Cuba may be off the hook as a possible culprit behind a debilitating illness that struck US and Canadian diplomats stationed in Havana in 2016, as the same phenomenon is now happening to US embassy staff in China. Although the Cuban government was initially accused of being behind the attacks, this new outbreak, halfway around the globe, has raised suspicions that another source, perhaps China or Russia, might be behind the attacks.

US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo has stated that these new attacks were consistent with those reported in Cuba, with victims reporting having heard strange noises before succumbing to symptoms similar to those "following concussion or minor traumatic brain injury," such as headaches, nausea, hearing loss and cognitive difficulties.

As a result, several staff members of the Consulate General of the United States in Guangzhou have been returned to the US for medical examination, starting with an American diplomat who reported experiencing symptoms in April. The State Department has assembled a task force to investigate the reports, and has issued a health warning for mainland China, urging anyone who experiences "any unusual acute auditory or sensory phenomena accompanied by unusual sounds or piercing noises, [to] not attempt to locate their source."

Due to the odd sounds that victims of the phenomenon in Cuba reported hearing, the symptoms suffered by 24 US consulate staff stationed there were initially thought to be caused by attacks involving a sonic weapon; however, further investigation revealed that the victims were suffering from a specific form of brain damage that couldn’t have been caused by sound, although the brain injuries could conceivably have caused them to hallucinate the auditory effects they reported. A number of the affected individuals are still suffering from long-term effects caused by their experience in Cuba.

The event in Cuba prompted the State Department to evacuate the US embassy in Havana in September 2017, with only a skeleton staff remaining to maintain the embassy’s day-to-day functions there. Two Cuban diplomats were expelled from the US after suspicions arose that the Cuban government was behind the attacks, although no evidence backing the accusation was provided.

But if this phenomenon has emerged in China, literally on the opposite side of the planet from Cuba, this raises the question of who is actually behind these attacks–or if these are even deliberate attacks at all. The New York Times points out that "it remains unclear whether the illnesses are the result of attacks at all. Other theories have included toxins, listening devices that accidentally emitted harmful sounds or even mass hysteria."