Blinken promises to ‘get to the bottom’ of ‘Havana syndrome’
Secretary of State Antony Blinken on Friday announced new leadership of the agency’s task force addressing so-called Havana syndrome cases, promising to find answers on the mysterious incidents impacting hundreds of staff with debilitating health symptoms.
The secretary’s speech from the State Department represented his widest-ranging public statements on the years-long quest to solve the mystery behind what, and possibly who, is responsible for serious injuries suffered by employees serving the government.
“We need to do everything possible for our people, to care for them, to protect them, to get to the bottom of what happened,” Blinken said.
“We will get to the bottom of this and meanwhile, we’ll do everything we can to care for our people.”
Blinken announced the appointment of Jonathan Moore, a member of the Senior Foreign Service and former ambassador to Bosnia and Herzegovina, as the new head of the State Department’s Health Incident Task Force, the body responsible for coordinating the agency’s efforts to address what they call Anomalous Health Incidents (AHIs).
Blinken also announced that Margaret Uyehara, former ambassador to Montenegro, will be the “senior care coordinator” on the task force.
AHIs are colloquially referred to as Havana syndrome — named after the first cohort of victims who were serving in Havana, Cuba, in 2016.
Diplomats and intelligence officials serving at the U.S. mission in Havana reported suffering intense physical symptoms after experiencing a sensory phenomenon — including descriptions of hearing loud noises or feeling intense pressure.
Since then, an estimated 200 U.S. officials from the State Department, intelligence community and White House are believed to have been impacted by AHIs, and the Biden administration has appointed a task force at the National Security Council to help coordinate investigations across the State Department, Department of Defense and CIA.
AHIs have been reported among U.S. officials serving on every continent except Antarctica. Last month, State Department staff reportedly suffered AHIs at the U.S. mission in Colombia and in August, Vice President Harris’s trip to Vietnam was delayed amid staff reporting AHIs.
Biden officials have refrained from describing the incidents as “attacks,” despite victims, advocates and lawmakers characterizing them this way.
A Senate aide told The Hill that the CIA seems convinced that these are coordinated attacks and that the agency is treating them that way.
The State Department’s response to AHIs has come under criticism from lawmakers and advocates, who cite a weeks-long delay in announcing a new head of the AHI Task Force and have called for Blinken to involve himself more personally in the agency’s efforts.
Blinken on Friday described first-hand testimonies from victims as powerful.
“You can’t help but [be] personally affected when you hear directly from our folks, their stories, how they’ve been affected, how this has affected their lives,” he said.
The secretary outlined the efforts the State Department is undertaking to care for employees impacted by these incidents and efforts to investigate the source. This includes dispatching a team of security specialists and occupational safety experts to sites where AHIs have been reported and “drawing on the full capacity of our intelligence community.”
The secretary added that the State Department is working with scientists both inside and outside of government to determine what mechanism is responsible for creating the conditions that victims are describing — with reports of piercing or overwhelming noises and intense pressure in the head and face, and medical reviews determining symptoms that are consistent with traumatic brain injury.
In December 2020, researchers with the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine, studying victims of the so-called Havana syndrome from Cuba and Guangzhou, China, put their support behind the idea that the “most plausible mechanism” responsible for what is occurring is a “directed, pulsed radio frequency energy.”
Sen. Jeanne Shaheen (D-N.H.), a member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, welcomed the secretary’s remarks and promised to work alongside the State Department’s task force on addressing “directed energy attacks.”
“I welcome Secretary Blinken’s announcement, which is a positive step forward for U.S. personnel and their family members who for years have suffered from serious health effects due to directed energy attacks,” the senator said in a statement.
“While we cannot necessarily see their injuries, they are real and deserve the same attention and urgency as wounds that are visible. These individuals and their loved ones were injured while serving their nation – the U.S. owes them every resource to get well and stay healthy, which is why the responsibilities of the Senior Advisor to the Health Incident Response Task Force are so critical. I will do everything in my power to assist Ambassadors Jonathan Moore and Margaret Uyehara and ensure the concerns of those targeted are heard, that they receive timely and comprehensive care and that every measure is taken to uncover the causation of these attacks.”