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As intelligence probe of 'Havana syndrome' gains momentum, fear grows of escalating attacks

Michael Wilner, McClatchy Washington Bureau on

Published in News & Features

“The message appears to be that ‘we can reach you anywhere,’” another government source said.

The reported cases in Vietnam and India are still being investigated. The U.S. government has not officially concluded that they were intentional attacks by a foreign power against American personnel.

But privately, Biden administration officials have become increasingly convinced that Havana syndrome cases are the result of targeted attacks. A report published by the National Academy of Sciences last year concluded that directed microwave energy was likely causing the incidents.

Three consecutive administrations have suspected that Russia is the most likely culprit, and administration officials referenced the matter with their Russian counterparts during President Joe Biden’s summit with Russian President Vladimir Putin earlier this year.

“It shows I would think increasing boldness on the part of whoever’s doing it — Russia, if that’s the case — and a complete lack of concern about retaliation,” John Bolton, former national security adviser under President Donald Trump, said in an interview.

“When you go after the VP’s party, you’re getting pretty close to the top. And to do it in a foreign country, as opposed to trying to do it in the United States or something like that — that indicates they believe they’re effectively immune from retaliation,” he said.


In June, Biden directed the formation of two panels of experts to study the phenomenon. The one housed under the Director of National Intelligence is more focused on identifying the cause, while the other is focused on identifying ways to protect U.S. personnel.

Director of National Intelligence Avril Haines has asked for a report from the first panel after 100 days. It is unclear how far along the panel of experts is within that time frame.

Administration officials said that the 100-day time frame is an internal goal, but there is not an official deadline on completing the report. “We want them to have all the time that they need, if they need more time,” a senior administration official said.

“We have seen a proliferation of these health incidents with our personnel around the world. It shows no sign of abatement — if anything, it shows indications of escalation,” House Intelligence Committee Chairman Adam Schiff, D-Calif., told McClatchy.


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