The CIA assesses that it is unlikely that Russia or another foreign government is behind hundreds of mysterious health incidents affecting U.S. diplomats and intelligence officers worldwide that has come to be known as Havana Syndrome, an official with the spy agency said.
The official, describing the conclusions of an interim report on January 20 into the so-called anomalous health incidents, said a majority of 1,000 cases can be reasonably explained by a variety of medical, environmental, and technical factors, including previously undiagnosed illnesses.
The first cases of the mysterious illness were reported among diplomatic staff at the U.S. Embassy in the Cuban capital in 2016. Since then, hundreds of cases were reported globally by U.S. intelligence officers, diplomats, and military personnel. Symptoms have included migraines, nausea, memory lapses, dizziness, and other ailments associated with brain injury.
The global scale of the reports sparked suspicions that Russia or another rival was using microwaves or other forms of directed energy to injure U.S. officials. That led CIA Director William Burns and Secretary of State Antony Blinken to deliver warnings to Russia that there would be severe consequences if it was proven Moscow was behind the mysterious ailments.
But the preliminary conclusion of a CIA study found no evidence of Russia or another foreign state actor being behind the cases.
“We have assessed that it is unlikely that a foreign actor, including Russia, is conducting a sustained worldwide campaign harming U.S. personnel with a weapon or mechanism,” said the official, who briefed reporters on condition of anonymity to discuss sensitive issues.
The official said in only about two dozen cases was a cause for the ailments not determined. In those cases, the CIA is still investigating and has not ruled out a foreign actor as the cause, the official said.
In a statement, Burns said the spy agency will continue to investigate and that care would be provided for officials with health problems, whatever the underlying cause.
“We are pursuing this complex issue with analytic rigor, sound tradecraft, and compassion, and have dedicated intensive resources to this challenge,” Burns said.
“We will continue the mission to investigate these incidents and provide access to world-class care for those who need it. While underlying causes may differ, our officers are suffering real symptoms,” he said.
Speaking at a news conference in Berlin, Blinken pledged that the U.S. government would continue to investigate the matter.
“We will leave no stone unturned to get to the bottom of it,” said Blinken, who was in Berlin for talks with European allies about tensions with Russia over Ukraine.
“We are going to continue to do everything we can with all the resources we can bring to bear to understand, again, what happened, why, and who might be responsible,” Blinken said.
Victims’ advocates and some lawmakers questioned the CIA’s conclusions.
Mark Zaid, an attorney who represents several people with reported symptoms of Havana Syndrome, said the CIA released the conclusions to deal with a “revolt within its workforce as officers don’t want to go overseas” because they are concerned about the issue.
“The CIA report is disinformation,” he said.
Members of the Senate and House intelligence committees, who were briefed on the findings of the CIA report on January 19, expressed surprise because the report contradicts previous information shared with lawmakers. It also appeared to preempt a separate report expected to come out soon by experts from the broader intelligence community.
“The Senate Intelligence Committee will continue pressing for answers on a bipartisan basis, and we look forward to robust engagement with the intelligence community, as well as the conclusions of the outside experts panel that has been assembled to seek answers to these very urgent and difficult questions,” said Democratic committee Chairman Senator Mark Warner.
Republican Senator Susan Collins said in a statement that she was “surprised” by the conclusions.
“It is difficult to reconcile the findings of the expert task force at the CIA with other evidence and testimony,” she said.