Introductory testimonies of the three witnesses, State Dept. officials, Medical Director Dr. C. Rosenfarb, Deputy Assistant Secretary F. Palmieri and Assistant Director Diplomatic Security T. Brown can be downloaded from above link.
Facebook posts from the U.S. State Department with videos of the testimonies
PDAS Palmieri Testimony on "Attacks on U.S. Diplomats in Cuba"
Mr. Brown of DSS Testifies on "Attacks on US Diplomats in Cuba"
Dr. Charles Rosenfarb Testifies on "Attacks on U.S. Diplomats in Cuba"
Questions by Senator Marco Rubio to Dr. Charles Rosenfarb, Franscisco Palmieri and Todd Brown
Why wasn't an Accountability Review Board (ARB) set up within 60 or 120 days as indicated by the law in the case of serious injury of mission abroad?
Figure 1: Senator Marco Rubio
Questions by Senator Bob Menendez to State Department officials Dr. Charles Rosenfarb, Franscesco Palmieri and Todd Brown
Senator Menendez inquires on the relevance of the Cuban-Russian Defense Cooperation Agreement signed in December 2016. This included cooperation in a series of new technologies. The attacks started in November 2016.
Deputy Assistant Secretary (State Dept) commits to providing a classified briefing (one was provided in October and a request for another had been made in early December).
Dr. Rosenfarb: "the pattern of injuries became consistent with what I testify as being most likely a version of traumatic brain injury or concussion.”
Senator asks why diplomats were told not to share their symptoms or concerns with family members.
Figure 2: Senator Bob Menendez
Excerpts from automatic transcript with minor modifications
BM: Unfortunately I'm going to have to go to the White House so I'm going to have a series of questions for the record. I was looking forward to a second round. I hope those questions will be answered. First, listening to the last set of answers: like the times in which we used to have children put their heads underneath their desk for a nuclear attack. Ridiculous. “Move away from sound that you're hearing”. It's pretty amazing to me.
Let me ask, the democratic offices of this committee have requested a classified briefing on this issue in early December. To date that briefing has not taken place. Do you commit to providing a classified briefing for this committee?
BM: And given the fact that so much is tied to classified information, do you commit to accepting and responding to classified questions for the record?
FP: Yes, sir.
BM: Would it not be fair to say that in Cuba either it is the regime who conducted these attacks or they have full knowledge of who conducted these attacks because the state security apparatus in Cuba is one that has every element of Cuban society and life fully monitored and engaged. Very difficult to believe that if a third country ultimately engaged in these attacks that the Cuban intelligence would not know.
FP: Yes, sir.
BM: All right. So either it is the Cubans or it is someone else. Under the possibility that it is someone else and I think the administration has recognized one possible explanation for these attacks on U.S. Personnel is a third country, possibly in collaboration with the Cuban government or at least with its knowledge. Or if it wasn't with its knowledge, they know who it is and they have not come forth as I understand it? Have the Cuban government suggested who this might be if not them?
FP: Not that I'm aware of.
BM: In the theory for a moment that it is a third country. In December 2016 around the same time these attacks first started, the Cuban and Russian government signed a new Defense cooperation agreement, including cooperating in a series of new technologies and I'd like to release two press articles regarding this agreement for the record, Mr Chairman. Has the State Department raised attacks against U.S. Personnel in Cuba with the Russian government for example?
FP: Sir, I think -- that's a very good question. I think it would be better to address that issue in a classified setting.
BM: So If I were to go to a list of other countries, you are going to give me the same answer?
FP: In general, yes, sir.
BM: So I look forward to that classified moment. Let me ask you this. You have said that you will not return individuals to the post unless the Cubans can guarantee that these attacks will not continue. Doesn't that indicate you believe the government has at least some knowledge or control over these attacks?
FP: The President and the Secretary have stated that they do believe the Cuba government has responsibility in this situation.
BM: When was the first time a diplomat reported symptoms of the attack?
CR: The first symptoms -- first patients were seen by our health provider in the medical unit in embassy Havana in mid-January.
BM: Mid-January of?
BM: Of 2017. Do we know when the Chargé was first informed of these attacks?
FP: I believe the Chargé alerted these attacks at the very end of December of 2016.
BM: So we say some of these attacks took place in May of 2016, right?
FP: There was a cluster of attacks that occurred between March and mid-April. I do not believe there was an attack in May. I 'd have to go back to the timeline.
BM: So if it's March to mid-April of 2016.
FP: Excuse me, Senator. I meant 2017.
BM: Okay. So let me ask you this. Was the Chargé informed of the severity of the attacks? Was he advised that the effects of the attacks could be permanent?
FP: He was informed of the attacks in late December, Sir, of 2016. At that point I do not believe we knew we had information about the severity or the depth of the attacks.
BM: When diplomats reported symptoms to the regional security office, the medical team, why did it take so long to respond?
TB: Senator, I believe to try to clarify how this timeline from investigative standpoint took place, it was December 30th in 2016 when it was first brought to the attention of the regional security officer and the Front Office of the Embassy. At that time it was not clear what was taking place, nor were there related severe medical symptoms. They just simply didn't know at that point. They thought it might be some form of harassment and the regional security officer did note it in a report back to Washington along with other reports. So that's when they first had this notice of what was happening. And then there was this long gap that nothing new happened. So this case is sort of amplified by how perplexing and knowledge gaps. But they did seize on this early indicator that something odd had happened and then I believe it was late -- this was considered a form of harassment early on and then it wasn't until early February when new incidents were reported that it was sort of this moment of we've got something bigger happening here.
BM: Why were diplomats effected told not to share their symptoms or concerns with family members?
TB: I'm not aware that was ever done.
BM: Would you review it because if you talk to these individuals they will tell you that they were told not to share their symptoms or concerns with family members. When did you first learn that employees were suffering symptoms associated with traumatic brain injury?
CR: We medically evacuated the first patient I think was February 6th, 2017, and --- next two months evacuated 40 more people and we had the specialist from Miami go to Havana and assess more people. As we saw more and more patients and they were able to do the evaluations and do the objective assessments it became -- the pattern of injuries became consistent with what I testify as being most likely a version of traumatic brain injury or concussion. It was an accumulation of information and findings over that two months.
BM: For those employees that were or are currently being treated, will the Department continue to cover all of their medical care?
FP: I would refer that question to the officer of medical services.
CR: We're committed to do everything we can under existing authorities to provide the care and support --
BM: Those existing authorities suggest there is some limitation to the treatment you will give these employees?
CR: The -- we are -- there may be some limitations to family members over the course of -- because typically people injured in the course of duty would be covered by the workers compensation law and family members would not be.
BM: Well, I would ask you in response to my questions to give the committee a full sense of what limitations there are. I don't think when we send a diplomat abroad who is attacked by whomever at the end of the day that their health and well-being should be limited in our response to them. I think you want to send a message that if they're attacked they will be taken care of and I consider them in this respect a veteran of our diplomatic efforts so I would like to see what limitations there are if any and see if we can respond to that. I have plenty of other questions (…).
Figure 3: Senator Ron Johnson
Questions by Senator Shaheen
Congress seeks to be informed on the FBI investigation: Senator Shaheen asks Chairman Senator Rubio if the FBI has been asked to testify.
When jurisdiction issues are cited, it is inquired if their report could be accessed.
State Department received a report on results of the Cuba preliminary investigation in September.
Senator Shaheen requests comments on Associated Press information concerning the FBI investigation (https://twitter.com/joshledermanAP/status/950758532202336256)
"The FBI report, which hasn’t been released publicly, is the clearest sign to date of the U.S. ruling out the sonic weapon theory. The report says the FBI tested the hypothesis that air pressure waves via audible sound, infrasound or ultrasound could be used to clandestinely hurt Americans in Cuba, and found no evidence."
Figure 4: Senator Shaheen
Excerpts from transcript with minor modifications starting at 00:50:16 at this link https://www.c-span.org/video/?439474-1/state-department-officials-testify-attacks-us-diplomats-cuba&start=3016
JS: Thank you, Mr. Chairman and thank you all for testifying today. I think this committee had a classified briefing on this issue in October. Mr. Palmieri, you suggested that there was information that you can only share in a classified briefing. Is there new information that has come to light since that classified briefing about what occurred in these instances?
FP: I think it would benefit the committee for us to come up and do an additional classified briefing. There have been developments since the October briefing. I know we have tried to keep the committee informed to the best of our ability. It would be worthwhile, yes, Senator.
JS: There's an AP headline, a story from yesterday which you all may have seen which says the FBI doubts a sonic attack. And I would just read briefly: "the FBI report, which hasn’t been released publicly, is the clearest sign to date of the U.S. ruling out the sonic weapon theory. The report says the FBI tested the hypothesis that air pressure waves via audible sound, infrasound or ultrasound could be used to clandestinely hurt Americans in Cuba, and found no evidence." Do you believe that this report is accurate (that was in the AP's story)?
TB: Senator, perhaps I comment that it's an FBI report and I would hesitate to comment on the FBI findings at this point.
JS: Mr. Chairman, did we ask the FBI if they would come and testify before this committee about this issue?
CR: We did not. The FBI generally will not testify because of jurisdictional issues with judiciary.
JS: Is there a way for us to get the information from this FBI report in a classified briefing?
M. Rubio: There is. I think that's one of the things Senator Menendez is asking about.
JS: I think that would be very helpful. How has the Cuban government responded to these attacks and have they been cooperative in the investigations?
CR: Senator, I’m not aware that they've been uncooperative. I know we had our own investigative team that went down in May and they had no difficulties in at least entering the country and certainly working the case in terms of just the U.S. mission. I'm also unaware that the FBI has encountered any difficulties in terms of coming in and out the country for investigative purposes. Beyond that, I do know that the Cuban government said they would also conduct a parallel investigation so to speak. I understand that the Embassy has noted increased Cuban security presence in our residential areas, purportedly in response to this issue. I honestly don't know if that is any legitimate attempt on their part to uncover but it has been noted there is increased presence by the Cubans in those residential areas.
JS: Mr Palmieri, knowing what you know about the way the Cuban government operates do you believe there could have been deliberate attacks on our personnel without the Cuban government knowing about it?
FP: I find it very difficult to believe that. Cuba is a security state, the Cuban government have a tight lid on anything and everything that happens in that country.
JS: Have they been more responsive because we asked them to remove their Embassy personnel? Has there produced any change in their behavior?
FP: The Cuban government since we expelled their personnel is engaged in a pattern trying to discredit the theories related to these attacks, I don't think that is a healthful posture for them to take.
JS: Have they actually investigated the attacks themselves? Mr. Brown.
TB: According to the Cuban authorities, they said they were opening a parallel investigation. Beyond that I'm unaware of what they have done or what they have uncovered. Perhaps there could be a question posed to FBI investigators.
JS: So we have not. The State Department has not seen the results of any report that they have done?
TB: Not that i'm aware of, no.
FP: Senator, if i could clarify that last point? We did have a law enforcement dialogue in September where they did share with the Department a document that they purported to be the results of their preliminary investigation into this matter.
JS: And did it shed any light or provide any information that we didn't already have?
TB I have not seen the report, Senator, but I'm not aware any new information surfaced due to a Cuban investigation.
JS: My time is up. If I could ask just one more question, Mr. Chairman. Mr. Palmieri, as someone who watched Cuba for some time, given the change in American policy during the Obama administration, to resume a diplomatic relationship with Cuba and to begin to resume other commercial and other ties with the country, is there any reason to think it would be in Cuba's interests to make deliberate attacks against our Embassy personnel at a time when there was an effort to resume ties with the country?
FP: I am loathe to speculate on Cuban government intentions, however, there is a long history and pattern of Cuban harassment of U.S. Diplomats stationed in Havana. It's entirely possible that they could have escalated that pattern of harassment and caused these incidents. In whatever case, they are responsible for the safety and security of U.S. Diplomats stationed in Havana under the Vienna convention and they have failed to live up to that responsibility.
JS: Thank you. Thank you, Mr. Chairman.
Convened on Jan 12, 2018, submitted report to Secretary Pompeo on June 7, 2018 and to Congress on Aug 30, 2018
The Cuba Accountability Review Board was convened by former Secretary of State Rex Tillerson on January 12, 2018.
Excerpts from above link: "The ARB first met February 9, and interviewed more than 116 individuals over the course of four months. On June 7, the ARB submitted a report of its findings and recommendations to Secretary Pompeo. Pursuant to law, the Secretary submitted a report to Congress on August 30, 2018 outlining the ARB’s recommendations and actions taken in response."
Accountability: "The ARB recommended elevating the overall responsibility for the Cuba response to the Deputy Secretary of State. In May, the Deputy Secretary – at the Secretary’s request – established the interagency Health Incidents Response Task Force to direct a multi-agency response (...)"
Interagency Coordination: The ARB "highlighted the benefit of reviewing" the Department's "processes for communication and coordination with interagency partners"
Medical Issues: The ARB found the Department’s Bureau of Medical Services provided competent and professional response to an unprecedented situation, but they had insufficient resources to support the long-term care and follow-up needed for these types of incidents."
"The Department is also working closely with the Department of Labor to allow for the proper adjudication of workers’ compensation claims from Department personnel."
"Additionally, the ARB recommended the Department make pre-departure and post-assignment medical screening a mandatory condition for assignment to, or temporary duty in, Havana."
"The ARB also recommended the Department engage the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) to undertake a comprehensive medical and epidemiologic study of the symptoms and clinical findings related to the incidents in Cuba."
"Additionally, to address future potential unexplained health-security incidents, the Department developed standardized formal guidance, leveraging existing crisis response processes, designed to ensure a consistent response from all agencies at post. All posts are reviewing and updating their emergency action plans to incorporate this guidance. The ARB also suggested the Department review its training programs for security personnel. DS is in the process of reviewing its training and briefing programs to ensure security officers have adequate knowledge of these types of incidents prior to going to post."
May 23, 2018
published/publicly released Sep. 6, 2018
REPORTED INJURIES TO U.S. PERSONNEL IN CUBA: Preliminary Observations on State's Response and Management Challenges https://twitter.com/USGAO/status/1037764876305948672
Sep. 6, 2018
GAO's Acting Director - International Affairs and Trade - Brian M. Mazanec, Ph.D.:
[40:37 https://youtu.be/ZuTxoVOEYM4?t=40m37s] Thank you. Good afternoon chairman Cook, ranking member, distinguished members of the subcommittee and staff. Thank you for the opportunity to discuss GAO's work on the Department of State's response to the Health Incidents in Havana Cuba. As you are aware and as was just mentioned, since late 2016, U.S. personnel and their families in Havana have experienced incidents associated with unusual sounds or auditory sensations that resulted in serious injuries. The unprecedented and unexplained nature of these incidents created some management challenges for State as it responded and continues to respond. It is important to identify and address these challenges in order to help State improve security programs and practices at all overseas posts.
First, I will be discussing our July 2018 report, which was released yesterday, on States process for convening an Accountability Review Board or ARB. Second, I will be discussing our preliminary observations on three key management challenges related to the unexplained nature of the incidents. On the first topic, we found that State does not have policies to ensure that its office responsible for initiating the process for convening an ARB is made aware of incidents that may meet the ARB criteria. The responsible office, State’s Office of Management Policy, Rightsizing, and Innovation (M/PRI) starts the incident vetting process as soon as it becomes aware of a potentially qualifying incident. However, M/PRI relies on informal communication to identify such incidents. With regard to the situation in Havana, other State offices began responding to the incidents in January of 2017. However, M/PRI was not made aware of the incidents until eight months later in mid-August when a former M/PRI official contacted the office after seeing media coverage of the incidents. Officials from the responding State Office have told us it was unclear whether the incidents met the criteria for convening an ARB and thus they did not inform M/PRI. However it is not the role of State offices to evaluate whether the incidents meet ARB criteria before reporting them to M/PRI. If M/PRI is not aware of incidents, it cannot initiate State's ARB incident vetting process. This puts State at risk of not meeting statutory timeframes for convening an ARB and most importantly could result in State being less able to improve security at overseas posts. In our report, we recommended that State revise its policies to improve communication to M/PRI of incidents that may meet ARB criteria.
The second topic I'd like to discuss today is our preliminary observations from our broader ongoing review of State's response to the incidents in Cuba. To date we've identified three key management challenges related to the unexplained nature of the incidents. The first management challenge relates to mitigating risk to US personnel given the unknown nature of the incidents. Because the Department does not have definitive answers on the cause or source of the attacks, it has not been able to comprehensively reduce the risk of injury to personnel. Instead, State has taken other actions to mitigate risk such as ordering the departure of family members and non-emergency personnel in Havana and directing all posts to review and if necessary revise their emergency action plans. The second management challenge we identified is caring for affected personnel and family members. State officials have made it clear that caring for affected individuals is their top priority. However, State has faced multiple issues in providing this care. For example, the Bureau of Medical Services (MED) lacked authority for domestic medical evacuations to send individuals to the University of Pennsylvania for evaluations in care. This issue was addressed just last week when State delegated full authority for domestic med evacs to MED.
The third and final management challenge I want to highlight is State's communication with internal and external stakeholders. As mentioned earlier, State had issues ensuring M/PRI was in the loop as the incidents initially occurred. Externally, State also experienced difficulties in communicating with other departments and agencies and responded to these incidents. As Ambassador Bodde noted the ARB has completed its work. The ARB identified some of the same challenges I just mentioned and State has also established the Health Incidence Response Task Force in May to direct a multi-agency response to the incidents. Both of these efforts are resulting in changes that may address some of these management challenges. As GAO continues its broader review, we will be examining the ARB's findings and State's ongoing response. Chairman Cook, ranking member (...) and members of the Subcommittee this concludes my statement. I look forward to your questions.