Thursday, December 2, 2021

CIA Director Warns Russian Spies of “Fallout” If They Are Behind Havana Syndrome Incidents

WASHINGTON – CIA Director William Burns confidentially warned top Russian intelligence agencies that they would face “consequences” if they were to blame for a string of mysterious health incidents known as “Havana Syndrome” that plague American diplomats and spies around the world. according to the USA. officials are familiar with the exchange.

During a visit to Moscow this month, Burns raised the issue with the leadership of the Russian Federal Security Service, the FSB and the country’s Foreign Intelligence Service (SVR). He told them that causing serious brain damage and other debilitating illnesses to American personnel and their families would go beyond acceptable conduct for “professional intelligence,” officials said, speaking on condition of anonymity to discuss the delicate conversations in detail.

The warning did not blame for what US officials call “abnormal health problems” or AHI. The fact that Burns phrased the warning by saying “if” suggests that after four years of investigations by multiple administrations, the US government is still unable to determine the cause of the unusual incidents. Nonetheless, the director’s decision to communicate the possibility of Russian participation directly to his colleagues in Moscow underscored the CIA’s deep suspicions of the Kremlin’s guilt.

The CIA declined to comment on Burns’ warning to the Russians, which was not previously reported. The Russian Embassy in Washington did not respond to requests for comment.

Moscow has previously denied any involvement in the Havana Syndrome incidents, a phenomenon named after the Cuban capital, where US diplomats and intelligence officers first reported unusual and varied symptoms – from headaches and vision problems to dizziness and brain injuries – that began in 2016 year.

Officials said the main purpose of Burns’s trip to Moscow was to draw the Kremlin’s attention to the fact that Washington is observing a troop buildup on the border with Ukraine and will not tolerate a military attack on the country.

His appearance in Moscow at the behest of President Joe Biden was intended to convey the seriousness of Washington. The CIA chief – a former deputy secretary of state and ambassador to Russia – has performed some of the president’s most delicate missions, including high-level engagement with the Taliban since the takeover of Afghanistan.

The failure to pinpoint the cause of the health incidents has irritated members of Congress and infuriated American diplomats and intelligence officials, who claim to be suffering from the ailment.

The Biden administration has been keen to demonstrate that it takes these cases seriously and has urged federal government officials to report any potential health issues they may face. In recent months, two senior US officials have been replaced, who were accused of not taking the incidents seriously enough: the head of the CIA branch in Vienna, where dozens of American spies and diplomats announced the infection, and Ambassador Pamela Spratlen, the top official Department of State. observation of cases of Havana syndrome.

Following Spratlen’s departure, Secretary of State Anthony Blinken appointed Jonathan Moore, a career diplomat, to head the Medical Incident Response Task Force and another senior Foreign Service official, Margaret Uehara, to ensure that those affected by the disease receive medical attention.

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Burns has publicly called the incidents “attacks,” and some US officials suspect they are the work of Russian militants. Other officials associate them with psychogenic illness faced by people working under severe stress. Those who blame Russia speculate that it may use energy weapons to sore American personnel. Others noted that there was little evidence linking the use of energy weapons to the symptoms described.

In July, Burns appointed a senior CIA officer, who had played a leading role in the hunt for Osama bin Laden, to be in charge of a task force investigating the causes of illness.

In August, two US officials in Hanoi reported symptoms shortly before Vice President Kamala Harris arrived in the Vietnamese capital on an official diplomatic trip. Diagnostics delayed her visit by several hours.

In September, an intelligence officer traveling with Burns to India reported symptoms of Havana Syndrome and requested medical attention, current and former officials said. Some saw the incident as a signal to CIA leaders that they too could be targeted anywhere.

Over the past five years, more than 200 health incidents have been reported around the world, on all continents except Antarctica, but there is no clear pattern to explain them. In some cases, U.S. officials reported symptoms associated with Havana syndrome, but after further diagnosis, the ailments were linked to other factors, a senior administration official said.

The mysterious incidents sparked rare bipartisan support for the Havana Act, a bill Biden signed into law last month that creates a federal compensation program for American diplomats, intelligence officers and other officials with head injuries associated with Havana Syndrome.

“We will use all the resources of the US government to provide first-class medical care to the victims and to understand the causes of these incidents, including identifying the cause and the culprits,” Biden said at the signing. …

The Havana Syndrome mystery adds another layer of complexity to the U.S.-Russia relationship as the Biden administration tries to determine whether Moscow’s troop buildup along the Ukrainian border is a muscle or a preamble to a full-scale invasion of the country.

The administration is trying to reduce the escalation of the situation amid calls by Republicans to send additional military aid to Ukraine.

“We’re not entirely sure what Mr. Putin is up to,” Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin said last week.

Over the past several weeks, officials from the United States, Russia and Ukraine have established a flurry of diplomatic contacts. In addition to conversations with representatives of the FSB and SVR, Burns also called Russian President Vladimir Putin while in Moscow and met with the head of the Russian National Security Council Nikolai Patrushev. Blinken met with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy on the sidelines of the UN climate summit in Glasgow, Scotland this month, and a senior State Department official was recently posted to Kiev, Ukraine’s capital.

Shane Harris of the Washington Post contributed to this report.

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