U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken has announced the appointment of two senior diplomats to oversee the department’s investigation into the mysterious “Havana Syndrome.” American intelligence officers and other officials continue to be affected by the illness and Washington is yet to understand its cause.
Jonathan Moore and Margaret Uyehara will spearhead the State Department’s probe into the Havana Syndrome. Moore is a principal deputy assistant secretary who will now head the Health Incident Response Task Force; Uyehara is a former ambassador to Montenegro who will be in charge of the Care Coordination Team. The newly appointed task force leaders have fallen victim to the illness and can share their experiences.
Blinken asserted that it was his duty to take care of State Department staff members and identify the origin of Havana Syndrome.
“Just as they work hard for us, we have to do all we can to protect their health, their safety, their security… 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,” Blinken said.
The first reported incident of Havana Syndrome occurred in 2016 in Cuba. In the following five years, over 200 American officials have reported being afflicted by the disease. Symptoms include fatigue, dizziness, and constant ringing in the ears.
Though the exact cause of this affliction is yet to be determined, some speculate that the affected individuals might have been exposed to microwave emissions that resulted in the disease.
Democrat Senator Jeanne Shaheen of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee welcomed the State Department appointment and promised to work together to deal with the issue.
“While we cannot necessarily see their injuries, they are real and deserve the same attention and urgency as wounds that are visible. These individuals and their loved ones were injured while serving their nation—the U.S. owes them every resource to get well and stay healthy,” Shaheen said in a statement.
The State Department has begun establishing a medical support group to treat affected diplomats. Training programs are being created to raise awareness among employees about the disease. In October, the bipartisan Havana Act was signed into law which instructs the intelligence community and the department to compensate victims of the affliction.
In a recent speech at the Aspen Security Forum, House Intelligence Committee chairman Adam Schiff admitted that the intelligence community is only “marginally closer” to uncovering the mystery of the Havana Syndrome.
“I don’t feel that I can express a lot more optimism than that. I think we’re making progress, but it has been very slow and much slower than, certainly, I think any of us would like to see… I still personally have profound questions about what is causing this, and whether it is one cause, or several. And so we still, I believe, have a lot of work ahead of us,” Schiff stated.
The CIA is also investigating the issue. Director William Burns said during a recent hearing that the agency’s probe is being led by an individual who played a key role in finding Osama Bin Laden.
In September, an officer who accompanied Burns during his India trip had been affected by the Havana Syndrome. Since becoming director of the CIA, Burns has tripled the number of medical experts studying the issue.