U.S. diplomat in China has brain injury after hearing 'abnormal' sounds

Joann Johnston
May 23, 2018

A US State Department employee has suffered "subtle and vague, but abnormal, sensations of sound and pressure" that later lead to a diagnosis of "mild traumatic brain injury" while working in China - resulting in a warning to all US citizens there.

The embassy, which issued a health alert to Americans living in China, said it could not link the case to health issues suffered by U.S. government staff in Cuba dating back to late 2016.

The spokeswoman at the US Embassy in Beijing told CNN the State Department was taking the incident "very seriously" and was working to determine the cause and impact of it.

The embassy's statement provided no details regarding the location where the incident was registered, however, the contacts of the US Consulate General in the southern Chinese city of Guangzhou were attached to it.

The embassy said it was not aware of any similar symptoms elsewhere in China, within or outside of the diplomatic community.

On Wednesday, a United States diplomat in China reported "abnormal" sensations of sound and pressure, which prompted the USA government to start looking into the incident.

The government worker has returned to the U.S for further evaluation of the mild traumatic brain injury.

"We can not at this time connect it with what happened in Havana but we are investigating all possibilities", a United States embassy official in Beijing told AFP on the condition of anonymity.

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The U.S. also expelled 15 Cuban officials from its embassy in Washington.

China's Foreign Ministry and National Health Commission did not immediately respond to faxed questions about the report.

In October, a State Department official said the US had "received a handful of reports from USA citizens who report they experienced similar symptoms following stays in Cuba".

At a congressional hearing in January, US officials detailed how personnel came to experience a variety of symptoms including sharp ear pain, headaches, ringing in one ear, vertigo, disorientation, attention issues and signs consistent with mild traumatic brain injury or concussion. Media reports have suggested that the Federal Bureau of Investigation has not been able to verify any evidence to support the sonic weapon theory.

The still-unexplained incidents sparked a rift in US-Cuban relations, while investigators have considered theories including a sonic attack, electromagnetic weapon or flawed spying device.

"The cause (of their symptoms) remains unknown but could be human-made", the Canadian government concluded.

The US originally called the Cuba incidents "sonic attacks" but later backed off that phrasing as medical experts examined the patients and found their symptoms and conditions to be of mysterious origins.

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