US sees Russian weapon behind US diplomats’ mystery ailments, say officials

Kirtland Air Force BaseA Russian-made device caused the mystery ailments that affected more than two dozen American diplomats in Cuba and China, according to United States government officials who have been briefed on the matter. Since September of last year, Washington has recalled the majority of its personnel from its embassy in Havana and at least two more diplomats from its consulate in the Chinese city of Guangzhou. The evacuees reported experiencing “unusual acute auditory or sensory phenomena” and “unusual sounds or piercing noises”. Subsequent tests showed that they suffered from sudden and unexplained loss of hearing as well as from various forms of brain injuries. In April of this year the Canadian embassy evacuated all family members of its personnel stationed in the Cuban capital over similar health concerns. More recently, the US issued a travel warning advising its citizens to stay away from the island and accused Cuba of neglecting to ensure the safety of US diplomatic personnel stationed there.

In early September, Douglas H. Smith, who heads the team of scientists tasked by the US government to examine the matter, said that microwave radiation was almost certainly responsible for the diplomats’ ailments. He added that microwaves were considered “a main suspect” and that his team of scientists was now “increasingly sure” that the diplomats had suffered brain injuries caused by microwave radiation. Now the US news network NBC reports that Russia is viewed as the primary culprit behind the mystery ailments that plagued US diplomats. Reporting on Tuesday the news network cited three unnamed officials in the administration of US President Donald Trump, as well as “congressional aides and others briefed on the investigation”. Specifically, NBC reported that the Russian connection was supported by “evidence from communications intercepts” (signals intelligence or SIGINT), though it did not elaborate on their precise nature. It also said that the ongoing investigation into the purported weapon involves the Federal Bureau of Investigation, the Central Intelligence Agency among other US intelligence and security agencies. Another leading actor in the investigation is the US Air Force, said NBC, stating that experts in its directed energy research program at the Kirtland Air Force Base near Albuquerque, New Mexico, are trying to reverse-engineer the alleged weapons based on the symptoms that they cause.

But NBC noted that the evidence remains relatively inconclusive and is not yet sufficient to allow Washington to openly accuse Moscow of having masterminded the alleged microwave attacks on the US diplomats. The news network said it reached out to the Office of the Director of National Intelligence but received no response. A spokeswoman from the US Department of State said that the investigation into the diplomats’ ailments was ongoing and that the Department had made “no determination of who or what is responsible for the health attacks” on its personnel.

Author: Joseph Fitsanakis | Date: 13 September 2018 | Permalink

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Microwave weapons were behind US diplomats’ ailments, says leading scientist

US embassy in CubaAdvanced weapons that emit microwave radiation were most likely responsible for the ailments of American diplomats in Cuba and China, according to the scientist leading the investigations into the matter. In September of 2017, Washington recalled the majority of its personnel from its embassy in Havana and issued a travel warning advising its citizens to stay away from the island. These actions were taken in response to allegations by the US Department of State that at least 21 of its diplomatic and support staff stationed in Cuba suffered from sudden and unexplained loss of hearing, causing them to be diagnosed with brain injuries. In April, the Canadian embassy evacuated all family members of its personnel stationed in Havana over similar health concerns.

Less than a year later, in June 2018, the US reportedly evacuated at least two more diplomatic personnel from its consulate in the Chinese city of Guangzhou, after they experienced “unusual acute auditory or sensory phenomena” and “unusual sounds or piercing noises”. The evacuations took place two weeks after the US Department of State disclosed that a consulate worker in Guangzhou had been flown home for medical testing, in response to having experienced “subtle and vague, but abnormal, sensations of sound and pressure”. The evacuations from China prompted comparisons to the very similar phenomena that had been reported by US diplomatic personnel in Cuba the previous year. In 2017, media reports stated that Washington had concluded that the American diplomats were exposed to “an advanced device that was deployed either inside or outside their residences”. But the Cuban government denied that it had anything to do with the American diplomats’ symptoms, and some believe that the alleged “covert sonic device” may have been deployed by an intelligence service of a third country —possibly Russia— without the knowledge of Cuban authorities. However, the US government has remained largely silent about the cases.

Now, however, Douglas H. Smith, the head of the team of scientists that were tasked by the US government to examine the matter, says that microwave radiation was almost certainly responsible for the diplomats’ ailments. Dr. Smith, who is also the lead author of a written account of the investigation that was published in the Journal of the American Medical Association, spoke to The New York Times. He said that microwaves were now considered “a main suspect” and that his team of scientists was now “increasingly sure” that the diplomats had suffered brain injuries caused by microwave radiation. The Times sought comments on Dr. Smith’s statement from the US Department of State and the Federal Bureau of Investigation. However, the Department of State said that its own investigation had yet to conclusively identify the cause of the ailments, while the FBI declined to discuss the matter.

Author: Joseph Fitsanakis | Date: 03 September 2018 | Permalink

Israel has secretly worked with Emirates against Iran for decades, report alleges

Mohammed bin Rashid EmiratesA lengthy exposé by a leading American newsmagazine has claimed that Israel and the United Arab Emirates, two countries that officially have no relations, have been secretly collaborating for more than two decades. Their secret cooperation has been extremely tight and has included clandestine weapons sales and intelligence-sharing, according to the exposé, which was published on the website of The New Yorker on Monday and will feature in the magazine’s print edition on June 18. The lengthy piece, which deals with the changing geopolitics of the Middle East, is written by Adam Entous, national security correspondent for The Washington Post, who has previously reported for more than two decades for Reuters and The Wall Street Journal.

Officially, Israel and the UAE have never had bilateral relations. The Emirates, an Arab federal state ruled through an absolute monarchical system, does not recognize Israel as a country. Consequently, the two Middle Eastern states have no official diplomatic, economic or military relations. But in his lengthy article published on Monday, Entous claims that Israeli and Emirati officials have been meeting in secret for at least 24 years. He alleges that the first clandestine meeting between the two sides happened in 1994 in Washington, after Abu Dhabi sought to purchase a number of American-made F-16 fighter jets. The US warned the UAE that Israel would veto the deal, fearing that these fighter jets in the hands of Arabs may eventually be used against it. But Israel did not pose a veto. Motivated by the Oslo I Accord, which it had signed the previous year, the Israeli government of Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin secretly reached out to the Emiratis and offered “to discuss the matter directly” with them.

The first series of meetings between the two sides took place “off the record […] in a nondescript office in Washington”, says Entous. Israeli and Emirati officials were diametrically at odds over the Palestinian issue, but were in almost complete agreement on the topic of Iran. Abu Dhabi saw Iran as a major threat to the stability of the Middle East, and so did Israel. Following the secret meetings, Israel lifted its objections to Washington’s sale of F-16s to the Emiratis. That, says Entous, helped “build a sense of trust” between the two Middle Eastern countries. By the end of the 1990s, there were allegedly regular secret meetings between Israeli and Emirati officials, which included the sharing of military, security and intelligence data.

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Another US diplomat detained in Pakistan over traffic accident that injured two

US embassy Islamabad PakistanAnother American diplomat was detained in Pakistan last week, following the second serious traffic accident involving United States diplomatic personnel in Islamabad in less than a month. The incidents are said to be contributing to ongoing diplomatic tensions between the United States and Pakistan. Many in the South Asian country remain angry about a controversial episode in 2011, when a Central Intelligence Agency officer serving at the US consulate in Lahore killed two men by shooting them in the head with a Glock pistol. The CIA officer, Raymond A. Davis, told Pakistani police that the two men had tried to rob him. He was eventually released from detention due to his diplomatic immunity, but only after the personal intervention of the then Secretary of State John Kerry, and after Washington offered monetary compensation to the two dead men’s families.

In the latest incident, Pakistani authorities detained an American diplomat on Sunday, after his Toyota SUV ran over two men riding on a motorcycle in Islamabad. The diplomat, identified in Pakistani media as the US embassy’s Second Secretary Chad Rex Ausburn, was accused by police of having been involved in a hit-and-run incident in the Pakistani capital. According to local reports, Ausburn refused to emerge from his vehicle immediately following the accident, but eventually stepped out and identified himself to police officers. They then took him into custody and impounded his vehicle, which is believed to belong to the US embassy. Ausburn was released once the Pakistani Ministry of Foreign Affairs confirmed his diplomatic status, which grants him immunity from prosecution. The two men injured in the accident are said to be in stable condition at a nearby hospital. Police have reportedly charged the driver of the motorcycle with reckless driving.

However, Pakistani authorities have also charged Taimur Iqbal Pirzada, a security adviser for the US embassy in Islamabad, with seeking to obstruct the police investigation into Sunday’s incident. Pirzada stands accused of trying to stop police officers from detaining Ausburn and impounding his vehicle. He was released on bail on Monday and is currently awaiting trial. US State Department spokesman Nolen Johnson told The New York Times on Monday that the issue involving Ausburn had been “resolved” and that the US government had been “in close contact with Government of Pakistan officials on this matter”. This past April, Pakistani authorities barred another American diplomat from leaving the country, after the car he was driving was involved in an accident in Islamabad, which left a motorcyclist dead. The US embassy’s military attaché, Colonel Joseph E. Hall, remains in Pakistan. Authorities there have demanded that the US Department of State rescinds his diplomatic immunity, so he can face a criminal trial. But the US government has so far refused to grant Islamabad’s request.

Author: Joseph Fitsanakis | Date: 01 May 2018 | Permalink | Research credit: C.F.

Canada evacuates diplomats’ families from Cuba, citing mysterious brain injuries

Embassy of Canada in Havana, CubaThe government of Canada has announced plans to evacuate family members of its diplomats serving in Cuba, because of medical issues caused by an alleged espionage-related technological device. These concerns have persisted among United States and Canadian diplomatic staff since the fall of 2016, when several members of staff at the US embassy in Havana reported suffering from sudden and unexplained loss of hearing. Eventually, their symptoms became so serious that some American diplomats decided “to cancel their tours early and return to the United States”, according to the Associated Press, which published this story in August of 2016.

Since that time, the US Department of State has said that 21 of its diplomatic and support staff have been diagnosed with brain injuries. In response to these concerns, Washington recalled the majority of its diplomats from Havana last September and issued a travel warning advising its citizens to stay away from the island. Now the Canadian embassy has said it will evacuate all family members of its personnel stationed in Havana, according to the BBC. The government of Canada is believed to have made the decision to evacuate its citizens after it confirmed that at least 10 members of diplomatic families living on the island had been found to suffer from “unexplained brain symptoms”, according to Canadian government officials. These include regular spells of dizziness and nausea, as well as difficulty in concentrating on tasks.

Interestingly, Canadian experts have dismissed theories, emanating mostly from the US, that the mysterious brain symptoms come from a mysterious covert weapon that emits sonic waves. But some Canadian experts have said that the symptoms suffered by the diplomats and their families may point to a new illness, whose cause remains unknown. Cuba has dismissed repeated allegations by Washington that it allowed a third party —possibly Russia—to conduct sonic attacks against Western diplomats on the island. Cuban officials have described the allegations as tricks in a game of “political manipulation” that has been concocted by the White House to damage the bilateral relationship between the US and the government of the Caribbean island.

Author: Joseph Fitsanakis | Date: 18 April 2018 | Permalink

Russia retains massive global diplomatic footprint despite recent expulsions

Russian embassiesThough unprecedented in size, the recent expulsions of over 150 diplomats by nearly 30 countries and organizations around the world have hardly made a dent on Russia’s huge diplomatic footprint. The coordinated expulsions were announced last week in response to Britain’s allegation that the Kremlin tried to kill a Russian former spy living in England. Sergei Skripal, 66, who spied for Britain in the early 2000s, and has been living in England since 2010, is fighting for his life after being poisoned with what London claims was a military-grade nerve agent. Nearly every European country, as well as Canada, Australia and the United States, expelled Russian diplomats in response to the attack on Skripal.

The largest share of the expulsions came from the United States, where the White House announced that 60 Russian diplomats had been ordered to leave by the end of the week. The majority of these diplomats are posted at the Russian embassy in Washington and consulate in New York. At least a dozen more are serving in Russia’s permanent mission at the United Nations in New York. On Thursday, several US media outlets said that all 60 Russians told to leave the US are undeclared intelligence officers serving under diplomatic cover. Fox News quoted an unnamed “senior administration official” in the US as saying that “these are not diplomats that we expelled […]. They are intelligence officers […] operating under diplomatic cover”. The official added that the Russians were expelled because they “were engaging in activities that were not commensurate with their diplomatic roles and functions”. That description is often used by governments to allude to diplomats who are in fact engaging in espionage or other intelligence-related activities.

But in an analysis piece written for the BBC, Alex Oliver, research director at the Lowy Institute in Australia, points out that the 150 diplomats expelled in recent days are but “a tiny part” of Russia’s massive diplomatic presence around the world. With 242 diplomatic posts around the world, Russia has the world’s fourth largest diplomatic footprint, behind the United States, China and France. Several thousand Russian diplomats are stationed at any one time in 143 Russian embassies, 87 consulates, and about a dozen other diplomatic missions in nearly every country in the world. Of these, approximately 170 serve in the United States. The 60 expulsions announced last week by the US government, will still leave Russia with over 100 accredited diplomats in America —many of whom are presumably intelligence officers. Earlier today, Moscow announced that it would expel 60 American diplomats, as well as nearly 100 more diplomats for other countries. The White House said that it may choose to respond with further expulsions of Russian diplomatic personnel.

Author: Joseph Fitsanakis | Date: 26 April 2018 | Permalink

EU recalls envoy to Moscow over Skripal poisoning, more expulsions may follow

Theresa MayThe European Union has recalled its ambassador to Moscow in an apparent response to the poisoning of Sergei Skripal, a Russian double agent, who was attacked with a nerve agent in England earlier this month. Skripal, 66, and his daughter Yulia, 33, remain in critical condition in hospital, nearly three weeks after being poisoned with a nerve agent that British scientists say belongs to Russia’s Cold-War-era chemical stockpiles. Moscow has angrily rejected claims that Skripal, who spied for Britain in the early 2000s, was on a Kremlin-approved hit-list of defectors. But British Prime Minister Theresa May traveled to Brussels on Thursday to brief European Union heads of state about the attack on Skripal.

The summit concluded in the early hours of Friday with the publication of a joint statement, signed by every participating head of state, backing the British claims and expressing outrage at Moscow’s alleged use of a military-grade nerve agent on British soil. The statement said that EU leaders “agree with the United Kingdom government’s assessment that it is highly likely that the Russian Federation is responsible” for the attack on the Skripals. “There is no plausible alternative explanation”, said the statement, and described the attack on the two Russians as a “grave challenge to our shared security”. The statement will be seen as a foreign-policy triumph by London, as Britain has been contacting EU governments seeking from them a direct condemnation of Russia and possible diplomatic actions in response to the alleged attack.

The jointly authored statement also said that the EU would recall its ambassador to Moscow, effective immediately. Markus Ederer, a German diplomat who represents the EU in the Russian capital, will be leaving Russia “for a month of consultations”, in what appears to be a symbolic act of protest by the Europeans. However, some EU members threatened further action and said that they would “coordinate on the consequences to be drawn in the light of” future Russian actions on the matter of the Skripals. In statements made to reporters early on Friday, German Chancellor Angela Merkel said that there may be “further punitive measures” against Russia, adding that they would be coordinated among EU states.

Some media reported that at least five EU member states were considering expelling undeclared Russian intelligence officers from their soil in response to the alleged Russian attack in England. They are said to include France, Lithuania and Poland. The London-based newspaper Daily Telegraph reported that Russia was in danger of having its Western European spy network dismantled in response to the attack on the Skripals. Some EU countries, however, including Italy and Greece, appeared less interested in taking action against Russia. The Greek Prime Minister, Alexis Tsipras, said on Thursday that his government expressed its “solidarity with the United Kingdom”, but that the EU had to investigate what happened in England on March 4.

Author: Joseph Fitsanakis | Date: 23 March 2018 | Permalink