In an interview with NPR, CIA Director William Burns said that about 200 U.S. diplomats and their families had been sickened by the “Havana Syndrome” illness, with 100 of them being CIA personnel.
Burns confirmed he had tapped an undercover officer who led the efforts to find Osama bin Laden to head up a task force examining the possible causes of the illness. He also vastly increased the number of doctors on the medical team investigating the symptoms.
“I am absolutely determined — and I’ve spent a great deal of time and energy on this in the four months that I’ve been CIA director — to get to the bottom of the question of what and who caused this,” Burns said.
There is some urgency now attached to solving the mystery. Havana Syndrome has apparently struck far more people than was previously known. According to CNN, “multiple sources familiar with the intelligence described a ballooning number of reports in recent months,” including the most recent attacks in Vienna.
Since many of the personnel who may have been attacked are involved in clandestine activities for the U.S. government, it’s been difficult to get an accurate handle on the number of victims. But the lack of victims among other agencies and the general population of the areas affected raises the issue of deliberate targeting of U.S. national security people.
The director says he is seriously considering the “very strong possibility” that the syndrome is the result of intentional actions, adding that there are a limited number of “potential suspects” with the capability to carry out an action so widely across the globe. A report from last December by the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine found that microwave radiation is the “most plausible” explanation for the symptoms.
To head the task force investigating the syndrome, Burns has appointed a veteran officer who helped lead the hunt for Osama bin Laden. The identity of that officer is still undercover, according to The Wall Street Journal.
“We’re throwing the very best we have at this issue, because it is not only a very serious issue for our colleagues, as it is for others across the U.S. government, but it’s a profound obligation, I think, of any leader to take care of your people,” Burns said.
If we find the culprit or culprits, what then? By any stretch of the imagination, targeting our spies and diplomats with such a weapon would be an act of war. While it’s not likely that Biden would declare war on potential adversaries such as China or Russia, some sort of retaliation would be in order.
The CIA inspector general has opened an inquiry into how the U.S. government responded to the medical needs of employees and their families.