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CIA doubts foreign adversary behind mysterious sonic attacks on US diplomats, reports say

The CIA seal at the CIA headquarters in Langley, Va. (Olivier Douliery/Pool/Sipa USA/TNS)
January 20, 2022

The Central Intelligence Agency is doubtful that any particular foreign country is somehow causing a mysterious illness affecting U.S. diplomats abroad, that has come to be known as “Havana Syndrome.” The illness has affected U.S. diplomats, troops and their families both abroad and within the U.S. in the last five years, and is suspected to be caused by a sonic or radiofrequency weapon.

NBC News first reported late Wednesday that the CIA has finished its interim report on the investigation into the strange illness. In the report, the U.S. intelligence agency virtually ruled out the possibility the illness is the result of a campaign of attacks by a hostile foreign power.

A senior CIA official who also reportedly spoke with the Washington Post, said the agency is still trying to figure out the source of the mysterious illness, but so far doubts that a foreign power, like Russia or China, is to blame.

“We assess it is unlikely that a foreign actor, including Russia, is conducting a sustained, worldwide campaign harming U.S. personnel with a weapon or mechanism,” a senior CIA official told the publication, on the condition of anonymity under ground rules set by the agency.

The first cases of the mysterious illness affected U.S. diplomatic personnel at the U.S. Embassy in Havana, Cuba in late 2016, leading to the illness being referred to as “Havana Syndrome.” People affected by the illness have described feeling dizziness, nausea and headaches. Others have described a ringing sensation in their ears and feeling the sensation of heat or pressure.

Since the first incident in Havana, cases have been reported elsewhere around the world.

Government investigators have reportedly reviewed more than 1,000 cases of what they’ve termed “anomalous health incidents.” The senior CIA official said a majority of the cases could be attributed to preexisting medical conditions, environmental factors and other factors.

The official did tell the Washington Post a “few dozen” cases remain unexplained. These “toughest cases” are reportedly still undergoing investigation.

A different U.S. official reportedly told the Washington Post that the number of unexplained cases is larger than just a few dozen. The official also said other investigations are taking place outside the CIA, including with independent researchers and other government agencies. The official said those additional reviews might come to separate conclusions from the ones reached in the CIA’s interim report.

The CIA’s reported interim findings have already drawn criticism from many who have suffered from “Havana Syndrome” and those advocating on their behalf.

The group Advocacy for Victims of Havana Syndrome said in a statement on Wednesday, “The CIA’s newly issued report may be labeled ‘interim’ and it may leave open the door for some alternative explanation in some cases, but to scores of dedicated public servants, their families, and their colleagues, it has a ring of finality and repudiation.”

“The decision to release the report now and with this particular set of ‘findings’ seems a breach of faith, and an undermining of the intent of Congress and the President to stand with us and reach a government-wide consensus as to what is behind this,” the advocacy group added.

Advocacy for Victims of Havana Syndrome reiterated that the CIA’s interim report has neither been “cleared nor coordinated” with other agencies.

Secretary of State Antony Blinken reportedly addressed the CIA’s report in a letter to State Department employees on Thursday.

Blinken reportedly wrote the CIA report offers “plausible explanations for many — but not all — reports of potential anomalous health incidents.”

Blinken did not endorse the CIA’s findings and reportedly only described the report as an assessment about a global campaign from “our colleagues in the intelligence community.”

“These findings do not call into question the fact that our colleagues are reporting real experiences and are suffering real symptoms,” Blinken also wrote.

“We are going to continue to bring all of our resources to bear in learning more about these incidents, and there will be additional reports to follow,” Blinken added. “We will leave no stone unturned.”