The U.S. intelligence community has determined it was unlikely that a foreign adversary is responsible for a series of anomalous health incidents (AHI) plaguing intelligence and diplomatic staffers across the globe.
A review conducted by intelligence agencies for the Office of the Director of National Intelligence (ODNI) and released Wednesday probed a series of health incidents initially dubbed “Havana syndrome” after government employees first reported experiencing mysterious neurological ailments there in 2016.
But the review attributed those conditions to other factors and noted that intelligence agencies — with varying degrees of confidence — deemed it was unlikely that a U.S. adversary had such capabilities.
“Available intelligence consistently points against the involvement of U.S. adversaries in causing the reported incidents,” the report states.
“There is no credible evidence that a foreign adversary has a weapon or device that is causing AHIs.”
The review was conducted by several intelligence agencies that reached similar conclusions with varying degrees of confidence. A redacted report said that methods included attempts to identify “suspicious persons near indecent sites” or other patterns among those affected.
Mark Zaid, an attorney representing roughly two dozen people experiencing AHIs, dismissed the report, arguing that “absence of evidence is not evidence of absence.”
“Until the shrouds of secrecy are lifted and the analysis that led to today’s assertions are available and subject to proper challenge, the alleged conclusions are substantially worthless. But the damage it has caused to the morale of the victims, particularly by deflecting from the governments’ failure to evaluate all the evidence, is real and must be condemned,” Zaid said in a statement.
“It is inconceivable based on an overwhelming number of unanswered questions that today’s report will serve as the last word.”
It’s a complex challenge for the intelligence community and their champions in Congress, many of whom have lobbied for long-term care for those who suspect they were the victims of possible attacks.
In the years since the first reports, more than 1,000 government employees have stepped forward with complaints of symptoms ranging from vertigo, insomnia, nausea and intense headaches.
In some cases, victims have found the symptoms to be life-altering and have wracked up massive medical bills.
An initial intelligence community study of those who made complaints suggested that they could be the result of a “directed energy” weapon or microwaves. A review by the National Academies of Sciences reached a similar conclusion.
Wednesday’s report questioned the result of a preliminary health study from the National Institutes of Health noting that it did not find consistent symptoms and instead posited that the range of ailments could be due to “preexisting conditions, conventional illness, and environmental factors.”
The report stated that early theories about the illnesses “were not borne out by subsequent medical and technical analysis.”
“This shift is notable because the initial medical opinions formed a central part of the IC hypothesis that U.S. personnel had sustained injuries that were unlikely to be explained by natural or environmental factors,” it reads.
But other elements of the intelligence community sought to defend those experiencing symptoms.
“I want to be absolutely clear: These findings do not call into question the experiences and real health issues that US Government personnel and their family members — including CIA’s own officers — have reported while serving our country. As I have said before, as director, I have no more profound obligation than to take care of our people,” CIA chief Williams Burns said in a statement.
Still, he backed his agency’s contribution to the findings.
“We applied the agency’s very best operational, analytic, and technical tradecraft to what is one of the largest and most intensive investigations in the Agency’s history. I and my leadership team stand firmly behind the work conducted and the findings,” he said.
A bipartisan statement from both leaders on the House Intelligence Committee likewise stressed that the intelligence community cannot change its practice for responding to those who report symptoms.
“First, there can be no backsliding in the care and support we provide to our workforce. Congress enacted the HAVANA Act to expand benefits for those who have experienced AHIs, and we are closely monitoring that process to ensure it proceeds in accordance with the intent of the law,” committee Chairman Mike Turner (R-Ohio) and ranking member Rep. Jim Himes (D-Conn.) said in a joint statement.
“Second, there should be no change to processes established within the IC, the State Department, the Department of Defense, and elsewhere in the federal government to intake AHI reports, conduct the appropriate follow-on investigations, and direct individuals to care and support. Those who have come forward — as they were asked to do — should be treated with respect and they should be heard,” they added.
—Updated at 4:58 p.m.