U.S. Names ‘Havana Syndrome’ Envoy to Lead Investigation of Mystery Illness
(Bloomberg) -- Secretary of State Antony Blinken appointed a longtime diplomat to lead the investigation into dozens of cases of “Havana Syndrome,” as the Biden administration struggles to get to the bottom of an illness that’s been called either an attack by a foreign adversary or a mass psychological event.
Announcing the appointment of Jonathan Moore on Friday, Blinken urged people to come forward with cases and pledged new efforts to uncover the illness’s origins. Yet he also continued calling the reports “anomalous health incidents” rather than attacks, a reflection of how the administration isn’t yet aligned with members of Congress and some victims who insist they were targeted by some sort of auditory weapon.
“These incidents have left our colleagues with profound harm,” Blinken said. “All of us in the U.S. government, and especially we at the State Department, are intently focused on getting to the bottom of what and who is causing these incidents, caring for those who have been affected and protecting our people.”
Blinken’s announcement on Friday, which included the appointment of Ambassador Margaret Uyehara as care coordinator, was intended to help quell frustration among some diplomats that the administration has been dismissive of their claims of falling ill. Some former intelligence officers have said they believe Russia is responsible, a claim rejected by officials in Moscow.
Last month, a bipartisan group of senators had pressed Blinken to name a point person to investigate Havana Syndrome, saying they “remain concerned that the State Department is not treating this crisis with the requisite senior-level attention that it requires.” The senators called the incidents “attacks.”
The syndrome, first identified in Cuba, has affected U.S. diplomats, intelligence officials and other government employees on overseas trips. Victims often describe a range of unusual physical sensations after hearing strange sounds. A flight carrying Vice President Kamala Harris to Vietnam from Singapore in August was delayed by a few hours due to concerns about one such incident.
Some experts have speculated that the symptoms are the result of an attack from a microwave or sonic weapon. But an internal State Department report from 2018 analyzed sounds recorded by some victims, and concluded that the most likely source was the Indies short-tailed cricket. That report said the symptoms could be the result of a “psychogenic illness.”
The Biden administration has distanced itself from that report, concluding that it’s “not aligned with the Biden-Harris administration’s understanding” of the incidents, according to a State Department spokesperson.
“People have been profoundly affected by this,” Blinken said Friday. “When you sit down with our people and hear what’s happened to them and how they’ve been affected, it’s very very powerful, and it only reinforces in me to do everything we can for our people to care for them.”
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