U.S. Sen. Susan Collins said she was surprised by the CIA’s finding that foreign powers were unlikely to be behind mysterious symptoms known as “Havana Syndrome” that have afflicted diplomats and other American officials stationed across the world.
The findings came out of an investigation of hundreds of cases and cut against earlier assessments, including a 2020 National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine report saying the most likely scenario considered by experts was directed microwave energy.
Collins, a Republican from Maine, has been one of the most active members of Congress on the issue, sponsoring a bill signed by President Joe Biden in October aimed at improving care for U.S. officials reporting the symptoms in response to some being denied care at Walter Reed Medical Center in Washington.
Public servants have reported a confluence of symptoms including hearing grating noises for extended periods of time, followed by headaches, pressure in the head and ears, hearing and memory loss and nausea. Some — including a former Maine police officer who Collins wrote about in the Maine Sunday Telegram — have been treated for brain injuries.
The CIA review has found hundreds of cases that seem to be linked to medical conditions or environmental factors, including tumors or infections. A few dozen cases are still being investigated and foreign involvement has not been ruled out. The finding was criticized by advocates for afflicted officers who said it smacked of dismissing their problems.
American officials have suspected Russian intelligence was behind the alleged attacks, Politico reported in April. The Biden administration has been cautious in referring to them as “anomalous health incidents” instead of “attacks,” a word Collins and others have used. But the CIA’s new assessment ruled out a wide effort to attack U.S. personnel overseas.
Collins said Thursday she was “surprised by many of the CIA’s findings” after meeting with afflicted public servants, saying it was “difficult to reconcile the findings of the expert task force at the CIA with other evidence and testimony.” But she said the CIA has been attentive to the issue and the new law will improve care for victims regardless of the reasons for their illness.
In Berlin on Thursday, Secretary of State Antony Blinken said he was convinced officials had gone through “real experiences, real symptoms and real suffering.”
“And we are going to continue to do everything we can with all the resources we can bring to bear to understand, again, what happened, why, and who might be responsible,” he said.