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U.S Embassy in Havana. Photo: Emily Michot/Miami Herald/Tribune News Service via Getty Images

President Biden signed a bill on Friday that will authorize additional support for diplomats and government officials who have suffered brain injuries overseas in a series of unexplained health episodes dating back to 2016.

Why it matters: As many as 200 Americans have come forward with symptoms associated with the so-called "Havana Syndrome," which was first experienced by U.S. diplomats in Cuba but has since been reported in China and Europe. Some officials have complained that they have not received adequate treatment from the State Department.

What they're saying: "Civil servants, intelligence officers, diplomats, and military personnel all around the world have been affected by anomalous health incidents. Some are struggling with debilitating brain injuries that have curtailed their careers of service to our nation," Biden said in a statement.

  • "We are bringing to bear the full resources of the U.S. Government to make available first-class medical care to those affected and to get to the bottom of these incidents, including to determine the cause and who is responsible."
  • The bill was authored by Sen. Susan Collins (R-Maine) and co-sponsored by Sens. Mark Warner (D-Va.), Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) and Jeanne Shaheen (D-N.H.), who each attended Friday's signing ceremony at the White House.

Driving the news: On Monday, just hours before Biden signed the bill, German newspaper Der Spiegel reported that police had opened an investigation into alleged cases of Havana Syndrome among U.S. Embassy staff in Berlin.

  • A member of CIA director Bill Burns' staff reported symptoms consistent with Havana Syndrome during a trip to India in September and had to receive emergency treatment, CNN reported.
  • Vice President Kamala Harris' trip to Vietnam in August was delayed for several hours after "unexplained health incidents" were reported at the U.S. Embassy in Hanoi.

The big picture: The cause of the brain injuries is currently unknown, but experts have floated the possibility of directed microwave radiation attacks by U.S. adversaries, infectious diseases, exposure to pesticides, specific cricket noises and mass psychogenic illness.

  • A scientific review commissioned by the State Department in 2018 assessed that the injuries were "most likely" caused by insects, not targeted energy attacks, BuzzFeed News reported this week. Dozens of more cases have been reported since that assessment.
  • Burns has tapped a senior CIA officer who helped lead the operation to find Osama bin Laden to head a task force investigating the causes of Havana Syndrome. But the U.S. government has so far produced no answers, Secretary of State Antony Blinken acknowledged in August.

Go deeper

Oct 7, 2021 - World

CIA forms special unit focused on China

CIA Director William Burns. Photo: Al Drago-Pool/Getty Images

CIA Director Bill Burns announced Thursday that the agency is forming a China Mission Center to address "the most important geopolitical threat, we face in the 21st century, an increasingly adversarial Chinese government."

Why it matters: The U.S. intelligence community's annual global threat assessment warned that Beijing is seeking to spread its influence at the expense of the U.S., drive wedges between Western allies and "foster new international norms that favor the authoritarian Chinese system."

Updated 3 hours ago - World

North Korea claims latest missile test new weapon launched from submarine

North Korean state media claims the country's military fired this missile on Tuesday. Photo: Korean Central News Agency

North Korean state media announced that a detected ballistic missile launch off its east coast on Tuesday was a newly developed weapon test-fired from a submarine.

Why it matters: Pyongyang's latest in a series of recent missile launches into the sea happened hours after U.S. officials emphasized their commitment to restart negotiations on North Korea's nuclear weapons program, which have stalled since talks broke down during the Trump administration, AP notes.

5 hours ago - Politics & Policy

Manchin's massive means test

Illustration: Aïda Amer/Axios

Sen. Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.) is offering progressives a trade: He'll vote for their cherished social programs if they accept strict income caps for the recipients, people familiar with the matter tell Axios.

Why it matters: Manchin’s plan to use so-called means-testing for everything from paid family medical leave to elder and disabled care would drastically shrink the size and scope of the programs. It also would bring a key moderate vote to the progressive cause.