Rep. Wilson unveiling legislative agenda for 2015 (copy)

U.S. Rep. Joe Wilson, R-S.C.

Crippling. Traumatic brain injury. Massive ear pain. Disorienting. Life threatening.

That's how South Carolina congressman Joe Wilson described the effects on U.S. Embassy staff in Havana, Cuba, who two years ago found themselves under "attack" by a series of unexplained but pain-inducing sonic signals.

They were targeted in their homes, offices and hotels.

"This is gruesome," Wilson said. "Whatever it was, either ultrasonic or infrasonic attacks, the consequences were really life threatening and also permanent."

Wilson, a Republican and senior member of the House Foreign Affairs, is part of the probe because the safety of embassy personnel around the globe falls under his purview.

He's one of four South Carolinians with keen insight to embassy work: former House Speaker David Wilkins was ambassador to Canada; former Commerce Secretary Bob Royall was ambassador to Tanzania; and businessman Ed McMullen is currently ambassador in Switzerland.

To date, at least two dozen U.S. personnel in Havana were taken down by the attacks. One theory is that a microwave signal — altered or contorted through the use of other technologies — might be at play. 

Officials truly don't know if it was targeted or somehow accidental.

Some of the staff reported hearing sounds before getting sick; others didn't. Various agencies of the federal government are trying to reverse engineer how the effect was created.

The working theory now is that two forms of microwave signals might be at play: infra, which are considered silent, or ultra, which are more audible, Wilson said.

The investigation has spread to a U.S. consulate in Guangzhou, China, where a worker there reported similar concussion-type symptoms.

While some sources are pointing fingers at Russia or another state, Wilson isn't ready to make that leap. But he does have an idea where the investigation should focus.

"Nothing occurs in that country without the full knowledge of the Cuban military," he said.

Wilson is the senior Republican in the S.C. congressional delegation representing the ruby red Republican stronghold around Lexington County and the western part of the state. Before his interest in the embassy attacks, he was known to most Americans outside South Carolina for yelling "You Lie!" at President Barack Obama during a joint session of Congress in 2009.

In June, he introduced the Mitigating Attacks on Diplomats Act meant to identify methods to protect against "non-traditional assaults" against foreign services officers, their families and embassy grounds. 

Embassies may sound like dignified bastions of U.S. interests overseas, but they are targets of security, espionage and harassment.

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Wilkins of Greenville, who was George W. Bush's ambassador to Canada, said security was ever present whether it had to do with where cellphones or Blackberries could go or just carrying a stack of papers.

"It wasn't emphasized that spies were lurking out your window, but you couldn't take it (security) for granted," he said of his time in Ottawa.

"What was emphasized was be secure with the information you had," he added.

Royall, who was Bush's ambassador in Tanzania, said it was accepted that al-Qaida spies were monitoring the embassy after it was rebuilt following the 1998 terror bombing in Dar es Salaam.

"You knew that in a continent in a section of the world where poverty was extreme, it was awfully easy for any terror organization to buy the support of the people," Royall said.

The Havana embassy, only reopened in 2015 after decades of Castro-related dormancy, has been reduced to a skeleton staff of about 10, according to recent number.

Wilson said he has faith in Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and the government resources that are investigating the Havana beams.

But he still thinks the early answer lies with Cuba's higher ups and that what happened was not an accident.

"And indeed we're dealing with a totalitarian state in Cuba, so there is nothing that occurs there that is not without the knowledge of the government and the military," he said.

Reach Schuyler Kropf at 843-937-5551. Follow him on Twitter at @skropf47.

Political Editor

Schuyler Kropf is The Post and Courier political editor. He has covered every major political race in South Carolina dating to 1988, including for U.S. Senate, governorship, the Statehouse and Republican and Democratic presidential primaries.

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