WASHINGTON (AP) — The State Department on Friday named a new coordinator to investigate cases of so-called Havana syndrome, a response to mounting pressure from lawmakers to investigate and respond to hundreds of brain injuries reported by diplomats and intelligence officials. gives the answer.
Watch Blinken’s comments live in the video player above at 10 a.m. ET.
Secretary of State Antony Blinken appointed a high-ranking deputy, Jonathan Moore, to coordinate the department’s task force on matters. He replaces Pamela Spratlen, a retired diplomat temporarily recalled to service by Blinken before leaving in September. He had to face criticism from some of the victims.
Blinken also appointed retired Ambassador Margaret Uyehara to lead efforts to directly support the care of State Department staff.
Investigators are studying a growing number of cases reported by US personnel around the world and whether they were caused by exposure to microwaves or other forms of directed energy. Affected people have reported headache, dizziness, nausea, and other symptoms consistent with traumatic brain injuries.
Possibilities being considered include the use of surveillance equipment or damaging equipment. The cases, known as “Havana Syndrome”, are related to a series of brain injuries reported in 2016 at the US Embassy in Cuba.
After years of investigation, the US government still has not publicly identified what or who may have been behind the incidents or whether they were in fact attacks. But leaders in the state and defense departments and the CIA prompted employees to report potential brain injuries and in some cases removed leaders who were seen as sympathetic to the cases.
“It’s about the health and safety of our people and there’s nothing we take more seriously,” Blinken said Friday.
Several hundred cases are under investigation. In recent weeks there have been several reports of possible incidents involving visits of high-profile US officials, including a member of the travel party of CIA Director William Burns in India and a case before the events of the US embassy in Bogota, Colombia. A Journey by Blinken.
The State Department said on Friday that Deputy Secretary Brian McConne had met with diplomats in Vienna to discuss possible cases reported this year in Austria. The department said it has taken “several important steps, none of which we can detail publicly to protect our personnel.”
Democrats and Republicans have both pressured President Joe Biden’s administration to determine who and what could be responsible for cases and improve treatment for victims, many of whom have long said that Government officials are not taking their cases seriously. Biden signed a bill earlier this month aimed at improving medical care for victims.
Sen. Jean Shaheen, dn.h. said in a recent hearing that even after speaking to victims, “there was clearly a disconnect between what is happening at the top levels of the State Department and in some cases how victims are being treated.”
Shaheen has introduced a new law to correct the gap in the way different agencies investigate and treat cases.
“There is still not enough information that is being shared, there is not enough coordination,” she said in an interview. “There is no unanimity of response on how to deal with it.”
CIA Director Burns pressed the Havana syndrome cases in a separate hearing last week, saying the agency’s investigation into the cases is led by a key leader responsible for the operation to find Osama bin Laden. He didn’t refer to the cases as “assaults” after Rep. Eric Swalwell, D-Calif., asked whether he would use that term.
“We’ve worked very hard to improve the care that our officers and sometimes their family members deserve,” Burns said. “And we’ve made an extraordinarily vigorous effort to get to the bottom of these questions about who and what might be the cause.”
Dr. James Giordano, the scientist working on the investigation of the cases, said the incidents were being viewed as “deliberate engagement” by an adversary or proxy, although he declined to specify the suspected countries.
“Speaking about attribution at this time is a very delicate matter because of the intelligence, military and political implications,” said Giordano, executive director of the Institute for Biodefense Research in Washington.
Writing for Cipher Brief, a publication focused on intelligence, a group of former CIA officials said they had “some doubts” that Russia was responsible and hoped the US would eventually blame Moscow. Officials called on the US to increase its military presence in Eastern Europe, limit Russian trade and tourism travel, and seek collective defense through NATO.
“For at least a decade, Russia has driven itself into a state of conflict with the West in general and the United States in particular,” the group said.