WASHINGTON — Doctors treating the U.S. Embassy victims of mysterious, invisible attacks in Cuba have discovered brain abnormalities as they search for clues to explain the hearing, vision, balance and memory damage, The Associated Press has learned.
It's the most specific finding to date about physical damage, showing that whatever it was that harmed the Americans, it led to perceptible changes in their brains. The finding is also one of several factors fueling growing skepticism that some kind of sonic weapon was involved.
Medical testing has revealed the embassy workers developed changes to the white matter tracts that let different parts of the brain communicate, several U.S. officials said, describing a growing consensus held by university and government physicians researching the attacks. White matter acts like information highways between brain cells.
Loud, mysterious sounds followed by hearing loss and ear-ringing had led investigators to suspect "sonic attacks." But officials are now carefully avoiding that term. The sounds may have been the byproduct of something else that caused damage, said three U.S. officials briefed on the investigation. They weren't authorized to discuss it publicly and demanded anonymity.
Physicians, FBI investigators and U.S. intelligence agencies have spent months trying to piece together the puzzle in Havana, where the U.S. says 24 U.S. government officials and spouses fell ill starting last year in homes and later in some hotels. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson said Wednesday he's "convinced these were targeted attacks," but the U.S. doesn't know who's behind them. A few Canadian Embassy staffers also got sick.
Doctors still don't know how victims ended up with the white matter changes, nor how exactly those changes might relate to their symptoms. U.S. officials wouldn't say whether the changes were found in all 24 patients.
But acoustic waves have never been shown to alter the brain's white matter tracts, said Elisa Konofagou, a biomedical engineering professor at Columbia University who is not involved in the government's investigation.
"I would be very surprised," Konofagou said, adding that ultrasound in the brain is used frequently in modern medicine. "We never see white matter tract problems."
Cuba has adamantly denied involvement, and calls the Trump administration's claims that U.S. workers were attacked "deliberate lies." The new medical details may help the U.S. counter Havana's complaint that Washington hasn't presented any evidence.
Tillerson said the U.S. had shared some information with Havana, but wouldn't disclose details that would violate privacy or help a perpetrator learn how effective the attacks were.
"What we've said to the Cubans is: Small island. You've got a sophisticated intelligence apparatus. You probably know who's doing it. You can stop it," Tillerson said. "It's as simple as that."
The case has plunged the U.S. medical community into uncharted territory. Physicians are treating the symptoms like a new, never-seen-before illness. After extensive testing and trial therapies, they're developing the first protocols to screen cases and identify the best treatments — even as the FBI investigation struggles to identify a culprit, method and motive.
Doctors treating the victims wouldn't speak to the AP, yet their findings are expected to be discussed in an article being submitted to the Journal of the American Medical Association, U.S. officials said. Physicians at the University of Miami and the University of Pennsylvania who have treated the Cuba victims are writing it, with input from the State Department's medical unit and other government doctors.
But the article won't speculate about what technology might have harmed the workers or who would have wanted to target Americans in Cuba. If investigators are any closer to solving those questions, their findings won't be made public.
The AP first reported in August that U.S. workers reported sounds audible in parts of rooms but inaudible just a few feet away — unlike normal sound, which disperses in all directions. Doctors have now come up with a term for such incidents: "directional acoustic phenomena."
Most patients have fully recovered, some after rehabilitation and other treatment, officials said. Many are back at work. About one-quarter had symptoms that persisted for long periods or remain to this day.
Earlier this year, the U.S. said doctors found patients had suffered concussions, known as mild traumatic brain injury, but were uncertain beyond that what had happened in their brains. Concussions are often diagnosed based solely on symptoms.
Studies have found both concussions and white matter damage in Iraq and Afghanistan war veterans who survived explosions yet had no other physical damage. But those injuries were attributed mostly to shock waves from explosions. No Havana patients reported explosions or blows to the head.
Outside medical experts said that when the sample of patients is so small, it's difficult to establish cause and effect.
"The thing you have to wonder anytime you see something on a scan: Is it due to the episode in question, or was it something pre-existing and unrelated to what happened?" said Dr. Gerard Gianoli, an ear and brain specialist in Louisiana.
NEW YORK — Six women sued Harvey Weinstein and men who served on the board of his film company Wednesday, accusing them of functioning like an organized crime group that used agents, producers and others to prey on young women seeking a break in a breakneck industry.
The racketeering lawsuit in federal court in New York sought to represent "dozens, if not hundreds" of women who say they were assaulted by Weinstein after being isolated in close quarters such as a hotel room after bystanders were sent away.
Lawyers for the women say Weinstein used his company to supply himself with a steady stream of victims, and to cover up his misbehavior — an effort they dubbed the "Weinstein Sexual Enterprise."
The lawsuit, which seeks unspecified damages, mirrored one filed in Los Angeles last month that did not identify plaintiffs by name.
It said the "proverbial 'casting couch' was Harvey Weinstein's office of choice" in an arrangement condoned by defendants Miramax LLC, The Weinstein Co. Holdings LLC. It said the companies had a duty to stop Weinstein from groping, harassing or assaulting women seeking employment in their films.
A Weinstein lawyer declined comment Wednesday, but Weinstein's representatives forwarded a statement saying Weinstein "has never at any time committed an act of sexual assault, and it is wrong and irresponsible to conflate claims of impolitic behavior or consensual sexual contact later regretted, with an untrue claim of criminal conduct."
"There is a wide canyon between mere allegation and truth, and we are confident that any sober calculation of the facts will prove no legal wrongdoing occurred. Nonetheless, to those offended by Mr. Weinstein's behavior, he remains deeply apologetic," it said.
Other defendants in the suit included 11 current or former board members of the Weinstein Co., including Robert Weinstein, Dirk Ziff, Tim Sarnoff, Marc Lasry, Tarak Ben Ammar, Lance Maerov, Richard Koenigsberg, Paul Tudor Jones, Jeff Sackman and James Dolan, the owner of the New York Knicks.
The lawsuit said each was personally aware of Weinstein's conduct toward women, though it offered no specific evidence to back up that claim.
Several board members have said publicly that they were unaware of any allegations of sexual assault, though some acknowledged being aware of financial settlements between Weinstein and women. All 11 did not respond to phone or email messages Wednesday.
In an email to the staff of his company, Jones, a hedge fund manager and philanthropist, said he knew nothing about the allegations until they were reported in the media.
"They were 100 percent a surprise to me," Jones wrote. "I joined the Weinstein Company Board as an unpaid, outside member in late 2015, after the internal company debate about Harvey's contract renewal. I never knew about those discussions or any of the revelations until they began to surface publicly, and I resigned two days later."
The lawsuit was filed hours after The New York Times published an article scrutinizing the actions of people around Weinstein who either didn't act on warnings or actively worked to keep allegations quiet.
Miramax, headquartered in Santa Monica, California, said in a statement that Miramax "joins the entire film community in condemning Harvey Weinstein and his unspeakable actions." It said it has been completely independent of Weinstein since he created The Weinstein Co.
The Weinstein Co. Holdings, based in New York, did not immediately return messages seeking comment.
Weinstein was ousted from the movie company he founded following a barrage of sexual harassment allegations that began in early October.
At least 75 women have come forward in the media to detail accounts of assault, harassment and inappropriate conduct. Police in Los Angeles, Beverly Hills, New York and London are investigating.
According to the lawsuit, actresses and other women in the film industry were lured to industry events, hotel rooms, Weinstein's home, office meetings or auditions under the pretext that they were to discuss a project.
If women did not meet his sexual demands, Weinstein and his associates used nondisclosure agreements, payoffs and legal threats to suppress their voices, the lawsuit said.
Also Wednesday, it was reported that actress and writer Lena Dunham claims that she warned Hillary Clinton's communications director about Harvey Weinstein's behavior, The New York Times reported in an expose that includes new details about the lengths Weinstein went to cover-up his alleged behavior. The details led the powerful Hollywood talent agency C.A.A. to apologize for its role in the scandal.
Dunham told the Times that when she worked with the Clinton presidential campaign last year, she tried to warn them about rape allegations against the mogul. Dunham said she also told Clinton spokeswoman Adrienne Elrod about Weinstein.
"I just want to let you know that Harvey's a rapist, and this is going to come out at some point," Dunham said she told Kristina Schake, the campaign's deputy communications director. "I think it's a really bad idea for him to host fundraisers and be involved because it's an open secret in Hollywood that he has a problem with sexual assault."
Magazine editor Tina Brown also said she cautioned the Clinton campaign about Weinstein.
Weinstein was a significant contributor to Democratic candidates and helped fund-raise for Clinton.
SIOUX CITY | A Sioux City teenager was arrested Monday and charged with participating in an armed robbery in which two people were threatened at gunpoint while a cellphone, marijuana and a gun were stolen.
Elijah Dean, 16, is charged with one count of first-degree robbery, a Class B felony.
According to court documents, Dean and two accomplices entered a home in the 2300 block of Leech Avenue at about 11:35 p.m. Friday and forced two people to the floor at gunpoint. The three ransacked the house and took a cellphone, approximately half a pound of marijuana and a .40-caliber rifle, court documents said.