'Havana Syndrome' Attacks Still a Mystery

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While the starring mentation successful the “Havana syndrome” cases is directed microwave attacks, a classified league for elder authorities officials said months of probe were inconclusive.

Vienna has go  the latest halfway  of reports of symptoms.
Credit...Joe Klamar/Agence France-Presse — Getty Images

David E. Sanger

Aug. 8, 2021, 8:36 p.m. ET

President Biden’s apical aides were told connected Friday that experts studying the mysterious illnesses affecting scores of diplomats, spies and their household members were inactive struggling to find grounds to backmost up the starring theory, that microwave attacks are being launched by Russian agents.

The study came successful an unusual, classified gathering called by the manager of nationalist intelligence, Avril D. Haines, according to respective elder medication officials who spoke connected the information of anonymity. The intent of the gathering was to measure the investigations and efforts to dainty victims of the so-called Havana syndrome — the unexplained headaches, dizziness and representation nonaccomplishment reported by scores of State Department officials, C.I.A. officers and their families.

While Mr. Biden has said astir thing publically astir the episodes, the National Security Council has begun an urgent effort to code the issue, and 2 abstracted task forces are present successful operation, one investigating the cause and led by the C.I.A. and different focused connected uncovering commercialized exertion that could observe oregon artifact attacks.

The gathering of the Joint Intelligence Community Council connected Friday, which has not been publically announced by the administration, included Secretary of State Antony J. Blinken; Attorney General Merrick B. Garland; the C.I.A. director, William J. Burns; and the F.B.I. director, Christopher A. Wray.

The high-ranking quality of the league was an denotation of however rapidly the attacks, which day to 2016, person risen from a aesculapian mystery to an urgent nationalist information issue. Biden medication officials accidental they were shocked astatine however disorganized the authorities effect was implicit the past 4 years, successful portion due to the fact that determination was nary cardinal mode for departments to stock reports of the episodes and due to the fact that galore of the targets were quality officers whose identities and locations could not beryllium revealed. A December 2020 survey of the causes by the National Academy of Sciences concluded that microwave attacks were astir apt the cause, but Biden medication officials accidental the radical had nary entree to classified information.

Soon aft taking bureau Mr. Biden’s nationalist information adviser, Jake Sullivan, designated the Security Council’s elder manager for quality to signifier a cross-government response, and extracurricular experts with information clearances were called successful to commencement caller studies.

At the gathering called by Ms. Haines connected Friday, the adept groups reported that the starring mentation remained that microwave beams were aimed astatine authorities buildings and residences, either arsenic portion of an espionage effort oregon arsenic a deliberate effort to deed American officials with a debilitating, invisible and hard-to-trace weapon.

“It is imaginable that this began arsenic an espionage effort that turned into a stealthy means of attack,” 1 authoritative acquainted with the investigations said. The authoritative noted that microwave exertion had been utilized implicit the years by American adversaries to effort to recreate documents by detecting the emissions of typewriters and past machine keyboards, and aboriginal to prime up cellphone communications.

“But the frustrating portion is that determination is inactive nary definitive conclusion,” the authoritative said, “that would alteration the president to telephone retired the Russians, the mode helium has with cyberattacks.”

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Credit...Meridith Kohut for The New York Times

The administration, however, is feeling unit to amusement that it is actively searching for the root of what it inactive refers to arsenic “anomalous wellness incidents,” aft respective victims complained, starting successful the Trump administration, that their accounts were being dismissed and that aesculapian assistance had been slow.

The State Department has been a peculiar hotbed of discontent, particularly successful caller months, arsenic Vienna has go the latest halfway of reports of symptoms. Some officials person been reluctant to instrumentality up posts successful places wherever the episodes were reported, oregon bring their families, due to the fact that immoderate of the suspected attacks person been directed astatine residences.

On Thursday, Mr. Blinken said successful a missive to each State Department employees that helium had “heard the increasing concerns from galore of you astir the Unexplained Health Incidents that person afflicted U.S. authorities employees and their families.” He added that “this is simply a apical precedence for me, the State Department and leaders crossed the U.S. government.”

He wrote that 2 elder officials — Brian P. McKeon, a lawman caput of state, and Ambassador Pamela Spartan — were starring a State Department task unit that has begun to clasp town-hall-style meetings successful embassies that were suspected targets. There has been a akin effort underway astatine the C.I.A., wherever Mr. Burns, who met with victims connected his archetypal time connected the job, precocious told NPR that helium thought astir 100 officers and their families had been afflicted.

It “is existent and it’s serious,” Mr. Burns said successful the interview. He said lone a fewer powers had the exertion and the scope to behaviour attacks astir the globe — since the archetypal reports successful Cuba, they person ranged from Europe to China to Washington — but Mr. Burns hesitated to accidental that the authorities of Vladimir V. Putin was responsible.

“Could be, but I honestly cannot — I don’t privation to suggest until we tin gully immoderate much definitive conclusions who it mightiness be,” Mr. Burns said. “But determination are a fig of possibilities.”

Investigations person attributed immoderate of the reports to different causes. This spring, for example, American subject unit operating successful Syria suspected that a abrupt unwellness whitethorn person been caused by a Russian craft that could person directed microwaves astatine them; it was aboriginal determined they had nutrient poisoning. But studies of victims elsewhere concluded that determination was grounds of traumatic encephalon injury, though without the benignant of interaction usually associated with concussions.

Throughout the Cold War, Vienna was cardinal to East-West diplomacy. Officials accidental they bash not deliberation caller reports of attacks there, which are inactive unconfirmed, are related to that, though the metropolis has been a tract of negotiations implicit resuming the Iran atomic deal.

Some officials fishy that on with Russia, Iran whitethorn beryllium liable for immoderate attacks, but determination is besides a absorption connected Cuba, China and different nations. The enigma has been compounded by the information that immoderate attacks took spot connected Russian and Chinese soil, including against a C.I.A. serviceman successful Moscow 4 years agone and a fig of State Department officials successful Guangzhou, China, successful 2018.

Speaking for the White House, a elder medication authoritative said the National Security Council was “leveraging a wide array of technological and aesculapian expertise from wrong the authorities and extracurricular of it to research aggregate hypotheses and make caller insights” into the episodes to “protect our unit and place who oregon what is responsible.”

One constituent of that effort, officials say, is to make portable sensors that could beryllium wide distributed to observe attacks. But it is hard to guarantee that the sensors volition work, 1 authoritative said, without immoderate certainty that microwaves are the origin of the unexplained illnesses. And adjacent if they are the cause, the sensors would person to beryllium capable to prime up signals crossed a ample portion of the electromagnetic spectrum.

Julian Barnes contributed reporting.

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