May 14, 2021 10:11 UTC
  • Mysterious brain injuries hitting US diplomats, military officials, spies creates panic

A potentially dangerous ailment known as Havana syndrome, mostly affecting US diplomats, spies and defense officials, has been reported in the US in recent weeks.

According to Press TV, at least 130 incidents of mysterious brain injuries, some of them in past few weeks, have sent shockwaves across the country, at a time when it is emerging from the COVID-19 pandemic.

In a report, the New York Times said three Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) officers had reported serious symptoms of the Havana syndrome since December last year, following spying assignments abroad, requiring treatment at the Walter Reed Military Hospital in the US capital Washington. One case was reported within the past two weeks.

In one case from 2019 not previously reported, a military officer serving overseas pulled his vehicle into an intersection, then was overcome by nausea and headaches, according to the New York Times report citing four current and former officials.

His son, sitting in the car, was shock-stricken. Both received medical attention, though it is not clear whether they suffered long-term debilitating effects. The episode distressed officials in both the Trump and Biden administrations, prompting them to launch a probe, the report said.

The number of cases within the CIA, the State Department, the Defense Department and elsewhere, the report further states, have sparked concern in the Biden administration, adding that the initial publicly confirmed cases have been concentrated in China and Cuba and numbering about 60.

Some have suffered long-term brain injuries including debilitating headaches, while general symptoms, according to the National Security Council, involve personnel experiencing “sensory phenomena,” such as sound, pressure or heat, along with or followed by physical symptoms, such as sudden-onset vertigo, nausea, and head or neck pain.

Who is responsible?

The US administration has not been able to determine who or what is responsible for the shocking episodes. However, the New York Times report says some Pentagon officials believe Russia’s military intelligence agency is involved in it.

Moscow has rejected any involvement.

“As of now, we have no definitive information about the cause of these incidents, and it is premature and irresponsible to speculate,” Amanda J. Schoch, the spokeswoman for the Office of the Director of National Intelligence, is quoted saying by the New York Times.

The Biden administration is trying to show officials that they are taking the issue seriously and at the same time trying to prevent panic from spreading, either inside the government or among the public, the report states.

The US National Security Council has begun an intelligence review, according to its spokesperson, Emily J. Horne.

CIA in line of fire

The severity of the mysterious brain injuries on the US military officials and spies has ranged widely, with some victims complaining of chronic, potentially irreversible symptoms and pain, suggesting potentially permanent brain injury. Physicians at Walter Reed Military Hospital have even warned government officials that some victims would be tempted to end their life.

In a closed-door meeting of the Senate Intelligence Committee last month, senators accused the CIA of doing too little to investigate the mysterious episodes, according to the report.

During the Trump administration, some in the agency said there was little intelligence showing a foreign power was responsible and argued that it made little sense analytically for Russia or another foreign intelligence service to make unprovoked attacks on Americans. Others doubted the cause of the brain injuries, it said.

The New York Times report states that the mystery first drew attention when diplomats and CIA officers working in Havana in 2016 felt sick with vertigo, nausea and headaches.

Similar episodes began occurring the next year in Guangzhou, China. And last October, The New York Times reported that as early as 2017, another cohort of CIA officers traveling in a variety of countries, including Russia, had said they were the likely victims of attacks and reported similar symptoms.