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CIA creates task force on 'Havana Syndrome' amid new scrutiny from Biden team

Michael Wilner and Nora Gámez Torres, McClatchy Washington Bureau on

Published in News & Features

WASHINGTON — The Central Intelligence Agency has set up a task force bringing together experts to advance the investigation into a series of mysterious attacks on Americans in Havana, a source familiar with the matter told McClatchy.

The task force was launched late last year and involves doctors, human resources professionals and counterintelligence agents working jointly in a centralized probe into the events that became a major stumbling block in U.S.-Cuba relations.

Diplomats stationed at the U.S. Embassy in Havana first began reporting strange symptoms in 2017, including dizziness, tinnitus, visual problems, vertigo and cognitive difficulties. Doctors at the University of Pennsylvania and the University of Miami found evidence of brain injury and damage to the inner ear’s vestibular system in diplomats and their family members. Similar events were reported in China.

Alongside the establishment of a distinct CIA office, President Joe Biden’s new national security team has also made the investigation a top priority, a senior administration official said Friday. The Biden administration is currently reviewing Cuba policy, but the incidents in Havana are a significant hurdle to further normalization of relations with the Cuban government.

“While we won’t address specifics at this time, the National Security Council has taken this very seriously since the beginning of this administration,” the official told McClatchy. “This concerns the health and well-being of American public servants from across the government, and we will continue to act with urgency to bring a whole-of-government response to these issues.”

The official who confirmed the task force’s existence spoke on condition of anonymity because it has not been publicly announced. The development was first reported by CNN Wednesday.

 

The State Department will also be devoting additional resources to the investigation, a spokesperson said. Secretary of State Tony Blinken plans to announce the appointment of a senior adviser devoted to the investigation “soon.”

“This adviser will be positioned in a senior role and report directly to the department’s senior leadership to ensure that we continue to make significant strides to address this issue and to ensure our people are receiving the treatment they need,” the spokesperson said.

The creation of the CIA task force comes after a study by the National Academies of Sciences concluded that directed microwave energy may have harmed U.S. officials in Cuba and China. Another investigation by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention failed to identify a cause for the injuries.

The Cuban government has denied that attacks ever happened in Havana and complained of lack of access to the medical information of those injured.

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