Biden forming new panels of experts to study ‘Havana syndrome’

·3 min read

The Biden administration is forming two panels of experts to study unexplained health incidents among U.S. personnel that have baffled and concerned the government since 2016, when American diplomats in Cuba became ill with mysterious ailments known as “Havana syndrome,” three sources familiar with the matter told McClatchy.

The creation of the new panels of medical experts and scientists is the next step in a White House effort to get to the bottom of a sensory phenomenon that has afflicted over 130 American officials overseas, including in Britain, China, Cuba, and at home in the United States.

One source familiar with the discussion said the new panels would include experts from both inside and outside of government, and that their focus would be to determine the cause of the incidents as well as best methods of treatment as quickly as possible.

The White House National Security Council is leading in setting up the panels. Sources would not describe what will distinguish the two groups, but said they are designed to take a holistic approach to the investigation.

Momentum for action has built in recent months as former Trump administration officials have shared their personal experiences in either investigating or being affected by the unexplained health developments. U.S. personnel have also reported experiencing the syndrome since President Joe Biden took office.

“More can be accomplished if the right questions, kinds of experts and data are brought together in a synergistic manner,” said Dr. David Relman, a microbiologist at Stanford University who chaired a National Academy of Sciences committee that studied Havana syndrome cases and produced a report for the Trump administration late last year.

“Full access to all available intelligence collections, science, and clinical data will be key,” Relman said.

The new panels would build on Relman’s work, a source familiar with the discussion said.

U.S. diplomats stationed overseas, CIA officers and National Security Council officials have reported experiencing sudden sound pressure or heat, vertigo, nausea, and head or neck pain that government physicians have been unable to diagnose.

Current and former officials suspect the incidents are being caused by attacks from a foreign power, using some form of directed energy. But intelligence agencies have not been able to identify a cause or source with any confidence.

The mounting number of suspicious cases of Havana syndrome led to the creation of a task force at the CIA late last year to further its investigation of the incidents. New CIA Director Bill Burns has been receiving daily briefings on the matter.

“As Director Burns has said, nothing is more important than taking care of CIA officers — both by ensuring that they get the care and treatment they deserve and making sure that we get to the bottom of what caused these incidents,” CIA Director of Public Affairs Tammy Thorp said in a statement.

National Security Council officials have said in recent weeks they are working to ensure that various agencies of government working on this — the Pentagon, the State Department, and the CIA — are coordinating their investigations and standards of medical care.

“Our team is coordinating a full review of intelligence reporting to ascertain whether there may be previously unreported incidents that fit a pattern,” White House press secretary Jen Psaki said last month. “Sometimes they’re reported in to different agencies, and it hasn’t all been gathered into one place. So that’s how you can look at it across the board and see if there are patterns.”

The phenomenon has caught the attention of Republican and Democratic lawmakers, who expressed frustration in recent months over the lack of clarity and focus on the causes of Havana syndrome nearly five years since it was first identified.

Earlier this week, the Senate unanimously passed the HAVANA Act, a bill that will provide additional compensation to individuals seeking medical treatment for the mysterious health incidents.

Updated with comment from CIA Director of Public Affairs Tammy Thorp.

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