National Security

US investigating possible ‘Havana syndrome’ attack near White House: CNN

Officials are investigating two potential “Havana syndrome” attacks on U.S. soil — including one near the White House — following a string of mysterious incidents abroad, CNN reported Thursday

The suspected attacks, which first occurred in Havana in 2016, have since surfaced in a number of countries, leaving a number of U.S. diplomats and analysts with neurological symptoms ranging from vertigo to insomnia.

According to CNN, one of the attacks took place near the Ellipse, the grassy oval lawn just south of the White House, harming a National Security Council official. 

Another U.S.-based incident occurred in a Virginia suburb in 2019 while a White House official was walking her dog.

“The health and well-being of American public servants is a paramount priority for the Biden administration. We take all reports of health incidents by our personnel extremely seriously. The White House is working closely with departments and agencies to address unexplained health incidents and ensure the safety and security of Americans serving around the world,” a White House spokesperson told The Hill. 

“Given that we are still evaluating reported incidents and that we need to protect the privacy of individuals reporting incidents, we cannot provide or confirm specific details at this time.”

The Pentagon, one of the agencies investigating the possible attacks, declined to comment.

According to CNN, Pentagon officials briefed Senate and House Armed Services committees members on the incidents earlier this month, informing lawmakers Russia was one possible actor behind the attacks.

The potential attacks — especially ones in close proximity to the White House — would be an escalation of a series of events that have already impacted government employees abroad.

In a Senate Armed Services Committee hearing Thursday morning, Sen. Jeanne Shaheen (D-N.H.) questioned Director of National Intelligence Avril Haines about why the intelligence community has kept many of the details about the potential attacks classified.

“I would argue that with stories like this, with stories that have appeared over the last two years, really, and those people who have been affected who have gone public, that the horse is out of the barn on this. The information is already out there and I, I think it behooves us all to try and make sure that the information that gets out is accurate and that people understand what’s happening and that there is an effort to respond,” Shaheen said.

Haines said that while she would work to get lawmakers the information needed to make a good decision, “Our concern obviously with the classification is because we believe that either it’s protecting sources or methods and it’s critical to our national security.”

Some 40 government officials have been hit by the attacks, which a government-funded report by the National Academy of Sciences determined were most likely caused by microwave radiation. The bulk of known cases have been State Department or CIA employees.

The CIA kicked off a task force to support CIA individuals who may have been affected or face a similar attack in the future, while the State Department in March appointed a senior adviser to oversee its existing task force.

“If I’m confirmed as director of CIA, I will have no higher priority than taking care of people — of colleagues and their families,” CIA director William Burns said during his confirmation hearing in February when asked about the attacks.

“And I do commit to you that if I’m confirmed I will make it an extraordinarily high priority to get to the bottom of who’s responsible for the attacks that you just described, and to ensure that colleagues and their families get the care that they deserve including at the National Institutes of Health and Walter Reed.”

–Updated at 11:11 a.m.

Tags Avril Haines CIA havana syndrome Jeanne Shaheen microwave attack White House William Burns

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