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Personnel at the U.S. Embassy in Cuba in Havana in 2017. Photo: Sven Creutzmann/Mambo photo/Getty Images

A radio frequency energy of radiation that includes microwaves likely caused American diplomats in China and Cuba to fall ill with neurological symptoms over the past four years, a report published Saturday finds.

Why it matters: The National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine's report does not attribute blame for the suspected attacks, but it notes there "was significant research in Russia/USSR into the effects of pulsed, rather than continuous wave [radio frequency] exposures."

  • It also states that military personnel in "Eurasian communist countries" were exposed to non-thermal radiation.

Driving the news: The State Department commissioned the report after government personnel and their families began falling ill at the U.S. Embassy in Havana, Cuba, in late 2016 and the U.S. Consulate in Guangzhou, China, in early 2017.

  • There were reports of 40 State Department staff experiencing symptoms including ear pain, intense head pressure or vibration, dizziness, visual problems, and cognitive difficulties.
  • "Many still continue to experience these or other health problems," the study authors note in a statement.
  • Canada's government has confirmed 14 of its citizens also fell ill in Cuba's capital, in what became known as "Havana syndrome," the Ottawa Citizen notes.

Of note: The report, first obtained by NBC News, recommends that the State Department act promptly to establish plans and protocols to enable future investigations if required.

  • "The larger issue is preparedness for new and unknown threats that might compromise the health and safety of U.S. diplomats serving abroad," the report states.
  • "The next event may be even more dispersed in time and place, and even more difficult to recognize quickly."

For the record: Russia has denied it's behind the suspected attack, and CIA director Gina Haspel "has not concluded the Kremlin was responsible," but some Russia experts at the agency noted to the New York Times it fits with Moscow's "long history of experimenting with the technology."

  • Mark Lenzi, a diplomatic security officer who fell ill with the symptoms when he was working in Guangzhou, China, in 2018, has filed a lawsuit against the State Department for disability discrimination.
  • "My government looked the other way when they knew I and my family were injured,” he told the NYT. "This report is just the beginning and when the American people know the full extent of this administration’s cover-up of the radiofrequency attacks in China in particular they will be outraged."
  • The Office of Special Counsel has launched two investigations into the State Department over the matter.

What they're saying: The State Department said in an emailed statement, "We are pleased this report is now out and can add to the data and analyses that may help us come to an eventual conclusion as to what transpired."

  • Sen. Jeanne Shaheen (D-N.H.), a senior member of the Senate Foreign Relations and Armed Services Committees, who led bipartisan calls for the report to be released, said in a statement: "The health effects from these mysterious injuries have tormented those afflicted. Their illnesses and suffering are real and demand a response from Congress."
"American public servants and their families — who have been targeted — have requested that Congress receive and review this report, so I’m glad the State Department heeded our bipartisan call so we can get to work."

Read the report, via DocumentCloud:

Go deeper

Jan 19, 2021 - Health

WHO warns of "catastrophic moral failure" over coronavirus vaccine access

World Health Organization Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus. Photo: Fabrice Coffrini/POOL/AFP via Getty Images

World Health Organization chief Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus warned Monday the world is "on the brink of a catastrophic moral failure" because of unequal COVID-19 vaccine distribution.

Why it matters: Tedros noted during an executive session that 39 million vaccine doses had been administered in 49 higher-income countries, while one lowest-income nation had "just 25 doses."

Jan 19, 2021 - World

What Biden's top administration picks signal about his China strategy

Chart: Danielle Alberti/Axios

Early indicators suggest the Biden administration may continue to pursue a robust China strategy that reaches across multiple government departments and agencies.

Why it matters: Though the Trump administration's approach to China was often controversial, there is broad bipartisan agreement that China poses a major challenge to U.S. interests and values.

Jan 19, 2021 - World

Top DOJ official John Demers on the agency's China Initiative

Assistant Attorney General John Demers speaks at a press conference on Oct. 19, 2020. Photo credit: Andrew Harnik/Getty Images.

John Demers, the assistant attorney general at the Department of Justice's National Security Division who leads the department's China Initiative, spoke with Axios about his view on the initiative's progress since its launch in 2018 and what he hopes to see in the coming year as Biden assumes office.

The big picture: The China Initiative made headlines with dozens of major indictments but also sparked controversy over its targeting of scientists with links to the Chinese government.