SFRC Senators Express “Concern” to @SecBlinken For @StateDept’s Handling of #HavanaSyndrome

 

In a letter to Secretary Blinken, Senators from the Senate Foreign Relations Committee writes We believe this threat deserves the highest level of attention from the State Department, and remain concerned that the State Department is not treating this crisis with the requisite senior-level attention that it requires. “
Also that the Senators continue to hear concerns that the Department is not sufficiently communicating with or responding to diplomats  who have been injured from these attacks. We are also concerned that the Department is insufficiently engaged in interagency efforts to find the cause of these attacks, identify those responsible, and develop a plan to hold them accountable. “
The Senators urged a replacement for Ambassador Spratlen imediately:
“We urge you to immediately announce a successor to Ambassador Spratlen to lead the Department’s Health Incident Response Task Force. Critically, this post must be a senior-level official that reports directly to you. It is incumbent that this individual has the experience to engage effectively with affected individuals and with the interagency. As you know, pending bipartisan legislation in the Senate would require the Secretary to designate an agency coordinator for AHIs who reports directly to you. We ask that you take this step now to demonstrate that the State Department does take this matter seriously, and is coordinating an appropriate agency-level response.”
Finally, the senators write, We wish to support the State Department and U.S. personnel through every means possible, and to support the Department in effectively addressing this national security threat. We look forward to receiving your response, and to your heightened engagement on this issue.”
The letter is available to read here.
The State Department has a response from the podium but we’ll save you the anguish of having to read the same thing all over again.
Just yesterday, we got another email in our inbox that says “Those DPB comments are utter bullshit.”
The spox did say that “… we want to make sure that those who have come forward are getting the care that they need. And I can give you quite a bit in terms of what our Bureau of Medical Services has done, including since January of this year, to ensure that those who come forward are getting that care.”
But …. but… how are they getting the care they need?
If folks can’t even get an email response from MED except for a form email?
At least there’s a form email, right?
But that feeling when you’re worried you may have a brain injury and you get a form email — apparently, that does not generate a warm feeling of WE’RE HERE FOR YOU, WE CARE.
The senators are right to remain concerned. Foggy Bottom typically responds to a few external pressures — the courts, the press, and yes, attentiveness from the Congress.

 

Related post:

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#HavanaSyndrome at U.S. Embassy Bogotá: Who should be in the business of confirming these incidents?

 

Via Daily Press briefing, October 12, 2021:
QUESTION: … And can you confirm the Havana syndrome cases or deny it, or just address that in Colombia embassy in Bogotá, in U.S. Embassy in Bogotá?
MR PRICE:  …. When it comes to Havana syndrome, you will probably not be surprised to hear me say we are not in the business of confirming reports. But —
QUESTION: But I don’t understand, why are you not in the business of confirming reports? This is squarely about State Department personnel. These are happening at U.S. embassies. Who should be in the business of confirming these incidents?
MR PRICE: We are in the business of, number one, believing those who have reported these incidents, ensuring that they get the prompt care they need in whatever form that takes, whether that is at post, whether that is back here in the Washington, D.C. area. We are in the business of doing all we can to protect our workforce and the broader chief of mission community around the world.
QUESTION: So have they reported in Bogota U.S. embassy?
MR PRICE: I’m sorry?
QUESTION: Have they reported – like, are you doing all of those things for U.S. embassy in Bogota?
MR PRICE: We are doing this everywhere an anomalous health incident is reported. But we are also doing things universally, and we are communicating with our workforce. We are instituting new training modules to ensure that outgoing State Department officers know how to detect a potential anomalous health incident, they know how to report a potential anomalous health incident, they know who – to whom to turn should they need to report it, they know the type of assistance that they can receive. Their families are apprised of these dynamics as well. And as you know, the Secretary has had an opportunity to meet with some of those who have reported AHIs.
There is no higher priority that the Secretary has to the health, the safety, the security of our workforce. I’ve said this before, but even before he was Secretary of State, one of the briefings he proactively requested as the nominee for the office he now holds during the transition was a comprehensive briefing on so-called Havana syndrome or anomalous health incidents. He wanted to make sure he entered this job understanding where we were and what we had done, and importantly, what this department could do better to support our workforce at all levels. And we have taken a number of steps, including in terms of communication, in terms of care, in terms of detection, in terms of protection for our workforce, and that is something that will continue to be a priority for the Secretary.
Francesco.
QUESTION: Just to follow up on that, it was this building that (inaudible) spoke about those cases in Havana and then in China. Why aren’t you confirming for the sake of transparency where there are cases reported – if they are Havana syndrome or not, it’s another thing, but where there are reported incidents, why aren’t you doing that? And then I have another question on Cuba protest.
MR PRICE: So in many cases it is a matter of privacy of individuals, wanting to respect privacy. But let me just make clear that when cases have been reported, our posts overseas have communicated that clearly to the community within the embassy. We have also engaged – Brian McKeon has engaged with posts that have reported a number of anomalous health incidents. So it is not – certainly not – the case that we are ignoring this. We are just not speaking to the press, we’re speaking to our workforce, as you might expect when it comes to a matter of their health and safety and security.
GRRRR! STOP THAT BROKEN RECORD!
Excuse me, was I loud? That’s nice that they value the privacy of individuals.
Requesting a confirmation of reported cases at one post does not require that the State Department released the names of the affected individuals. Did it happen there or not? So how does that actually compromises employees’ privacy?
And while we’re on the subject of “when cases have been reported” … how many emails do employees need to send to how many entities within State/MED –MEDMR? MEDHART? MEDFART? MEDFUCKIT– before anyone get the courtesy of a response?
We regret to say this but there’s no shortage of opportunities for Foggy Bottom to disappoint these days.
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Havana Syndrome: Did the NSA Say It Was Crickets, Too, in 2014?

2016-2018 (JASON Report Released via FOIA)
JASON report: “Acoustic Signals and Physiological Effect on U.S. Diplomats in Cuba”

2020 (Report Released by National Academy of Sciences)
An Assessment of Illness in U.S. Government Employees and Their Families at Overseas Embassies

2016-2019 (Released via FOIA in 2019)

“Cuba Unexplained Events Investigation—Final Report: Havana, Cuba, August 2016 to March 2019,”

2018: JAMA

Neurological Manifestations Among US Government Personnel Reporting Directional Audible and Sensory Phenomena in Havana, Cuba

2014 (NSA Case)

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HAVANA Act of 2021 Passes Congress, Heads to President Biden’s Desk

 

We blogged about the Havana Act in August 2021 (see Helping American Victims Afflicted by Neurological Attacks Act of 2021 Awaits Passage in the House, You Can Help). On September 21, the House unanimously passed legislation in a 427-0 vote to compensate USG employees who experienced traumatic brain injuries while serving in Cuba, China and other locations, also known as the Havana Syndrome. The U.S. Senate passed the HAVANA Act in June. The bill now heads to the White House for President Biden’s signature.

Blinken’s #HavanaSyndrome Meeting, Also Spratlen is Out as Task Force Advisor

 

On September 3, we blogged about the Havana Syndrome again: Blinken Talks the Talk on Unexplained Health Incidents, Where’s the Walk? #HavanaSyndrome.
On September 21, NBC News reported that Secretary Blinken finally did meet with diplomats who were afflicted with the  Havana Syndrome mystery illness. It did not go very well, did it?
Via NBC News:

“It’s just incredibly sad. It’s the worst part of bureaucracy,” one of the diplomats said, describing the call as “identical to so many other phone calls” where they’re told about protocols in place to ensure proper treatment. “It’s so maddening because those protocols aren’t in place — not the way they think they are.”
[…]
A senior State Department official, responding to questions about Blinken’s call with the diplomats, acknowledged that there’s “frustration” among the group about a perceived stigma or lack of empathy by their colleagues, but said it did not extend to those at the top.

“That’s certainly not the case with the secretary and the senior leadership,” the official said in an interview. “Everyone is taking it seriously as a real issue that is affecting people who are experiencing real symptoms.”

Which members of the senior leadership is the SDO official talking about?

Diplomats told NBC News they were dismayed that Ambassador Pamela Spratlen, tapped by the Biden administration to oversee the State Department’s response, declined to conclusively rule out the mass hysteria theory.
[…]
One diplomat on the call described that response as “invalidating and inconsiderate.” Another said that Spratlen was “very clearly saying that she has not ruled out that we’re crazy.”  “In the end, we were interrupting Spratlen to try to get people in” to speak, a third diplomat on the call said. “It was ugly.”

Folks, if they’re talking about protocols in place that aren’t in place almost seven months after Blinken took office, then one can’t help but agree that Secretary Blinken is treating this “as an afterthought” as per former Senior CIA official Marc Polymeropoulos.
Another reason why we agree? Ambassador Spratlen who was appointed as Senior Advisor to the Havana Syndrome Task Force back in March is reportedly leaving after six months on the job. “The State Department says she’d reached her threshold of allowed labor hours under her status as a retiree.
Well, dammit! So Foggy Bottom did not know that she’s going to max out on her allowed labor hours? Excuse me, did they think this job is going to be done after 950 hours on the job? (Also see Havana Syndrome Questions @StateDept Refuses to Answer). Note that State Department’s re-employed annuitant employees can work no more than 1,040 hours during their appointment year.
McClatchy says that Blinken “considers choosing her [Spratlen’s] replacement an important decision, a senior State Department official said.
“The secretary has been seized with this issue even before he became secretary,” the official said. “One of the meetings he proactively requested before the transition was on this issue.”
Oh holymoly guacamole, give it a rest PR people! This is an old, old tired trick, even an old dog would not pick up this stick!
Frankly, this is  getting to be so exhausting! Look. The fact of the matter is it doesn’t matter if Secretary Blinken requested “proactively” a meeting on the Havana Syndrome issue BEFORE the transition.
In fact, the next State Department official to bring up Blinken’s request for a Havana Syndrome briefing before the transition should be promptly fired for persistently living in the past.
What matters is — what Blinken is doing about this issue NOW.

UHI in the News: ‘Havana Syndrome’ and the Mystery of the Microwaves

 

More clips about the unexplained health incidents (also known as Havana Syndrome) from BBC, an interview with retired CIA officer with PRI, and another case reported from the Canadian Foreign Service where “A high-ranking Canadian diplomat in Cuba was flown home for assessment this year after experiencing an attack consistent with Havana syndrome.”
Via BBC:

“This is not Havana syndrome. It’s a misnomer,” argues Mr Zaid, whose clients were affected in many locations. “What’s been going on has been known by the United States government probably, based on evidence that I have seen, since the late 1960s.”

Since 2013, Mr Zaid has represented one employee of the US National Security Agency who believed they were damaged in 1996 in a location which remains classified.

Mr Zaid questions why the US government has been so unwilling to acknowledge a longer history. One possibility, he says, is because it might open a Pandora’s Box of incidents that have been ignored over the years. Another is because the US, too, has developed and perhaps even deployed microwaves itself and wants to keep it secret.

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Related posts

 

 

Blinken Talks the Talk on Unexplained Health Incidents, Where’s the Walk? #HavanaSyndrome

 

During the August 18 State Department Press Briefing, a reporter asked about the Unexplained Health Incidents  (UHI) also known as the Havana Syndrome that was reported at the US Mission in Germany. Below is the exchange:

QUESTION: Can you – one non-Afghan question, please? I – thank you. I’m seeing reports that there are some cases of Havana – so-called Havana Syndrome in Berlin, at the embassy in Berlin. Can you speak to that? Are you aware of it? What is the State Department doing to protect its staff?

MR PRICE: So, I am – I have seen these reports, of course. This is something that we vigorously investigate, the so-called anomalous health incidents or unexplained health incidents in coordination with our partners across the government. Any employees who have reported a possible unexplained health incident, they have received immediate and appropriate attention and care.

These health incidents I can tell you have been a top priority for Secretary Blinken. I think I mentioned this before, but he proactively requested two sets of briefings during the transition. This was one of them, because even before he was Secretary of State, he wanted to know precisely what we knew, what this department knew at the time, and what we were doing to respond to this.

He has set clear goals for what we call here the Health Incident Response Task Force to – number one, to strengthen the communication with our workforce, of course, to provide care for affected employees and their family members, and to do what we can to protect against these incidents working together with the interagency, and, of course, to find the cause of what has been afflicting these members of our team. He noted to the workforce – I guess it was a couple weeks ago now – that there is nothing that we take more seriously than the health of our workforce.

And that’s why there is a major effort underway in this department, there is a major effort underway across the interagency to determine the cause and to, of course, provide the level of care, the level of communication, the level of feedback that our employees need and deserve. This is a priority. Ambassador Spratlen, as you know, the – Secretary Blinken named her as the head of the task force. She works very closely with the Deputy Secretary for Management and Resources Brian McKeon on this. They are working very closely in turn with Secretary Blinken. We’ll continue to do that. We’ll continue to work with our interagency partners to ensure that our employees, both those who have been affected by this have what they need, and those who are serving around the world, that we’re doing everything we can to ensure their safety.

***

NBC News subsequently reported that at least two U.S. diplomats will be medevaced from Vietnam due to UHI which occurred on the weekend ahead of Vice President Kamala Harris’ visit.
The State Department spox has previously mentioned on March 12, and again on July 19, that this is a top priority for Secretary Blinken and that the secretary has requested briefings regarding these incidents even during the transition.
One employee who was injured in these unexplained health incidents recently told this blog: “He has utterly failed in basic leadership 101 on this issue.”
The employee was referring to Secretary Blinken.
On August 2, a CNN headline blares “Havana Syndrome stokes fear and frustration among diplomats over response from State Department.

…frustration is rising among rank-and-file staffers and diplomats over what multiple officials say has been a tepid response by the department. Of particular concern is a lack of information from leadership, including what some say has been a hands-off approach from Secretary of State Tony Blinken who has yet to meet with any of the State Department victims despite saying he would prioritize the incidents.

On August 5, Secretary Blinken sent a memo to State Department employees saying in part “What I can tell you is that this is a top priority for me, the State Department, and leaders across the U.S. government.” CNN’s Natasha Bertrand tweeted that memo the same day.
Obviously, the Blinken memo to the troops was not a coincidence but a reaction to the CNN report three days earlier.
So the top leadership in Foggy Bottom is sensitive to media splashes, who knew? But managing perception can only go so far. How many more times can Secretary Blinken claim this as a “top priority” for him without ever meeting the victims of these incidents? Or addressing his employees directly in a town hall, for that matter? August 26 was the 6-month anniversary of his assumption as secretary of state; he’s no longer in the transition phase.
Folks might ask, but does Secretary Blinken really have to meet these people though? Or does he really need to meet anxious employees shipping out overseas where they and their loves ones could potentially be subjected to similar attacks? Why can’t Deputy Secretary Brian McKeon just talk to these folks? Mr. McKeon, after all, is the Deputy Secretary for Management and Resources.
Yes, Virginia. Secretary Blinken really do need to meet with his people and we’ll tell you why. Because Brian McKeon is not the Secretary of State. That’s why.
It is alleged also that the State Department is “withholding so much unclassified info” related to these attacks that often employees only hear things from the media; they aren’t hearing relevant information directly from State.
But .. but .. there’s Afghanistan, and Haiti, and Russia, and Ukraine, Eswatini, China …. on and on and on …. it never stops.
If Secretary Blinken is waiting for a break from foreign headaches and chaos before dealing with these serious concerns within the ranks, his staff could be waiting forever, y’all.
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Helping American Victims Afflicted by Neurological Attacks Act of 2021 Awaits Passage in the House, You Can Help

The HAVANA Act of 2021 or the Helping American Victims Afflicted by Neurological Attacks Act of 2021 passed/agreed to in Senate without amendment by Unanimous Consent on 6/7/21.

Summary: This bill specifically authorizes the Central Intelligence Agency, the Department of State, and other agencies to provide payments to agency personnel who incur brain injuries from hostilities while on assignment.

Specifically, the bill allows agency personnel and their families to receive payments for brain injuries that are incurred (1) during a period of assignment to a foreign or domestic duty station; (2) in connection with war, insurgency, hostile acts, terrorist activity, or other agency-designated incidents; and (3) not as the result of willful misconduct.

The bill’s authority applies to injuries incurred before, on, or after the date of the bill’s enactment. Agencies must submit classified reports on the bill’s implementation, including the number of payments made and the amount of each payment.

Since 2016, some intelligence, diplomatic, and other governmental personnel have reported experiencing unusual cognitive and neurological impairments while on assignment (particularly abroad), the source of which is currently under investigation. Symptoms were first reported by personnel stationed in Cuba and have since been collectively referred to as Havana Syndrome.

S.1828 Havana Act of 2021 was introduced by Sen. Collins, Susan M. [R-ME] on 05/25/2021. It has 19 senators as co-sponsors.
Section 3 of S.1828 provides the authority to pay personnel of the Department of State for certain injuries of the brain.
The Act requires mandatory classified reporting for a budget/spend plan for the use of the authority detailing total amount expended, number of covered employees, dependents and individuals to whom payments were made, and amount provided. It also requires an assessment of “whether additional authorities are required to ensure that covered dependents, covered employees and covered individuals can receive payments for qualifying injuries, such as a qualifying injury to the back or heart.”
A companion bill H.R.3356 – HAVANA Act of 2021 was introduced in the House by Rep. Schiff, Adam B. [D-CA-28] on 5/19/21. It has 22 co-sponsors as of this writing.
Similarly, Section 3 of H.R.3356 provides the authority to pay State Department personnel for certain injuries.
The House version also provides the following:

“(A) IN GENERAL.—The Secretary or other agency head described in paragraph (1) that provides payment under such paragraph shall prescribe regulations to carry out this subsection.

“(B) ELEMENTS.—The regulations prescribed under subparagraph (A) shall include regulations detailing fair and equitable criteria for payment under paragraph (1).

“(4) NO EFFECT ON OTHER BENEFITS.—Payments made under paragraph (1) are supplemental to any other benefit furnished by the United States Government for which a covered dependent, dependent of a former employee, covered employee, former employee, or covered individual is entitled, and the receipt of such payments may not affect the eligibility of such a person to any other benefit furnished by the United States Government.”.

GovTrack currently has a 38% chance for this bill to get enacted. It needs to pass the Committee, the House, then the Senate (bill needs to be in identical form) and then signed by the President to become law.
You can help by contacting your Congressional Representatives and urging them to pass H.R. 3356.

 

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New Havana Syndrome Hotspots — U.S. Embassies in Germany and Austria

 

 

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Related posts

 

 

@NewYorker: Vienna Is the New Havana Syndrome Hotspot

Thank you to over 500 readers and supporters who made our continued operation possible this year. Raising funds for a small outlet that is already open and free for all to read has often been the most challenging part of running  this blog. We are grateful for your continued support and well wishes. Gracias — DS

 

Via New Yorker:
Since Joe Biden took office about two dozen U.S. intelligence officers, diplomats, and other government officials in Vienna have reported experiencing mysterious afflictions similar to the Havana Syndrome. U.S. officials say the number of possible new cases in the Austrian capital—long a nexus of U.S. and Russian espionage—is now greater than the number reported by officials in any city except for Havana itself, where the first cases were reported.
[…]
The first possible syndrome case in Vienna was reported a couple of months after Biden’s Inauguration. That case and subsequent ones were reported to officials in Washington soon after they occurred. But the Biden Administration decided not to announce the Vienna outbreak—officials were concerned that any public disclosure about the cases would hamper ongoing U.S. intelligence and law-enforcement investigations, which are still under way in Vienna. The Austrian Embassy in Washington declined to comment on the cluster of cases.
CNN quotes a State Department spox:
“In coordination with our partners across the U.S. Government, we are vigorously investigating reports of possible unexplained health incidents (UHI) among the U.S. Embassy Vienna community or wherever they are reported,” a State Department spokesperson said. “Any employees who reported a possible UHI received immediate and appropriate attention and care.”
On May 25, 2021 U.S. government workers and their spouses who say they were injured by Havana Syndrome sent a letter to Deputy Secretary of State Brian McKeon (via NBC)

 

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