In a letter to State Department staff, Secretary of State Antony Blinken responded to the “growing concerns” from Department employees about Unexplained Health Incidents — also called “Havana Syndrome” — which are known to have affected roughly two hundred U.S. diplomats, intelligence officers and other U.S. personnel around the world.
“Employees going abroad are anxious about whether they or their families are at risk,” Blinken wrote. “That’s completely understandable, and I wish we had more answers for you.”
Havana Syndrome incidents were first reported by U.S. officers in Cuba in 2016. Symptoms may include vertigo, ear ringing, nausea and intense headaches; some have even been diagnosed with Traumatic Brain Injury, though physical damage to the brain hasn’t always been detected.
Some victims were particularly upset that the secretary had not yet met with victims in person to hear their concerns. And they have complained that the department’s efforts have been scattered, in part due to inadequate staffing and what they say is a lingering skepticism among its medical staff about the incidents’ seriousness.
Blinken told employees the department would “do a better job keeping you informed” of the government’s ongoing efforts to identify the origin of the incidents, prevent future cases and provide care to those who have suffered symptoms.
In March, he tasked Pamela Spratlen, a former U.S. ambassador to Uzbekistan and Kyrgyzstan, to oversee the State Department’s response and to engage with employees affected by the health incidents. The department launched a pilot program to collect baseline health information on officers ahead of their overseas deployments and established a partnership with the National Institutes of Health for medical assessments.
Blinken said in the letter that he would “soon” have the opportunity to meet with affected staff and their families.
“A lot of talented and experienced people have been assigned to this. We’re bringing all our resources to bear,” Blinken wrote.