Cubic boron nitride (cBN) is a synthetic wide band gap material that has attracted attention due to its high thermal conductivity, optical transparency and optical emission. In this work, defects in cBN have been investigated using experimental and theoretical X-ray absorption near edge structure (XANES). Vacancy and O substitutional defects were considered, with O substituted at the N site (ON) to be the most energetically favorable. All defects produce unique signatures in either the B or N K-edges and can thus be identified using XANES. The calculations coupled with electron-irradiation / annealing experiments strongly suggest that ON is the dominant defect in irradiated cBN and remains after annealing. This defect is a likely source of optical emission in cBN.