CIA officer reports Havana syndrome symptoms during India trip

Washington: A CIA officer, who travelled to India with CIA Director William Burns this month, reported symptoms consistent with Havana syndrome, a mysterious affliction that has struck US diplomats, spies and other government workers at home and abroad, US media reports said on Tuesday.

The official, who was not identified, had to receive medical attention, CNN reported, citing three unnamed sources.

The incident set off alarm bells within the US government and left Burns “fuming” with anger, one source explained. Some officials at the CIA viewed the chilling episode as a direct message to Burns that no one is safe, including those working directly for the nation’s top spy, the report quoted two other sources as saying.

The circumstances of the incident are still being investigated, and officials have not yet determined whether the CIA officer was targeted because the officer was travelling with the director, William Burns, or for other reasons. If the incident was caused by an adversarial intelligence service, it may not have known the officer was travelling with Burns, The New York Times reported.

A CIA spokeswoman declined to confirm the case in India but said the US government and the agency are taking every incident seriously.

“Director Burns has made it a top priority to ensure officers get the care they need and that we get to the bottom of this,” the NBC News quoted a spokeswoman as saying.

“We’ve strengthened efforts to determine the origins of the incidents, including assembling a team of our very best experts bringing an intensity and expertise to this issue akin to our efforts to find [Osama] bin Laden,” she said.

The situation in India could have dramatic implications: the CIA director’s schedule is tightly held and there are deep concerns among US officials about how the perpetrator would have known about the visit and been able to plan for such aggression, the CNN report said.

The person travelling with Burns who experienced the symptoms in India received immediate medical attention when they returned to the US, it said.

Burns held extensive talks with NSA Ajit Doval on the Afghan crisis. The CIA chief, accompanied by a few officials, paid a quiet visit to India primarily to discuss the situation in Afghanistan after the US pulled out its troops.

When asked about the visit, the US embassy declined to comment. There was no comment from the Indian security establishment as well.

The event marks the latest reported case of a US government employee reporting symptoms associated with the mysterious ailment.

Havana syndrome first came into public view in 2017 after US diplomats and other government workers stationed in Cuba reported feeling unusual physical sensations after hearing strange high- and low-pitched sounds. US government employees have also reported cases in China and the Washington, DC area.

Late last month, at least two US diplomats were medically evacuated from Vietnam after Havana syndrome incidents were reported in the capital city, Hanoi, ahead of Vice President Kamala Harris’ arrival.

Under Burns and the Director of National Intelligence, Avril Haines, the intelligence community has undertaken a wide-ranging investigation into the mysterious attacks, including a 100-day probe into the potential causes that began earlier this summer.

“We don’t comment on specific incidents or officers. We have protocols in place for when individuals report possible anomalous health incidents that include receiving appropriate medical treatment,” a CIA spokesperson told CNN.

“The health and well-being of American public servants are of paramount importance to the administration, and we take extremely seriously any report by our personnel of an anomalous health incident,” a senior administration official was quoted as saying by NBC News.

The India incident has raised questions about whether a foreign adversary had intentionally targeted the CIA director’s staff, but the sources said the agency is unclear what exactly could have caused it, the report said.

The case is one of a number of new incidents in recent months involving CIA personnel who have experienced what US officials call “anomalous health incidents,” it said.

Many people who have experienced Havana Syndrome report experiencing vertigo, dizziness, fatigue, nausea and intense headaches. Some describe it as being hit by an invisible blast wave. Some have no longer been able to work.

Many US officials suspect that the incidents, which have caused permanent brain injuries in some victims, are a result of an attack or a surveillance operation by Russian spies, but the evidence is inconclusive.

The National Academies of Sciences said in a report last year that the most likely cause of the injuries was directed microwave energy, but the conclusion is being debated in the scientific community.

Last week, Deputy CIA Director David Cohen said that the agency is getting closer to solving the mystery but that there are limits. “In terms of have we gotten closer, I think the answer is yes but not close enough to make an analytic judgment that people are waiting for,” he said.

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