The researchers said symptoms of what Trump described as a ‘sonic attack’ may be reflected in their brain scans when compared with those of healthy research volunteers. Lead researcher Dr. Ragini Verma, a professor of radiology at Penn, told Reuters in a phone interview that the difference between the brains of the workers and people in a control group “is pretty jaw-dropping at the moment.”
“Most of these patients had a particular type of symptoms and there is a clinical abnormality that is being reflected in an imaging anomaly,” she said.
However, in findings published by the Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA), Verma and her colleagues said it is not clear if the brain patterns directly translate into meaningful health problems. Also, initial MRI scans of 21 Havana embassy workers had revealed no abnormalities.
The symptoms, which were first reported by embassy workers in 2016 after the Obama administration reopened the embassy in an effort to improve relations with Cuba, included headache, ringing in the ears, sleep disturbances, trouble thinking, memory problems, dizziness and balance problems.
Trump has previously said that Cuba was responsible for what the US State Department called “significant injuries” suffered by the workers. And while the newest study shows that there had been some changes to the brain, it does not provide any evidence of any kind of attack.
“Finding evidence of brain change doesn’t provide evidence of brain injury or damage,” said Dr. Jon Stone, a professor of neurology at the Centre for Clinical Brain Sciences at the University of Edinburgh, who was not involved in the study.
Dr. Sergio Della Sala, a professor of human cognitive neuroscience, also at the University of Edinburgh, called the study “half baked” in an email, noting that 12 of the affected workers who had a history of concussion prior to going to Cuba were included in the analyses, causing the statistical differences with the control group, where no one declared any previous brain trauma.
Previous State Department assertions that some unknown sonic weapon had attacked the workers on the basis of the sound heard by employees were also dismissed. The sound was later identified by insect experts as the mating call of the male Indies short-tailed cricket, which is notorious for its volume.