US State Department defends handling of the bizarre Havana Syndrome

President Biden quietly signed the Havana Act last week, a new law providing compensation to those affected by the illness

The US State Department has defended its commitment to address the needs of Havana Syndrome sufferers, after a bipartisan group of senators raised concerns about the government's handling of the mysterious sickness plaguing diplomats and the intelligence community.

In a letter to Secretary of State Antony Blinken on Thursday, the senators said the State Department is not giving Havana Syndrome the "requisite senior-level attention that it requires".

The letter came even after President Joe Biden signed the “Havana Act of 2021” last week authorising compensation to "specified agency personnel and their families for brain injuries that incurred from hostilities while on assignment", according to the White House.

State Department spokesman Ned Price pushed back following the letter's publication, pointing to the new law and stressing that Mr Blinken had "added his voice of support".

“We also have expressed our concern over these anomalous health incidents. That is precisely why we have made it such a priority to get to the bottom of them, and importantly to provide care for our employees who have been subject to them,” Mr Price said.

“We have made clear the resources that our employees have available to them, in terms of training, in terms of to whom they should turn if and when they should feel that they are subject or have been subject to an anomalous health incident.”

The Havana Syndrome got its name after dozens of diplomats at the US embassy in the Cuban capital complained of sickness, including migraine headaches, dizziness and memory lapse in 2016.

The following year, diplomats and family members along with intelligence officers stationed in Vienna began experiencing the same symptoms.

More than 200 victims have now come forward. A flight carrying Vice President Kamala Harris to Vietnam from Singapore was delayed in August due to concerns at the embassy in Hanoi about an “anomalous health incident”.

The Havana Syndrome is believed to be caused by the transmission of intense microwaves directed at victims’ residences or in some cases, hotel rooms. Many report hearing a loud, sustained chirping sound outside their homes, at volumes able to penetrate brick walls.

Officials have yet to conclude how the syndrome is caused or whether an adversary is responsible.

The National Security Council has teamed up with the CIA to create an independent panel to obtain classified information to search for causes.

Under the new law, the CIA and the US State Department will determine who is eligible for benefits and how much they should be compensated.

Citing a lack of concern for the illness under former president Donald Trump, NBC News asked Mr Blinken if the Biden administration had plans to raise the issue with Russian President Vladimir Putin.

During the interview, shared on the State Department’s website, Mr Blinken said he and Mr Biden were committed to finding the cause of the problem and a solution.

“My number one responsibility as secretary of state is to protect the men and women who work for the Foreign Service and the civil service who are representing our country around the world," he said.

"We need to know what happened, we need to know who’s responsible, and we need to make sure that we have in place measures to protect our people. The president has ordered that we make an intensive whole-of-government investigation to try to get to the bottom of this".

Updated: October 20th 2021, 1:05 PM
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