60 Minutes report says 'Havana Syndrome' linked to Russian spy unit

The 60 Minutes report indicates that Russian Military Intelligence Unit 29155 is likely responsible for the attacks, but US intelligence has ruled out a foreign role.

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A former senior CIA officer who was forced to retire due to a brain injury caused by a Suspected “Havana Syndrome” attack It called for congressional hearings after a new report linked Russia to mysterious neurological symptoms that have plagued American diplomats and spies for nearly a decade.

The report comes just over a year after the US intelligence community concluded that it was “unlikely that a foreign adversary was responsible” for the sometimes debilitating headaches, dizziness, memory loss and ringing in the ears reported by dozens of US personnel.

“It's not conclusive, but the Russians are certainly involved,” former intelligence officer Mark Polymeropoulos told USA TODAY in response to the new report. Polymeropoulos has become a public face and advocate for current and former US officials who say they suffer from Havana Syndrome.

“How do you reconcile that with Analytical evaluationHe asked: “Belittling the importance of hostile foreign parties.” “It makes absolutely no sense.”

more: VP Kamala Harris' visit to Vietnam has been delayed due to a possible case of Havana Syndrome

Joint investigation By “60 Minutes” Senior members of Unit 29155 of Russia's GRU military intelligence agency have received awards and promotions for their work on developing “non-lethal acoustic weapons,” Latvia-based news website The Insider and German news magazine Der Spiegel reported on Sunday. “

The report refers to attacks launched by Russian intelligence against American diplomatic personnel and their families, attacks that the victims claimed had occurred a long time ago. US intelligence officers who served in Kiev in 2014 — as Ukraine and the United States moved closer to each other and Russia first began seizing territory in eastern Ukraine — appeared to have been tracked down and targeted in subsequent postings, reports said.

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CIA Deputy Director William Burns was reportedly evacuated from India in 2021 during a similar attack.

American personnel in Cuba, China, Vietnam, Germany and elsewhere have reported a similar set of symptoms. These individuals included members of a team that traveled to Vietnam ahead of Vice President Kamala Harris' visit in August 2021. Harris' landing in Hanoi was delayed as security officials worked to ensure she could land safely.

What is Havana syndrome?

The strange symptoms reported by US personnel have been described as “anomalous health incidents”, but are generally known as “Havana Syndrome”, because they first gained fame among US diplomats in Cuba in 2016.

Officials reported headaches, nausea, dizziness and pain. Then reports emerged of similar unexplained symptoms among American diplomats and spies in China.

While these accidents left victims with lasting symptoms of concussions and other brain trauma, scans showed minimal signs of injury, although doctors for some victims reported unexplained damage to the bones of the inner ear.

more: US intelligence community concludes it is 'highly unlikely' foreign adversaries caused 'Havana Syndrome'

Some researchers suggested that Havana Syndrome was akin to mass hysteria – a cluster of brain injuries caused by fear of an attack.

Two National Institutes of Health reports published in March found that “There is no radical difference“When MRI brain images of 81 Havana Syndrome victims were compared with images of 48 members of a control group.

But Dr. David Reiman of Stanford University published an accompanying opinion piece noting that he had been involved in previous studies that said the symptoms “are likely to be… Caused by an external mechanism“.

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Russian assassination unit

Most of the new reports released Sunday focused on the GRU's Unit 29155, which was involved in the attack. Nerve agent poisoning For former Russian spy Sergei Skripal and his daughter Yulia in London in 2018.

Using leaked cellphone data and other information, reporters were able to place members of Unit 29155 in locations where U.S. government employees experienced signs of Havana Syndrome — before or at the time of the attack.

These include incidents that occurred in Frankfurt, Germany, in 2014, in Guangzhou, China, in 2017, and in Tbilisi, the capital of the former Soviet republic of Georgia, in 2021, on “60 Minutes,” The Insider and Der Spiegel reported. .

Two senior members of the unit were rewarded with promotions to political posts in Russia's Far East.

Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov described the reports as “nothing more than baseless accusations by the media.”

Avoid confrontation?

Greg Edgren, the Pentagon official who ran the military investigation into the Havana Syndrome, told “60 Minutes” that the US government has set very high standards for proving the presence of foreign actors.

He told the programme: “If my mother had seen what I saw, she would have said: ‘It’s the Russians, you idiot.’”

Molly McCue, an information warfare expert who served as an advisor to former Georgian President Mikheil Saakashvili from 2009 to 2013, said Edgren's comments and the new report underscore Washington's reluctance to point the finger at Moscow.

“No US administration wants to respond to Russian aggression, so I decided not to recognize it for what it is,” Macchio said. he said on social media. “This leaves Americans unprotected in crucial aspects, and our policy toward Russia is fundamentally illogical.”

Rep. Jim Himes of Connecticut, the ranking Democrat on the House Intelligence Committee, said he “will make appropriate inquiries with the intelligence community based on information provided publicly,” the committee's minority staff said in a statement to USA TODAY. “Since the first reports, the committee has been focused on ensuring that those experiencing symptoms of healthcare deficiency receive all the care and support they need. We will continue to oversee this important issue.”

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In 2021, President Joe Biden signed the Havana Act, which allows the CIA, State Department and other agencies “to provide payments to agency employees who Exposure to brain injury of hostilities during the mission.”

In a statement, the Office of the Director of National Intelligence stood by its 2023 assessment that the symptoms of Havana Syndrome may not be the result of a foreign actor.

“These findings do not call into question the real experiences and symptoms reported by our colleagues and their family members,” the statement said. “We continue to prioritize our work on incidents such as these, allocating resources and expertise across government, pursuing multiple lines of investigation and seeking information to fill the gaps we have identified.”

The White House said in a statement that it had ordered agencies to “prioritize investigations” into the cause of Havana Syndrome and “ensure that U.S. government employees and their families… receive the support and timely access to the medical care they need….”

Since the report aired Sunday evening, Polymeropoulos said: “I have been attacked by six senior CIA officials and senior station chiefs in the field, all of whom find the new reports convincing.”

Polymeropoulos returned to the intelligence community's assessment for 2023. “What's going on?” He said. “I think you desperately need congressional hearings because we have to find out what happened with this analytical methodology to get it wrong.”

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