“Very unlikely” that foreign adversaries will be blamed for Havana Syndrome, the intelligence report finds

WASHINGTON – That’s what US intelligence agencies found a foreign opponent is “very unlikely” to be responsible for the mysterious ailments known as Havana Syndrome, which American spies and diplomats have been reporting on missions around the world since 2016, officials said on Wednesday.

The assessment builds on interim findings from the Central Intelligence Agency last year that neither Russia nor any other enemy power was responsible for a global campaign targeting intelligence officers and diplomats suffering from a variety of symptoms including headaches, dizziness and impaired balance reported. In many of these cases, patients reported that symptoms began after hearing a strange noise and feeling intense pressure in their head.

However, the conclusions released on Wednesday were broader, noting that none of the incidents investigated by the government could be attributed to hostile foreign action.

The intelligence community’s assessment found that while seven different agencies had varying degrees of confidence, most “concluded that it was ‘very unlikely’ that a foreign adversary was responsible for the reported diseases.” As part of the investigation, US spy services reviewed intelligence that showed opponents were confused and thought the reported symptoms were part of an American conspiracy.

Some researchers, including a 2020 National Academy of Sciences report, have said a microwave oven or weapon that uses pulsed directed energy is the most likely cause.

But on Wednesday, spy agencies concluded that there was no “credible evidence” that adversaries had developed a weapon or intelligence-gathering device capable of causing the injuries American officials reported. However, a team of experts from the Pentagon is continuing to investigate the matter.

The mysterious ailments have been dubbed Havana Syndrome because the first known cases were reported in 2016 by CIA officials in the Cuban capital. Cases were subsequently reported by intelligence officials, diplomats, and other US government employees in China, Austria, and dozens of other countries.

William J. Burns, the CIA director, said in a statement that the findings reflected more than two years of “rigorous, painstaking collection, investigative work and analysis” by the CIA and other US intelligence agencies.

“My leadership team and I stand firmly behind the work done and the results,” said Mr. Burns. “I want to be absolutely clear: These findings do not call into question the experiences and real health issues reported by U.S. government employees and their family members — including CIA officers — while on duty in our country.”

Many patients who worked for the CIA and the State Department complained that their grievances were not being taken seriously by much of the Trump administration.

That changed in 2020 — toward the end of the Trump administration — when officials expanded their efforts to gather information on suspected cases of Havana syndrome, and the CIA, State Department, and other agencies urged their employees to report such incidents.

This led to an explosion in the number of possible cases from dozens to around 1,500.

In 2021, under the Biden administration, the CIA began increasing resources for its staff’s health care needs, helping more officers who reported symptoms see brain injury specialists. The CIA and other intelligence agencies also invested more resources into investigating what might have caused the syndrome, raising hopes in patients that the perpetrator or perpetrators would be identified. But when officials examined the hundreds of reports received, it became clear that it was not a single group of symptoms, but a range of ailments that clinically looked very diverse.

Wednesday’s announcement was troubling news for many patients because they believe it casts doubt on the legitimacy of their injuries. Years later, some of those affected are still struggling with serious health problems that have prevented them from returning to work.

Mark Zaid, a lawyer representing several patients with Havana syndrome, said the assessment would undermine morale and that intelligence agencies need to disclose more details about their work.

“The latest US intelligence assessment lacks transparency and we continue to question the accuracy of the alleged findings,” Mr Zaid said.

Intelligence officials have insisted their investigations over the past two years have been deep and rigorous, spending months hunting down individual leads – all to come up empty in the quest for a global statement explaining multiple incidents.

Intelligence agencies were examining phones, laptops and other devices reported to have abnormalities at the same time patients were first reporting they had some symptoms.

The intelligence agencies, often referred to as IC, also attempted to gather information about what potential adversaries were saying about these incidents to see what they might know about them.

“Despite intense and extensive efforts, the IC has not identified any compelling leads that have stood up to scrutiny pointing to foreign actors,” op National Intelligence Council statement called.

Intelligence officials also said that researchers’ understanding of Havana syndrome and its medical implications has evolved since the first reports in 2016 and 2017. At the time, some researchers believed they were seeing a “novel medical syndrome or consistent injury pattern similar to traumatic brain injury,” the intelligence agency read.

These findings led some expert panels to conclude that the neurological injuries seen in the mysterious events are unlikely to be “explained by natural or environmental factors.” But intelligence officials said recent research has undermined those initial conclusions, suggesting a variety of environmental factors could be causing some of the reported ailments.

The report said the espionage authorities “assess that the symptoms reported by US personnel were likely the result of factors not involving a foreign adversary, such as: B. Pre-existing conditions, conventional diseases and environmental factors”.

Some patients have said that by dismissing theories that a foreign actor is responsible, the Biden administration is suggesting that it believes the Havana syndrome cases were the result of psychosomatic reactions, or so-called functional illnesses.

US intelligence officials declined to address Wednesday whether they thought the reactions were psychosomatic. A panel of experts convened by the Biden administration last year found that neither stress nor psychosomatic reactions could explain the injuries that occurred.

Since the first cases of Havana syndrome were reported in 2016, members of Congress have been pushing for better treatment and compensation for diplomats and CIA officials who reported the ailments. They introduced and passed laws to compensate injured government employees.

As a result of the Havana Act, the US government has begun paying compensation to CIA officials, State Department diplomats and other officials who have been diagnosed with head injuries after reported incidents. Officials said on Wednesday those payments would continue despite intelligence findings.

Mr Zaid said it was vital that the federal government continued its support for people injured in the mysterious incidents.

“We are asking all federal agencies with victims to ensure that quality, long-term health care is provided to them and their families, free of charge and in a timely manner, and to provide appropriate compensation for injuries that, for some, have ended their careers in the line of service,” he said Mr. Zaid.

https://www.nytimes.com/2023/03/01/us/politics/havana-syndrome-intelligence-report.html “Very unlikely” that foreign adversaries will be blamed for Havana Syndrome, the intelligence report finds


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