Top national security and intelligence officials met on Friday to assess the progress of investigations into the mysterious illness that has impacted dozens of US spies and diplomats in the last few years — but they still don’t have an answer as to what is causing the incidents.
The meeting of the Joint Intelligence Community Council, confirmed to CNN by an administration official, was led by Director of National Intelligence Avril Haines and attended by other senior officials including Secretary of State Antony Blinken, CIA Director Bill Burns and FBI Director Chris Wray.
The New York Times first reported on the meeting.
The Friday meeting indicates how getting to the bottom of the so-called Havana Syndrome incidents — named after the city where diplomats first reported symptoms in 2016 — is a “top priority” for the White House and the intelligence community, the administration official said.
More than 100 US diplomats, spies and troops around the globe have become sick with the inexplicable constellation of sensory experiences and physical symptoms that has come to be known as Havana Syndrome.
“Our government recognizes how important it is to make sure they get the care they deserve and that we get to the bottom of this as quickly as possible,” the official said.
Director of National Intelligence Avril Haines convened the meeting late Friday, according to a press release.
The meeting included briefings from “a wide range of experts,” according to the release.
Meeting participants “made clear that they will support those affected by AHI to ensure they are believed, heard, and respected, and will work together, including through the sharing of relevant information and by following agreed upon, standardized medical protocols,” according to the release — a clear response to criticism from some victims that they weren’t believed by senior officials when they first reported symptoms, and, as a result, were not provided appropriate mediate care.
The intelligence community still doesn’t have an official explanation for the incidents, though one working hypothesis is that Russia is using a microwave or other directed energy device.
“At this time, we do not know the cause of these incidents or whether they constitute an attack of some kind by a foreign actor,” the official said. “But these are areas of active inquiry, and we are bringing the U.S. government’s resources to bear to get to the bottom of this as quickly as possible.”
The official added that the National Security Council has been coordinating a review of the intelligence and previously unreported incidents to try to find a broader pattern, and that a senior director was appointed in the early days of the administration to deal with this issue specifically. Scientific and medical experts from the government and academia have also been consulted.
CNN has previously reported that the CIA Inspector General is carrying out a review into the agency’s handling of the incidents, and both the CIA and State Department have dedicated task forces investigating the issue.
The meeting came after CNN reported that frustration was rising inside the State Department among employees who felt the department was not being forthcoming enough about the incidents. Blinken sent a note to employees last week acknowledging that frustration.
“Those of you who’ve been directly affected are urgently seeking clarity. Employees going abroad are anxious about whether they or their families are at risk,” he wrote. “That’s completely understandable, and I wish we had more answers for you.”
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