Foreign Policy Russia

Officials Say Russia Top Suspect in Diplomatic Attacks

JM Ashby
Written by JM Ashby

This has been fairly obvious from the beginning, but we've only been able to speculate before now.

Officials who spoke to NBC News say Russia is their primary suspect in the mysterious attacks on diplomats in Cuba last year and they apparently have a recording of unnamed Russians discussing it.

The suspicion that Russia is likely behind the alleged attacks is backed up by evidence from communications intercepts, known in the spy world as signals intelligence, amassed during a lengthy and ongoing investigation involving the FBI, the CIA and other U.S. agencies. The officials declined to elaborate on the nature of the intelligence.

Interestingly, NBC News also reports that the military has been trying to reproduce the attacks in the lab.

Since last year, the U.S. military has been working to reverse-engineer the weapon or weapons used to harm the diplomats, according to Trump administration officials, congressional aides and others briefed on the investigation, including by testing various devices on animals. As part of that effort, the U.S. has turned to the Air Force and its directed energy research program at Kirtland Air Force Base in New Mexico, where the military has giant lasers and advanced laboratories to test high-power electromagnetic weapons, including microwaves.

Although the U.S. believes sophisticated microwaves or another type of electromagnetic weapon were likely used on the U.S. government workers, they are also exploring the possibility that one or more additional technologies were also used, possibly in conjunction with microwaves, officials and others involved in the government's investigation say.

Even without signal intelligence, I don't think it's a stretch to put two and two together and conclude that Russia is the only adversary with the means and motive to disrupt our diplomatic relations with Cuba.

In any case, I believe this should be added to the GOP's list of things congressional Democrats should investigate when they regain control of oversight. I would personally like to know why Trump informally blamed Cuba for the attacks and used it as an excuse to pull back from the country even though we have no evidence that Cuba was involved. The idea that Cuba would do this never made sense because they had nothing to gain from it.

Speaking of which, how do the Cubans feel about the Russians disrupting their relations after President Obama personally traveled there to make peace and, perhaps more importantly, bring American business to their shores?

If Russia is ever formally blamed for these attacks, I don't expect we'll see that until the next session of Congress at the earliest.

  • muselet

    As soon as the US made public its concerns about attacks on its embassy personnel, Cuba invited the FBI to head a joint investigation. Not only that, but there were no outraged choruses of ¡Yanqui mentirosos! from the Cuban government.

    Say what you will about Raúl Castro (I’m not a fan), guilty parties don’t generally invite the frelling FBI to come and nose around.

    I don’t know what Russia stands to gain by monkeywrenching Cuba’s diplomatic thaw with the US, Maybe Vladimir Putin believes Cuba will return to Russia’s sphere of influence, but I doubt Cubans believe that. Or maybe it was a test to see if Donald Trump was as impulsive and poorly-advised as everyone thought.

    If so, the test was passed with flying colors.


    • JMAshby

      Putin’s whole shtick is making the West afraid of Russia again as a matter of national pride, but also personal political ambition, as his various wars and misinformation campaigns are crucial to remaining in power.

      To that end, disrupting our relations with Cuba makes perfect sense. The West ought to have fewer friends, not more, and integrating Cuba into the global economy would be a rhetorical loss for Russia if not a substantive one.

      The World Cup is over and the Russian economy is in the toilet. They’re about to raise the retirement age (from 60 to 65 in a country where the average life expectancy is 63) and violent protests have exploded.

      Putin’s new cold war with the West, and his hot war in Ukraine and Syria, are all he’s got.

      • muselet

        All true, but Cubans probably aren’t enthusiastic about becoming a Russian outpost again. What difference that makes is a debatable point.