2021-10-13 00:24:08 Cases of ‘Havana Syndrome’ Reported at U.S. Embassy in Colombia

Cases of ‘Havana Syndrome’ Reported at U.S. Embassy in Colombia

WASHINGTON (AP) — A senior administration official said on Tuesday that the State Department is investigating new complaints of brain injuries linked to the so-called Havana Syndrome at the US Embassy in Colombia, a week before Secretary of State Antony J. Blinken is scheduled to visit the country.

It was unclear how many people were affected by the mysterious illness and its symptoms of headaches, nausea, dizziness, and memory loss at the embassy in Bogotá, Colombia’s capital. During a briefing in Washington, State Department spokesman Ned Price said officials would ensure that employees “get the prompt care they need, in whatever form that takes,” but he did not address the complaints in Colombia.

The senior administration official confirmed the complaints, which were first reported by The Wall Street Journal, and stated that at least two embassy employees appeared to have reported the symptoms.

Colombian President Iván Duque stated that his country was aware of the reports. Mr. Duque told The New York Times on Tuesday that while the US was leading the investigation, Colombia’s intelligence service was also looking into it.

Over the last five years, more than 200 US government officials — spies, diplomats, military personnel, and others — have been infected with the illness in diplomatic missions in several countries, including Cuba. The visit of Vice President Kamala Harris to Hanoi, Vietnam, was delayed by a few hours due to reports of an outbreak.

Though the cause of Havana Syndrome is unknown, the symptoms are similar to those caused by Russian surveillance equipment used during the Cold War. However, as recently as this summer, US intelligence officials were struggling to find evidence that the condition was caused by microwave attacks by Russian agents, a theory advanced in a December study by the National Academy of Sciences.

More than half of the victims were C.I.A. employees, and Congress has authorized additional assistance for U.S. officials affected by the illness. Last month, the House Intelligence Committee demanded additional resources to assist in the investigation of the illnesses and to review the C.I.A.’s handling of cases.

The National Security Council and the State Department have formed task forces to investigate the reported injuries, which were a top priority for Mr. Blinken even before he was elected. He is not expected to cancel or postpone his trip to Colombia, where he is expected to address the migrant crisis as well as the political and humanitarian crisis in neighboring Venezuela.

Mr. Price stated that the State Department had attempted to be more open with employees about reported attacks at diplomatic posts, had aggressively sought to identify the source of the attacks, and had provided care to people who complained of symptoms.

“We have taken a number of steps, including in terms of communication, care, detection, and protection for our workforce,” he explained. “And that is something that the secretary will continue to prioritize.”

Julian E. Barnes contributed to this report.

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Cases of ‘Havana Syndrome’ Reported at U.S. Embassy in Colombia