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 (December 3 2021) — According to a piece [Review Finds No Answers to Mystery of Havana Syndrome] published by The New York Times, C.I.A. officers and government scientists have found no evidence pointing to a particular adversary and no one has detected microwaves or other possible weapons.
“Intelligence officials have not found any hard evidence that points to a cause. There are no intelligence intercepts implicating an adversarial spy service. No one has detected microwaves, other readings of energy pulses or any other weapons that could be to blame. (…)
The trouble developing evidence shows the difficulty of the problem, and suggests that absent a big breakthrough — evidence of someone using a device or an informant telling the C.I.A. about what is afoot — getting answers will be a slow, frustrating and potentially contentious process, especially for those who have been afflicted.”
There have now been 750 official reports. About three-quarters are no longer being investigated as likely cases of Havana syndrome. Approximately 200 cases are still under active examination.
As always… “Absence of evidence is not evidence of absence.” Yet, as Ken Dilanian wrote a few days ago:
“it is hard to imagine that a secret Russian program to harm U.S. spies and diplomats could go completely undetected by the $80 billion U.S. intelligence apparatus, which is regularly hacking Russian communications, conducting surveillance of Russian officers and recruiting Russians to spy for the U.S.”
So, where do we stand? Whenever you hear that the CIA has found no evidence, you are left with three possibilities.
The first is that the evidence simply does not exist. Of course, this does not always stop them, but that is another story…
The second possibility is that they are not capable of finding the evidence. It is certainly worrisome but hardly implausible.
The third possibility is that they have solved the mystery of the Havana Syndrome, and they do not want to name the culprit. If you had to bet, where would you put the money?
END of UPDATE
UPDATE (November 26 2021) — During his visit to Moscow earlier this month [See update of November 3 2021], CIA director William Burns raised the issue of the ‘Havana Syndrome’ with the leadership of Russia’s Federal Security Service, the FSB, and the country’s Foreign Intelligence Service, the SVR. Maybe…
According to a source quoted by The Washington Post [CIA director warns Russian spies of ‘consequences’ if they are behind ‘Havana Syndrome’ incidents], Burns told them that causing U.S. personnel and their family members to suffer severe brain damage and other debilitating ailments would go beyond the bounds of acceptable behavior for a “professional intelligence service.”
“The warning did not assign blame for what U.S. officials are calling ‘anomalous health incidents,” or AHIs.
The fact that Burns formulated the warning by saying ‘if’ suggests that after four years of investigations across multiple administrations, the U.S. government remains unable to determine a cause of the unusual incidents.
Nevertheless, the director’s decision to raise the possibility of Russian involvement directly to his counterparts in Moscow underscored the deep suspicion the CIA has of Kremlin culpability.”
Denial from Moscow — Yesterday, responding to the report by The Washington Post, the Kremlin said Russia had nothing to do with the so-called ‘Havana Syndrome’.
“Here we can only firmly deny any hints, suggestions or statements about the supposed involvement of the Russian side in these cases. We don’t have anything to do with this,” Kremlin spokesperson Dmitry Peskov said.
In the wake of the “Steele Dossier” fiasco, one would think that The Washington Post would think twice before quoting anonymous sources from the U.S. intelligence community.
One would be wrong. Kremlin spokesperson Dmitry Peskov said the issue of the ‘Havana Syndrome’ had not been discussed neither in the meetings during the CIA director’s trip nor during the call with President Vladimir Putin.
One sentence of The Washington Post story caught my attention.
“In July, Burns placed a senior CIA officer who played a leading role in the hunt for Osama bin Laden in charge of the task force investigating the cause of the illnesses.”
The reader familiar with this blog will notice that each time MSM mention the boss of the CIA Task Force, the person is described as having played a different role in the hunt of Bin Laden.
At first, this unidentified CIA person was described by William Burns as “a very experienced and accomplished senior officer who, a decade ago, led the successful hunt for bin Laden.” [This was transparent nonsense from the start.]
Then CBS reported that the boss of the CIA Havana Syndrome Task Force is a man who — a decade ago — led the CIA’s Counterterrorism Center. [This cannot be true.]
Next, this person was described as someone who played a leading role in the hunt for Osama bin Laden. [This is a vague statement.]
And in the most recent piece by REUTERS [FBI calls dealing with ‘Havana Syndrome’ a top priority], this person is “a career undercover spy who participated in the search that led to the killing of al Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden.” [This can describe about anyone who worked at the CIA during these years.]
This kind of inaccuracy tends to make this old man very suspicious of what is really going on inside the CIA ‘Havana Syndrome’ Task Force? Are they even trying to solve this case?
The FBI said on Wednesday that dealing with the issue of “anomalous health incidents” – widely known as Havana Syndrome – is a top priority and that it will keep investigating the cause and how to protect staff. [REUTERS]
“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 agency 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.”
“The FBI takes all U.S. government personnel who report symptoms seriously,” the FBI statement said.
According to a U.S. government source quoted by Reuters, “U.S. Intelligence agencies do not currently have a solid view of the syndrome’s cause.”
Let me translate this statement in plain English… It reads: “U.S. Intelligence agencies do not have a clue about who, or what, is causing the Havana syndrome.”
Allow me to say it once again… The ODNI, the CIA and the FBI are well aware that American people will soon be asking why the U.S. spends $85 billion annually on an intelligence community that cannot answer a basic question. General Hayden is right. “You gotta get something for your money.”
Leaking false information to The Times and The Post is not helping to solve the case.
END of UPDATE
UPDATE (November 5 2021) — State Department deploys new technology to U.S. missions around the world — On Friday, Secretary of State Antony Blinken spoke about efforts to investigate Havana syndrome.
“All of us in the U.S. government, and especially with the State Department, are intently focused on getting to the bottom of what and who is causing these incidents, caring for those who have been affected and protecting our people,” Blinken said.
Blinken confirmed that the State Department has deployed ‘new technology’ to U.S. missions around the world to help understand the cause.
Blinken also announced that he just named two new officials to coordinate Washington’s response to so-called Havana Syndrome health incidents that have affected U.S. diplomats and officials overseas.
Ambassador Jonathan Moore will serve as coordinator of the department’s Health Incident Response Task Force and Ambassador Margaret Uyehara will lead a team supporting affected employees.
“This is an urgent priority for President Biden, for me, for our entire government,” Blinken said.
Secretary of State Antony Blinken delivers remarks on ‘Havana Syndrome’ (11/5/21)
END of UPDATE
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]
Havana Syndrome — Secretary of State Antony Blinken to make an important announcement… Or not. [UPDATE : State Department deploys new technology to U.S. missions around the world]
Havana Syndrome — Secretary of State Antony Blinken to make an important announcement… Or not. [UPDATE : CIA director warns Russian spies of consequences! Seriously?]
Havana Syndrome — Secretary of State Antony Blinken to make an important announcement… Or not. [UPDATE : CIA Review Finds No Evidence]