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Is an invisible weapon targeting U.S. diplomats?

Is an invisible weapon targeting diplomats?
Is an invisible weapon targeting U.S. diplomats? 05:33

Commerce Department trade officer Catherine Werner used to promote American business from the U.S. consulate in Guangzhou, China. Today she says she suffers from bouts of nausea, dizziness, and headaches. She says her sense of balance is off.

Robyn Garfield, also a trade officer with the Commerce Department, was posted in Shanghai. Along with nausea, dizziness, and headaches, he says he has trouble remembering words.

State Department security officer Mark Lenzi used to work in the consulate in Guangzhou. When he did, he said the splitting pain in his head was debilitating. He couldn't sleep. "I was thinking, 'What is wrong with me? Something's wrong,'" he said.

The three are among at least 15 American officials in China who say they suffered unexplained brain trauma after being attacked by a mysterious weapon. Previously, at least 25 Americans who worked in the U.S. embassy in Cuba said they also experienced an attack and have similar symptoms. And Americans are not the only ones who have been attacked. According to the Canadian government, 15 Canadians were injured in Cuba, including diplomats and their families.

This week on 60 Minutes, correspondent Scott Pelley reports on the aftermath of the attacks. Producers Michael Rey, Bob Anderson and Oriana Zill de Granados worked with Pelley on the report, which originally aired in 2019, for about a year, collecting evidence of what appears to be a hostile government's plan to target Americans abroad. In the video above, they told 60 Minutes Overtime's Ann Silvio they wanted to hear from the victims directly.

State Department security officer Mark Lenzi worked in the U.S. consulate in Guangzhou, China. He says he and his wife began to suffer after hearing strange sounds in their apartment. Today, Lenzi wears prescribed glasses because sensitivity to light is among his persistent symptoms

"It went from being a sort of James Bond spy thriller to being actual victims—people who are really hurt, children who were hurt," Rey said.

With so many unanswered questions, the producers say they approached the story with a sense of skepticism and concede there still may be a cause for the symptoms that they haven't yet considered. But they say they were very careful to verify everything they reported—and to be clear about what they don't know yet.

"Their stories are incredibly compelling," Zill de Granados said. "And their medical records are incredibly compelling."

Robyn and Britta Garfield say their family suffered an attack while Robyn, a trade officer with the Commerce Department, was posted in Shanghai. In addition to their symptoms, they say their children suffered blurred vision and loss of balance

The government employees weren't the only ones targeted. Their spouses, children, and family pets also exhibited neurological symptoms after hearing strange sounds in their homes.

While some reporting has claimed the victims were suffering from mass hysteria, not from some sort of attack, the producers say their own reporting doesn't back that up.

"There are a lot of elements here that just discount the idea of this being mass hysteria," Zill de Granados said.  

In addition to the victims who were working in China, the 60 Minutes team also spoke with a diplomat who says she was attacked while working in Cuba. The producers say her description of the attack closely matches the stories they heard from the government employees in China.

This diplomat asked 60 Minutes not to reveal her identity. She was stationed in Cuba, where she says she, too, was attacked. She now wants Americans to know what happened to their diplomats serving abroad

The woman, who asked 60 Minutes not to reveal her name, was the first victim from Cuba to tell her story on camera. She told Pelley she wanted Americans to know what happened to diplomats serving abroad. She also wanted to encourage other people who were injured to come forward and seek treatment.

"It's not something that you should have to live with and suffer through alone," she said. "So it's important for everyone to hear this."

In July 2019, a University of Pennsylvania medical team published a study on the brains of U.S. government personnel who developed neurological symptoms in Cuba. The study used advanced brain imaging and found "significant differences in brain tissue and connectivity" in the diplomats' brains. It was the first scientific evidence showing the diplomats had physical damage to the structure of their brains.

To watch Scott Pelley's 60 Minutes report on targeting Americans, click here.

The video above was originally published on March 17, 2019 and was produced by Ann Silvio and Lisa Orlando. It was edited by Lisa Orlando and Sarah Shafer Prediger.  

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