An extensive U.S. intelligence investigation has concluded it is “very unlikely” a foreign adversary is responsible for the “Havana syndrome” ailments that have afflicted American diplomats and intelligence officers worldwide, according to declassified findings released on Wednesday.
The mysterious syndrome, first reported by U.S. officials in the Cuban capital Havana in 2016, has afflicted U.S. diplomats, intelligence officers, and other U.S. personnel worldwide. Symptoms have included migraines, nausea, memory lapses, and dizziness.
About 1,500 cases now have been reported from agencies and departments across the U.S. government, including some from this year.
The U.S. Intelligence Community assessment found no credible evidence that any American adversary had a weapon or device capable of causing symptoms consistent with the syndrome.
As part of the long-running investigation, U.S. intelligence agencies even considered the possibility that extraterrestrials were responsible for the Havana syndrome but ruled that out, a U.S. intelligence official said in a briefing to reporters.
The investigation also did not find common medical explanations for all of the different symptoms reported or common circumstances, according to intelligence officials.
The declassified assessment said the seven U.S. intelligence agencies that conducted the investigation had varying levels of confidence in the judgments.
Two had moderate to high confidence in the key finding that it was “unlikely” a foreign adversary was responsible, while three had moderate confidence and two had low confidence “based on collection gaps and their review of the same evidence,” it said.
“We cannot tie a foreign adversary to any incident,” said one of two U.S. intelligence officials who briefed reporters on the investigation. The investigation looked into pre-2016 reports involving similar symptoms, but there was insufficient data on those, the official said.
The Office of the Director of National Intelligence, which provides oversight to the intelligence community, said agencies would continue to study the incidents and respond to individuals who report them.
The investigation involved hundreds of intelligence officers, other U.S. government officials, and outside experts and covered more than 90 countries.
It considered a wide range of possibilities, including “potential correlations with things overheard,” the second official said.
“Yes, we considered extraterrestrials.”
The investigation was so extensive that U.S. intelligence agencies tracked some individuals, such as arms dealers, around the world through their electronic devices “seeing what they were doing, who they were talking to,” said the second intelligence official.
“We had leads that took nine months to unpack,” the official said.
REMAINING ON ALERT
Hundreds of U.S. officials and family members have been sickened by Havana syndrome, which was first reported by officials based in the U.S. Embassy in Cuba in 2016.
“I want to be absolutely clear: these findings do not call into question the experiences and real health issues that U.S. government personnel and their family members – including CIA’s own officers – have reported while serving our country,” CIA Director William Burns said in a statement on the assessment.
“We will continue to remain alert to any risks to the health and wellbeing of Agency officers, to ensure access to care, and to provide officers the compassion and respect they deserve.”
U.S. intelligence agencies found confusion among foreign foes over the issue, according to the briefing.
“Many of them think this is a U.S. plot,” one official said, adding that the agencies were able to learn the “inside thinking” of some adversaries, without identifying them.
In January, a CIA official said the agency found it was unlikely that Russia or another “foreign actor” caused most of the anomalous health incidents.
That official, describing the conclusions of an interim report on the syndrome, said a majority of 1,000 cases “can be reasonably explained by medical conditions or environmental and technical factors, including previously undiagnosed illnesses.”
Copyright 2023 Thomson/Reuters