October 28 2021 — On Wednesday, Secretary of State Antony Blinken formally announced the establishment of a new cyber bureau at the State Department to help tackle cyber and emerging technology diplomatic issues. Blinken also made a cryptic reference to the ‘Havana Syndrome pandemic’ which seems to indicate that he may make an important announcement very soon, possibly today. Follow us on twitter: @Intel_Today
RELATED POST: Havana Syndrome — Chris Carter [X-Files] : “I Believe the Havana Syndrome and your government denied it.” [Intel Today : What was the motive of these attacks? Here is a plausible scenario.]
UPDATE (November 3 2021) — On Tuesday, Director of the US Central Intelligence Agency William Burns met in Moscow with Secretary of the Security Council of the Russian Federation Nikolai Patrushev.
Mr. Patrushev — the secretary of the Kremlin’s Security Council — is widely seen as the most powerful figure among the intelligence officials in Mr. Putin’s inner circle.
In a brief video of the start of the meeting posted online by Russian media, Mr. Patrushev tells Mr. Burns, seated across from him at a conference table: “I am glad to greet you in Moscow.”
Neither side gave details of the conversation. The C.I.A. declined to comment.
“They are meeting with members of the Russian government to discuss a range of issues in the bilateral relationship,” a U.S. Embassy spokesperson said.
Your guess is as good as mine. The topics of these discussions probably range from countries such as Iran (nuclear program), North Korea, and Afghanistan to various hot issues like arms control and cyber-security.
But… Did they talk about Havana Syndrome? Here is what CBS News and the New York Times have to say…
The CIA declined to comment on Burns’ travel, and a spokesperson for the National Security Council declined to elaborate on the agenda for the American delegation in Moscow or why Burns was tapped to lead it.
Since he became CIA director, Burns has spoken publicly about health incidents known as “Havana Syndrome” that have befallen more than 200 American officials — including 100 intelligence officers. He has said Russia “could be” behind the incidents, which can cause dizziness, nausea and debilitating headaches, but he and other senior intelligence officials have stressed that agencies have not determined their cause.
It was not clear whether Burns would address the health incidents while he’s in Moscow — they were raised briefly by the president during his June summit with Putin, a senior administration official said. [CBS News : CIA director meets in Moscow with top Russian official amid heightened tensions]
It is not clear if Mr. Burns was going to raise the issue of the anomalous health incidents known as “Havana Syndrome,’’ a growing number of episodes where C.I.A. officers and other officials have suffered traumatic brain injuries after experiencing strange pressure, heat or sounds.
Some American officials say privately that they believe Russia is responsible for those health incidents.
However, C.I.A. analysts and other American intelligence agencies have not yet drawn any formal conclusions about what has caused them. Russia has dismissed speculation that it could be responsible as “unhealthy fantasies.” [New York Times — U.S.-Russia Engagement Deepens as C.I.A. Head Travels to Moscow]
Today, Serge Schmemann — a member of the NYT editorial board — wrote an opinion piece titled: The Mystery of ‘Havana Syndrome’.
So is this another consequence of nerves frayed by the invisible eyes and ears of a secret surveillance apparatus?
Or is it caused by some dastardly new weapon deployed by America’s enemies — Russia? — to eavesdrop or harass spies and diplomats?
So far, despite many efforts to explain the “anomalous health incidents” — the bureaucratese assigned to the phenomenon by the government, scientists and investigative journalists — no one has come up with anything conclusive. (…)
The trouble is that Havana syndrome has become so deeply enmeshed in the contentious politics of our time that agreement on an objective cause may prove all but impossible. (…)
That does not mean there is no mystery weapon. (…) But the potential ramifications of such a conclusion for Havana syndrome — and the indisputable neurological symptoms of the Americans who have suffered from it for several years now — demand dispassionate and objective investigation, not speculative bombast.
PS — We are still waiting to hear from Secretary Blinken about “what and who is behind these incidents.”
END of UPDATE
UPDATE (October 29 2021) — We are still waiting to hear from Secretary Blinken about “what and who is behind these incidents.” Meanwhile…
David Ignatius just wrote a very interesting opinion piece [Dealing with ‘Havana Syndrome’ is a policymaker’s nightmare] in the Washington Post.
Over the last five years, I have tried to make it clear that microwave spying is NOT science fiction.
Indeed, microwave spying is a well established tool of espionage. And yes, the U. S. agencies (CIA and NSA) use this technique to collect intelligence. They have done so for the last 50 years!
For the very first time since the beginning of the ‘Havana Syndrome’ saga, a major newspaper admits both facts clearly and unambiguously.
“Microwaves, lasers and other directed energy systems are hardly new in the spy business. Intelligence collectors (including U.S. agencies) have bathed target locations with radio waves or beams, and then tried to tune the vibrations of particular objects — a pane of window glass, say, or the filament in a lightbulb — to produce what amounts to an invisible microphone. The CIA sometimes describes this as “ubiquitous technical surveillance,” or UTS.”
David Ignatius makes another important point that I have tried to emphasize over the years.
“With its freewheeling network of mercenaries, hackers and thugs, Russia is an obvious suspect. But that’s not the same thing as having proof. So, what should the Biden administration do about these anomalous health incidents to make sure they stop, when it lacks the evidence to support a potential military confrontation?
The first task is to keep investigating. That’s what CIA Director William J. Burns is doing aggressively, assigning the probe to one of the targeters who found al-Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden a decade ago. While this investigation continues, it might also make sense to draw Russia into a discussion about “rules of the road” for directed energy systems.
Like hypersonic missiles, space weapons and cyberattacks, these directed energy systems will be weapons of the future, regardless of what emerges in the investigation of Havana Syndrome. They’re double-edged swords — as dangerous to Russia as to America.
Message to the Kremlin: We’re not making any allegations. But we need to talk.”
We have come a long way… Do you remember the days when ‘microwave spying’ was the thing of late night comedy shows? [Did Obama Use a Microwave to Spy on Trump? — Jimmy Kimmel Live]
END of UPDATE
Near the end of the speech [@50:46 — See transcripts below], Secretary Blinken made the following comment:
“We will leave no stone unturned to get to the bottom of what and who is
behind these incidents and I will have more to say about that in the next day.”
U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken gives a speech on Modernizing American diplomacy
“What and who is behind these incidents.”
Both the Washington Post and the New York Times are rather skeptical about the ‘Havana Syndrome’ pandemic.
“Uncertainty rears its ugly head again in foreign affairs,” writes Daniel W. Drezner in a piece posted by the Washington Post yesterday.
According to Politico’s Andrew Desiderio and Lara Seligman, U.S. intelligence officials are showing greater confidence about the what and who of Havana Syndrome: “The U.S. government’s investigation into the mysterious illnesses impacting American personnel overseas and at home is turning up new evidence that the symptoms are the result of directed-energy attacks.” That is the what.
As for the who: “Lawmakers are also growing increasingly confident that Russia or another hostile foreign government is behind the suspected attacks, based on regular briefings from administration officials — although there is still no smoking gun linking the incidents to Moscow.”
Well, it sure seems like that’s that! Except that maybe it is not.
“Extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence,” writes Spencer Bokat-Lindell in an piece published by the New York Times yesterday. [Is ‘Havana Syndrome’ an ‘Act of War’ or ‘Mass Hysteria’?]
Despite the lack of conclusive evidence that U.S. officials were victims of “targeted attacks,” much less of secret microwave weapons deployed by a foreign power, many intelligence officials and journalists seem increasingly convinced of the narrative. The latest big story on the “Havana syndrome,” published in the media outlet Puck News, led with the following admission from the author, the national security reporter Julia Ioffe: “I always suspected that these illnesses were the product of deliberate attacks and that the Russian government was behind them — it was exactly the kind of weird thing they’d be both into and capable of.”
Americans should be wary of how the “Havana syndrome” is being framed in this way as a warrant for retaliatory action, Natalie Shure argues in The New Republic.
Perhaps most shocking, in Shure’s view, an anonymous member of the intelligence community quoted in Ioffe’s story seemed to call for punishing the alleged culprits, alluding to intelligence of “medium confidence” that the alleged culprits were Russian.
“Of course, we also invaded Iraq with ‘medium confidence,’” Shure writes. “If ‘Havana syndrome’ has mercifully yet to be used to agitate for war as concretely as the imaginary nukes of Iraq were, it’s clearly been seized on by a national security apparatus formidably expanded since 9/11 — and if more people don’t come to their senses, harm will surely result.”
Meanwhile… Yesterday, during a House Intelligence Committee hearing, Rep. Eric Swalwell [Dem – California] pressed Intelligence Community leaders to acknowledge that the unexplained health incidents known as “Havana syndrome” are the result of targeted attacks.
“Considering that we are not doing this to our people, they are not doing this to themselves, public reports suggest they are happening in an escalating fashion worldwide, can we stop calling them incidents and call them attacks?”
CIA Director William J. Burns didn’t answer directly, but agreed that “real harm is being done to real people and we take each report very seriously.”
Swalwell called for an effort to hunt down those behind the suspected attacks, on par with the Intelligence Community’s effort to hunt down Osama bin Laden.
Senate Intelligence Committee Chair Mark Warner [Dem – Va.] said that the lack of information about the alleged Havana Syndrome is very problematic.
“The fact that we still don’t know for sure who did it and how these attacks were carried out is very, very problematic, to say the least. We are, in a bipartisan way, absolutely on top of this.”
“I think that the administration, when they reach their conclusion, will lay that out. The challenge will be, when they lay it out — particularly if it’s a nation-state that originates this activity — what we do then is going to pose one of the most challenging policy choices for this administration to date.”
During the Annual Intelligence and National Security Summit (Sept. 14 2021), CIA Deputy Director David Cohen stated that:
“It’s real. It’s affecting our officers. It’s affecting others around the community, in government, and we’re going to figure it out.”
I have great doubt that the CIA (or the ODNI) will release a declassified report. I am looking forward to hearing what Secretary of State Antony Blinken may have to say about “What and who is behind these incidents.” Stay tuned!
U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken gives a speech on Modernizing American diplomacy — Automatic transcripts:
our embassy teams around the world are
still facing a dangerous pandemic
too many of our people have been
affected by the anomalous health
incidents that we continue to
i’ve met with colleagues around the
world who’ve been struck by these health
i’m deeply moved by what they’ve been
we will not spare any effort
to protect our people to make sure they
have access to the best care
and we will leave no stone unturned to
get to the bottom of what and who is
behind these incidents
and i’ll have more to say about that in
the next day
these incidents remind us that
being a diplomat
can be dangerous
and we must do everything we can to keep
and their families safe.
Havana Syndrome — Secretary of State Antony Blinken to make an important announcement… Or not.
Havana Syndrome — Secretary of State Antony Blinken to make an important announcement… Or not. [UPDATE : C.I.A. director meets with top Russia security adviser in Moscow]