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Pentagon asks employees to report cases of strange, sudden sickness

By
Jake Thomas
U.S. diplomatic personnel first reported strange symptoms dubbed Havana Syndrome while serving at the country's embassy in Cuba. The U.S. government is looking for the cause of the sickness that has been reported elsewhere. Photo courtesy of U.S. Department of State. 
U.S. diplomatic personnel first reported strange symptoms dubbed "Havana Syndrome" while serving at the country's embassy in Cuba. The U.S. government is looking for the cause of the sickness that has been reported elsewhere. Photo courtesy of U.S. Department of State.  | License Photo

Sept. 16 (UPI) -- U.S. Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin has pledged to get to the bottom of reports of military personnel experiencing mysterious illnesses while overseas.

In a Sept. 15 department-wide memo, Austin asked personnel to quickly report potential cases of "Anomalous Health Incidents."

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In recent years, Pentagon personnel working primarily overseas have reported "sudden and troubling" sensory events that include sounds, pressure or heat. These events are followed by headaches, pain, nausea, vertigo and other symptoms.

Austin advised personnel that they should leave an area with their coworkers and family if they have a sensory event or experience symptoms. While the vast majority of personnel are unlikely to be affected, Austin said the department is taking it seriously.

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"As part of a government-wide effort, the department is committed to finding the cause and the source of these AHI and ensuring that affected individuals receive appropriate medical care as quickly as possible when needed," he said in the memo.

U.S. diplomatic and military personnel have reported cases of what's been called "Havana Syndrome." The condition was first reported in 2017 when two Cuban diplomats allegedly used an ultrasound energy device in an "acoustic attack" on American officials in Havana.

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U.S. State Department officials said employees reported hearing high-pitched noises in their hotel rooms or homes. The employees reported concussion-like symptoms including balance problems, memory lapses, difficulty concentrating, insomnia, headaches and nausea. The U.S.'s probe into the incident is ongoing.

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In 2019, five Canadian diplomats sued their own government for $28 million after experiencing strange health conditions after working in the country's Havana embassy.

More recently, U.S. Vice President Kamala Harris delayed a diplomatic trip to Vietnam in August because of threats resembling Havana Syndrome.

U.S. intelligence agencies are seeking more information on episodes of Havana Syndrome but can't conclusively say who is behind the attacks, The New York Times reported.

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"There's a classic intelligence problem, and we are approaching it with the same techniques," David S. Cohen, the deputy C.I.A. director said at the annual Intelligence and National Security Summit, according to the Times. "This is a serious issue. It's real, it's affecting our officers, it's affecting others around their community and in government."

Contributing to the murkiness surrounding Havana Syndrome is the possibility that intelligence agencies from multiple countries with different equipment and motivations could be involved, the Times reported. Eavesdropping technology from Russia's military intelligence agency was used in some cases.

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In an interview with NPR in June, CIA Director William J. Burns said there have been "probably a couple of hundred" incidents of Havana Syndrome since 2016. He said he met with victims of the attacks on his first day in office and has prioritized finding out the cause.

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