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State Dept. appoints official to oversee 'Havana syndrome' response

State Dept. appoints official to oversee 'Havana syndrome' response
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The State Department on Friday appointed an official to directly oversee the agency’s response to the mysterious attacks on American officials abroad called “Havana syndrome,” which has affected dozens of individuals causing a range of symptoms and debilitating injuries including brain damage.

Pamela Spratlen, former U.S. ambassador to Kyrgyzstan and Uzbekistan, will serve as senior adviser to the department's Health Incident Response Task Force and will have access directly to the secretary of State and senior leadership.

The task force was formed in 2018 following multiple reports of diplomats and U.S. personnel suffering “unexplained health incidents” at postings abroad, including in Cuba, Russia and China.

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“The selection of Ambassador Spratlen will help us make strides to address this issue wherever it affects Department personnel and their families,” Secretary of State Antony BlinkenAntony BlinkenThe US must help Afghans who have helped us Biden, Putin begin high-stakes summit in Geneva Democrat says he won't introduce resolution to censure Greene MORE said in a statement. “She will streamline our coordination efforts with the interagency community, and reaffirm our commitment to make certain that those affected receive the care and treatment they need.”

Spratlen most recently served as senior adviser to the Office of Inspector General in the inspections division.

State Department spokesperson Ned Price said that in addition to Spratlen’s appointment, the State Department has a person on the Health Incident Response Task Force who is responsible for engaging with those who may have been victims of the unexplained health incidents, but he did not provide a name.

“There have been, now, several countries where these incidents have been reported, we are seeking a full accounting of all of those who may have been affected by these incidents. That will be a large part of Ambassador Spratlen’s role, is to ensure that we know the full extent of these incidents,” Price said.

He added that Blinken has received numerous briefings on the incidents during the transition between the Trump administration and the Biden administration, while he was secretary-designate, on his first full day in the position and during additional comprehensive briefings.

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Yet the secretary, in a hearing before lawmakers on Wednesday, said that the agency could not assign blame to any entity, individual or country behind the attacks but committed to a “whole of government approach” to addressing them.

Some 40 government officials have been hit by the attacks, which were first reported in late 2016 and which a government-funded report by the National Academy of Sciences determined was most likely caused by microwave radiation, with effects ranging from vertigo to insomnia to brain trauma.

The CIA in December appointed its own task force to address the attacks, designed to ensure a team would be in place to provide support to CIA individuals who may have been affected or face a similar attack in the future.

“CIA is working alongside other government agencies to double down on our efforts to find answers regarding the unexplained global health incidents that have impacted personnel. The agency’s top priority has been and continues to be the well-being of all of our officers,” CIA press secretary Timothy Barrett said in an email.

Rebecca Beitsch contributed.