The State Department has created a task force to respond to “unexplained health incidents” affecting US diplomats and their family members, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said Tuesday.
Officials have characterized the incidents as “sonic attacks” or “acoustic attacks” because they often coincide with a high-pitched sound. The source of the attacks, which have occurred in Cuba and now possibly China and apparently began in late 2016, remains unclear.
Pompeo said in a statement that the task force will serve as the “coordinating body for department and interagency activities, including identification and treatment of affected personnel and family members, investigation and risk mitigation, messaging, and diplomatic outreach.”
The unit, called the Health Incidents Response Task Force, will be led by Deputy Secretary of State John Sullivan and include representatives from other US government agencies, including the Department of Health and Human Services and the Department of Justice.
In late 2016, embassy personnel in Havana, Cuba, began to report hearing strange noises and experiencing a string of similar medical symptoms, such as hearing loss, headaches, vertigo and other signs consistent with mild traumatic brain injury or concussion.
The incidents in Cuba seemed to stop after August of last year. Then, last month, the State Department announced it was looking into a similar incident affecting a staffer at the US consulate in Guangzhou, China.
Pompeo first announced his decision to create the task force at a hearing last month, during which members of Congress expressed concerns over the unsolved incidents.
Pompeo’s predecessor, Rex Tillerson, was also vexed by the incidents and launched an Accountability Review Board to review the occurrences in Cuba.
The board is expected to issue its recommendations to Pompeo by the end of this week, a State Department official has told CNN, after which he will have 90 days to relay his plans to Congress.
In addition, the State Department is “currently reviewing the incident in China and determining how best to proceed,” the official said.