U.S. Department Of State Discusses Health Issues Relating To Diplomats In Cuba

Special Briefing

I. Steven (Steve) Goldstein
Under Secretary for Public Diplomacy and Public Affairs

Washington, DC
January 9, 2018

QUESTION: Has the Secretary communicated his decision on whether or not to create a review board to look into Cuba – the Cuban sonic attacks? And with the FBI seemingly not able to confirm what exactly is causing these, has the State Department considered increasing again its diplomatic presence in Havana, as I believe Senator Flake and others may have suggested?

UNDER SECRETARY GOLDSTEIN: We are going to create, as we’ve said previously, an accountability review board, and I would expect that we would have the announcements of the chair and the members of the board available for release within the next week. And the – we still do not have definitive answers on the source or cause of the attacks. The investigation is ongoing. The most recent medically confirmed attack occurred August 21st, 2017. We believe that the Cuban Government has the answer to this and they should be doing more to assist us in bringing this to resolution.

Paco – Francisco Palmieri, who goes in the department as – the assistant secretary[2], he goes by Paco – testified this morning on the Hill, as did our medical doctor and I believe someone from Diplomatic Security, to this matter at 10:00, and we have – we have his testimony if you have not seen it. But we are not much further ahead than we were in finding out why this occurred, and we need to find that out, and we would expect the Cuban Government to help us in that process.

QUESTION: Is there anything specifically you want the Cubans to do that you can say that they’re not doing currently?

UNDER SECRETARY GOLDSTEIN: We believe that the Cuban Government knows what occurred, and so what we’d like them to do is to tell us what occurred so we can ensure this doesn’t happen again. And you asked me a last question about whether people could go back.

QUESTION: Whether the U.S. was considering restoring staff that had been withdrawn.

UNDER SECRETARY GOLDSTEIN: No, we’re not considering restoring staff.

QUESTION: And are you considering pulling out given that the Secretary’s comments quoted about his concerns about the safety of people? If he can’t ensure that people who’d be sent back would be safe, why are you continuing to staff the embassy? Why are you certain --

UNDER SECRETARY GOLDSTEIN: We’re providing extensive medical care to people that need it, and we have also made it clear that if people do not want to serve in that particular embassy, they do not have to.


QUESTION: The chairman of that committee, Marco Rubio, had some harsh words for the State Department regarding how long it took to put the accountability review board in place. Do you have any response to some of his statements that it’s against the law that it took, rather than 60 or 120 days, almost a year to stand that up?

UNDER SECRETARY GOLDSTEIN: Right. Well, I – we have great respect for the senator, and he shares our concern about trying to reach resolution on this matter. It took time to set up the accountability review board because we were hopeful that we would be able to know what occurred. We were – the investigation has taken longer than we anticipated, and – but it is now time to go forward. And again, we would expect the – I would expect the names to be announced over the next several days. I do have the names, I just can’t – I’m not – I want to make sure that the people have been notified.

QUESTION: Just a follow-up on --


QUESTION: -- Abbie’s question. The senator basically claimed that the State Department had violated the law --


QUESTION: -- by failing to announce or create this review board back in July, that the – that you had confirmed that people were seriously wounded by March or May, that the law requires if you know that a State Department personnel is seriously wounded, that you create a review board within 60 days or tell Congress why you’re not doing so. That is the clear letter of the law. You did not follow it. That’s what he claims. What is your response to that?

UNDER SECRETARY GOLDSTEIN: Right. We don’t agree with that. The assistant secretary today made clear, and we have said too, that it took us time to get the investigation in place. The investigation is continuing, and we believe that we have the – had the authority to determine when the accountability review board should be set in place. I think let’s not lose focus here. There’s 24 people that had injuries, and those people are receiving treatment, and we’ve had over 20 conversations with the people of Cuba. We’ve – the government investigators have been down four times; they’re going down again within the next few weeks. And so our primary goal at the present time is to find out why this occurred, to prevent it from happening again in Cuba and the embassy of Cuba or in any other place where American citizens are located.

Tell me your name. I’m sorry.

QUESTION: My name is Cristina Artia with the Spanish news wire EFE.


QUESTION: My question is also on Cuba. I was at the hearing at – Assistant Director for Diplomatic Security Todd Brown said that the State Department is not sure that the attacks suffer – that the attacks are sonic. Do you have any update on this? Because until now, you have been repeating that the attacks was like sonic attacks.

UNDER SECRETARY GOLDSTEIN: No, I don’t believe we used the word – I’d have to check on that. But no, we’re not sure why – what occurred and why it occurred. But we do know it did occur, and there’s no question about that.

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