When CIA Director Bill Burns traveled to India earlier this month a member of his team reported symptoms consistent with Havana syndrome and had to receive medical attention, according to three sources familiar with the matter.
According to the reports, the official has been provided with medical assistance. It was reported that some US officials have suggested that whoever was behind the incident was sending a direct message to Burns that even high-ranking CIA officials are vulnerable.
A CIA spokesperson told news agency Reuters that they do not comment on such specific incidents.
The incident set off alarm bells within the US government and left Burns “fuming” with anger, according to one of three sources cited by CNN. This is the first media report regarding a US official being afflicted by Havana syndrome in India.
Some CIA officials “viewed the chilling episode as a direct message to Burns that no one is safe, including those working directly for the nation’s top spy”, two sources told CNN.
“We don’t comment on specific incidents or officers. We have protocols in place for when individuals report possible anomalous health incidents that include receiving appropriate medical treatment,” a CIA spokesperson said. “We will keep doing everything we can to protect our officers.”
Burns and his team met National Security Adviser Ajit Doval and top members of the National Security Council Secretariat during the visit to India on September 7.
From India, the delegation traveled to Pakistan, where Burns met army chief Gen Qamar Bajwa. Burns’ visit to India was kept under tight wraps and there was no official word from both sides on the trip.
The India incident has raised questions about whether a foreign adversary had intentionally targeted the CIA director’s staff, but the sources said the agency is unclear what exactly could have caused it.
The case is one of a number of new incidents in recent months involving CIA personnel who have experienced what U.S. officials call “anomalous health incidents,” the sources said.
A CIA spokeswoman declined to confirm the case in India but said the U.S. government and the agency are taking every incident seriously.
The event marks the second time in less than a month that reported cases of the mysterious illness have impacted the international travel of top Biden administration officials. Last month Vice President Kamala Harris’s visit to Vietnam was slightly delayed when multiple US personnel reported symptoms consistent with the syndrome just ahead of her visit, and at least two of them had to be medevaced.
What is Havana Syndrome?
The first cases of the mysterious syndrome were detected in 2016 by members of the US diplomatic mission in Cuba and there have since been cases reported in Russia, China, Austria, and other countries across the globe.
Those who have suffered from the unknown disease reported experiencing various symptoms similar to a concussion, without being physically affected. The malaise includes hearing loss, nausea, headaches, and imbalance.
US agencies have not determined yet what causes the illness, considering a number of theories that vary from an unknown virus to “directed” microwave energies and foreign attacks.
President Joe Biden was recently updated on the overall situation — including the fact that there are more than 300 possible cases, the kind of medical support is provided to those impacted, and the investigation into the matter that is led by the intelligence community.
Over the summer the Director of National Intelligence, Avril Haines, launched the 100-day investigation into the “mechanism” behind the incidents, and efforts that could be taken to defend against the attacks. Putting a timeframe on it was part of an effort to drum up the intensity of the investigative effort, but the deadline could be extended if that is needed, sources said.
There are also other ongoing investigations by the US intelligence community focused on the question of the perpetrator behind the incidents, which the US government calls anomalous health incidents or AHIs, and what the US can do to defend against these incidents.
The US government is “pursuing multiple lines of effort” to investigate the Havana syndrome, a CIA spokesperson said. The spokesperson added that one of those efforts is led by ODNI and CIA officers as well as the outside scientific community to “to work collectively to increase our understanding of the possible mechanisms that could be causing AHIs.”
Since Biden took office his national security team has been keenly focused on probing the mysterious incidents and getting impacted US personnel the assistance they need.
Still, the incidents have continued to occur, leaving US diplomats and US intelligence officers on edge as they take on new assignments overseas.