USA warns staff in China: Beware of unusual sounds

A USA government employee in China reported abnormal sensations of sound and pressure ahead of being diagnosed with a mild brain injury, in a case reminiscent of diplomats who fell ill in Cuba past year.

The unusual incident recalls a similar spat of reports from Cuba, where USA officials reported symptoms consistent with a "sonic attack", or exposure to harmful frequencies, while overseas.

An investigation to establish the cause and impact has been launched by the US State Department.

The embassy spokesperson told CBS News that the Chinese government had "assured us they are also investigating and taking appropriate measures".

Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said Wednesday that the brain injury sustained by an American official in China was "very similar" to those that affected U.S. and Canadian diplomats in Cuba.

The unnamed employee in the city of Guangzhou "recently reported subtle and vague, but abnormal, sensations of sound and pressure", the State Department said in an emailed statement to U.S. citizens in China. According to medical records first obtained by CBS News, a USA doctor diagnosed the American diplomats as suffering from mild traumatic brain injury.

Security workers at the construction site of the US consulate compound in Guangzhou in 2009
Security workers at the construction site of the US consulate compound in Guangzhou in 2009

"The U.S. government is taking these reports seriously and has informed its official staff in China of this event", the message says.

"The clinical findings of this evaluation matched mild traumatic brain injury (MTBI)", the embassy said.

U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo gestures at his ear as he testifies at a hearing of the U.S. House Foreign Affairs Committee on Capitol Hill in Washington, U.S., May 23, 2018.

Suspected "sonic attacks" affecting more than a dozen US diplomats and family members in Havana beginning in November 2016 led to the U.S. That evaluation found that the employee's symptoms were similar to those of someone with a head concussion or mild traumatic brain injury. "Instead, move to a location where the sounds are not present", the recommendation said. Previous victims of similar attacks in Cuba suffered permanent hearing loss, severe headaches, loss of balance, brain swelling, and disruption to cognitive functions.

The odd incident recalls a similar spate of reports from Cuba, where U.S. officials reported symptoms consistent with a "sonic attack", or exposure to harmful frequencies. The cause of those incidents, reported in late 2016 and early 2017, still remains a mystery.


  • Tracy Klein