Sep 21, 2021 - World

Reports: CIA director's team member reported Havana syndrome symptoms

 William Burns, director of the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA), speaks during a House Intelligence Committee hearing on April 15, 2021 in Washington, D.C.
CIA director Bill Burns testifies at a House Intelligence Committee hearing in April. Photo: Al Drago-Pool/Getty Images

A member of CIA director Bill Burns' team who traveled with him to India this month was treated for "symptoms consistent with Havana syndrome," CNN first reported Monday.

Why it matters: Current and former officials told the New York Times the incident signals a "possible escalation" in the mysterious neurological symptoms affecting as many as 200 Americans who've worked in overseas posts since 2016.

  • The reports come weeks after Vice President Kamala Harris' trip to Vietnam was delayed when U.S. personnel reported symptoms consistent with the syndrome, first detected in Havana, Cuba.
  • It raises questions about whether Burns' CIA staff were deliberately targeted by a foreign adversary, though sources told NBC News the agency hadn't determined what precisely could've caused the condition.

The intrigue: Secretary of State Antony Blinken said in a letter obtained by NBC News last month that the State Department lacked answers for the cause of and treatments for the unexplained health incidents.

  • A U.S. National Academy of Sciences panel found last December that a radio frequency energy of radiation that includes microwaves likely caused Havana syndrome.
  • Its report didn't attribute blame for the suspected attacks, but noted there "was significant research in Russia/USSR into the effects of pulsed, rather than continuous wave [radio frequency] exposures."

Of note: Burns has said previously that there's a "very strong possibility" that Russia is behind the syndrome and that it could be intentionally caused, Reuters notes.

What they're saying: A CIA spokesperson wouldn't confirm the India case, but said the agency and the U.S. government took such incidents seriously, and that "Burns has made it a top priority to ensure officers get the care they need and that we get to the bottom of this."

  • "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 Ladin," the spokesperson added.
  • A State Department spokesperson also wouldn't confirm the case, but said in an emailed statement it took all such reports "extremely seriously" and was "working to ensure that affected employees get the care and support they need."

Editor's note: This article has been updated with comment from the CIA and State Department.

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