Is an invisible weapon targeting U.S. diplomats?
How do you report on an attack that you can’t see? 60 Minutes producers say they approached it with skepticism
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, 26 Americans who worked in the U.S. embassy in Cuba said they also experienced an attack and have similar symptoms.
This week on 60 Minutes, correspondent Scott Pelley reports on the aftermath of the attacks. Producers Michael Rey and Oriana Zill de Granados worked with Pelley on the report 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.
"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."
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.
The woman, who asked 60 Minutes not to reveal her name, is the first victim from Cuba to tell her story on camera. She told Pelley she wants Americans to know what happened to diplomats serving abroad. She also wants 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."
To watch Scott Pelley's 60 Minutes report on targeting Americans, click here.
The video above was produced by Ann Silvio and Lisa Orlando. It was edited by Lisa Orlando and Sarah Shafer Prediger.