Diplomats express 'frustration' to Blinken over Havana syndrome skepticism: report

Diplomats express 'frustration' to Blinken over Havana syndrome skepticism: report
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A group of U.S. diplomats who have had symptoms in line with the “Havana syndrome” reportedly met with Secretary of State Antony BlinkenAntony BlinkenOvernight Defense & National Security — Presented by Raytheon Technologies — Biden backtracks on Taiwan Nearly 200 Americans want to leave Afghanistan, State Department tells Congress Syria's challenge to Tony Blinken's conscience MORE earlier this month to vocalize “frustration” over continued skepticism about their conditions they say exists among some high-level federal officials. 

NBC News reported Tuesday that based on conversations with more than half a dozen people who participated in the Sept. 10 call, some diplomats have faced challenges receiving adequate medical attention and benefits, despite public messaging from federal officials that the administration is taking their injuries seriously. 

Some diplomats also expressed criticisms over the administration’s decision not to refer to the health incidents as “attacks,” which they argued has helped fuel growing skepticism among their colleagues, according to NBC. 

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During the call, Blinken reportedly addressed some of these concerns, emphasizing that those who have reported symptoms should be believed and provided medical care as the administration works to investigate the source of Havana syndrome, which is still largely unknown. 

Defense Secretary Lloyd AustinLloyd AustinBiden remarks on Taiwan leave administration scrambling Overnight Defense & National Security — Presented by Raytheon Technologies — Biden backtracks on Taiwan GOP lawmakers worry vaccine mandate will impact defense supply chain MORE last week noted that symptoms tied to the condition include nausea, headaches and pain in response to pressure, sounds or heat.

Despite the reassurances from Blinken and other top administration officials, one diplomat told NBC that the situation was “just incredibly sad,” noting that the phone call with Blinken was “identical to so many other phone calls.” 

“It's so maddening because those protocols aren't in place — not the way they think they are,” the diplomat added. 

Some diplomats who spoke to NBC said that the State Department’s Bureau of Medical Services initially expressed doubts on their symptoms, and said they could have been due to stress or aging. 

One diplomat noted, “It's those sorts of sickening statements that perpetuate this disbelief.” 

A senior State Department official who spoke to NBC said that while there was “frustration” among diplomats who have reported Havana syndrome symptoms, those in top administration positions were not among those who may have expressed skepticism. 

“That's certainly not the case with the secretary and the senior leadership,” the State official said. “Everyone is taking it seriously as a real issue that is affecting people who are experiencing real symptoms.” 

When reached for comment, a State Department spokesperson told The Hill that Blinken spoke for more than an hour with diplomats earlier this month, and during the call said the issue was a top priority for him. 

Deputy Secretary for Management and Resources Brian McKeon and Health Incidents Response Task Force Senior Advisor Ambassador Pamela Spratlen were also on the call, according to the spokesperson. 

The department spokesperson went on to say that the federal government is continuing to investigate the Havana syndrome reports, noting that no firm cause for the symptoms has been determined yet. 

The first known cases of Havana syndrome were reported in 2016 among U.S. officials at the U.S. Embassy in Havana, Cuba, and a total of roughly 200 Americans have since reported possible symptoms tied to the condition.

This story was updated at 4:50 p.m.