Havana syndrome: CIA chief team member afflicted during India visit, says report

The incident set off alarm bells within the US government and left Bill Burns “fuming” with anger, according to one of three sources cited by CNN. This is the first media report regarding a US official being afflicted by Havana syndrome in India
CIA chief Bill Burns. (Twitter)
CIA chief Bill Burns. (Twitter)
Updated on Sep 22, 2021 12:11 AM IST
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New Delhi: A member of CIA director Bill Burns’s delegation reported symptoms consistent with the mysterious Havana syndrome and had to receive medical attention during his visit to India this month, according to a CNN report on Tuesday.

The incident set off alarm bells within the US government and left Burns “fuming”, according to one of three sources cited by CNN. This is the first media report regarding a US official being afflicted by Havana syndrome in India.

Some CIA officials “viewed the chilling episode as a direct message to Burns that no one is safe, including those working directly for the nation’s top spy”, two people told CNN.

Burns and his team met National Security Adviser (NSA) Ajit Doval and top members of the National Security Council Secretariat during the visit to India on September 7. From India, the delegation travelled to Pakistan, where Burns met army chief Gen Qamar Bajwa. Burns’s visit to India was kept under tight wraps and there was no official word from both sides on the trip.

The CIA chief travelled to India and Pakistan to discuss the way forward in Afghanistan following the Taliban takeover of the country on August 15 and the installation of a hardline setup that includes several members of the Haqqani Network.

“The situation in India could have dramatic implications: the CIA director’s schedule is tightly held and there are deep concerns among US officials about how the perpetrator would have known about the visit and been able to plan for such an aggression,” the CNN report said.

The person who experienced the symptoms in India received immediate medical attention on returning to the US.

A CIA spokesperson declined to comment on the incident related to Burns’ visit to India. There was no immediate response from Indian officials either.

The US administration has said very little officially about the Havana syndrome, a mysterious illness that has afflicted American spies and diplomats and was first reported in Cuba in late 2016. Since then, similar cases have been reported from Russia, China, Austria, and several other countries.

CNN reported that the incident in New Delhi was the second time in less than a month that cases of Havana syndrome have affected foreign trips by top US administration officials. Last month, vice president Kamala Harris’s visit to Vietnam was slightly delayed when multiple US personnel reported symptoms consistent with the syndrome just ahead of her trip.

Very little has appeared in public about the illness despite the US intelligence community undertaking a wide-ranging investigation into the matter, including a 100-day probe into potential causes that began this summer. Much of the speculation has centred on the illness being possibly caused by microwaves.

US officials affected by Havana syndrome have reported hearing buzzing sounds of piercing squeals that didn’t go away even when they covered their ears. Others have reported hearing a low hum and feeling intense pressure on their skulls. Those affected by the syndrome experienced dizziness and fatigue for months and some had to retire after their medical condition worsened, according to media reports. 

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Sunday, October 17, 2021