The “unexplained” attacks on the health of American federal government employees abroad, known as “Havana syndrome,” have been reported in “several” unidentified countries, a U.S. State Department spokesperson recently acknowledged.
Such attacks, which employees at the U.S. Embassy in Cuba began experiencing in late 2016, have reportedly plagued dozens of federal workers in other countries, causing severe injuries such as brain damage and hearing loss, among other symptoms.
Late last year, a government-commission report issued by the National Academies of Sciences determined “Havana Syndrome” is “most likely” caused by “direct microwave radiation.”
“There have been, now, several countries where these [unexplained] incidents have been reported, we are seeking a full accounting of all of those who may have been affected by these incidents,” Ned Price, a spokesperson at State, told reporters Friday.
While testifying before a House panel last Wednesday, however, Secretary of State Antony Blinken said he was unable to blame any specific entity, individual, or country for the attacks but stressed the department is committed to a “whole of government approach” to addressing them.
On Friday, the State Department recently appointed an official to oversee the U.S. response to “Havana syndrome.”
In a statement, Blinken revealed the department tapped Pamela Spratlen, a former U.S. ambassador to Kyrgyzstan and Uzbekistan, to serve as the senior adviser to the State’s Health Incident Response Task Force (HIRTF). Spratlen will have direct access to the secretary of state and senior leadership, Blinken pointed out, adding:
Since its creation in 2018, the HIRTF has served as the coordinating body for the department and interagency’s response to unexplained health incidents for personnel and dependents under Chief of Mission security responsibility, including identification and treatment of affected personnel and family members; investigation and risk mitigation; messaging; and diplomatic outreach.
“A large part of Ambassador Spratlen’s role is to ensure that we know the full extent of these incidents,” Price added.
The formation of the task force came after diplomats, intelligence officials, and other U.S. personnel reportedly complained of mysterious health incidents at postings abroad, including Cuba, Russia, China, and even on American soil.
Blinken suggested the health attacks are still happening, stating:
The selection of Ambassador Spratlen will help us make strides to address this issue wherever it affects Department personnel and their families. She will streamline our coordination efforts with the interagency community and reaffirm our commitment to make certain that those affected receive the care and treatment they need.
Spratlen has been with the Foreign Service for nearly 30 years. Her latest job at State was as senior advisor to the department’s Office of Inspector General in the inspections division.
The Biden administration has also placed a person on the task force charged with engaging with potential victims of the mysterious health incidents, Price noted Friday, without providing a specific name.
According to Price, officials briefed Blinken about the incidents on numerous occasions during the transition between the previous administration and the current one.
The briefings occurred while Blinken was serving as secretary-designate, on his first full day in the position, and during other occasions, signaling the department is taking this issue seriously.
On Friday, the Hill noted:
Some 40 government officials have been hit by the attacks, which were first reported in late 2016 and which a government-funded report by the National Academy of Sciences determined was most likely caused by microwave radiation, with effects ranging from vertigo to insomnia to brain trauma.
In December, the CIA also appointed a task force to investigate the attacks to ensure the agency was ready to provide support to its personnel who may have been impacted by the incidents or face similar assaults in the future.
“CIA is working alongside other government agencies to double down on our efforts to find answers regarding the unexplained global health incidents that have impacted personnel. The agency’s top priority has been and continues to be the well-being of all of our officers,” Timothy Barrett, a CIA press secretary, declared via email, according to the Hill.