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Photo: Felipe Stanley/Agencia Press South/Getty Images

Secretary of State Antony Blinken announced Friday that he has appointed two career officials to handle the State Department's response to "Havana Syndrome," a mysterious phenomenon that has reportedly afflicted more than 200 Americans.

Why it matters: The State Department has come under fire for not doing enough to care for the diplomats and family members who have experienced "anomalous health incidents" abroad, which some lawmakers have suggested are the result of directed energy attacks.

The big picture: Havana Syndrome first came to light in 2017 after staff at the U.S. Embassy in Cuba reported symptoms associated with traumatic brain injuries, including headaches, dizziness, nausea, loss of hearing and more.

  • Suspected cases have since been reported in China, Russia, Vietnam, Austria, Germany and other countries where U.S. officials — including Blinken, CIA director William Burns, and Vice President Kamala Harris — were scheduled to travel.
  • President Biden signed a bill last month authorizing additional support for victims and said in a statement that he will dedicate the full resources of the U.S. government to "determine the cause and who is responsible."

Driving the news: Ambassador Jonathan Moore will serve as coordinator of the task force, while Ambassador Margaret Uyehara will lead efforts to ensure victims receive the appropriate care.

What they're saying: "People have been profoundly, profoundly affected by this. And when you sit down with our people and hear what's happened to them, how they've been affected, it's very, very powerful," Blinken said at a press conference.

  • "And it only reinforces in me the absolute conviction that we need to do everything possible for our people, to care for them, to protect them to get to the bottom of what happened," he said.

Go deeper

Dec 2, 2021 - World

Israel pushes U.S. to end Iran talks over "nuclear blackmail"

Naftali Bennett with Joe Biden in August. Photo: Sarahbeth Maney/The New York Times via Getty

Israeli Prime Minister Naftali Bennett told Secretary of State Tony Blinken in a phone call on Thursday that the Biden administration should end the nuclear negotiations with Iran in Vienna, according to a statement from the Prime Minister’s Office.

Why it matters: Up to now, the Israeli government opposed a return to the 2015 nuclear agreement. Now, Israel is opposing talking to Iran at all.

Updated 32 mins ago - Health

New Zealand aims to create smoke-free generation with tobacco ban

New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern at a December news conference in Auckland, New Zealand. Photo: Phil Walter/Getty Images

New Zealand officials announced Thursday legislative plans to outlaw smoking by making it illegal to sell or supply tobacco products to the next generation as part of a lifetime ban.

Why it matters: "People aged 14 when the law comes into effect will never be able to legally purchase tobacco," Associate Health Minister Ayesha Verrall said in a statement announcing the proposed law, part of the Smokefree 2025 Action Plan.

California father and son accused of "reckless arson" in Calder Fire

Firefighters at the Caldor Fire along Highway 89 west of Lake Tahoe, California, in September. Photo: Wally Skalij/Los Angeles Times via Getty Images

California officials said they arrested a father and son Wednesday on suspicion of starting the Caldor Fire, which threatened the Lake Tahoe area as it burned for over two months earlier this year. They deny any wrongdoing.

Why it matters: The wildfire was the 15th-biggest ever recorded in California, razing more than 1,000 structures, forcing thousands to evacuate and injuring five people as it burned across nearly 222,000 acres of land in El Dorado, Amador and Alpine counties.