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New Delhi: A member of the CIA (Central Investigation Agency) director’s delegation which travelled to India recently has reported symptoms “consistent with Havana syndrome”, leaving US top security officials perplexed and forcing them to order an investigation into the matter, CNN has reported.
This is the second such reported case of the mysterious illness that has affected top officials of the Biden administration in the last one month. Before the India incident, vice-president Kamala Harris’s official tour to Vietnam had to be delayed after officials set to travel with her reported symptoms consistent with the Havana syndrome and at least two of them had to be taken to a hospital immediately.
A person affected with Havana syndrome shows symptoms of nausea, hearing loss, hearing of strange sounds, memory loss, dizziness and tinnitus. As it was first reported among officials serving in the US embassy in Havana, Cuba’s capital, in 2016, since then it is being called the ‘Havana syndrome’. From 2016 onwards, a number of top officials, spies working for top US agencies, have fell prey to its attack. By one account, the US currently has 300 active cases of Havana syndrome.
After the India incident came to light, CIA director William Burns is known to have expressed his annoyance, stating that no one is safe, even including those working with the US top spy agency. The affected official soon received medical attention in India and also in the US once the delegation reached home.
The US has ordered an investigation into the incident with a 100-day deadline headed by Burns and Avril Haines, director of National Intelligence. However, the deadline could be adjusted depending on the emerging situation.
“We don’t comment on specific incidents or officers. We have protocols in place for when individuals report possible anomalous health incidents that include receiving appropriate medical treatment,” a CIA spokesperson said. “We will keep doing everything we can to protect our officers.”
At the preliminary level, US officials have come to a conclusion that these “attacks” of Havana Syndrome against its officers are caused by rival intelligence agencies, but nothing has been confirmed. If an adversarial intelligence service as assumed is behind these incidents, then the US considers targeting of CIA delegation as an “egregious escalation”. In fact, among the known cases of illness, it has emerged that half of them are CIA officials, state department diplomats and those working at the top levels in the US military. And what is worrying is that these cases are only on the rise, with no signs of a decrease in the number of cases.
The US government has been stepping up warnings and issuing protocols to officials in the top agencies, especially those traveling abroad. Last week, the Pentagon warned its entire work force about the “anomalous health incidents (AHIs)”, which it said often involve strange sounds or a sensation of heat or pressure followed by headache, nausea, vertigo and other symptoms.
According to a CIA official, the top agencies of the US are “pursuing multiple lines of effort” to investigate the Havana syndrome, adding that ODNI, CIA officials and the scientific community are working together to understand “possible mechanisms that could be causing AHIs”.
On the other hand, recently secretary of state, Antony Blinken, spoke to officials affected by the syndrome. A number of affected officials are apparently annoyed at the way the mysterious illness is being handled by the top agencies of the government. Even President Biden has also been updated on the spiking cases and efforts being taken to stop further incidents. Some of the US lawmakers have also known to be exasperated that the Biden administration is not sharing enough details on the rising number of cases and efforts to combat them.
“We’ve strengthened efforts to determine the origins of the incidents, including assembling a team of our very best experts – bringing an intensity and expertise to this issue akin to our efforts to find bin Laden,” a CIA spokesperson said. “The senior officer who leads the team spent more than a decade on counterterrorism issues and was a driving force in CIA’s analytic and targeting work that led us to find bin Laden.”
On the other hand, officials are put on high alert in the wake of the scheduled UN General Assembly meeting in New York this week where diplomats from across the world would gather and will be in close proximity. This, the US officials feel, could become a potential target to spread the illness.