Possible Solution to Mystery of “Sonic Attacks” on U.S. Diplomats in Cuba

A team of computer scientists from the University of Michigan’s Security and Privacy Research Group may have found the solution to the mystery of so-called “sonic attacks” on U.S. diplomats in Cuba. [1] The leaders of.the team were electrical engineering and computer science professors Kevin Fu of the University of Michigan and  Wenyuan Xu from Zhejiang University. [2]

New Theory for “Sonic Attacks” [3]

In an article they simplified their project by answering the following four questions:

  1. What is ultrasound useful for? Ultrasound – high-frequency sound waves human ears can’t hear—are useful, for example, in medical devices to examine fetuses during pregnancy or in occupancy sensors to detect movement.
  2. What can go wrong with ultrasound? Examples: electronic hearing aids converting ultrasonic occupancy sensors into audible sounds and ultrasonic signals secretly activating voice-control systems.
  3. Should people worry about ultrasound causing bodily harm? There’s little evidence of ultrasound causing bodily harm without prolonged, direct physical contact at high intensity. 
  4. What might have happened inCuba? The true cause could have been equipment trying to listen in on the diplomats’ and visitors’ conversations. No single ultrasonic tone would do this, but combining more than one can create audible byproduct sounds, including by accident. To test this theory they created an eavesdropping device that would record audible conversations and transmit the recordings to a nearby surveillance team over an inaudible ultrasonic link. When we placed a second inaudible ultrasonic device in the area, we were able to create interference – technically called “intermodulation distortion” – between the two signals that made similar sounds to those recorded in Cuba.”

The Introduction of their 80-page research report elaborates on the above answer to the first question by stating, “There are many potential sources of ultrasound in office, home, and hotel environments. Energy efficient buildings often use ultrasonic room occupancy sensors in every room (Figure 1). Ultrasonic emitters can repel rodents and other pests. HVAC systems and other utilities with pumps or compressors can vibrate entire buildings. Certain burglar alarm sensors, security cameras, and automated doors use ultrasound for detection of movement.” (Emphasis added.) [4]

There 80-page research paper’s Conclusion states,“Our conclusion is that if ultrasound played a role in harming diplomats in Cuba, then a plausible cause is intermodulation distortion between ultrasonic signals that unintentionally synthesize audible tones. In other words, acoustic interference without malicious intent to cause harm could have led to the audible sensations in Cuba.” The conclusion of the research paper itself also states, “our experiments do not eliminate the possibility of malicious intent to harm diplomats.” (Emphasis in original.)

“This is a variation of what I have always thought,” James Cason, a former top U.S. diplomat in Havana, told el Nuevo Herald. “It explains the sonic part, that no one was spotted planting new devices inside the homes and doing it from the outside would require something huge.”


As a non-electrical engineer who has been carefully following the news about the medical problems experienced by some U.S. diplomats Cuba, this research paper offers a new possible explanation of what happened in what many accounts call “acoustic attacks” in Cuba. This theory deserves further investigation.

If I correctly understand this theory, the audible sound similar to that heard in Cuba requires at least two ultrasound sources that interfere with each other and this suggests that the audible sound was accidental and not intended. This supports Cuba’s consistent assertion that it did not intend to do anything to harm the American diplomats, an assertion that makes obvious sense from Cuba’s own self-interest of avoiding antagonizing the U.S.

One of the ultrasound sources in their research was one “that would record audible conversations and transmit the recordings to a nearby surveillance team over an inaudible ultrasonic link.” Why was this device chosen? Was it the only device that would produce the comparable interference when combined with another ultrasonic source? Or are there other possible ultrasound devices? In any event, what country or company was the source of this ultrasound in Cuba? Cuba? A secret U.S. agency? A third country?

If one of the ultrasound devices in Cuba was one for eavesdropping and if Cuba was the user of such device, the U.S. would still have a legitimate complaint against Cuba. But a wide reading of materials about the U.S. and Cuba suggests that the U.S. always has assumed that Cuba was and is always attempting to spy on U.S. diplomats on the island.

I hope this theory is confirmed by others as it should eliminate the supposed reason for the U.S.’ reducing the staffing of its Havana Embassy, issuing the travel advisory that U.S. citizens should reconsider any plans to travel to Cuba and expelling Cuban diplomats from Washington, D.C.

Other comments from readers are especially welcome on these and related issues.


[1] See posts listed in the “U.S. Diplomats Medical Problems in Cuba, 2016-2018” section in List of Posts to dwkcommentaries—Topical: CUBA

[2] Professor Fu at an apparent young age already has an impressive resume and in October 2017 received a University of Michigan Regent’s Award for Distinguished Public Service. (Craig, Kevin Fu recognized with Regents’ Award for Distinguished Public Service, Univ. Michigan CSE News (Oct. 9, 2017).

[3] Fu & Xu,, Can sound be used was a weapon? 4 questions answered, The Conversation (Mar. 1, 2018); Yan, Fu & Xu, On Cuba, Diplomats, Ultrasound, and Intermodulation Distortion (Mar. 1, 2018) (80-page report); Moore, Cuba “sonic attacks”; a covert accident? Univ. Michigan CSE News (Mar. 2, 2018); Torres, Computer scientists may have solved the mystery behind the ‘sonic attacks’ in Cuba, Miami Herald  (Mar. 2, 2018). 

[4] A prior post reported about American teens hearing high-pitched sounds at the Havana Airport that apparently came from a “Zonic” device, whose Spanish manufacturer described it as “an “ultrasound animal repeller” that “makes the stay of birds, reptiles, and rodents uncomfortable” by emitting “vibrations of high frequency (ultrasounds), alternating between ranges for different animals, so that they will never nest.” 

Developments  in U.S.-Cuba Diplomatic Relations

As previously reported, beginning in late 2016 and continuing through August 2017, 24 U.S. diplomats stationed in Cuba have suffered various medical problems, which apparently were in connection with unusual sounds (sometimes referred to as “sonic attacks”). In response the U.S. in September  2017 reduced the staffing at its embassy in Havana and the State Department ordered non-essential embassy personnel and the families of all staff to leave Havana, arguing the U.S. could not protect them from unexplained illnesses. In addition, the U.S. expelled some of the Cuban diplomats from Washington, D.C. and imposed an advisory for U.S. citizens to reconsider plans to travel to Cuba because of the problems of some of its diplomats in Havana.[1]

In recent days there there have been significant developments on these issues.

Continued Reduced U.S. Staffing in Havana [2]

On March 2, the U.S. State Department announced that effective March 5, “a new permanent staffing plan will take effect. The embassy will continue to operate with the minimum personnel necessary to perform core diplomatic and consular functions, similar to the level of emergency staffing maintained during ordered departure. The embassy will operate as an unaccompanied post, defined as a post at which no family members are permitted to reside.”

The announcement also admitted that after over 15 months of investigation the U.S. still does “not have definitive answers on the source or cause of the attacks, and an investigation into the attacks is ongoing. The health, safety, and well-being of U.S. government personnel and family members . . . were a key factor in the decision to reduce the number of personnel assigned to Havana.”

Continued U.S. Travel Advisory for Cuba

Also on March 2 the State Department reissued its Travel Advisory for Cuba for U.S. citizens to “Reconsider travel to Cuba due to  attacks targeting U.S. Embassy Havana employees resulting in the drawdown of embassy staff.” It also stated the following:

  • “Numerous U.S. Embassy Havana employees appear to have been targeted in specific attacks.  Many of these employees have suffered injuries.  Affected individuals have exhibited a range of physical symptoms including ear complaints and hearing loss, dizziness, headaches, fatigue, cognitive issues, visual problems, and difficulty sleeping.” 
  • “Because our personnel’s safety is at risk, and we are unable to identify the source, we believe U.S. citizens may also be at risk.  Attacks have occurred in U.S. diplomatic residences (including a long-term apartment at the Atlantic)  and at Hotel Nacional and Hotel Capri in Havana.”
  • “The U.S. Embassy in Havana is operating with reduced staffing and, as result, has limited ability to assist U.S. citizens, particularly outside Havana.”  
  • “Family members cannot accompany U.S. government employees who work in Cuba.”
  • Specific suggestions were made for those U.S. citizens who nevertheless decide to travel to Cuba, including the following: “Avoid Hotel Nacional and Hotel Capri. Know where to seek medical care in Cuba. Consult with a medical professional prior to traveling if you have personal health concerns or upon return if you believe you have suffered symptoms similar to those listed above. Visit our website for Travel to High-Risk Areas. Review the Crime and Safety Report for Cuba.”

The Crime and Safety Report for Cuba was not issued by the State Department, but by the federal Overseas Security Advisory Council (OSAC). It states the State Department “ HAS ASSESSED HAVANA AS BEING A MEDIUM-THREAT LOCATION FOR CRIME DIRECTED AT OR AFFECTING OFFICIAL U.S. GOVERNMENT INTERESTS,” i..e., “non-violent crimes against tourists; . . . . roads are often dangerous due to lack of road maintenance.” A LOW-THREAT LOCATION FOR TERRORIST ACTIVITY DIRECTED AT OR AFFECTING OFFICIAL U.S. GOVERNMENT INTERESTS. HAVANA AS BEING A LOW-THREAT LOCATION FOR POLITICAL VIOLENCE DIRECTED AT OR AFFECTING OFFICIAL U.S. GOVERNMENT INTERESTS.”

U.S. Reactions to These U.S. Decisions [4]

“We have lost the strategic opportunity to pull Cuba into our sphere of interest,” said Vicki Huddleston, a former head of the U.S. interests section in Havana. “Cuba always needs to have benefactor … now the next benefactor will likely be Russia or China.”

With the reduced staffing, the U.S. is unable to maintain close ties with civil society and the opposition in Cuba. 

In addition to the previously noted inability of the Havana embassy to provide normal services to U.S. citizens on the island, it is unable to provide visa services to Cubans wanting to visit the U.S.

The six Democratic senators and representatives who visited Cuba last month, as discussed in an earlier post, already had expressed their opposition to the reduced staffing of the U.S. Embassy in Havana and the travel advisory for the island.

One of them, Representative Kathy Castor of Tampa, Florida, followed up with a February 28 letter to Secretary of State Rex Tillerson. She stressed her concern about the “detrimental impact [of reduced staffing] on families, [and] educational, religious and cultural exchanges” between the two countries. With the upcoming anticipated change in Cuba’s presidency the U.S. “should be there promoting economic and human rights reforms and continued cooperative dialogue.”

Representative Castor’s letter also called for reversal of the “overarching travel warning” for Cuba and the restrictions on person-to-person travel to the island. “There is nothing in recent history to show that Cuba is unsafe for American visitors and travel restrictions serve no purpose.” In fact, these restrictions already are adversely affecting the emerging private sector on the island, which should be a force for change on the island and improved relations with the U.S.

Representative Barbara Lee (Dem.,  CA) had similar thoughts: “The decision of the State Department affects years of progress toward the normalization of relations with Cuba. Our diplomats should be allowed to do their job and return to their posts in Cuba.”

James Williams, president of Engage Cuba, a U.S. coalition promoting U.S.-Cuba normalization, said, “”It is deeply disappointing that [the U.S. has chosen] . . . not to return U.S. diplomats to their assigned posts in Havana. This decision will be applauded in Moscow and Beijing, as both countries are poised to take advantage of Cuba’s historic transition of power while the United States remains on the sidelines. . . . As Washington continues to distance itself from Havana, U.S. adversaries have exerted greater influence. In a time of political uncertainty for Cuba, safeguarding U.S. national security interests remains more critical than ever. Last year, over a dozen retired U.S. military flag officers urged U.S. National Security Adviser General H.R. McMaster to continue to normalize relations with Cuba in order to strengthen regional stability in the Western Hemisphere.” 

Similar thoughts come from Cuba Educational Travel, which “organizes educational exchange programs and people-to-people travel for U.S. citizens and residents to Cuba” and believes “our two countries have much to learn from each other and meaningful exchanges that foster dialogue can be highly beneficial to strengthening the artistic, environmental, medical, scientific, and social science communities in the U.S. and Cuba. Most importantly, increased travel and people-to-people contact will strengthen ties between ordinary Americans and Cubans.”

Cuban Reactions to These U.S. Decisions [5]

Carlos Fernández de Cossío, the US General Director of the Cuban Foreign Ministry, said the continued low staffing of the U.S. Embassy is in response to U.S. “political motivations and has no relationship whatsoever with the security of its officials.” He also criticized the U.S. for continuing to use the word “attack,” when “it knows perfectly well that no attack or deliberate act occurred in Cuba against its diplomats.”

Sergio Gómez, a journalist with Granma, the official newspaper of the Communist Party of Cuba, provided the following comprehensive list of reasons why the U.S. should restore the full staffing of its Havana Embassy:

  1. There are millions of affected people, including Cubans on the island who intend to travel to the U.S. to visit a family member, attend an event or re-settle in the U.S. and, therefore, need the assistance of the U.S. Embassy.
  2. Requiring Cubans to go to the U.S. Embassy in Colombia imposes extra burdens  on Cubans and on that country.
  3. It makes it impossible for the U.S. to fulfill its commitment to issue 20,000 immigrant visas per year to Cubans.
  4. It impedes collaboration of scientists, scholars and athletes of the two countries.
  5. The U.S. expulsion of 17 Cuban diplomats from the Cuban Embassy in Washington, D.C. adversely affects its ability to assist  Cubans and Americans.
  6. There is no evidence of Cuban “attacks” on U.S. personnel.
  7. There is no evidence of Cuban causing the medical problems of U.S. personnel.
  8. Cuba has fully cooperated in investigating these medical problems, including welcoming the U.S. to do such investigations on the island.
  9. Cuba has an impeccable record of protecting foreign diplomats on the island.
  10. Cuba is a safe, stable and healthy country as evidenced by its welcoming 4 million foreign visitors last year, including 620,000 from the U.S.


The criticisms of these U.S. decisions from the U.S. and from Cuba are well founded. Restore full staffing of the Havana Embassy! Rescind the Travel Advisory for Cuba!


[1] See posts listed in the “U.S. Diplomats Medical Problems in Cuba, 2016-2018” section in List of Posts to dwkcommentaries—Topical: CUBA

[2] U.S. State Dep’t, End of Ordered Departure at U.S. Embassy Havana (Mar. 2, 2018); Assoc. Press, Cuba ‘Health Attacks’ a Puzzle; Embassy Cuts Permanent, N.Y. Times (Mar. 2, 2018);Reuters, Drastic Staff Cuts at U.S. Embassy in Cuba Now Permanent, N.Y. Times (Mar. 2, 2018). 

[3] U.S. State Dep’t, Cuba Travel Advisory (Mar. 2, 2018); OSAC, Cuba 2017 Crime & Safety Report (Mar. 10, 2017). 

[4] Congressional Delegation Visits Cuba, dwkcommentaries.com (Feb. 24, 2018); Representative Castor, Letter to Secretary Tillerson (Feb. 28, 2018)l Engage Cuba Statement on Permanent Staff Reduction at U.S. Embassy in Havana (Mar. 2, 2018). 

[5] Gomez, Washington keeps cutting its Embassy in Cuba, Granma (Mar. 2, 2018); Gómez, Ten reasons why the United States should normalize its Embassy in. Havana, Granma (Mar. 2, 2018).

Congressional Delegation Visits Cuba

A delegation of six U.S. senators and representatives, all Democrats, visited Cuba from February 17 through 21. They were Senators Patrick Leahy (VT),  Gary Peters (MI) and Ron Wyden (OR) plus Representatives Jim McGovern (MA), Kathy Castor (FL) and Susan Davis (CA). [1]

Leahy, the leader of the group, announced that the purpose of the trip was “to meet with U.S. and Cuban officials, officials of other governments, and Cubans in the emerging private sector to discuss: the presidential transition in Cuba; U.S. and Cuban investigations of health incidents involving U.S. government personnel in Cuba; cooperation on maritime security, search-and-rescue, narcotics and human trafficking, and migration issues; the impact of the withdrawal of U.S. Embassy and Cuban Embassy personnel and of revised Treasury Department regulations on U.S.-Cuban relations; and opportunities for public health, law enforcement, scientific, environmental, commercial, educational, cultural, and other engagement with Cubans.”

Meeting at Cuba’s Foreign Ministry

On February 20 they met with the Director General of the United States of the Cuban Foreign Ministry, Cárlos Fernández de Cossío.

They discussed, among other topics, the medical problems of certain U.S. diplomats that occurred in Cuba. Cossío emphasized that  there was no evidence of attacks on the diplomats and Cuba’s difficulties of carrying out a rigorous investigation.

Meeting with President Raúl Castro

On February 20 the delegation also met with President Raúl Castro, who was joined by Foreign Minister Bruno Rodriguez and Director General Cossio. Below is the official photograph of the meeting. The Cuban release about this event merely stated, “During the meeting they exchanged about matters of interest to both countries.”

Other Activities

The delegation met with Cuban entrepreneurs who said Trump’s Cuba policy was hurting their businesses. Surprisingly there have been no reports that there was discussion of last year’s actions by the Cuban government to curtail the growth of the private sector or its new proposed regulations to impose even more onerous restrictions on that sector that apparently were leaked to the public the day after the delegation left the island as discussed in a prior post

An objective of the delegation was not met. They wanted to meet with Vice President Miguel Díaz-Canel, Castro’s presumed successor, but he was not available.

Press Conference

At the conclusion of their trip, on February 21, the delegation held a press conference at the U.S. Embassy in Havana, and below is a photography of the delegation at this event.

According to Diario de Cuba, Senator Leahy said, “The embargo does not make sense and the reversal of the policies negotiated by Barack Obama and Raúl Castro does not help the US or Cuba.” In fact, he said, President Trump’s retreat from engagement with Cuba was “erroneous” and “stupid.”

Leahy also addressed the medical problems of some U.S. diplomats who had been stationed in Cuba. He said, “If we have to find out if something happened, it is a big mistake to close our embassy or to pretend that the Cubans close theirs. How are you going to get visas? How to maintain medical cooperation? What about the students? Of the projects in agriculture? There are many projects that are paralyzed.” 

Moreover, according to Leahy, the Cuban government has been cooperating in trying to ascertain the cause of these medical problems  and he believes the island’s authorities do not have the slightest intention to harm U.S. citizens who visit Havana. Indeed, not a single one of his colleagues had any fears about traveling to Cuba as they believe the island to be a safe place, and have even travelled here with their spouses, and in Leahy’s case, with his 13 year-old granddaughter.

Leahy added that there are many American diplomats who want to work in Cuba despite the symptoms that Washington previously said affected 24 U.S. government officials and spouses. As a result, Leahy urged the State Department on Wednesday to restore embassy staff in Havana as soon as possible.

Leahy also stated, “”Whoever is [the new] president in Cuba will make a mistake if he thinks we should maintain tensions between our countries, which is easy to say, but we have to go back to the dialogue we had between Obama and Castro.”

Representative McGovern, again as reported by Diario de Cuba, offered that protection of U.S. diplomats is “paramount,” but it was an “error” by the Trump Administration to cut the Embassy’s staff and to expel Cuban diplomats in Washington. Moreover, “US policy toward Cuba has been guided by paranoia and suspicion,” which he described as “stupid” because it has not yielded any fruit in more than fifty years of hostility. “Cuba is changing, it will soon elect a new president and it will have a generational change of leadership. Unfortunately, at that historic moment for Cuba, the involvement of the United States will be limited.”

Senator Wyden added that the delegation had stressed the importance for Cuba to unify its two currencies and “Cuba officials repeatedly said that this was the year to get it done.” Representative Castor subsequently added that the delegation asked the Cuban government to eliminate the 13 percent exchange tax on the U.S. dollar with respect to the CUC, the local convertible currency. The Cuban officials responded by saying “they would like to do that, but they have said that in the past,” said Castor.


[1] Press Release, Leahy To Lead Congressional Delegation To Cuba (Feb. 16, 2018); Delegation of the United States Congress Visits Cuba, CubaDebate (Feb. 18, 2018); Senator Leahy visits the MINREX headquarters in Havana, Martí (Feb. 20, 2018); Raúl received a delegation from United States Congress, Granma (Feb. 21, 2018); US congressmen criticize Trump’s turn toward politics as “erroneous and stupid,” Diario de Cuba (Feb. 21, 2018); US congressional delegation reaffirms need to improve relations with Cuba, Granma (Feb. 21, 2018); US Congressmen insist on the need to improve ties with Cuba, CubaDebate (Feb. 21, 2018); Assoc. Press, US Lawmakers Say It’s Time to Restore Staff at Cuba Embassy, N.Y. Times (Feb. 21, 2018); Marsh, Cuba tells U.S. delegation monetary unification on cards this year, Reuters (Feb. 21, 2018); Torres, Cuba shares plans for single currency and more during a visit by U.S. lawmakers, Miami Herald (Feb. 21, 2018). 


Medical Report on U.S. Diplomats with Health Problems Occurring in Cuba 

Since late 2016, some U.S. diplomats, now numbering 24, have suffered various medical problems while stationed in Cuba. Perplexingly investigations by the FBI and other U.S. agencies as well as Cuban investigators over nearly the last 16 months have failed to ascertain the cause or the culprit, if any, of the cause of their problems.[1] On February 14 a new medical report was released on these individuals.

The Medical Report [2[

U.S. physicians at the University of Pennsylvania’s Perelman School of Medicine in an article in the Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA) have published the  preliminary results of their examination of 21 of these 24 individuals. Here are the key findings of their report:

  • The patients “appeared to have sustained injury to widespread brain networks.”
  • The patients have experienced “persisting disability of a significant nature” involving “hearing, vision, balance and brain symptoms similar to the brain dysfunction seen with concussions, but without histories of head trauma.”
  • In most cases, the affected diplomats reported hearing a loud, painful noise that they later associated with their symptoms, but the physicians concluded, “There is no known mechanism for audible sound to injure the brain” and “it is currently unclear if or how the noise is related to the reported symptoms.”
  • “Viruses or chemical exposures are unlikely,” but could not be “systematically excluded.”
  • “Advanced MRI scans spotted a few changes in some patients in what are called white matter tracts,” but these might be attributed to previous events.
  • “Several of the objective manifestations consistently found in this cohort,” including vision and balance abnormalities, “could not have been consciously or unconsciously manipulated.”

The study’s lead author, Dr. Douglas H. Smith, director of the Center for Brain Injury and Repair at the University of Pennsylvania, said, “This is a preliminary report.We thought it was important to get it out from a public health standpoint.” Nevertheless, “Uniformly, everyone who saw these patients was absolutely convinced. It looked like concussion pathology. Processing speed, inability to remember — those are such classic symptoms we see in concussion. We all believe this is a real syndrome.This is concussion without blunt head trauma.”

JAMA Editorial About the Report [3]

An accompanying JAMA editorial by Drs. Christopher C.Muth and Steven L. Lewis emphasized caution in interpreting the data of this report. It stated, “although the patients were united to some extent by the common locations in which their symptoms first developed, there was some variability between patients in terms of the symptoms that each experienced. The precise time course over which each individual’s symptoms evolved was not provided. Given that evaluations were conducted a mean of 203 days after onset, it remains unclear whether individuals who developed symptoms later were aware of the previous reports of others. Furthermore, the quantitative results for specific tests (eg, neuropsychological tests) are not yet available for all affected patients, so independent assessment as to the scope and severity of deficits among all individuals remains challenging.”

This JAMA editorial also listed several limitations in this case study that “should also urge caution in interpreting the findings.” It concluded, “Before reaching any definitive conclusions, additional evidence must be obtained and rigorously and objectively evaluated.”

Another Reaction to the Report [4]

Another medical expert offered comments. C. Edward Dixon, a professor of neurological surgery at the University of Pittsburgh, who was not involved in the research, said, “The study was conducted by the top concussion research team in the world utilizing state-of-the-art methods” and the findings suggest “a significant brain insult.”


[1] The problems of these diplomats have been discussed in previous posts listed in the “ U.S. Diplomats Medical Problems in Cuba, 2016-2018” section of List of Posts to dwkcommentaries—Topical: CUBA

[2] Drs. Swanson, Hampton, McKenzie, et al., Neurological Manifestations Among U.S. Government Personnel Regarding Directional Audible and Sensory Phenomena in Havana Cuba, JAMA (Feb. 15, 2018); Assoc. Press, Report Details Harm to Cuba Diplomats, but Offers No Cause, N.Y. Times (Feb. 14, 2018); DeYoung, Doctors find neurological damage to Americans who served in Cuba, Wash. Post (Feb. 14, 2018).

[3] Drs. Muth & Lewis, Editorial: Neurological Symptoms Among U.S. Diplomats in Cuba, JAMA (feb. 15, 2018). 

[4] Kolata, Diplomats in Cuba Suffered Brain Injuries. Experts Still Don’t Know Why, N.Y. Times (Feb. 15, 2018). 

U.S. and Cuba Continue To Confer Over Common Concerns 

Despite various Trump Administration’s hostile actions regarding Cuba, the two countries continue to confer over common concerns. Three such conferences occurred this week in Washington, D.C..[1]

Conference on Money Laundering [2]

On February 12, 2018, the two countries met in Washington, D.C. to discuss combatting the crime of money laundering. This exchange, which falls within the context of the law enforcement dialogue between both countries, provided both parties with the opportunity to discuss this crime at a regional level, the main experiences gained in combatting this crime and the next steps that would be taken to advance the bilateral collaboration on this matter. 

The Cuban representatives underscored the necessity to increase the two countries’  cooperation and both parties shared the view that determined action is required against these acts and against those who commit them and the consensus was that impunity cannot be permitted.

The Cuban delegation also stated that for the comprehensive analysis of these issues, Cuba favors the exchange in different forums, mainly of the U.N. system. In addition, the Cuban government actively collaborates with the Financial Action Task Force of Latin America (GAFILAT), a regional inter-governmental organization to prevent and combat money laundering, terrorist financing and the funding of the proliferation of mass-destruction weapons. In its Mutual Evaluation Reports, GAFILAT acknowledges that the general risk for money laundering and terrorist financing in Cuba is low, highlights the inter-institutional coordination and cooperation existing at all levels in the country to combat these crimes and the updated legal framework Cuba has for this purpose.

The Cuban delegation was composed of representatives of the Ministry of the Interior, Banco Central de Cuba, the Office of the Attorney General of the Republic and the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. The U.S. delegation was composed of officials of the Departments of Homeland Security, Justice, State, Health and Human Services and Treasury.

This was the second such meeting and took place in a respectful and professional ambience. Both parties agreed to continue with these technical exchanges in the future and to coordinate actions that may contribute to the effective combat against this crime.

Conference on Human Trafficking [3]

On February 13, 2018, at the U.S. State Department the parties met to give updates on the advances made, experiences gained and the challenges faced in the prevention of, and combat against, trafficking in persons and protection of victims.

Cuba emphasized its ratification of the zero-tolerance national policy against human trafficking, adoption of a National Plan of Action for 2017-2020 to Prevent and Combat Trafficking in Persons and to Protect the Victims thereof, the establishment of  a Commission to implement the multidisciplinary actions contained in said Plan, and the results of the visit to Cuba by Ms. María Grazia Giammarinaro, U.N. Special Rapporteur on trafficking in persons, especially in women and children.

Cuba also mentioned its establishment of a Family Protection Division and the operation of a Unique Telephone Line of the Attorney General’s Office; its specialized training seminars for prosecutors, judges and law enforcement officers, the workshops and training courses for educators, and the celebration of the World Day against Trafficking in Persons. In addition, Cuba stresses the preventive nature of its National Health System and the important role played by the Cuban medical doctors in the early detection and attention of potential victims of human trafficking, both in Cuba and in other countries where our nation provides medical cooperation.

In 2016, 21 cases were prosecuted in Cuba for crimes with typical features of trafficking in persons, through the typified crimes of “Corruption of Minors” and “Procurement and Trafficking in Persons”. In this same period, Cuba maintained international collaboration for the investigation and solution of cases transcending the national territory.

Cuba also asserted that the low incidence of trafficking in persons in Cuba is associated with its social and public safety achievements, equal opportunities and policies and programs aimed at empowering women, providing free access to health services, education, culture and sports, which reduces the country’s vulnerability and strengthens its capacity to increase international cooperation in this field, as a State Party to the legal instruments signed on this and other related matters.

This was the fifth such bilateral meeting on this subject since December 2014, the last occurring in January 2017, and both parties ratified the usefulness of the exchange, which took place in a professional and respectful ambiance, and agreed to continue holding these exchanges in the future.

Conference on Technical Issues About Human Trafficking [4]

On February 14, the U.S. Department of Homeland Security hosted a technical exchange on trafficking in persons, one of the eight working-level exchanges under the U.S.-Cuba Law Enforcement Dialogue. Participants discussed best practices on investigations and prosecutions, human trafficking trends in the region, and potential areas of coordination to fight the scourge of trafficking, which threatens national security and public health and safety in both countries.


[1] Other posts to dwkcommentaries have discussed other U.S.-Cuba bilateral meetings in the Trump Administration: U.S. and Cuba Hold Discussions About Human Trafficking and Migration Fraud (Dec. 10, 2017); U.S. and Cuba Hold Bilateral Migration Talks (Dec. 12, 2017); Cuba and U.S. Continue To Hold Bilateral Meetings on Various Issues (Jan. 18, 2018).

[2] Cuba Foreign Ministry, Cuba and the United States hold exchange on the cooperation to prevent and combat money laundry (Feb. 13, 2018). 

[3] Cuba Foreign Ministry, Delegations from Cuba and the United States Hold Exchange on Trafficking in Persons (Feb. 13, 2018); U.S. State Dep’t, United States and Cuba Meet to Combat Trafficking in Persons (Feb.14, 2018).

[4]  U.S. State Dep’t, United States and Cuba Meet to Combat Trafficking in Persons (Feb.14, 2018); Cuba Foreign Ministry, Cuba and the USA carry out technical exchanges on trafficking in persons and child sexual abuse (Feb. 14, 2018).

Objections to the U.S.’ Cuba Internet Task Force

The original post about the U.S. establishment of the Cuba Internet Task Force (CITF) set forth the objections from Granma, the official newspaper of the Communist Party of Cuba, and two Cuban journalists (Sergio Gomez and Randy Alfonso Falcón) and another post focused on the Cuban Government’s objections to the CITF.

Now other objections have been registered by Cuban and other sources

Cuban Objections

Cuban objections came from representatives of its independent media and more from journalists Sergio Gomez and Randy Alonso Falcon.

Cuban Independent Media [1]

The day before the CITF’s inaugural meeting, Reuters reported from Havana that there are now “a handful of web-based news outlets in recent years in Cuba in the wake of the expansion of internet and broader social and economic freedoms. . . .These new outlets have been tolerated as long as they are not ‘counter-revolutionary’” and “have been chipping away at a half-century state monopoly, offering independent reporting and winning prestigious journalism prizes.”

Several representatives of these independent media, according to Reuters, have expressed opposition to the CITF.

Elaine Díaz, 32, in 2015 founded Periodismo de Barrio which focuses on the environment. She said, “We are not just talking about something that heightens tension in the country’s political situation but . . . [the CITF] could also damage the credibility of the independent media.” She added that “her outlet would refuse any money that the Trump program might award because in Cuba, people who receive aid from the U.S. government are branded mercenaries. These media are called independent, and that means independent of Cuban authorities as well as any other government.”

José Jasán Nieves, 30, director of El Toque, an online platform that focuses on entrepreneurship and citizenship, offered this comment. The CITF was “damaging us by giving arguments to [Cubans opposed to the independent media] … who are trying to link us to the enemy to minimize our presence in Cuban society.” Trump’s new policies were damaging the normalization of relations initiated by the Obama Administration.

Miguel Alejandro Hayes, 22, who writes for the outlet La Joven Cuba (The Young Cuba), said, “Trump’s policy is aimed at destruction: toppling the Cuban government. We don’t agree with that,” as elaborated in its open letter complaining to the State Department.

Sergio Gomez [2]

Gomez provides two additional comments.

In the first he says, “Although the State Department tries to camouflage its . . . [CITF] as a philanthropic project to improve access to the network of networks in . . .  [Cuba], the list of participants in the first [CITF] meeting . . . betrays its true intentions.”

One participant, the Office of Cuba Broadcasting, “is the umbrella of Radio and TV Martí, two relics of the Cold War designed to issue enemy propaganda and carry out psychological operations against Cuba. Millions of dollars of American taxpayers have been wasted in the failed projects of this organization, [which has been] subjected to several audits for corruption scandals and embezzlement.”

Another participant, U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID), ”is the public arm of the CIA and financier of subversive projects against Cuba such as ZunZuneo and Commotion, whose disclosure by the press was a shame for the US authorities due to its ineffectiveness and violation of international laws.”

“If we take into account the history of those who make up . . .  [CITF], nothing good can be expected.”

The second offering from Gomez with Iramsy Peraza Forte as co-author states that “the U.S. has been using communications technologies to attack Cuba ever since the age of shortwave radios and the emergence of television.” Indeed, “From psychological warfare propagated by the mass media to unconventional warfare, which has been adapted to the internet age, Cuba has been a test site for U.S. schemes designed to overthrow governments which do not respond to its interests.”

They then provide a list starting from March 17, 1960, of 14 U.S. schemes  to do just that in Cuba before the CITF. Here are the ones specifically involving the Internet:

  • In 2004, the “Commission for Assistance to a Free Cuba . . .is created . . . to identify additional ways to hasten an overthrow of the ‘Cuban regime.’” It proposes  to ‘encourage willing third-country governments to create public access Internet facilities in their missions in Cuba” and to expand “‘the distribution of information and facilitate pro-democracy activities,” and “‘greater access to these types of equipment’ in order to do so.”
  • In 2006 the “Cuba Fund for a Democratic Future was created, providing 24 million USD worth of funding for anti-Cuban propaganda, including online initiatives.”
  • In February 2006 the State Department  “creates the Global Internet Freedom Task Force, specifically aimed at ‘maximizing freedom of expression and free flow of information and ideas’ in China, Iran and Cuba.”
  • In December 2009 “U.S. citizen Alan Phillip Gross [is] arrested [in Cuba] for bringing illegal communication devices into Cuba as part of a USAID program. In March 2011 Gross was [convicted and sentenced by a Cuban court for violating Cuban law] to 15 years imprisonment.” On December 17, 2014, Gross was released from prison and returned to the U.S. “following the announcement of a process of rapprochement between the two countries.”
  • In March 2011 Cuban officials discovered and stopped the U.S. “Operation Surf,” which “consisted of smuggling equipment and software into the country to install illegal antennas to access the internet.”
  • In April 2014 USAID financed the launch of ZunZuneo, which “was designed as a messaging network similar to Twitter through which thousands of Cubans [eventually] would receive “political content aimed at inspiring Cubans to organize mass demonstrations akin to ‘smart mobs’ to destabilize the country.”
  • Also in April 2014 the U.S. “Office of Cuba Broadcasting (OCB) which oversees Radio and TV Martí, launched a service similar to ZunZuneo.”
  • In September 2016 OCB “organized the ‘ . . . [for] independent” journalists from the island and digital innovators and activists who support the use of new technologies to bring about a regime change in Cuba.”

Randy Alonso Falcon [3]

In CubaDebate, Randy Alonso Falcon attacked the CITF premise that Cuba has subnormal access to the internet and information. He asserts, “there are more than 4 million Cubans who access the internet services through various means, among them tens of thousands of students, professors, health workers, journalists, scientists and other workers who receive free connectivity by virtue of their professional needs.”

Moreover, according to Falcon, “Cuba was the fastest growing country in social networks last year, according to the  Digital in 2017 Global Overview report . [It] highlights the growth of new users in the networks-with more than 2.7 million new users and 365% increase over the previous year-and the use of mobile phones to access social networks had 2.6 million new users and an increase of 385%.” Falcon also provides graphics to emphasize the rapid growth in Cuban access to the internet.

“Much remains to us to advance in the utilization of the new technologies, and especially in his better [means] to attain productivity and economic efficiency; but it will not be with Trump’s interventionist and subversive plans that we will achieve it. Political disposition, created talent, unity of action, culture and knowledge, will be our best weapons in that sovereign walk along the roads of the Internet. Without fear, with amplitude, with better contents and greater connectivity, but without naiveties.”

Other Objections [4]

Alan Gross, the previously mentioned U.S. citizen who was arrested, convicted and imprisoned in Cuba for illegally bringing communications equipment to the island, has objected to the CITF.  “My first response was ‘Are you kidding me?’ We are supposed to learn from our mistakes. I learned the hard way that it’s illegal to distribute anything in Cuba that’s funded in full or part by the U.S. government. Until the government of Cuba wants the kind of assistance United States is capable of providing, the United States shouldn’t be doing stuff there.” 

Cuba expert Ted Henken at Baruch College in New York, author of Freedom House’s annual report on Cuba, said, “”The solution proposed by the Trump administration is perhaps even worse than the disease. It will likely empower not the independent media or citizens but only the Cuban government to more easily justify the unjustifiable – more control and repression of independent media and unmediated access to information.”


The CITF is based upon the false and illegal premise that the U.S. unilaterally may and should decide what Internet services Cuba or any other country should have and then take unilateral steps to provide those services and equipment. Instead the U.S. should politely ask Cuba or any other country whether there was any way the U.S. could assist in improving their Internet service.


[1] Reuters, Cuban Independent Media Say No Thanks to Trump Free Press Initiative, N.Y. Times (Feb. 6, 2018).

[2] Gomez, Operational Force on the Internet Against Cuba: the same as always with the same objectives, Granma (Feb. 7, 2018); Peraza Forte & Gomez, Internet wars: U.S. plans to  overthrow the Cuban Revolution with new technologies, Granma (Feb. 8, 2018). Many of the previous U.S. covert efforts to promote regime change in Cuba have been discussed in posts listed in the “U.S. Democracy Promotion in Cuba” section of List of Posts to dwkcommentaries–Topical: CUBA

[3] Falcon, US Special Group for the Internet meets to draw the digital guidelines of subversion (+Inforgraphics and Video), CubaDebate (Feb. 7, 2018).

[4] Reuters, Ex-Cuba Prisoner Gross Criticizes U.S. Plan to Foster Internet on Island, N.Y. Times (Feb. 4, 2018); Reuters, Trump Task Force on Expanding Cuba Internet Meets for First Time, N.Y. Times (Feb. 7, 2018). 

U.S.’ Cuba Internet Task Force Holds Inaugural Meeting  

On February 7, the U.S.’ Cuba Internet Task Force (CITF) held its inaugural meeting in Washington, D.C., published its Charter and launched its website. As discussed in a prior post, this group burst onto the scene on January 23 with a State Department announcement of its creation “to promote the free and unregulated flow of information in Cuba” and expand “internet access and independent media in Cuba.”

Now we examine the CITF’s membership, inaugural meeting, Charter and website.

CITF Membership[1]

The CITF is chaired by Deputy Assistant Secretary for Western Hemisphere Affairs John S. Creamer, a foreign service officer with a distinguished career of service in Latin America. Other members are officials of the Office of Cuba Broadcasting, which operates TV and Radio Marti; the Federal Communications Commission; the Department of Commerce’s National Telecommunications and Information Administration; the U.S. Agency for International Development; Freedom House; and the Information Technology Industry Council.

CITF Inaugural Meeting[2]

Chair Creamer said estimates show internet penetration in Cuba is between 5 percent and 40 percent, with the higher figure including those who only can access government-run internet. He said the $1 per hour cost for wi-fi is onerous considering the average salary of roughly $30 per month. For internet access at home, Cubans must pay $17 to $80 per month, depending on speed, for only 30 hours of connectivity, Creamer said. He also claimed that  Cuba’s government uses “filters and blocks websites in a bid to impede the Cuban people’s ability to criticize government institutions and policies.”

Tom Sullivan, chief of the FCC’s International Bureau, said there are no direct, undersea cables between the U.S. and Cuba, though he said there appear to be some U.S. satellites providing service in the island.

Apparently at the meeting, Andre Mendes, acting director of the Broadcasting Board of Governors’ Office of Cuba Broadcasting, declared, “Mr. Castro, tear down this firewall.”

The CITF decided to form two subcommittees: one to explore the role of media and freedom of information in Cuba, and the other to explore Internet access in Cuba. The subcommittees will provide the task force a preliminary report of recommendations within six months (by the end of August) based on input from relevant experts and stakeholders. The task force agreed to reconvene in October to review the preliminary reports, after which it will prepare a final report with recommendations for the Secretary of State and the President.

At the end of the meeting, the public was invited to make comments. Several Cuban dissidents lambasted Cuba’s government, drawing comparisons to World War II and to the governments of Syria and Iran. Others centered on a critique of the decades-old U.S. economic embargo and Trump’s policy toward Cuba. Some argued that any U.S. efforts would backfire, by undermining the perceived independence and credibility of burgeoning independent media in Cuba.

CITF Website[3]

In addition to repeating the information about the CITF’s  inaugural meeting and membership, the website has links to its Charter and Membership Balance Plan.

More importantly, it provides a form for submission of public comments. 

CITF Charter and Membership Balance Plan[4]

The Charter provides that the “Task Force will examine the technological challenges and opportunities for expanding internet access in Cuba, including through federal government support of programs and activities that encourage freedom of expression through independent media and internet freedom so that the Cuban people can enjoy the free and unregulated flow of information.”

According to the Membership Balance Plan, the CITF shall have no more than 12 members, of whom 10 shall be from relevant U.S. federal government departments and agencies. The other two shall be (a) a representative from an internet-related non-governmental organization and (b) a representative from an internet-related private-sector entity.


A subsequent post will examine reactions to the CITF and its inaugural meeting.


[1] U.S. State Dep’t, Inaugural Meeting of the Cuba Internet Task Force (Feb. 7, 2018).

[2] Assoc. Press, ‘Tear Down This Firewall’—US Looks to Expand Cuba Internet, N.Y. Times (Feb. 7, 2018). 

[3] U.S. State Dep’t, Website: Cuba Internet Task Force.

[4] U.S. State Dep’t, Charter of the Cuba Internet Task Force (Dec. 4, 2017); U.S. State Dep’t, Membership Balance Plan, Cuba Internet Task Force (Nov. 1, 2017).