By Mark Hosenball
WASHINGTON (Reuters) – The U.S. Federal Bureau of Investigation said on Wednesday the issue of “anomalous health incidents” – widely known as Havana Syndrome – is a top priority and it will continue to investigate the cause of such incidents and how to protect staff.
Around 200 U.S. diplomats, officials and family members overseas are believed to have been struck by the mysterious ailment – with symptoms including migraines, nausea, memory lapses and dizziness. It was first reported among U.S. officials in the Cuban capital in 2016.
“The issue of anomalous health incidents is a top priority for the FBI, as the protection, health and well-being of our employees and colleagues across the federal government is paramount,” the FBI said in a statement.
It added that it would keep working with the intelligence community to “identify the cause of these incidents and determine how we can best protect our personnel.”
Sufferers and lawmakers have criticized U.S. agencies, saying they have not taken the illness seriously enough. Current and former U.S. officials said the FBI historically had been skeptical about the existence of Havana Syndrome.
“The FBI takes all U.S. government personnel who report symptoms seriously,” the FBI statement said, adding it had messaged its staff on how to respond and how to report if they experience an incident, and where they can receive medical treatment.
Lawyer Mark Zaid, who represents Havana Syndrome victims, said historically the FBI had “been less than helpful, particularly by claiming victims are suffering psychosomatic symptoms even though they never interviewed the individuals…I suspect that is about to change.”
To lead an agency task force on Havana Syndrome, CIA director William Burns recently chose a career undercover spy who participated in the search that led to the killing of al Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden.
A U.S. government source said U.S. agencies do not currently have a solid view of the syndrome’s cause but that investigating its origins and spread has been a high priority for the CIA.
(Reporting By Mark Hosenball; Editing by David Gregorio)