Politics Blinken pressed to fill empty post overseeing 'Havana Syndrome'
Havana Syndrome is a mystery illness with 200-plus documented cases. Lawmakers are demanding action.
Four years after the first Havana Syndrome cases emerged, the US still doesn't know who is behind the attacks on diplomats and intelligence officers.There are now more than 200 estimated cases of the illness, with new incidents emerging in just the last few weeks among Americans stationed in Colombia, Germany and Vietnam.
Senators in both parties are calling on Secretary of State Antony Blinken to immediately appoint a high-level official to oversee the department's response to the "Havana Syndrome," the mysterious illness a number of U.S. officials have suffered from in Cuba and other foreign sites.
The request comes following the departure last month of the State Department's point person, Pamela Spratlen, on what the agency calls "Anomalous Health Incidents" (AHIs), what is described as an acute onset of intense, debilitating physical sensations and that are believed to have led to long-term health issues for those impacted and forced some into early retirement.
Blinken to diplomats: 'I wish we had more answers' on Havana syndrome
Secretary of State Antony Blinken is working to reassure and aid staff concerned over unexplained health incidents that have impacted diplomats at home and abroad, but admitted the government has few answers surrounding the so-called Havana syndrome.The secretary sent an email to State Department staff Thursday, addressing concerns that diplomats and their families heading abroad might be at risk of the mysterious incidents that have reportedly impacted nearly 200 staff across multiple federal agencies. Havana syndrome has caused a variety of health ailments, with one theory alleging they're the result of "directed energy attacks" targeting U.S. officials.
"We urge you to immediately announce a successor to Ambassador Spratlen to lead the Department's Health Incident Response Task Force. Critically, this post must be a senior-level official that reports directly to you," the lawmakers wrote.
The letter was led by Sens. Bob Menendez (D-N.J.) and Jim Risch (R-Idaho), the chair and ranking member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. Members of the committee who signed onto the letter include Sens. Jeanne Shaheen (D-N.H.), Ben Cardin (D-Md), Chris Coons (D-Del.), Bill Hagerty (R-Tenn.), Tim Kaine (D-Va.), Brian Schatz (D-Hawaii), Cory Booker (D-N.J.), Marco Rubio (R-Fl.) and Mitt Romney (R-Utah).
Spratlen, a 30-year veteran of the State Department and two-time ambassador, had come out of retirement in March to take on the position of senior advisor to Department Health Incident Response Task Force.
Police investigating 'Havana syndrome' cases at US Embassy in Berlin
Cases of the mysterious "Havana syndrome" have been reported at the U.S. Embassy in Berlin, according to Reuters.Police in Berlin reportedly said they had been investigating an "alleged sonic weapon attack on employees of the U.S. Embassy" since August. Authorities did not reveal any additional details.A State Department spokesperson told The Hill that the agency is "doing everything possible to ensure that employees who reported an AHI [ anomalous health incident] have received immediate and appropriate attention and care.
NBC Newslast month that Spratlen left the Department.
A State Department spokesperson told The Hill that Spratlen's departure occurred because she had "reached the threshold of hours of labor permitted" as a reemployed retiree.
"We thank her for her service and invaluable contributions to the efforts of the Task Force. We expect to name her replacement soon," the spokesperson said.
More than 200 U.S. officials in American postings around the world, and in the U.S., are believed to have been impacted by AHIs. The first cases were detected in 2016 among American officials serving in Havana.
Most recently, AHI's were reported among U.S. diplomatic staff and their families in Colombia.
Another incident in September was reported among an intelligence official traveling to India with CIA Director William Burns and, in August, a trip by Vice President Kamala Harris to Vietnam wasbecause at least two staff at the U.S. embassy in Hanoi had reported suffering from AHIs.
Blinken is told France 'expected better' in testy TV appearance as he works to repair US-France rift in Paris
Secretary of State Tony Blinken met with French Foreign Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian and French President Emmanuel Macon in Paris Tuesday amid tensions between the two countries that — at least once in a TV interview — boiled to the surface. © Patrick Semansky/AP Secretary of State Antony Blinken speaks during a Blue Dot Network Discussion at the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development's Ministerial Council Meeting, Tuesday, Oct. 5, 2021, in Paris.
Other incidents have been reported in China, countries in South America, Central Asia and Europe and a suspected attack at the Ellipse near the White House.
The lawmakers, in their letter, describe the AHIs as attacks, despite refrain from the State Department to categorize AHIs as such.
"It is clear that this threat continues to target U.S. diplomats and related personnel, and reflects a significant, unmitigated threat to our national security," the lawmakers wrote.
"We believe this threat deserves the highest level of attention from the State Department, and remain concerned that the State Department is not treating this crisis with the requisite senior-level attention that it requires. Further, while there has been progress, we continue to hear concerns that the Department is not sufficiently communicating with or responding to diplomats who have been injured from these attacks."
President Biden has elevated attention on finding the source of these incidents, assigning an interagency task force that includes the CIA and the State Department. The president last week signed into law the HAVANA Act, to increase medical care for those impacted by AHIs, as well as increase resources to investigate its origins.
But more than four years since the first cases were identified and 10 months into the administration, lawmakers, advocates and victims remain frustrated over the lack of answers.
The lawmakers, in their letter, urged Blinken to swiftly implement the HAVANA Act.
"Many victims have waited for this legislation to pass in order to receive access to much needed financial and medical support," they wrote. "The President's signature and the bipartisan support behind the law sends the unambiguous message that all affected individuals must have access to benefits and financial support."
US State Department defends handling of 'Havana Syndrome' .
US State Department defends handling of 'Havana Syndrome'WASHINGTON (Reuters) -The State Department on Thursday defended its handling of so-called Havana Syndrome health complaints, after a bipartisan group of U.S. senators said they were concerned the unexplained ailments were not being taken seriously enough.