April 21, 2024

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A spokesperson for the Pentagon has confirmed that a senior official from the United States had reported symptoms corresponding to so-called Havana Syndrome after attending last year’s NATO summit in Vilnius, Lithuania.

Sabrina Singh made the announcement to reporters on Monday, a day after a group of news outlets pointed to links between the mysterious ailment and alleged Russian operatives.

“I can confirm that a senior DOD [Department of Defense] official experienced symptoms similar to those reported in anomalous health incidents,” Singh said.

Reports of Havana Syndrome stretch back to 2016, when US embassy staff in Havana, Cuba, started to report unexplained symptoms including ringing ears, migraines, vertigo and cognitive dysfunction.

Other instances involving diplomats with similar symptoms have since been reported elsewhere, including in China and Austria.

Experts have been trying to determine what may have caused the symptoms, with some speculating that foreign adversaries could have directed energy waves at the diplomats to cause their ailments.

However, in 2023, the US intelligence community concluded that it was “very unlikely” that a “foreign adversary is responsible” for the reported cases.

Still, a news investigation released on Sunday raised questions about whether Russia was indeed involved in the mysterious health incidents — and whether the US government has been too quick to dismiss possible links.

The report was the product of a joint investigation by the US news show 60 Minutes, the German newspaper Der Spiegel and The Insider, an investigative news outlet focussed on Russia.

It highlighted evidence suggesting that members of a Russian military unit known by the number 29155 were present several times when US officials reported symptoms consistent with Havana Syndrome.

The Insider reporter Christo Grozev said he found documents showing a member of the 29155 unit received a bonus for working on the “potential capabilities of non-lethal acoustic weapons”.

The Insider also indicated that the purported attacks may have started years before the symptoms were detected in Havana. It pointed to incidents in November 2014 in Frankfurt, Germany, when US consulate officials reported similar symptoms.

The Russian government denied the reports on Monday, calling them “baseless” and “unfounded”.

“This is not a new topic at all. For many years, the topic of the so-called Havana Syndrome has been exaggerated in the press,” Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said.

“But no one has ever published or expressed any convincing evidence of these unfounded accusations anywhere.”

Last month, the National Institutes of Health, a US government agency, found no evidence of brain injuries or other “biological abnormalities” in government employees allegedly stricken with Havana Syndrome.

But it did note that “these symptoms are very real, cause significant disruption in the lives of those affected and can be quite prolonged, disabling and difficult to treat”.

Speaking to the show 60 Minutes, a counterintelligence agent for the Federal Bureau of Investigation — identified only by her first name, Carrie — described her experience dealing with Havana Syndrome in Florida.

“It was like a dentist drilling on steroids,” she said. “It was like a high-pitched, metallic drilling noise, and it knocked me forward — like a 45-degree angle.”

In 2021, the US Congress passed the Helping American Victims Afflicted by Neurological Attacks (HAVANA) Act to provide compensation for government employees suffering from symptoms related to the mysterious health incidents.

Also on Monday, White House Press Secretary Karine Jean-Pierre briefly addressed the reports, reaffirming that the administration of President Joe Biden would continue to push for resources to investigate the source of the symptoms.

“We have taken this very seriously,” she said, while deferring specific questions to the intelligence community.

“We are going to continue to emphasise the importance of prioritizing, making sure that personnel are protected. And we are going to do everything that we can. This is something that this president believes is important,” she added.

“Look, we’re going to continue to do a comprehensive examination of the effects here that we’re seeing and the potential causes of AHI [anomalous health incidents].”

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