‘Havana syndrome’ sickened 100 CIA officers, says chief

  • Burns, tapped by US President Joe Biden as the first career diplomat to serve as CIA chief, said in a National Public Radio interview that he has bolstered his agency’s efforts to determine the cause of the syndrome.
The syndrome, with symptoms such as dizziness, nausea, migraines and memory lapses, is named after Havana because it was first reported by US officials based in the American embassy in Cuba in 2016.(File Photo / REUTERS)
The syndrome, with symptoms such as dizziness, nausea, migraines and memory lapses, is named after Havana because it was first reported by US officials based in the American embassy in Cuba in 2016.(File Photo / REUTERS)
Published on Jul 24, 2021 12:03 AM IST
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Agencies | , Washington

About 100 CIA officers and family members are among some 200 US officials and kin sickened by the “Havana syndrome”, CIA director William Burns said on Thursday, referring to the mysterious set of ailments that include migraines and dizziness.

The syndrome, with symptoms such as dizziness, nausea, migraines and memory lapses, is named after Havana because it was first reported by US officials based in the American embassy in Cuba in 2016. It has been reported that the unexplained phenomenon has caused sickness and even brain damage in US diplomats and intelligence officials in Cuba, China, Russia and some other countries.

Burns, tapped by US President Joe Biden as the first career diplomat to serve as CIA chief, said in a National Public Radio interview that he has bolstered his agency’s efforts to determine the cause of the syndrome.

He said among other steps, he tapped an officer who once led the hunt for Osama bin Laden to head a task force investigating the syndrome, and said he tripled the size of the medical team involved in the probe.

The agency has shortened from eight weeks to two weeks the time that CIA-affiliated people must wait for admission to Walter Reed National Military Medical Center, he added.

“It’s a profound obligation I think of any leader to take care of your people and that is what I am determined to do,” Burns said. He said a US National Academy of Sciences panel in December found that a plausible theory is that “directed energy” beams caused the syndrome. There is a “very strong possibility” that the syndrome is intentionally caused, and that Russia could be responsible, he speculated.

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