our’ agents pursue some American spy at the power plant. My God, when I read all this I thought that 30 years have passed and has really nothing changed in the consciousness?”
Despite those initial doubts, Alexievich is convinced that HBO has created a classic with a strong message that she feels needs to be heard.
“Most importantly, I would like that people watch it and think about the type of world we’ve entered with such dangers. And there are more and more. Artificial intelligence, robots. It’s a whole new world.”