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Newsline: U.S. State Department revokes PLO ambassador family visas

The United States revoked visas for the family of the Palestine Liberation Organization ambassador, the envoy said on Sunday, the latest development in the worsening relations between the Trump administration and Palestinian leadership. Ambassador Husam Zomlot, head of the PLO General Delegation to the United States, said his family, including his two young children, left the United States after being informed their visas would now expire when the diplomatic office is closed next month. The visas were originally set to expire in 2020. The Trump administration said last Monday the office in Washington would close. The State Department did not respond to a request for comment.



Newsline: State Department Spent $52,700 on Curtains for the UN Ambassador’s N.Y.C. Residence

The State Department spent $52,701 in 2017 to purchase custom, mechanized curtains for the windows in the UN Ambassador’s New York City apartment during budget cuts and a hiring freeze. According to a New York Times report, Nikki Haley, 46, is the first ambassador to live in the residence, as all previous ambassadors resided in the Waldorf Astoria. The U.S. government is currently leasing the First Avenue apartment, a decision made by the State Department in 2016. A spokesperson for Haley told the outlet that plans to buy the curtains were hatched by the Obama administration in 2016, and the ambassador didn’t have any part in it. The Times later updated their story with an editor’s note, stating that an earlier version of the article and headline “created an unfair impression about who was responsible for the purchase in question.


Newsline: Cuban refugee numbers plummet in Tampa area with cuts at Havana embassy

It’s been nearly a year since the U.S. embassy in Havana suspended processing requests from people hoping to leave the island nation as refugees. The reason: Staffing was reduced to a skeleton crew in the wake of mysterious health attacks on embassy personnel. The State Department said new arrangements would be made for refugee applications, but that hasn’t happened yet. The result is a dramatic drop in the number of Cuban refugees coming to Florida — from some 600 a month in late 2017 to fewer than 40 a month today. In December 2016, about 600 Cuban refugees arrived safely in the Tampa Bay area and some 7,000 statewide. Since then, because of two developments, the numbers have plummeted. First, in January 2017, after restoring diplomatic relations severed more than five decades earlier and reopening the U.S. embassy in Havana, President Barack Obama ended wet foot, dry foot. From that point through last September, when embassy services were suspended, an average of 94 Cubans refugees arrived each month in Hillsborough, Pinellas and Pasco counties, according to the state Department of Children and Families. Statewide, the monthly average for this eight-month period was 1,016. From last September through June, the average monthly numbers have fallen to 38 in the Tampa Bay area and 375 statewide. This nine-month period is the latest for which figures were available from the state. The numbers might not include all refugees processed in the two or three months after the suspension.


Newsline: Cuba says US withholds info on diplomat attacks

Cuba said the United States is continuing to withhold important information that could help in the investigation into mysterious incidents that have injured some two dozen Havana-based American diplomats, including some with brain damage, since late 2016. After meeting with U.S. officials at the State Department, members of a team Cuba assembled to look into the incidents said their requests for patient records and other information had again been rebuffed and rejected.


Newsline: U.S. now believes Russia is behind ‘sonic attack’ on 26 embassy personnel in Cuba

Russia is believed to be behind the strange “sonic attacks” that have left U.S. diplomats with concussion-like injuries in Cuba and China, according to a report. Communications intercepts, known as “signals intelligence,” that point to Russia as the culprit have been collected as part of an ongoing investigation by the FBI, CIA and other agencies in the US, multiple sources reportedly told NBC News. The evidence, though, isn’t conclusive enough to formally blame Moscow. Twenty-six U.S. workers have been hurt in the attacks that occurred in their homes or hotel rooms beginning in 2016. Most reported hearing high-pitched sounds, leading investigators to suspect a sonic weapon. The FBI later said sound waves alone couldn’t have caused the symptoms, which included brain injuries, hearing loss, cognitive problems, difficulty with balance and problems with vision and hearing. A U.S. employee experienced similar symptoms following an attack earlier this summer in Guangzhou, China. Now scientists are saying microwaves could be to blame, according to CNN. The unexplained incidents have worsened relations between the Cuba and the U.S., which pulled out most of its diplomats from Havana and tossed 17 Cuban counterparts from Washington. Cuba has denied any involvement, and officials there don’t believe a sonic device is to blame.


Newsline: US To Shutter Palestinian Embassy

The United States announced it will shutter the Palestinians’ mission in Washington, adding further pressure on them to enter peace talks with Israel. State Department spokeswoman Heather Nauert accused the Palestine Liberation Organization of refusing to support negotiations while a Palestinian official called the move a “dangerous escalation” of tensions in the region. “We have permitted the PLO office to conduct operations that support the objective of achieving a lasting, comprehensive peace between Israelis and the Palestinians since the expiration of a previous waiver in November 2017,” said Nauert. “However, the PLO has not taken steps to advance the start of direct and meaningful negotiations with Israel,” Nauert said. “To the contrary, PLO leadership has condemned a US peace plan they have not yet seen and refused to engage with the US government with respect to peace efforts and otherwise,” she said. The announced closure was the latest move by President Donald Trump to push the Palestinians into peace talks, toward what the US president has termed the “ultimate deal.”


Newsline: Cuba’s “Sonic Attack” on the U.S. Embassy Could Have Been Merely Sounds Emitted by a Listening Device

The Associated Press made recordings available of the sounds that the employees reported hearing. If those indeed were the sounds, that would rule out the microwave auditory effect where the microwave-induced vibrations exist only within the head. Chen Yan, Kevin Fu and Wenyuan Xu (of Zhejiang University and the University of Michigan) showed the sounds in the AP recordings are characteristic of those produced by the interaction of two inaudible ultrasound beams via an effect known as intermodulation distortion. Ultrasound is widely used in burglar detectors, room occupancy sensors and other increasingly common appliances, and some individuals report unpleasant audible sensations from such devices. Intermodulation distortion is increasingly being employed to jam microphones used to record concert music illegally or for eavesdropping. Yan and colleagues report ultrasound can be used for eavesdropping purposes as well, by picking up vibrations in objects produced by human speech. In short, it is reasonable to guess the sounds were inadvertently produced by ultrasound devices, possibly even spytech, but without malicious intent against the embassy personnel. The incidents occurred about the time of the 2016 U.S. election, and the Cubans undoubtedly were desperate for intelligence about U.S. intentions. There is even a historical parallel to the recent incidents: In 1972 it became publicly known the Soviets had been irradiating the U.S. embassy in Moscow with low-level microwave energy from the 1950s through the 1970s. Neither side disclosed the reason for this. (A reasonable guess is the Russians were trying to disrupt U.S. listening equipment or to collect data from their own bugs in the building.) The media published hyperbolic stories about supposed attempts to harm the embassy staff, fueling a generation of speculation about microwave “neurowarfare.”