Blinken: US still unsure who is behind Havana Syndrome cases

Blinken’s remarks come as report says cases of perplexing illness affect diplomats in Paris and Geneva.

US Secretary of State Antony Blinken
US Secretary of State Antony Blinken has said Washington still does not know who is behind reported cases of Havana Syndrome [File: Olivier Douliery/Reuters]

United States Secretary of State Antony Blinken has said Washington is still trying to get to the bottom of a mysterious illness that has affected US diplomats posted around the world, but does not yet know what causes the affliction or who is behind it.

Blinken made the comments on Thursday as more reported cases of the mysterious neurological syndrome known as Havana Syndrome emerged, this time in Paris and Geneva.

The cases among officials working at diplomatic missions in the two cities were reported internally last year and eventually to Washington, the Wall Street Journal reported. They joined about 200 other diplomats based around the world to reportedly experience what the Biden administration officially calls “anomalous health incidents”.

“To date, we don’t know exactly what’s happened and we don’t know exactly who is responsible,” Blinken said in an interview with US broadcaster MSNBC.

The syndrome, which was first reported in Havana, Cuba in 2016, has continued to stoke suspicion of foul play. A December 2020 report by a National Academy of Sciences committee commissioned by the Department of State found that “directed” microwave radiation is likely the cause of the illness, but did not determine a source.

Blinken on Thursday said Washington had raised the issue with Russia, but could still not make a determination on who was responsible.

Symptoms of the affliction include dizziness, headaches, ringing in the ears, and vertigo.

At least three officials serving in the US’s consulate in Geneva were believed to have the syndrome, according to the Wall Street Journal, with at least one needing to be medevaced from Switzerland to the US for treatment.

Embassy officials reported at least one suspected case in Paris, according to the newspaper. Previous suspected cases have been reported in China, Vietnam Colombia, Austria, Serbia and Germany.

Blinken said he had met Department of State employees around the world who described the illnesses and the disruptions it caused in their lives.

“There is no doubt in my mind that people have been directly and powerfully affected,” he said.

“We are working overtime across the entire government to get to the bottom of what happened, who’s responsible. And in the meantime to make sure that we’re caring for anyone who’s been affected and to protect all of our people to the best of our ability.”

Still, Blinken and US President Joe Biden have faced criticism for their reticence to call the phenomena an “attack”.

In October, Biden signed into a law a bipartisan bill that boosts support for officials afflicted by the symptoms, who, in some cases, have been diagnosed with traumatic brain injuries.

In November, Blinken announced that Jonathan Moore, a high-ranking deputy in the Department of State, had been appointed the head of the task force investigating the cases, after Pamela Spratlen, a previously retired diplomat, stepped down from the position amid criticism of her handling of the probe.

Source: Al Jazeera and news agencies