Tackling ‘Havana Syndrome’ is ‘urgent priority’ for US: Blinken

The administration is pushing to identify the source of ‘anomalous health incidents’ experienced by US diplomats, Blinken says.

US Secretary of State Antony Blinken says incidents have caused 'profound harm' to American diplomats [Andrew Caballero-Reynolds/Pool via Reuters]

The Biden administration is committed to “getting to the bottom of” why many US diplomats are suffering from mysterious health symptoms known as the “Havana Syndrome“, Secretary of State Antony Blinken has said.

In a speech addressing the issue on Friday, Blinken pledged to “seriously” tackle “anomalous health incidents” affecting US officials. He announced the appointment of Margaret Uyehara as senior care coordinator for affected employees, and Jonathan Moore as coordinator of the State Department’s Health Incident Response Task Force.

First reported in the Cuban capital Havana in 2016, the symptoms include vertigo, headaches and ear-ringing. US foreign service and intelligence personnel across the world have reported experiencing similar incidents. The source of the condition remains largely unclear.

“These incidents have left our colleagues with profound harm,” Blinken said. “They’ve experienced serious physical consequences, including persistent headaches and hearing loss. They’ve also experienced psychological harm, including trauma, anxiety, depression.”

The secretary encouraged employees to report symptoms if they experience them, saying that security and medical staff at every US diplomatic post have been instructed to take the reports seriously.

“We’re working tirelessly with partners across the government to identify what is causing these incidents and to learn who is responsible,” Blinken said.

“This is an urgent priority for President Biden, for me, for our entire government. And we will do absolutely everything we can, leaving no stone unturned to stop these occurrences as swiftly as possible.”

In August, possible “Havana Syndrome” cases at the US embassy in Hanoi led to delaying a visit by Vice President Kamala Harris to Vietnam by three hours.

There have been theories that the symptoms may be caused by microwaves deliberately targeting US officials abroad.

Late last year, a State Department-commissioned report by a National Academy of Sciences committee said “directed, pulsed radio-frequency energy appears to be the most plausible” explanation of the symptoms.

But a 2018 State Department report analysing recordings of mysterious noise heard by US diplomats in Cuba ruled out that microwaves can produce the sounds and adverse medical effects.

“We believe the recorded sounds are mechanical or biological in origin, rather than electronic. The most likely source is the Indies short-tailed cricket,” the report, first revealed by Buzzfeed last month, said.

Still, the report said the noise on its own does not explain the long-term medical symptoms experienced by the diplomats.

On Friday, Blinken stressed that US officials have been “profoundly” affected by the incidents.

The State Department later said in a statement that the issue is a top priority for the administration.

“It was a top concern for Secretary of State Antony J. Blinken even before he was sworn into office, who requested and received a comprehensive briefing from the outgoing administration during the transition,” the department said. “Simply put, he and his team have no higher priority than to protect and care for our people.”

Source: Al Jazeera