National Security

CIA says ‘Havana syndrome’ unlikely a result of ‘worldwide campaign’ by foreign power

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The CIA has determined that it is unlikely that a foreign country is behind the mysterious “Havana Syndrome” attacks that have afflicted U.S. diplomats. 

The interim determination is the first major update from a CIA task force established by Direction Bill Burns to address what the agency calls anomalous health incidents, or AHIs.

Those afflicted have experienced painful and sometimes debilitating symptoms, which some officials had long suspected may have been forwarded by a foreign actor like Russia.

“Taking into account all the intelligence that we have received and collected over the last several years, we assess that it is unlikely that a foreign actor including Russia is conducting a sustained, worldwide campaign harming U.S. personnel with a weapon or mechanism,” a senior CIA official told The Hill.

The first suspected case of the phenomenon was reported in the Cuban capital, Havana, in 2016. Since then, roughly 1,000 U.S. officials, largely those employed by the CIA and the State Department, have reported cases from across the globe.

Officials have complained of neurological symptoms ranging from vertigo to insomnia.

The CIA review attributed the bulk of the cases to preexisting conditions or environmental factors, though “a few dozen” of the cases could not be explained and are continuing to face further examination. 

“We assess that the majority of the reported AHI cases can be reasonably explained by medical conditions, environmental and technical factors, including previously undiagnosed illnesses, as well as many reports that were made out of an abundance of caution. These findings do not call into question the fact that our officers are reporting experiences and that they’re suffering real symptoms. That said it doesn’t explain every report,” the official said. 

“There is a subset of cases, some of our toughest, toughest cases, that remain unsolved and remain the focus of the acting investigation. In these cases we have not ruled out the involvement of a foreign actor being behind them.”

Both the CIA and the State Department under the Biden administration have launched task forces to evaluate AHIs and determine to improve medical care for employees that report symptoms.

In a letter to State Department employees obtained by The Hill, Secretary of State Antony Blinken said its task force would likewise continue to evaluate the cause of the incidents.

“These findings do not call into question that our colleagues are reporting real experiences and suffering real symptoms. I have heard those firsthand in my discussions in Washington and around the world with those afflicted. We are going to continue to bring all our resources to bear in learning more about these incidents and there will be additional reports to follow,” he wrote.

“We will leave no stone unturned. I am deeply grateful for the profound efforts of experts inside and outside government engaged in this effort.”

Statements from the heads of Congress’s two intelligence committees likewise stressed that they would continue to investigate the cause of AHIs.

“While Director Burns has earned the trust of the Senate Intelligence Committee that he is taking this challenge seriously, it’s important to note that today’s assessment, while rigorously conducted, reflects only the interim work of the CIA task force,” Senate Intelligence Chair Mark Warner (D-Va.) said in a statement.

“The Senate Intelligence Committee will continue pressing for answers on a bipartisan basis, and we look forward to robust engagement with the intelligence community, as well as the conclusions of the outside experts panel that has been assembled to seek answers to these very urgent and difficult questions.” 

House Intelligence Chair Adam Schiff (D-Calif.) called the report “a first step toward answering the many questions that we have about these incidents, but it is far from the last.” 

This story was updated at 2:10 p.m.

 

 
Tags Adam Schiff Antony Blinken Antony Blinken Bill Burns central intelligence agency Central Intelligence Agency Cuba havana syndrome Mark Warner William Burns

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