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Congress to examine US spy agencies’ work on Havana syndrome

The House Intelligence Committee is investigating how U.S. intelligence agencies examined cases of Havana syndrome, a potential challenge by Congress to its findings on the mysterious illnesses.

Early in the Biden administration, intelligence agencies launched a campaign to determine the causes of abnormal health incidents, the government’s term for Havana syndrome. As a result of this work, intelligence agencies concluded that undiagnosed environmental causes, health problems or stress, rather than a sustained global campaign by a foreign power, were behind most of the deaths. problems.

But the House investigation will examine the spy agencies’ analysis and the integrity of their work. The investigation, depending on what it discovers and concludes, could reopen the debate over the causes of Havana Syndrome, which died down after intelligence agencies said it was not the result of an antagonistic country.

Havana syndrome is the name for a set of debilitating symptoms — including migraines, dizziness and other ailments — first observed in diplomats and spies working at the U.S. Embassy in Cuba. in 2016 and 2017. Symptoms often occurred after people felt pressure in their head or heard strange sounds.

Eventually, hundreds of possible cases were reported, creating a sense of crisis. But in recent years, the reports have been reduced to a small number, officials said.

The House committee announced the investigation in a letter sent Thursday to Avril D. Haines, director of national intelligence. In the letter, Rep. Rick Crawford, Republican of Arkansas, said the investigation would examine “allegations of inappropriate suppression” of information related to the incidents between intelligence agencies and between the executive branch and Congress.

After the first reports from Cuba, reports of diplomats, military personnel and CIA officers exhibiting similar symptoms increased in the years that followed, first in China and then elsewhere around the world. Some former officials have said they believe the problems may have been caused by Russia or another adversary state using an eavesdropping device or even some sort of weapon.

William J. Burns took over as head of the CIA in 2021 promising to discover the cause of these diseases. He created a team of analysts to review the evidence. And the Office of the Director of National Intelligence assembled a group of experts to review classified and unclassified evidence.

The CIA has compensated some former officers who suffered debilitating injuries and expanded access to health care for those who report symptoms. But first the CIA, in 2022, and then Ms. Haines’ office, the following year, concluded that it was very unlikely that an antagonistic state was behind these incidents.

Intelligence agencies have found no intercepts involving Russian or other spies. The lack of evidence was telling. U.S. spy agencies had penetrated Russian military and intelligence services so deeply that they knew many details of the Russian invasion plan of Ukraine, but they found no evidence supporting Russian involvement in the episodes of Havana syndrome.

Timothy L. Barrett, deputy director of national intelligence, said the agencies would continue to cooperate with Mr. Crawford and the committee.

Mr. Barrett said that while most intelligence agencies have concluded that it is highly unlikely that a foreign adversary is responsible for all the reported ills, “that does not mean our work is done.”

“We continue to prioritize understanding these incidents, allocating resources and expertise across government, pursuing multiple lines of inquiry, and seeking information to fill the gaps we have identified,” Mr. Barrett said.

But many who suffered from Havana syndrome say the analytical work and investigation into the episodes failed and raised questions about it. They urged Congress to conduct a more thorough review.

In the letter, Mr. Crawford referred to information provided to the committee by whistleblowers and agents in the intelligence community. A spokeswoman for Mr. Crawford could not be reached for comment.

Mark S. Zaid, a lawyer who represented some of the whistleblowers, said the new investigation demonstrated that Congress opposed the executive branch’s assertions that the syndrome “basically doesn’t exist.”

He said the House committee still has much to learn from spy agencies about abnormal health incidents.

“There is no doubt in my mind, based on my years of representing IAH victims, that the executive branch is covering up what it really knows about these incidents, to include the cause and the foreign perpetrators.” , said Mr. Zaid. “We look forward to the truth finally being made public and accountability for both the perpetrators and the deniers in the US government. »

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