Zimbabwe’s opposition leader has pledged to rid the country of investment from China if he wins the nation’s upcoming July 2018 elections.
Nelson Chamisa, leader of the opposition Movement for Democratic Change told crowds at a rally in the capital city of Harare on May 1, 2018, that China was “asset-stripping” the country’s resources.
“I have seen the deals that Ngwena [President Emmerson Mnangagwa] has entered into with China and others, they are busy asset-stripping the resources of the country,” he said.
Chamisa promised to change the country’s current relationship with China pending a victory.
“I have said, beginning September 2018, when I assume office, I will call the Chinese and tell them the deals they signed are unacceptable and they should return to their country.”
The 2018 elections will be the first since the relatively-peaceful coup and subsequent resignation of former president Robert Mugabe in 2017. Mugabe was effectively ousted as president after serving for more than 30 years, with former vice president Emmerson Mnangagwa stepping in to take his place.
China has also heavily invested in projects including extensions to airports, construction of a new parliament building, and repairing water supplies between Harare and surrounding town, according to The Herald.
But China has faced growing criticism for its foreign investments projects.
China has spent billions in Africa as part of its Belt and Road Initiative, and often seeks collateral in the form of natural resources.
This article originally appeared on Business Insider. Follow @BusinessInsider on Twitter.
“Serving alongside our Soldiers, Sailors, Airmen, Marines, and Coast Guardsmen, our Nation’s military families give of themselves and give up their time with their loved ones so we may live safely and freely. Few Americans fully understand the sacrifices made by those who serve in uniform, but for spouses of service members across our country, the costs of freedom we too often take for granted are known intimately. On Military Spouse Appreciation Day, we honor the spouses of those who have left behind everything they know and love to join our nation’s unbroken chain of patriots, and we recommit to giving military spouses the respect, dignity, and support they deserve.” – Barack Obama, President of the United States of America
In 1984 President Ronald Reagan proclaimed that the Friday before Mother’s Days should be Military Spouse Appreciation Day. This is a day set aside to recognize the importance of spousal commitment to the readiness and well-being of military members. This year Military Spouse Appreciation Day will be celebrated on May 8.
If you have a military spouse in your life, you might be wondering how best to show your appreciation to them. This might be especially difficult this year, because of the events happening across the world. Here are a few ideas to help you show the military spouses in your life how much you appreciate them on Military Spouse Appreciation Day, and every day:
Cook them a meal
Military spouses often have a lot on their plate. They spend much of their lives balancing day to day life, while missing their significant other, and dealing with all the other stresses of military life. Having a night off from cooking could mean the world to them. Why not cook a meal for a military spouse in your life? You can always deliver it to their door for them. Little things like this mean more than you can imagine.
Deanie Dempsey talks Family Support
Buy them Flowers
Something bright and pretty like flowers can brighten a room, and the day for a military spouse. Flowers are a great way to show love and appreciation for the military spouse in your life. A bouquet of flowers could put a smile on their face, and show them how grateful you are for everything they do.
Send a care package
Care packages are appreciated by everyone. If you have a military spouse in your life who might not live close by, why not send a care package? Send their favorite snacks, or sweets. Send a new book or movie that can help them through those long deployment nights. Send a candle. Send them anything that will help them through, and show them how much you love them.
Take to Social Media
Hop onto Facebook, Instagram or Twitter and give those military spouses in your life a shoutout. Join the movement of telling the world how much our military spouses are loved and appreciated. Let them know how grateful you are for all of the sacrifices they make every day.
Say “Thank You”
Sometimes simple is best. The gesture of simply saying, “Thank you” to a military spouse means just as much as anything else. Military spouses make huge sacrifices every day. They face lonely days and nights while running a household and taking care of the kids by themselves. They do it because they love someone who is in the military. They do it so that their significant other can do their duty to protect our freedoms. So, this Military Spouse Appreciation Day let those military spouses in your life know how grateful you are to them by saying, “Thank you.”
On Apr. 15, 1912, Charles Lightoller was the second officer aboard the ill-fated Titanic. After helping as many passengers and crew as he could into lifeboats, he refused an order to escape on one of the final boats to make it off the ship. As Titanic’s bridge began to sink, he attempted to dive into the water and to the safety of one of the crew’s collapsible boats.
Except the Titanic sucked him down with her.
Two lifeboats carry Titanic survivors toward safety. April 15, 1912
Lightoller was no landsman. He had been at sea for decades and, as a result, he’d seen and heard everything. Titanic wasn’t even his first shipwreck, but it was the first time a sinking ship tried to take the officer down with it. As a grating pulled him to the bottom, the icy waters of the Atlantic Ocean finally reached the ship’s hot boilers, and they exploded. The force propelled Lightoller to the surface and to the safety of his fellow crew’s boat.
He was the last Titanic survivor rescued by the RMS Carpathia the next day. He was also the most senior officer to survive the shipwreck. Later, during World War I, Lt. Lightoller would take command of many ships in the Royal Navy, leaving the service at the war’s end. By the time World War II rolled around, Lightoller was just a civilian raising chickens. His seaborne days confined to a personal yacht.
The Titanic’s officers. Lightoller is in the back row, second from the left.
While he did survey the German coast in 1939 for the Royal Navy while disguised as an elderly couple on vacation, his fighting days were long gone. But the very next year, the British Army in France was on the brink of ruin, as 400,000 Allied troops were stranded on the beaches of Dunkirk. The Royal Navy could not reach them, and they were slowly being annihilated by the Nazi forces that surrounded them. Operation Dynamo was on.
The Royal Navy ordered Lightoller to take his ship to Ramsgate, where a Navy crew would take control and ship off to Dunkirk to rescue as many Tommies as possible. But Lightoller wasn’t having it. He would take his ship to Dunkirk himself. The 66-year-old and his son departed for France as soon as they could in a 52×12-foot ship with a carrying capacity of 21.
Often, there comes a point when people decide to give their Facebook friends list an overhaul.
They completely change their social landscape online by avoiding accepting friend requests from certain types of people, and they give their current friends list a good, hard scrub.
Everyone has their reasons. Maybe they’re doing it for security purposes, or because a handful of people’s posts drive them crazy or they want to keep a more professional profile. Military spouses in particular might do so because they want to focus on positive, stress-free relationships – that is, the ones that bring wine, wear sweat pants, and check judgment at the door.
If you’re a military spouse considering an overhaul, these 10 characters are some of the folks who might not make the cut…
1. The Gossip
At first, reading The Gossip’s witty quips about annoying moms at Starbucks or fashion faux pas might be hilarious. Scrolling through The Gossip’s posts could be an easy way to burn an hour outside baseball practice… until you find yourself the subject of one of The Gossip’s posts.
For The Gossip, everything is fair game. When people listen to The Gossip, or “like” or comment on The Gossip’s posts, the rumor mill churns. And every milspouse knows that the rumor mill is pretty damaging – especially if you live on base. So, if you receive a friend request from The Gossip, think twice before clicking “Accept.”
2. The Negative Nancy
Sometimes we might like seeing The Negative Nancy in our feed. If we’re already down, her critical gaze on life’s horizon validates our own low feelings. But this is dangerous – beware! The more you read her negative posts, the more you’ll feel negative, depressed and weary. In fact, research shows that negative thoughts and emotions can reduce your brain’s ability to function effectively and even weaken your immune system.
That is the LAST thing you need when you’re holding down the home front during a deployment or a long TDY! Do yourself a favor: if The Negative Nancy’s posts are breeding the blues in your life, make the call: hit “Unfriend,” lift your chin up, and notice the sun rising on the horizon.
3. The Stranger
The Stranger piques your interest. Coming out of nowhere, The Stranger has something in common with you and might need help. Maybe The Stranger claims to be stationed at the same installation and needs help finding counseling for marital troubles. Since your profile says you work at Family Advocacy, The Stranger thinks you can help…
At this point, revert to every OPSEC (Operational Security) commercial you’ve ever seen and don’t respond (and tighten up your profile privacy). The Stranger is up to nothing but finding out military-related information or stealing money; you don’t want to take part in either one of those nightmares!
And, don’t be so sure that this scenario is far-fetched. A woman in Pensacola impersonated a military wife to trick service members and spouses into giving her money for supposedly sick children. It could happen on Facebook, too, and if it does, tuck your sympathy away and save it for a real friend who truly needs it.
4. The Selfie Addict
The Selfie Addict manages to capture herself (okay, or himself) in the most attractive poses, accentuating her most beautiful features, against the most impressive landscapes. And remarkably, she captures said images ALL. THE. TIME.
Looking through her series of carefully crafted selfies, you might start to believe (erroneously) that her whole life is perfect; worse, you might make comparisons to your own life and decide it’s pretty dull. Research shows that these comparisons can chisel away at your self-esteem and it’s all for nothing! Perfection is an illusion, after all. Hit “Unfriend,” and focus on relationships that are real and meaningful instead.
5. The Soapboxer
The Soapboxer can’t stop ranting. Whether it’s something going on in the local community, the government, the war or the nation, The Soapboxer has an opinion and feels compelled to share the details. What’s worse, if you post a comment that disagrees just a bit, The Soapboxer will drill into it and make you feel like complete mush for sharing your voice. There’s no room for respectful debate here!
Much like Negative Nancy, The Soapboxer has a way of creating unnecessary stress and frustration. If that’s what The Soapboxer is doing in your life, it’s a signal to end your virtual relationship. After all, you’ve got a PCS to plan for, a deployment on the horizon, and a surprise visit from Murphy – there’s no time to waste stressing over The Soapboxer.
6. The Ex
Friending The Ex might be tempting. Perhaps Facebook recommended The Ex in “People You May Know,” so, out of curiosity, you skimmed unsecured photos and posts. And now you’re inclined to send a friend request. We’re all adults, so it couldn’t hurt, right? Wrong!
Distance has a way of magnifying worries. If your service member is deployed or TDY for a long time, he or she doesn’t need the added worry or stress of seeing The Ex’s comments on your posts or photos. Even if you think the connection is totally harmless, think of your service member and nix the virtual friendship.
7. The Acquaintance
It’s become common practice to meet someone briefly at a party or barbeque, only to find a friend request hours later. Regardless of whether or not The Acquaintance knows a friend of yours, pause before accepting the friend request.
Honestly, what do you really know about The Acquaintance? How will a Facebook relationship deepen your relationship? Odds are, it’s only going to invite snooping – snooping from a person you barely know. Would you invite a mere acquaintance to come into your home and dig through your photo albums and drawers containing other personal information while you’re not home? No? Didn’t think so. Friending The Acquaintance on Facebook isn’t much different. So, wait till you meet The Acquaintance a few more times before you are comfortable enough to leave him or her in your “home” unsupervised.
8. The Judge
If there’s one thing military spouses know, it’s that time is important. When our service members are about to deploy, all of our focus is directed at spending meaningful time with them. That usually comes at the expense of time spent with others, and it can mean declining invitations from close friends.
Most friends understand this, but The Judge does not. If you decline an invitation and later post a selfie of your family relaxing at home, The Judge might comment, “Looks like you weren’t so busy after all.” Or, if you opt out of a lunch date so that you can FaceTime with your deployed service member, only to post later that you’re “feeling sad” because you never got to talk to him, The Judge will comment, “You should have just come to lunch!”
Military spouses are under enough pressure to hold down the home front, keep day-to-day operations running smoothly and support our service members who endure high-stakes careers; we don’t need the added stress of feeling the need to please The Judge. Unfriend!
9. The Drama Queen
When you think of The Drama Queen, think of one word: Perception. Virtual relationships with The Drama Queen could reflect poorly on you, too, because her personal drama might end up appearing on your Facebook page. The Drama Queen might comment on your posts with inappropriate gifs or memes, tag you in photos that depict you in an unfavorable light, or write posts on your wall that are better suited for a private message or phone call.
Everyone else can see these posts, and they associate them with you and possibly your service member, as well. If that’s not how you want to be perceived, then keep your Facebook feed Drama Queen-free.
10. The Boss
When you arrive at a new assignment, your service member’s commander and commander’s spouse might offer a genuinely warm welcome. In some situations, their commander and commander’s spouse might welcome you, too.
This is all well and good, and it’s appropriate to accept their welcome kindly, but be sure to respect the professional line that exists between your service member and The Boss… and The Boss’ Boss. Friending The Boss can cross the line of professionalism, inviting The Boss into your personal world and asking if you can enter his or hers. Generally, people need to maintain their personal space, so while it’s perfectly fine to enjoy friendly conversation at unit barbeques, allow everyone some breathing room on Facebook.
Apologies for spoiling the ending, but the upcoming World War II movie “Midway” is about one of the United States’ greatest military victories in our war with Japan.
The film opens in theaters Nov. 8, 2019, just in time for Veterans Day weekend.
Director Roland Emmerich (“The Patriot,” “Independence Day” and “White House Down”) has spent decades trying to get “Midway” made, and improving technology has finally allowed him to match the movie to his vision.
The studio debuted a new trailer, and you can watch it below.
Midway (2019 Movie) New Trailer – Ed Skrein, Mandy Moore, Nick Jonas, Woody Harrelson
“Midway” stars Woody Harrelson as Adm. Chester Nimitz and features an epic cast that includes Luke Evans, Patrick Wilson, Mandy Moore, Dennis Quaid, Nick Jonas, Aaron Eckhart and Darren Criss.
The Battle of Midway was truly a turning point in World War II. If the Japanese had won, the entire West Coast would have been exposed, and the alternate history imagined by a show like “The Man in the High Castle” would have been a real possibility.
This article originally appeared on Military.com. Follow @militarydotcom on Twitter.
According to a release on the Facebook page of USS San Antonio (LPD 17), the amphibious vessel was targeted by anti-ship missiles on October 13. The attack failed, according to Commander D. W. Nelson’s post. The amphibious vessel was transiting the chokepoint between the Gulf of Aden and the Red Sea with the Wasp Amphibious Ready Group, carrying the 22nd Marine Expeditionary Unit.
The attack could prompt the Navy to act on proposals to fit two 8-cell Mk 41 Vertical Launch Systems on to the San Antonio-class ships. The systems would then be able to accommodate the RIM-162 Evolved Sea Sparrow Missile. With a range of up to 27 nautical miles and a top speed in excess of Mach 4, this would give the San Antonio-class ships another layer of air defense.
The San Antonio is the lead ship of a class of amphibious vessels and can carry up to 700 Marines, and has a crew of 28 officers and 335 enlisted personnel. The 25,000-ton ship has a top speed of 22 knots and is armed with two SeaRAM launchers and two 30mm Bushmaster II chain guns. The vessel carries two Landing Craft Air Cushion hovercraft and can also carry upwards of four helicopters or two V-22 Ospreys.
On 9 October, USS Mason was attacked while accompanying USS Ponce (AFSB(I) 15) in the Red Sea. The Mason was attacked again on October 12 and 15. The American naval vessels were deployed to the Gulf of Aden after HSV-2 Swift, a former U.S. Navy vessel now operated by a company in the United Arab Emirates, was attacked on October 1.
A US Army soldier aims an M16A1 rifle equipped with an M203 grenade launcher.
In 2019, the Army approved a new rifle qualification and individual weapons training strategy. The old qualification, the automated record fire, was developed back in 1956. Since then, the Army’s battles and the way it fights them have changed. The new qualification, the rifle and carbine qualification, was developed with the same principle as the Army Combat Fitness Test. It more holistically assesses a soldier’s ability to employ situational awareness, safe weapon handling, and core marksmanship competencies.
Due to COVID-19 considerations, full integration of the new rifle qualification in 2020 was slowed. However, more and more units in both Forces Command and Training and Doctrine Command are starting to test their soldiers on the new standards.
Training and evaluation for the rifle and carbine qualification is broken down into six tables: preliminary marksmanship instruction and evaluation, pre-live fire simulation training, magazine and shooting position drills, grouping and zeroing, practice qualification, and qualification. “Soldiers start by receiving a series of classes on how to properly zero the rifle, whether it’s a bare rifle or with optics,” said Staff Sgt. Tadeysz Showers, assigned to the 25th Sustainment Brigade. “Soldiers received classes on laser bore sight, Minute of Angle (MOA), zeroing process, windage, ballistics, and also received EST training and practiced position changes before going to a live range.”
The rifle qualification consists of four firing phases for which soldiers will employ four magazines with 10 rounds each. 40 targets will pop up on their own or in groups for varying lengths of time depending on their distance. Soldiers will fire from the standing unsupported, prone unsupported, prone supported, kneeling supported, and standing supported positions. A barricade is used to simulate cover and provide a more stable shooting position for supported fire. Transitioning between positions and changing magazines are integrated organically into the course of fire in order to more closely simulate real-world combat situations. “The old rifle qualification did not help in combat situations, so they incorporated magazine exchanges and position changes by yourself to represent combat,” said Staff Sgt. Tadeysz Showers, assigned to the 25th Sustainment Brigade. “No matter the military occupational specialty (MOS), any MOS can teach a Soldier how to do this new weapons qualification.”
Whereas commanders could previously dictate whether or not their soldiers could shoot “slick” without their body armor and helmet, the new rifle qualification requires soldiers to wear them. Magazines are retained on the soldier’s gear rather than laying ready on the ground or on a sandbag in order to more closely simulate a combat situation. The first shot of the qualification will be on a close-range target from the standing unsupported firing position. From there, soldiers will transition into the prone unsupported firing position and engage the next nine targets through a port in the bottom of the barricade. The last 30 targets will appear in three waves of 10 with soldiers conducting magazine and firing position changes on their own in between.
The new qualification also includes guidance for night and CBRNE shooting. Soldiers will be expected to utilize night-vision goggles, IR lasers, and gas masks to engage targets under adverse conditions. The inclusion of these variables reflects the Army’s return to training for a near-peer fight against conventional armies. Additionally, soldiers will no longer be given alibis. Previously, if a soldier experienced a weapon malfunction during their course of fire, they could be given the opportunity to re-shoot. Now, soldiers will be expected to assess and clear the malfunction during the course of fire and continue to engage targets. Any missed targets during this time will count against them. While this can make the qualification more difficult, it encourages soldiers to build the muscle memory necessary to address such variables under stress.
Some aspects of the old rifle qualification have carried over though. Soldiers are still required to hit 23 of the 40 targets in order to qualify. 23-29 hits earns a Marksman qualification, 30-35 hits earns a Sharpshooter qualification, and 36-40 hits earns an Expert qualification. “This new weapons qualification is more combat oriented with changing positions, changing magazines and engaging the targets,” said Sgt. Octavius Moon assigned to the 25th Sustainment Brigade. “This will help Soldiers shoot better as well as make ranges faster and have more Soldiers qualified. It helps Soldiers become more knowledgeable about their weapon as well.”
When Boatswain’s Mate First Class James E. Williams finally allowed the Navy to retire him after nearly twenty years of service, he was the proud holder of the Navy’s top seven awards for valor as well as three Purple Hearts and a number of other accolades.
Boatswain’s Mate First Class James E. Williams, the Navy’s most decorated enlisted sailor.
So, how did a young Cherokee boy grow to become one of the U.S. military’s greatest heroes? Well, first, in 1947, he convinced a county clerk to falsify a birth certificate so he could join at the age of 16. His first tour was uneventful, an experience he hated at the time, but learned from, according to a 1998 interview in All Hands Magazine.
“I’d joined the Navy to see the world — and doggonit, I wasn’t moving. I’d got orders to an [landing ship, tank] that just sat around a buoy in the San Diego harbor.”
Landing Ship, Tanks were large supply vessels that could deposit most cargo directly onto the shore when necessary.
“An old chief told me, ‘Son, you got to learn to take orders, even if you disagree with them. That’s the first step to being a good Sailor and a good leader. If you can’t take orders now, you certainly won’t be respected when you give them later.’ Well, I got the message,” said Williams. “Learning discipline was the springboard that helped my Navy career. From then on, I had the sharpest damn knife and the shiniest shoes in the Navy. That’s what I was taught.”
It was this experience and his years of shining shoes and sharpening knives that led to Williams’ proudest day.
“The proudest day of my life had nothing to do with medals, ribbons, citations,” he told All Hands Magazine. “It was when they made me a patrol officer. That position was held only by chiefs and officers. It showed the trust the Navy had placed in me. I always wanted the opportunity to show what I could do. This Vietnam thing was it for me. The Navy gave me the chance to do my job.”
His job would be to take Patrol Boat, River-105 into the small, Viet-Cong-filled rivers of Vietnam.
A Patrol Boat River in the waters of Vietnam.
The crew went out with Williams starting in May, 1966, and the fighting started early. While many of the patrols were quick forays into the river traffic to look for contraband, Williams and his crew saw major combat multiple times before the end of July.
On July 1, Williams and PBR 105 spotted an enemy sampan in the early morning darkness and gave chase. The sampan made for a friendly landing and Williams and his crew quickly came under fire from both the ship and shore. Maneuvering deftly, the men killed five enemies on the boat, captured the vessel and a few ship’s occupants, which were of “significant intelligence value.” He was later awarded the Bronze Star for his actions.
Just 22 days later, PBR-105 once again chased down an enemy sampan, this time at night. Again, they came under fire from enemies on shore but continued to fight. The crew killed six occupants of the boat, one enemy who had made it ashore, and captured the enemy sampan with its cargo and documents intact — again, these were of significant intelligence value. He would later be awarded a Bronze Star for his actions.
Less than a month later, Williams was leading PBR-105 and PBR-101 through the Mekong River in the early evening when they came under fire multiple times from a suspected 100-enemy-gun emplacements on both shores. They stayed in the kill zone, maneuvering and destroying multiple emplacements.
The men intercepted a sampan with two high-ranking Viet-Cong, but Williams was wounded in the face while salvaging documents from it. He kept up his men’s fire and captured 71 classified and sensitive documents before withdrawing. He would later be awarded the Silver Star.
A machine gunner on a Patrol Boat River with his two machine guns.
His greatest heroism under fire came two months later in October, 1966, when PBR-105 and another boat went on what Williams thought would be a routine patrol.
“October 31, 1966, was supposed to be a restful day in the steamy heartland of the Viet Cong,” he said. “But it’s one of those times I won’t never forget, no matter how hard I try. We were on a day patrol, kind of like the ‘relax and recreation’ patrol — nothin’ too heavy.”
But, early in the patrol, the forward machine gunner yelled that he saw two motorized sampans. The motorized boats nearly always carried high-ranking Viet Cong. The Americans gave chase.
The boats attempted to scatter, forcing Williams to choose which to follow, but the Americans quickly killed one and began tracking down the other. The second sampan used the little time it had gained to turn down a shallow canal where the patrol boats couldn’t go.
Williams checked his map. The enemy’s most likely course of action was to follow the canal to its other end, a third of a mile away. He ordered his boats to intercept. Things immediately went sideways.
“We wanted to get them real bad,” he said. “I went around that corner at max sped to cut him off — and, lo and behold, I looked up and didn’t see nothing but boats and people and more boats and more people.”
Not a lot of armor or firepower when you’re dealing with thousands of enemy troops in the water and on shore.
(U.S. Army Center of Military History)
Williams and his boats had run straight into a massive enemy staging area. Suddenly, they found themselves surrounded by multiple companies of Viet Cong fighters. Williams, at the helm, immediately maxed out his engines and used his wake to disrupt the first sampan’s aim, then took off through the gauntlet.
Surprisingly, they made it. Williams later said that it seemed like the sampans were hitting each other more than him as the patrol boats made their mad dash through. Unfortunately for the Americans, they turned with the river only to have their luck worsen.
Their attempted escape landed them in another enemy staging area. Williams decided that the only way to save his shipmates was to fight it out with the Viet Cong, and they did. For over three hours, the patrol boats maneuvered at high speeds and provided fire for one another, cutting down enemy boats and shore positions as fast as they could in a desperate attempt to keep each other alive.
And it worked. The two boats and 10 Americans who went into the river all came back after inflicting a suspected 1,200 enemy casualties and destroying 65 boats. Williams would later be awarded the Medal of Honor for his actions that day, but he still wasn’t done in Vietnam.
Less than three months later, Williams was on a patrol when he saw a dredge strike a mine on Jan. 9, 1967. PBR-105 immediately gave aid and was picking up survivors when the crew heard a tapping coming from inside the hull. Williams jumped into the water.
During repeated dives, he directed the elderly man trapped inside to a nearby hatch, loosened two heavy pipes blocking the hatch, and then ran a line from a nearby tug around the pipes so they could be pulled free. Once the obstruction was removed, Williams and a crew member swam into the still-sinking dredge and pulled the man free, saving his life. He would later receive the Navy and Marine Corps Medal.
A Patrol Boat River and a sampan in Vietnam.
On January 15, less than a week later, Williams was leading a patrol on the Mekong when the crew spotted a large enemy supply movement across one of the river branches. The boat moved to intercept but quickly came under heavy fire from fortified positions on the river banks.
The boat dropped back and called in Vietnamese artillery and U.S. air strikes to reduce the enemy positions, and then forayed back into the river branch. Once again, heavy fire came at them from the shore.
This time, the Americans stayed in the thick of it and took aim at enemy sampans the Vietnamese seemed eager to protect. The PBRs destroyed them before withdrawing. Williams was injured during the withdrawal, but continued to direct the movement and the PBRs’ fire.
The enemy force that the patrol had encountered was later assessed as three heavy weapons companies with 400 men. The patrol was credited with killing sixteen enemies and wounding 20 while destroying nine enemy watercraft, seven structures, and 2,400 pounds of rice. Williams would later receive the Navy Cross for his actions.
No. Of course not. He took his retirement and his Medal of Honor and became a U.S. Marshal, serving his country once again. This time, in South Carolina, Georgia, and Washington D.C.
He died on October 13, 1999, the Navy’s 224th birthday. According to The United States Navy Memorial, an unidentified, retired admiral spoke at Williams’ funeral and said,
“Willie did not seek awards. He did not covet getting them. We did not seek to make him a hero. The circumstances of time and place and the enemy’s presence did that. I know through personal investigation of each incident that he never placed his crew nor his patrol boats in danger without first ensuring the risk was calculated and that surprise was on his side. He always had the presence of mind not to endanger friendly villages. He inspired us all, junior and senior alike. It was my greatest honor to have served with the man who truly led us all with his example of unselfish devotion to duty.”
Rockets fired on a market in a government-controlled neighborhood of Damascus on March 20, 2018, killed 35 people and wounded more than 20 others, Syrian state-run media said, marking one of the highest death tolls in a single attack targeting the capital.
The government blamed rebels in the eastern suburbs of Damascus for the attack on the Kashkol neighborhood. The capital, seat of President Bashar Assad’s power, has come under more frequent attack as government forces continue to pound rebel-held eastern Ghouta, with military backing from Russia.
With government forces tied up in the month-long offensive on eastern Ghouta, Islamic State militants seized a neighborhood on its southern edge, forcing the government to rush in reinforcements.
IS militants captured the neighborhood of Qadam on March 19, 2018, a week after rebels had surrendered it to the government. At least 36 soldiers and pro-government militiamen were killed in the clashes, according to the Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights. It said dozens more were captured or wounded.
In 2017, the Islamic State group lost the swath of territory it had controlled in eastern Syria since 2014 — and where it had proclaimed its self-styled “caliphate” — but it retains pockets of control in areas across Syria, including two neighborhoods on the southern edge of Damascus.
On March 19, 2018, the militants pounced on Qadam from the neighboring Hajr al-Aswad and Yarmouk neighborhoods, which they control. More than 1,000 rebels and their families had earlier fled Qadam for rebel-held territory in the north of the country, instead of submitting to the Damascus authorities.
There was no comment from the Syrian government following the IS seizure of Qadam.
The government’s assault on eastern Ghouta has displaced 45,000 people, the United Nations said March 20, 2018, while tens of thousands more are living in desperate conditions in northern Syria, where a Turkish military campaign is underway.
In eastern Ghouta, rescue workers were still retrieving bodies from the basement of a school that was bombed March 19, 2018, by government or Russian jets, a spokesman for the Syrian Civil Defense group said.
The bodies of 20 women and children were retrieved from the rubble, said the group, also known as the White Helmets. The school in the town of Arbin was being used as a shelter by residents.
Oways al-Shami, the Civil Defense spokesman, said continued bombing was slowing down rescue operations.
“They’re not able to use their heavy vehicles because the planes are targeting the Civil Defense directly,” al-Shami said of the rescuers.
Residents in Douma, the largest town in eastern Ghouta, also reported indiscriminate shelling and airstrikes.
“I haven’t been able to go out to look for food since yesterday,” said Ahmad Khansour, a media activist who spoke to The Associated Press from a basement in the town. He reported 175 strikes since March 19, 2018.
At least 36 people were killed under the hail of strikes on March 20, 2018, according to the Observatory.
Government forces abruptly intensified their fire on Douma on March 18, 2018, after a six-day reprieve to allow a limited number of medical evacuations. In the meantime, they made sweeping advances against other areas of eastern Ghouta, leaving just a fraction of the enclave still outside the government’s control.
“There’s nowhere left to attack” but Douma, Khansour said.
A spokesman for the U.N. refugee agency, Andrej Mahecic, told reporters in Geneva on March 20, 2018, that although tens of thousands have fled the fighting in eastern Ghouta, thousands more were “still trapped and in dire need of aid,” adding that a shortage of shelters was “a major concern.”
Meanwhile, the U.N. children’s agency said some 100,000 people were trapped in rural areas of the northern Syrian district of Afrin and in need of humanitarian aid after Turkish and allied Syrian forces drove out a Syrian Kurdish militia there.
UNICEF spokeswoman Marixie Mercado said the agency hadn’t been able to deliver health and nutrition supplies to the district in 20 days, and water trucks had stopped deliveries since March 15, 2018. The agency estimates 50,000 children are among those who need humanitarian aid in Afrin.
The International Committee for the Red Cross said it was able to deliver 25 tons of humanitarian aid items, like blankets, diapers, lamps, and water tanks, to displaced Afrin families.
Reports of looting in the largely deserted town spread on March 20, 2018, as more photos emerged showing allied Syrian rebel fighters attached to Turkey’s military campaign breaking into shops, stealing goods and cattle, and hauling off tractors and motorcycles amid scenes of celebration.
It is proving an embarrassment to Turkey, which is battling perceptions that the Syrian opposition forces it has aligned with are corrupt, unprofessional and jihadist.
A top U.N. representative in Syria, Sajjad Malik, raised the alarm on Twitter, reporting “looting, destruction of properties exodus of civilians” from Afrin.
Turkey’s foreign minister, Mevlut Cavusoglu, said his country was “sensitive” to reports of looting and promised Turkey “will not allow it.”
A Syrian opposition body published the phone numbers of military police commanders in the area, urging anyone who witnesses looting to file complaints with them.
Also March 20, 2018, at least nine people were killed in airstrikes targeting a camp for displaced people in rebel-held Idlib province in the northwest of the country, according to the Observatory and the Civil Defense. It was not immediately clear who was behind the attack.
Chief Master Sergeant of the Air Force Kaleth O. Wright speaks to Airmen during his visit at the Red Flag-Alaska building, Joint Base Elmendorf-Richardson, Alaska, June 10, 2019. Chief Wright visited JBER during Red Flag-Alaska to meet with senior enlisted leader counterparts from throughout the Pacific. Red Flag-Alaska is a Pacific Air Forces-directed exercise that allows U.S. forces to train with coalition partners in a simulated environment. (U.S. AIR FORCE PHOTO // AIRMAN 1ST CLASS CAITLIN RUSSELL)
The 18th Chief Master Sergeant of the Air Force carries a smile with confidence, which reflects his easy nature of engaging everyone wherever he goes. Who would have expected young dental technician Kaleth O. Wright in 1989 to one day become that man?
When he started his career in 1993, as a medical professional, Wright wasn’t sure of himself at first. But, with the help of mentors, he worked his way up the ranks. In 2016, he was serving as the command chief of U.S. Air Forces in Europe and Air Forces Africa. After only a few months in the position, he was surprised to learn of his selection for the highest enlisted position in the United States Air Force.
“To be honest, my initial reaction was I was going to be the token black guy on the slate,” Wright explained.
Secretary of the Air Force Heather Wilson, Chief of Staff of the Air Force Gen. David L. Goldfein and Chief Master Sgt. of the Air Force Kaleth O. Wright swear in delayed entry members during the Washington Redskins versus Philadelphia Eagles game at the FedExField in Hyattsville, Md., Sept. 10, 2017. The game was dedicated to the men and women of the U.S. Air Force in celebration of the service’s 70th birthday. (U.S. AIR FORCE PHOTO // SENIOR AIRMAN RUSTY FRANK)
However, he quickly realized that wasn’t the case and instead chose to embrace the opportunity presented to him.
“I decided…I’m going to take the opportunity to get the job, and then do the best that I can,” he said. “I guess, as they say, the rest is history.”
During his tenure, Wright worked with three Secretaries of the Air Force. He first worked with Acting Secretary Lisa Disbrow, then Secretary Heather Wilson, concluding his career with Secretary Barbara Barrett. Wright appreciated their guidance and leadership in tackling the position’s responsibilities and handling top issues that affected Airmen.
Chief Master Sgt. of the Air Force Kaleth O. Wright, right, checks out a piece of 3D printed material with Staff Sgt. March Tiche, 60th Maintenance Squadron aircraft metals apprentice, during his tour Sept. 23, 2019, at Travis Air Force Base, California. Wright arrived at Travis AFB for a three-day visit to meet with Airmen and get a firsthand look at how Team Travis contributes to rapid global mobility. (U.S. AIR FORCE PHOTO // LOUIS BRISCESE)
“I’ve had a fantastic relationship with all of them, they were all really great personalities and they all gave me the space to get after enlisted issues,” he said. “So I’ve really appreciated the guidance, feedback, and the listening ear from all three of the secretaries.”
One of the most important relationships during his time as CMSAF was the one with Air Force Chief of Staff, Gen David L. Goldfein. They developed a great relationship, Wright saw him as a big brother as they collaborated on many different projects and decisions.
“We’re able to provide each other feedback…,” said Wright. “We have a lot of fun together. It’s really been great… I got a mini-Ph.D. in leadership just being able to sit beside him.”
Mentorship and guidance to help improve the force didn’t just come from top leadership Wright met with Airmen from around the world to provide feedback on issues that affected them directly. As he traveled and met with other chiefs to discuss policies, Airmen were included in the conversations to advocate for the changes they wanted to see.
The 18th CMSAF led many improvements for the force. He enhanced leadership development by rolling back additional duties, evolving Enlisted Professional Military Education, removing weighted Airman Promotion System tests, and improving talent management and leadership development processes.
He also pushed for joint-custody assignments, changed bereavement to the service’s sick leave policy, and helped make job-specific fitness tests, as well as the diagnostic fitness assessments, which are currently in beta testing.
Chief Master Sgt. of the Air Force Kaleth O. Wright greets one of his former Airmen, Tech. Sgt. Amanda Taylor, 726th Operations Group command support staff superintendent, during a base tour Oct. 19, 2018 at Nellis Air Force Base, Nevada. Wright and Taylor were stationed together at Osan Air Base, South Korea, between 2007 and 2008 where they used to play basketball together. (U.S. AIR FORCE PHOTO // AIRMAN 1ST CLASS ANDREW D. SARVER)
Initiatives he headed up also included increased dwell time for Airmen after giving birth and the Noncommissioned Officer Career Status Program, which includes indefinite enlistment based on high-year tenure and increased HYT for grades E-5 through E-9.
While addressing these issues, Wright built many relationships. The more he learned about Airmen accomplishing extraordinary things, the more he was determined to make the Air Force a better place for them.
“I think Airmen today are phenomenal,” Wright said. “I think they’re super talented in what we ask them to do. They’re creative, they’re innovative, they’re thoughtful, and they’re committed. I’ve just been amazed at what our Airmen have been able to accomplish, and what they do on a daily basis. And, to some extent, what they put up with on a daily basis.”
Chief Master Sgt. of the Air Force Kaleth O. Wright (right) coins Senior Airman Isaac Buck, 512th Rescue Squadron special mission aviator, at Kirtland Air Force Base, N.M., Sept. 27, 2019. Wright recognized Airmen belonging to Team Kirtland that performed above and beyond their own call of duty with his challenge coin. (U.S. AIR FORCE PHOTO // AIRMAN 1ST CLASS AUSTIN J. PRISBREY)
Wright explained that he wants Airmen to keep improving themselves and each other.
“I’m a dental tech who became Chief Master Sergeant of the Air Force, and I think all too often, we provide Airmen with formulas for success…without the benefit of allowing them to dream, and for them to decide, ‘hey, this is what I want to be,'” he said. “It might be the Chief Master Sergeant of the Air Force, or it might it be the President of the United States, but be dreamers – dream big.”
While trying to help those dreams come true, he acknowledges there are still challenges to be met.
“I do believe we have some areas we need to work on, and that’s racial inequality, as witnessed by what’s happening in our Air Force today, and I think we need to embrace technology and really invest in our IT infrastructure–some of the systems that we use are too old and too slow, and they slow our Airmen down,” he said.
U.S. Air Force Chief Master Sgt. of the Air Force Kaleth O. Wright shakes hands with a 100th Security Forces Squadron Airman during a visit at RAF Mildenhall, England, Dec. 26, 2018. Both Wright and Air Force Chief of Staff Gen. David L. Goldfein visited Team Mildenhall prior to heading back to the U.S. after a visit to U.S. Central Command during the holidays. (U.S. AIR FORCE PHOTO // STAFF SGT. CHRISTINE GROENING)
Wright put a spotlight on resilience as suicides across the service remain a concern. He prioritized ensuring programs and policies were in place and accessible, such as Task Force True North, which puts resources into squadrons to nurture mental health.
The CMSAF explained the service also needs “to do better with gender equality,” by improving diversity in recruitment, pilot accessions and leadership.
“I do think that in order for us to maintain our status as the greatest Air Force, we have to be tougher on ourselves than anybody else,” he said. “If we work on those areas, we’ll just become a better, more diverse, more capable Air Force.”
Chief Master Sgt. of the Air Force Kaleth O. Wright speaks to U.S. Air Force Airmen during an enlisted all-call at Ramstein Air Base, Germany, July 26, 2018. Wright visited numerous units to speak with Airmen about enlisted issues. (U.S. AIR FORCE PHOTO // AIRMAN 1ST CLASS D. BLAKE BROWNING)
Wright understands there’s still a lot more work that needs to be accomplished. But as he reflects on his time in uniform and as CMSAF, he credits his mentors, family and the Team 18 staff on the growth and success of his venture.
Chief Master Sgt. Manny Piñeiro, Air Force First Sergeant special duty manager, taught him how to be passionate about helping people and Wright credits Chief Master Sgt. Kristina Rogers, senior execute to the office of CMSAF, with, “keeping us all in check.” However, he acknowledges his character development grew from Master Sgt retired Joe Winbush, Wright’s first supervisor, who he considers “my mentor, my pops” from early in his career.
Chief Master Sergeant of the Air Force Kaleth O. Wright answers a question during an all-call with the Airmen from the 70th Intelligence, Surveillance and Reconnaissance Wing, Aug. 16, 2017 at Fort George G. Meade, Md. During the CMSAF’s visit he conversed with the Airmen about topics concerning airmanship, professionalism and future enlisted Air Force initiatives. (U.S. AIR FORCE PHOTO // STAFF SGT. ALEXANDRE MONTES)
As his Air Force career concludes, Wright will forever be part of a legacy of leaders.
While the service prepares for Wright’s transition, he noted the new top enlisted leader, Chief JoAnne S. Bass, holds the same passion and focus on the Airmen as well as awareness of how decisions can affect their lives and careers.
Chief Master Sgt. of the Air Force Kaleth O. Wright and Chief Master Sgt. Manny Piñeiro, Air Force first sergeant special duty manager, meet with 92nd and 141st Maintenance Group Airmen to discuss the streamlining of the periodic inspection process at Fairchild Air Force Base, March 22, 2019. The periodic inspection is the most in-depth inspection Fairchild maintainers conduct on the KC-135 Stratotanker. The two-week inspection is conducted every 24 months, 1,800 flight hours or 1,000 landings. (U.S. AIR FORCE PHOTO // STAFF SGT. MACKENZIE MENDEZ)
“This type of work is never finished and I’m excited about our next Chief Master Sergeant of the Air Force,” he said. “She actually helped build some of these programs and processes. I think she’ll have her own priorities and things she’ll want to work on and I’m confident that she’ll continue to work on some of the things that we literally started together.”
He leaves one last bit of advice to his replacement, “do you.”
“I told her don’t ever be concerned or worry about changing something, eliminating something, offending me, or what have you,” he smiled, wanting her to stay true to her conviction and values. “I had three and a half, almost four years to impact the Air Force. Now it’s your turn.”
Chief Master Sergeant of the Air Force Kaleth O. Wright, views a loadmaster training video with Chief Master Sgt. Manny Piñeiro, Air Force special duty manager for first sergeants, and Capt. Joseph Hunt, 314th Airlift Wing chief of group tactics, at Little Rock Air Force Base, Arkansas, Oct. 3, 2019. Wright visited multiple units across the installation including the 19th AW, 314th AW, and 189th AW to learn about Herk Nation’s singular focus on Combat Airlift. (U.S. AIR FORCE PHOTO // AIRMAN 1ST CLASS AARON IRVIN)
James H. Anderson, the assistant secretary of defense for strategy, plans, and capabilities, spoke about the 2019 Missile Defense Review at the Brookings Institution in Washington, Jan. 29, 2019. He noted that the strategy covers the Defense Department’s three lines of effort: lethality, partnership and reform.
Here are his main points:
China and Russia are developing advanced cruise missiles and hypersonic weapons that can potentially overcome United States defenses. North Korea has tested intercontinental ballistic missiles that are capable of reaching the U.S. and could be armed with nuclear warheads. And, Iran’s space program could accelerate development of an ICBM system that might be able to reach the U.S.
2019 missile defense review goal
Diplomacy and deterrence are the primary strategies to protect the nation, deployed forces and U.S. allies from missile attacks. Should that fail, the U.S. is developing a layered missile defense system as well as offensive capability.
The ballistic missile submarine USS Tennessee gold crew returns to its home port at Naval Submarine Base Kings Bay, Ga., Jan. 11, 2019, following a strategic deterrence patrol.
(Photo by Bryan Tomforde)
• Upgrade existing radars and sensors
• Increase the number of ground-based interceptors by 20 to 64, along with developing a new kill vehicle for the GBI
• Develop small, high-energy lasers that can be fitted on unmanned aerial systems
• Arm F-35 Lightning II aircraft with tracking capabilities and possible missile intercept at the early boost stage
• Increase the Navy’s fleet of Aegis-equipped destroyers from 38 to 60
• Improve space-based sensors to detect and track missiles
• Conduct a feasibility study of space-based missile intercept capability
• Conduct a Standard Missile-3 Block IIA test against ICBMs by 2020
• Leverage the SM-6 for both defensive and strike operations.
A Standard Missile 3 Block IIA launches from the Aegis Ashore Missile Defense Test Complex at the Pacific Missile Range Facility in Kauai, Hawaii, Dec. 10, 2018, during a test to intercept an intermediate-range ballistic missile target in space.
(Photo by Ryan Keith)
To address regional threats and protect partners, Anderson said the U.S. will deploy additional terminal high altitude area defense, Patriot and Aegis Ashore platforms.
In turn, partner nations are building up their air and missile defenses, with the possibility of integrating them with U.S. systems. For example, he noted that NATO has an operational Aegis Ashore site in Romania. A second site, to be operational in about a year, is being built in Poland, which will house SM-3 Block IIA missiles. Denmark and the Netherlands have sea-based radar systems that can locate missiles.
DOD must adopt processes and cultures that enable development and procurement of missile defense systems in a streamlined and cost-effective manner, Anderson said.
“We must not fear test failure, but learn from it and rapidly adjust,” he said.
“The secretary is also receiving reports throughout the day on actions the military services are taking to protect the safety and well-being of the military community, and ensure the readiness of DoD installations in the region affected by Hurricane Florence,” Kenneth P. Rapuano, assistant secretary of defense for homeland defense and global security, said at a Pentagon news conference.
Outer bands of the storm have already started hitting the coast and officials said there are already winds exceeding 100 mph in some areas. The storm surge has hit in North and South Carolina and the storm is expected to slow down and deposit huge amounts of rain.
Kenneth P. Rapuano, left, assistant secretary of defense for homeland defense and global security, and Air Force Gen. Terrence J. O’Shaughnessy, commander of the North American Aerospace Defense Command and U.S. Northern Command, brief reporters at the Pentagon, Sept. 13, 2018, on Defense Department preparations for Hurricane Florence.
(DoD photo by Air Force Tech. Sgt. Vernon Young Jr.)
DoD is already working with the Federal Emergency Management Agency to pre-position helicopters, vehicles, and supplies. The department is prepared to assist FEMA and our other federal partners in supporting the affected regions, Rapuano said.
O’Shaughnessy said DoD assets have virtually surrounded the area where the storm is expected to make landfall.
“We are proactively positioning forces now to respond from the north, from the south, from the east, and from the west, across the full spectrum of DoD capabilities at every level — by air, by sea and by land,” the general said.
Fort A.P. Hill, Virginia; Joint Base Bragg, North Carolina; North Auxiliary Airfield, South Carolina; and Maxwell Air Force Base in Alabama are staging areas for FEMA.
About 80 light/medium tactical vehicles are staged at Fort Stewart, Georgia, set to respond quickly once Florence passes through the area. These trucks are high-water-clearance vehicles which can carry supplies or first responders. These vehicles proved their worth in this type of situation last year during Hurricane Harvey in Houston.
At Hunter Army Airfield, Georgia, there are 35 helicopters available for search-and-rescue operations. A similar unit is at Fort Bliss, Texas, ready to move forward.
At Fort Bragg, there are 40 high-wheel vehicles for rescue and transportation, as well as seven helicopters staged for use in search and rescue and recovery missions, the general said.
Army Spc. Benjamin Holybee, a UH-60 Black Hawk helicopter crew chief assigned to Charlie Company, 1st General Support Aviation Battalion, 169th Aviation Regiment, Oklahoma Army National Guard, conducts preflight checks in Lexington, Okla., Sept. 13, 2018.
(Army National Guard photo by Sgt. Brian Schroeder)
The USS Kearsarge amphibious assault ship and the USS Arlington amphibious transport dock ship are following behind Florence. These vessels have Navy and Marine personnel, 16 helicopters, and six MV-22 Osprey tilt-rotor aircraft.
At Moody Air Force Base, Georgia, the Air Force has six HH-60 helicopters, two HC-30 aircraft and four pararescue teams at the ready.
At Tyndall Air Force Base in Florida, 1st Air Force will provide robust command-and-control, air operations support to the DoD effort. This will include airborne command-and-control assets.
‘Ready to respond’
“North Carolina, South Carolina, Virginia, and Georgia are all home to well-known military bases and installations, and the secretary of defense is given authority for life-saving and life-sustaining actions in order to make DoD capabilities immediately available, and local commanders are proactively positioning forces and equipment to be ready,” O’Shaughnessy said. “At the state level, National Guard units, whether Army or Air, under the authority of their governors, are ready to respond to the individual and oftentimes neighboring states’ needs.”
Mattis has activated dual-status commanders in North Carolina, South Carolina, and Virginia to provide seamless command and control over assigned active duty and National Guard forces.
Rapuano said U.S. Transportation Command is staging and prepositioning FEMA resources. “The Defense Logistics Agency is directly supporting FEMA logistics with the procurement and distribution of relief commodities, including food, fuel and water,” he said.
The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers is also directly supporting FEMA and is poised to support flood mitigation, temporary emergency power, temporary roofing, and debris removal, Rapuano said.
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?”