State Department appoints new leader for 'Havana Syndrome' task force

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Secretary of State Antony Blinken on Friday appointed new leadership to the task force probing “Havana syndrome” cases which increasingly afflict U.S. diplomats around the globe.

He tapped a high-ranking deputy, Jonathan Moore, to head up the Health Incident Response Task Force (HIRTF) that is investigating the mysterious and debilitating illness that the government refers to as “anomalous health incidents.”

“All of us in the U.S. government, and especially we at the State Department are intently focused on getting to the bottom of what and who is causing these incidents, caring for those who have been affected, and caring for our people,” Mr. Blinken said.

The task force is investigating a growing number of reported cases by U.S. personnel around the world and whether they are caused by exposure to microwaves or other forms of directed energy. People affected have reported headaches, dizziness, nausea, and other symptoms consistent with traumatic brain injuries.

When the incidents first began being reported, many victims said their cases were dismissed by leadership at the State Department and CIA, and that the government denied them access to medical treatment for the symptoms. In some cases, the victims were forced to end their service due to the injuries they sustained.

Some estimate that more than 200 officials have been targeted in the attacks, which have affected officials from the State Department, the Defense Department and the CIA.

Since the initial diagnoses in 2016, the number of U.S. officials around the globe reporting symptoms, including on U.S. soil, has continued to swell.

Messrs. Blinken and Moore on Friday reemphasized the State Department’s focus on providing care for officials and family members impacted by the mysterious incidents.

“The task force and I believe and respect those who come forward in reporting incidents, and will be relentless in our efforts to provide them the care that they need just as we take measures to educate and protect our broader workforce,” Mr. Moore said. “Every report will be taken seriously by me, our health and security professionals, and the leadership of the department.

Mr. Moore served most recently as a senior foreign service officer in the Bureau of Oceans and International Environmental and Scientific Affairs. He has also served as principal deputy assistant secretary for International Organization Affairs, where he oversaw health, environment, science and technology policy regarding the United Nations.

He replaces Pamela Spratlen, who oversaw the task force for six months before departing in September. Mr. Blinken also announced that Ambassador Margaret Uyehara will lead the task force’s Care Coordination Team designed to support affected State Department employees.

Mrs. Uyehara has also served in various roles throughout as a career Foreign Service Officer.

The Biden administration has ramped up efforts to treat those with the mysterious symptoms, which a National Academy of Sciences report from December said, “are consistent with the effects of directed, pulsed radiofrequency energy.”

Congress, too, has stepped up its efforts, passing legislation that President Biden signed into law this month to provide financial assistance to victims.

But as for definitively pinning down the source and who may be responsible, the U.S. officially remains baffled. Senior officials commonly refer to the episodes as “anomalous health incidents,” rather than referring to them as attacks, to the chagrin of some in Congress.

Mr. Blinken reaffirmed on Friday the State Department’s intent to get to the bottom of the incidents.

“We’re working tirelessly with partners across the government to identify what is causing these incidents and to learn who is responsible,” he said. “This is an urgent priority for President Biden, for me, for our entire government. And we will do absolutely everything we can, leaving no stone unturned to stop these occurrences as swiftly as possible.

“I want to assure you that we’re pursuing every possible lead and sparing no resources, including when it comes to protecting personnel throughout the world,” he said.

This story is based in part on wire service reports.

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