UPDATED 5:30 PM PT – Friday, November 5, 2021
U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken announced new efforts to get to the bottom of the mysterious Havana Syndrome. The State Department is taking action against the mysterious illness that’s plaguing diplomats around the world.
On Friday, Blinken announced two new officials to lead efforts to investigate Havana Syndrome. Blinken tapped Jonathan Moore, a principal deputy assistant secretary, to lead the Health Incident Response Task Force on the issue. Additionally, he appointed former ambassador to Montenegro, Margaret Uyehara, to spearhead the Care Coordination Team of the task force.
Secretary Blinken asserted it’s his duty to care for the staff of the State Department and track the disease’s origins.
“And just as they work hard for us, we have to do all we can to protect their health, their safety, their security,” he said. “That’s certainly the case when it comes to addressing the threat posed by anomalous health incidents. These incidents have left our colleagues with profound harm. They’ve experienced serious physical consequences.”
The first case of Havana Syndrome was reported in 2016 when the Obama administration was looking to re-establish positive ties with Cuba. Since then, the illness has struck around 200 diplomats and intelligence officers, including those close to CIA Director William Burns. The disease has also spread to other countries such as Russia, Vietnam and Austria.
Although there is no conclusive evidence pointing to what is causing Havana Syndrome, preliminary reports indicate victims are being exposed to microwave emissions through devices being pointed at them.
“We will continue to work tirelessly to provide the highest possible level of assistance and to ensure that those who are injured are treated with the empathy and compassion that they so richly deserve. We took forward to working with our colleagues in other federal agencies, as well as in Congress, on this very important issue,” stated Uyehara.
The task force leaders are encouraging all affected staffers to discuss their experiences with the disease and vow to conduct interagency reviews and investigations. Victims are getting much needed relief through the bipartisan Havana Act signed into law last month, which directs the State Department and intelligence community to compensate affected workers for medical treatment.
In the meantime, the State Department has already taken steps to create medical support groups to screen and treat diplomats, agency-wide trainings to bring awareness to the symptoms, and investigative groups to inspect and secure overseas facilities.