The Public Needs To Know About The Invisible Attacks On Americans Abroad. Congress Can Help.

Oct. 25, 2020 at 6:00 a.m. CST

THE MYSTERY of invisible attacks on American diplomats and intelligence officers abroad has deepened — again. They began in Cuba and China, leaving U.S. officials with headaches, dizziness, blurred vision and memory loss after hearing strange noises and feeling odd sensations. What came to be known as Havana syndrome has now cropped up elsewhere and since. No one knows for sure who is responsible, but some evidence points to Russia. The time has come for more openness from the U.S. government — and more help for public servants injured in the line of duty.

Two news reports have disclosed the broader scope. In GQ magazine, Julia Ioffe recounts the harrowing experience of CIA officer Marc Polymeropoulos, who held a high-ranking position at headquarters. While on an official visit to Moscow in December 2017, he was nearly incapacited by something that hit him in his Moscow hotel room. Two senior CIA officials were hit while on a trip to Australia and Taiwan; one was among the agency’s top five officials. After last Thanksgiving, Ms. Ioffe reports, citing three sources, “a White House staffer was hit while walking her dog in Arlington, Virginia. . . . The staffer passed a parked van. A man got out and walked past her. Her dog started seizing up. Then she felt it too: a high-pitched ringing in her ears, an intense headache, and a tingling on the side of her face.”

In the second account, the New York Times reported several of the CIA officers were traveling overseas to discuss countering Russian operations with partner agencies. While some CIA analysts believe Moscow was trying to derail that work, Director Gina Haspel is reportedly unconvinced. Ms. Ioffe reports that Ms. Haspel challenged the findings of an internal agency probe that pointed to Russia’s security services, and has not taken the matter to President Trump, perhaps because of his inexplicable and damaging affinity for Russian President Vladimir Putin. Secretary of State  said on Oct. 21 that investigations had produced only incomplete analysis and theories.


The cause of the attacks is unknown, but attention has focused on some sort of directed energy device, such as a microwave.

Sen. Jeanne Shaheen (D-N.H.), who championed legislation passed by Congress to provide care, leave and benefits to State Department officials and family members hit in Cuba and China, is properly seeking to expand it to include all U.S. government officials affected. Meanwhile, the senator and other leading members of the Senate Foreign Relations and Appropriations committees have asked the National Academy of Sciences for a report commissioned by the State Department and completed some months ago into the attacks. The report, still under review at State, was prepared by Stanford University microbiologist David Relman, who told GQ he is frustrated that it hasn’t been made public.

This mystery could — and should — be less mysterious. Congress must have the Relman report and should make it public. That is the first of many steps still needed to identify the perpetrators, protect Americans abroad and respond properly.


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