“There’s no one explanation” for the large number of reported cases around the world, a senior CIA official said, insisting “we don’t see a global campaign by a foreign actor.” There are still unresolved cases, the official continued, and the CIA is still open to the notion that a nation-state or specific device is causing symptoms such as headaches and nausea — if the agency finds evidence to that effect.
Analysis into these cases continues, and the CIA’s interim finding represents an assessment of a very narrow, specific question about the scale and scope of the potential efforts by foreign governments.
“We would definitely not rule out the possibility of foreign-actor involvement in some discrete cases,” the official said, adding that “we have not identified a causal mechanism, a novel weapon, that's been used at this point” on a worldwide scale, including a long-suspected directed-energy weapon.
POLITICO has not reviewed the interim finding itself. The question the intelligence community aimed to answer, though, focused solely on whether there is a sustained, global campaign against U.S. personnel that causes Havana Syndrome. Symptoms described by the victims include intense ringing and pressure in the ears, vomiting, nausea and permanent brain damage, among other ailments.
Suspected Havana Syndrome cases have popped up on nearly every continent in the last year, with the Biden administration privately sounding the alarm to lawmakers that U.S. officials posted abroad were increasingly vulnerable to the incidents.
The agency’s findings are sure to unnerve lawmakers who, for more than a year, have been referring to the Havana Syndrome incidents broadly as “directed-energy attacks.”
POLITICO previously reported that intelligence officials were telling lawmakers behind closed doors that they believed Russia was responsible for the attacks, and that the affected diplomats were hit with pulsed energy that caused traumatic brain injuries. Lawmakers have also said it could be an effort by a foreign government to steal data from an American’s official government devices.
The House and Senate unanimously passed legislation last year to help victims cover medical costs, and lawmakers in both chambers have sounded the alarm about efforts by the State Department and other agencies to minimize or outright dismiss concerns raised by the victims.
Based on current evidence, the broader intelligence community is on board with the CIA’s interim assessment, the senior CIA official told POLITICO, adding that there are “varying levels of confidence within different agencies.”
An intelligence community source separately cautioned that the CIA’s interim finding “does not reflect the unanimous consensus of the intelligence community.” President Joe Biden has not yet been briefed on the current assessment.
The source added that the intelligence community’s “expert panel” on the issue is ongoing, and that the CIA finding was primarily a “narrowing-down” of cases and potential causes.
CIA Director William Burns stands behind the current finding, but made clear the probe continues with an indefinite timeline.
“While we have reached some significant interim findings, we are not done,” Burns said in a statement. “We will continue the mission to investigate these incidents and provide access to world-class care for those who need it. While underlying causes may differ, our officers are suffering real symptoms. Our commitment to care is unwavering.”
But victims of Havana Syndrome, who have long been maligned or ignored by their superiors at various U.S. government agencies, criticized the CIA for releasing the report while the investigation is ongoing, calling it a “disturbing curtailment” that leaves them “no closer to an answer.”
“The decision to release the report now and with this particular set of ‘findings’ seems a breach of faith, and an undermining of the intent of Congress and the president to stand with us and reach a government wide consensus as to what is behind this,” reads a statement sent by their advocates.
“This report was neither cleared nor coordinated through the interagency and must stand as the assessment of one agency (CIA) alone,” the statement adds. “We have reason to believe the interim report does not even represent the consensus of the full CIA, instead reflecting the views of a subset of officials most interested in resolution and closure.”
The victims also urged the House and Senate intelligence committees, which have jurisdiction over the CIA, to aggressively audit the CIA report and the circumstances surrounding its release.