US Employee Suffers Brain Injury After 'Sound' Incident in China, Embassy Issues Alert


U.S. officials have issued a warning to American citizens in China after reports of one individual suffering brain damage from an unexplained auditory phenomenon.

According to Reuters, a staffer at the U.S. consulate in Guangzhou experienced the adverse reaction in response to “abnormal” sounds and pressure.

A statement released Wednesday by the U.S. Embassy in Beijing did not identify the American citizen, indicating only that the individual exhibited “physical symptoms” of the unexplained exposure for several months beginning late last year.

After returning to the U.S. for evaluation and medical care, the embassy reported that the “clinical findings of this evaluation matched mild traumatic brain injury (MTBI).”

The embassy warned Americans living in China of the potential risk of similar exposure, acknowledging that the cause and scope of the reported incident are not yet known.

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“While in China, if you experience any unusual acute auditory or sensory phenomena accompanied by unusual sounds or piercing noises, do not attempt to locate their source,” read an email alert. “Instead, move to a location where the sounds are not present.”

Are you concerned about the risk of acoustic attacks?

The advisory warned Americans to be aware of “subtle and vague, but abnormal, sensations of sound and pressure.”

According to the embassy statement, Chinese officials have made a commitment to work alongside their American counterparts to determine the source.

“The Chinese government has assured us they are also investigating and taking appropriate measures,” one embassy source told CNN.

Details of this injury immediately sparked comparisons to reports of strange sounds near the U.S. Embassy in Havana, Cuba. Multiple diplomats reported medical issues as a result and officials were largely unable to explain what many feared to be an intentional attack on Americans.

University of Michigan’s Security and Privacy Research Group professor Kevin Fu determined earlier this year that the sounds as described could have been created by two listening devices placed in close proximity to each other. In such a scenario, Fu and his team concluded that the question of whether this was an intentional attack remains unanswered.

Reports by those affected included symptoms of dizziness, fatigue, cognitive impairment and hearing loss. Cuban officials largely dismissed the complaints, chalking them up to American lies.

In retaliation for Cuba’s apparent inability to protect American diplomats in Havana, the U.S. ousted 15 Cuban diplomats in October.

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Canadian officials responded last month to its own concerns regarding the safety of its embassy in Cuba. That country removed the families of diplomats living in Cuba after apparent acoustic issues led to similar health complaints.

Despite apparent parallels between the Cuban and Chinese reports, U.S. officials could not confirm any direct ties.

“We cannot at this time connect it with what happened in Havana, but we are investigating all possibilities,” the embassy said.

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Chris Agee is an American journalist with more than 15 years of experience in a wide range of newsrooms.
Chris Agee is an American journalist with more than 15 years of experience in a variety of newsroom settings. After covering crime and other beats for newspapers and radio stations across the U.S., he served as managing editor at Western Journalism until 2017. He has also been a regular guest and guest host on several syndicated radio programs. He lives in Phoenix, Arizona, with his wife and son.
Texas Press Association, Best News Writing - 2012
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