South Asia and Beyond

Senior Pentagon Official Experienced ‘Havana Syndrome’ Symptoms at 2023 NATO Summit

The term "Havana syndrome" refers to a string of health problems dating back to 2016, when officials working at the U.S. Embassy in Havana, Cuba, reported sudden unexplained head pressure, head or ear pain, or dizziness.
 Senior Pentagon Official Experienced ‘Havana Syndrome’ Symptoms at 2023 NATO Summit

NATO headquarters, Brussels

The Pentagon has confirmed that a senior Defense Department official who attended last year’s NATO summit in Vilnius, Lithuania, experienced symptoms similar to those associated with the mysterious condition known as “Havana syndrome.” The revelation comes after a recent “60 Minutes” report suggested that Russia may be behind these incidents, one of which occurred during the 2023 NATO gathering.

“I can confirm that a senior DOD official experienced symptoms similar to those reported in anomalous health incidents,” said Pentagon Deputy press secretary Sabrina Singh. However, she refrained from identifying the official or providing details about potential medical treatment or retirement due to medical privacy concerns.

Singh clarified that the affected official was not part of Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin’s official traveling delegation to Vilnius but was present “separately, attending meetings that were part of the NATO summit.”

The term “Havana syndrome” refers to a string of health problems dating back to 2016, when officials working at the U.S. Embassy in Havana, Cuba, reported sudden unexplained head pressure, head or ear pain, or dizziness. The cause of these incidents is still under investigation, and Singh deferred questions about Russia’s potential involvement to the intelligence community.

In February, the Office of the Director of National Intelligence’s 2024 threat assessment stated that it was “unlikely” that a foreign adversary was responsible for causing these mysterious ailments. However, the assessment noted varying levels of confidence among U.S. intelligence agencies regarding this conclusion.

State Department spokesman Matthew Miller echoed this sentiment, stating, “It has been the broad conclusion of the intelligence community since March 2023 that is unlikely a foreign adversary is responsible for these anomalous health incidents.”
However, according to the investigation by The Insider, Der Spiegel, and CBS’s 60 Minutes, members of Russia’s secretive military intelligence unit 29155 may have targeted the brains of U.S. diplomats with “directed energy” weapons. Evidence suggests that members of this unit, which has been linked to incidents like the attempted poisoning of Sergei Skripal in the UK, were present in cities around the world at times when U.S. personnel reported Havana Syndrome incidents.

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While the cause remains uncertain, the Pentagon has established a registry for employees or dependents to report such incidents. However, a recent five-year study by the National Institutes of Health found no brain injuries or degeneration among U.S. diplomats and other government employees who had experienced Havana syndrome symptoms.

(With Inputs from AP)

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