The Central Intelligence Agency has determined that the mysterious ailment known as Havana syndrome is not caused by a global campaign orchestrated by a hostile foreign power. But these findings are preliminary. And a foreign attack hasn’t been ruled out in a handful of cases. And other government bodies and independent agencies are still looking into the matter.
Understandably, the hundreds of U.S. and Canadian diplomats suffering from painful and sometimes debilitating symptoms like chronic headaches, pressure in the ears, and nausea are ticked off about this latest twist in the saga.
Personnel at the U.S. Embassy in Havana first reported experiencing strange symptoms in 2016, and since then, more than 1,000 suspected cases have been reported to the U.S. government. There’s been rampant speculation that these symptoms may have been caused by Russia, China, or another foreign adversary using some sort of directed-energy device to surveil or intentionally harm diplomats.
But now anonymous CIA officials have cast new doubt on these theories, telling multiple outlets that the interim findings of a comprehensive agency study suggest the majority of those cases were probably caused by undiagnosed medical conditions, stress, or other environmental factors (in other words, bolstering the competing hypothesis that these diplomats are actually suffering from mass sociogenic illness).
“We assess it is unlikely that a foreign actor, including Russia, is conducting a sustained, worldwide campaign harming U.S. personnel with a weapon or mechanism,” a senior CIA official told the Washington Post.
However, the same senior CIA official said the agency could not explain “a few dozen” of “the toughest cases,” which will receive further scrutiny. For those cases, a foreign attack or the use of an unfamiliar weapon has not been ruled out.
Complicating matters further, another U.S. official told the Post that the number of unexplained cases is larger than a few dozen. The FBI, the Pentagon, and others are still investigating — as is the CIA. The agency’s director, William Burns, said he stands behind these new findings but emphasized that they’re preliminary.
“While we have reached some significant interim findings, we are not done,” Burns said in a statement. “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. Our commitment to care is unwavering.”
Last year, Congress unanimously passed a law to provide financial support for federal officials suffering from symptoms of Havana syndrome. The law lets CIA and State Department leaders decide who should be covered and how much compensation they should receive. The government has until April to come up with a payment plan, and according to the New York Times, it’s unclear how these findings could affect that process.
Victims criticized the CIA for releasing partial findings and said they hoped it was not motivated by a desire to deny them financial aid.
“The decision to release the report now and with this particular set of ‘findings’ seems a breach of faith, and an undermining of the intent of Congress and the president to stand with us and reach a government wide consensus as to what is behind this,” read a statement released by advocates for the victims.
They went on to note that the CIA’s leak brings them “no closer to an answer” on the true cause of their suffering.