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Tillerson to launch new review of Havana 'attacks'

Tillerson to launch new review of Havana 'attacks'
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Secretary of State Rex TillersonRex Wayne TillersonTillerson: 'We squandered the best opportunity we had on North Korea' State Department sets up new bureau for cybersecurity and emerging technologies Lawmakers express concern about lack of young people in federal workforce MORE will convene a panel to examine what U.S. officials say are attacks that have left two dozen U.S. diplomats in Havana with mysterious ailments.

Francisco Palmieri, the acting assistant secretary of State for western hemisphere affairs, said at a Senate hearing on Tuesday that Tillerson will assemble an Accountability Review Board (ARB), a special panel convened when a U.S. diplomat sustains any serious injury while abroad.

That review would come in addition to ongoing investigations into the matter. The FBI is already looking into what may have caused U.S. personnel in Havana to experience symptoms ranging from hearing loss to nausea to severe headaches.

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"I would also like to emphasize up front that the investigation into these health attacks is ongoing," Palmieri told a subcommittee of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. 

In a statement to The Hill, the State Department emphasized the review would not interfere with current probes.

"The purpose of an ARB is to determine whether incidents are security related, to review our security policies and procedures to determine if they were adequate and properly implemented, and assess whether any individual misconduct or unsatisfactory performance contributed to the incidents," a State Department official said. "An ARB does not supersede or replace law enforcement investigations into incidents."

So far, the State Department has confirmed 24 cases of a U.S. employee in Havana sustaining harm. The first reported cases came in the fall of 2016, though the most recent incident was in August. 

The incidents prompted Tillerson to withdraw most U.S. diplomatic personnel from Cuba in September. That was soon followed by a number of Cuban diplomats being expelled from Washington. 

Tillerson has said that he believes that the Cuban government could have prevented the attacks, and that it has failed to live up to its obligations to protect foreign diplomats. 

The Cuban government, however, has denied any involvement in the incidents or knowledge of who perpetrated the potential attacks against U.S. diplomats. The matter has strained the newly reestablished relations between the Washington and Havana.

—Updated at 1:06 p.m.