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CIA still investigating cause of ‘Havana Syndrome’ ailments affecting U.S. diplomats

Judy Woodruff and Nick Schifrin discuss the debilitating medical ailments affecting U.S. diplomatic and intelligence officers in Cuba — which have become known as Havana Syndrome. Six months in, what steps has the Biden administration taken to aid those affected?

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  • Judy Woodruff:

    So, Nick, I want to switch now to another topic, another story you have been following.

    And that is these debilitating medical ailments. They have become known as the Havana Syndrome. Here we are six months in since this was first discovered. What steps is the Biden administration taking on this?

  • Nick Schifrin:

    So, these are serious ailments reported by hundreds of people across government over the last five years for — the first ones were in Havana.

    And the Biden administration says this is one of their top priorities. And so they have created new standards of care. That allows or ensures that people who report symptoms get proper treatment. They have created new processes for intelligence-sharing across the agency, so everyone can see details of possible cases.

    And they have lowered the reporting threshold to encourage possible victims to report their symptoms. But understanding the source, Judy, remains a real challenge. Last administration, CIA analyzed what device could exist that could possibly recreate some of these symptoms.

    And they had real challenges on the size of a device and a device needing line of sight to these hypothetical targets. They also had a review or a scrub of all intelligence, current and former, of any foreign entity talking about or deploying any of this kind of technology. And it came up empty.

    So this administration says those efforts have been reinvigorated, not only the reporting, the treating, but the technical hunt for the cause of this. And CIA has approached that hunt like it did the hunt for Osama bin Laden.

  • Judy Woodruff:


    So, are they any closer to figuring out the cause?

  • Nick Schifrin:

    In a word, no. They don't know who, what or if anyone set out to target U.S. officials.

    There was a panel of medical experts last year that concluded that it could, could have been microwave radiation. And that panel of experts pointed out that the Russians have researched using microwave radiation in the past. But senior administration officials still say they do not know if this is a foreign actor's actions or perhaps some kind of inadvertent side effect of overly aggressive surveillance, or something else.

    And, partially, it's a range of apparent victims. Intelligence agents who work on Russia say they have had these symptoms, diplomats working in Europe, even a White House official late last year. And after that incident, there was a deputies meeting at the National Security Council. And they decided they simply did not have enough evidence to know what was really going on.

    And that conclusion remains today. Take a quick listen to Secretary of State Tony Blinken last month.

    Tony Blinken, U.S. Secretary of State: We do not know who, if anyone, is actually responsible, state actor, individuals. This is exactly what we're trying to get to the bottom of.

  • Nick Schifrin:

    Blinken's who, if anyone, angered a lot of people in Congress and victims.

    Look, there are still doubts about the cause. But this administration says they're focusing more resources to help the apparent victims and try and find the cause.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    So interesting, after all these years, they still don't know.

  • Nick Schifrin:

    Still don't know.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    Nick Schifrin, we thank you.

  • Nick Schifrin:

    Thank you.

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