Senators urge State Department to investigate 'Havana Syndrome'

The mysterious illness has affected US diplomats and intelligence officials at embassies around the world

This year, US Vice President Kamala Harris was delayed in Hanoi after a reported incident related to "Havana Syndrome", which has sickened diplomats in several countries. Photo: AFP
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A bipartisan group of senators pressed US Secretary of State Antony Blinken to appoint a new leader for an investigation into reports about “Havana Syndrome", a mysterious phenomenon causing diplomats and other US officials to fall ill at some overseas posts.

The senators “remain concerned that the State Department is not treating this crisis with the requisite senior-level attention that it requires", they said on Thursday in a letter to Mr Blinken.

“We continue to hear concerns that the department is not sufficiently communicating with or responding to diplomats who have been injured from these attacks.”

Pamela Spratlen, the State Department official in charge of the investigating the matter, left her post in September, amid fresh reports that diplomats and their families have been affected by the unexplained syndrome, which was originally reported by envoys in Cuba.

The senators who wrote to Mr Blinken included Bob Menendez, a New Jersey Democrat and chairman of the foreign relations committee, and Jim Risch of Idaho, the panel’s top Republican.

They said that they were also concerned that the State Department was not working with other agencies to identify the cause and source of the attacks, or to develop a plan to hold accountable those responsible.

The letter was also signed by Senator Jeanne Shaheen, a New Hampshire Democrat who has been involved in the issue.

“We are extremely alarmed that reports of these incidents continue to grow,” the senators wrote.

“It is clear that this threat continues to target US diplomats and related personnel, and reflects a significant, unmitigated threat to our national security.”

The senators also urged Mr Blinken to implement legislation signed into law by President Joe Biden last week to compensate victims of the attacks.

The syndrome has affected US diplomats and intelligence officials at several embassies. They describe feeling ill and other unusual physical sensations after hearing strange sounds.

A flight carrying Vice President Kamala Harris to Vietnam from Singapore was delayed in August by a few hours due to concerns about an “anomalous health incident” in Hanoi.

The term is used by the government to describe the many symptoms associated with Havana Syndrome.

State Department spokesman Ned Price on Tuesday said Mr Blinken has given priority to investigating the reports, receiving briefings on Havana Syndrome from the department when he was still the nominee for secretary.

“We have taken a number of steps, including in terms of communication, in terms of care, in terms of detection, in terms of protection for our workforce, and that is something that will continue to be a priority for the secretary,” Mr Price said.

Updated: October 14, 2021, 9:43 PM