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Defense secretary urges Pentagon employees to report any cases of "Havana Syndrome"

A new memo issued Wednesday by Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin urges all Pentagon employees and contractors to report suspected cases of "Havana Syndrome," the mysterious neurological illness that emerged years ago among U.S. personnel in Cuba.

The memo, which refers to the cases as "Anomalous Health Incidents," said that over the past several years, numerous department of defense employees had reported "a series of sudden and troubling sensory events" whose symptoms include headaches, nausea and loss of equilibrium.

The cases occurred "predominantly overseas," according to the memo, which urges those experiencing symptoms to "immediately" leave the area.  

"If you believe you have experienced a sensory event with the new onset of such symptoms, immediately remove yourself, coworkers, and/or family members from the area and report the incident and symptoms to your chain of command, security officer, and medical provider," Austin wrote.

Each incident will be investigated in order to help fully understand the nature of the incidents, according to the memo. 

More than 200 American officials, including diplomats and military personnel, are known to have been afflicted by the illness since its first cases were reported in 2016. Half of known incidents have occurred among U.S. intelligence officers, and dozens of new cases have been reported in 2021 alone.

A 2020 report by the National Academies of Science found "directed, pulsed, radiofrequency energy" was the most plausible explanation for the symptoms, which have been reported from all the populated continents, including on U.S. soil.

So far, the U.S. intelligence community has said it has not determined the cause of the incidents or whether a foreign actor is responsible. Informally, current and former officials have speculated the cases are the result of attempted intelligence collection by Russian government operatives using directed energy technology to gather information from electronic devices. But other governments, including those of China, Iran and Cuba are also among those suspected.

The Biden administration launched an intelligence review  months ago to evaluate possible patterns among suspected cases. Last month, Director of National Intelligence Avril Haines convened a top-level meeting of Cabinet officials and outside experts to review the government's efforts to date.

The CIA recently reinvigorated a task force charged with investigating the cases, appointing a senior officer who once led the agency's Counterterrorism Center and was a key part of the team involved in the hunt for Osama bin Laden to lead it. 

On Tuesday, CIA Deputy Director David Cohen said the agency has made some progress on identifying the cause of the incidents, but said no conclusions have been reached yet.

"In terms of whether we have gotten closer, I think the answer is 'yes,'" Cohen said, "but not close enough in order to make the sort of analytic judgment that I think people are waiting for." He spoke on a panel at the annual Intelligence and National Security Summit.

Cohen also said a recent incident reported in Vietnam that delayed travel there by Vice President Kamala Harris was part of a "mosaic" of evidence the agency wasevaluating.  

"We'll get there. I can't tell you whether it's going to be tomorrow or next week or six months from now, but this is a serious issue," Cohen said. "It's real. It's affecting our officers. It's affecting others around the community, in government, and we're going to figure it out."

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