In a new intelligence assessment, the CIA has ruled out that the mysterious symptoms known as the Havana Syndrome are the result of an ongoing global campaign by a hostile force targeting hundreds of US diplomats and spies, six people who briefed the case told NBC News.
In about two dozen cases, the agency cannot rule out foreign involvement, including many of the cases that arose at the U.S. Embassy in Havana beginning in 2016. Another group of cases is considered unresolved. But in hundreds of other cases of possible symptoms, the agency has found plausible alternative explanations, sources said.
The CIA declined to comment.
The idea that widespread brain damage symptoms have been caused by Russia or another foreign power targeting Americans around the world, either to harm them or to gather intelligence, has been considered unfounded, the sources said.
People who have experienced possible Havana Syndrome symptoms and have been briefed on the assessment have expressed deep disappointment, sources said. Some have pointed out that the CIA's findings are considered a preliminary assessment and that they were not coordinated with other agencies, including the Department of Defense.
"The CIA kind of struck by itself," said one person, who was briefed on the results.
Nevertheless, almost no one who has worked closely with the issue is surprised that many recent cases of what the Biden administration calls "abnormal health incidents" have plausible explanations unrelated to possible hostile actions. When state authorities began urging any employee who had suffered unexplained headaches and dizziness to report it, it was inevitable that many of the cases would not fit the parameters of what doctors had identified in the diplomats and spies suffering brain damage. .
"Even two dozen cases are many cases if Americans were attacked," said one person who briefed on the results.
There is an intensive intelligence gathering and analytical effort to resolve these cases, officials said.
From the end of 2016, U.S. diplomats and spies serving in Cuba began reporting bizarre sounds and sensations followed by unexplained illnesses and symptoms, including hearing and vision loss, memory and balance problems, headaches, and nausea.
Over the years, hundreds of U.S. officials have come forward and reported suspected incidents in more than a dozen countries, NBC News has reported.
NBC News reported in 2018 that U.S. intelligence officials viewed Russia as a leading suspect in what some of them judged to have been deliberate attacks on diplomats and CIA officers abroad. But in the three years that have passed since then, the spy agencies have not revealed enough evidence to pinpoint the cause or culprit of the health incidents.
The National Academy of Sciences, Engineering and Medicine said in a report in 2020 that some of the observed brain damage was consistent with the effects of directed microwave energy, which according to the report Russia has long studied.
Russia has consistently denied any involvement.
A team of medical and scientific experts who studied the symptoms of as many as 40 State Department and other government employees concluded that nothing similar had previously been documented in medical literature, the National Academies of Sciences report said. Many reported that they heard a loud noise and felt pressure in the head and then experienced dizziness, unstable gait and visual disturbances. Many suffered long-term disabling effects.
U.S. officials have long said they cannot say with certainty that they were intentional attacks or even that they were the result of human activity.
But privately, CIA Director William Burns had referred to the incidents as attacks. One of Burns' helpers developed symptoms during a trip to New Delhi in 2020.
Nevertheless, Burns and the director of the National Intelligence Service, Avril Haines, have approved the results, the sources said.
The CIA report aims to address a concern that has become more intense as more and more cases have been reported: that an American opponent had managed to harm hundreds of Americans in dozens of countries while avoiding being detected by USA
U.S. officials stressed that the preliminary report was not a final conclusion from the broader Biden administration or the entire intelligence community. The White House National Security Council has convened a task force involving outside medical and scientific experts who are also investigating the Havana syndrome and are expected to release some results in the near future, officials said. The Department of Defense, the FBI and the State Department are all still working to investigate the origin of the syndrome and how to alleviate it, officials said.
Instead, the interim CIA report is focused narrowly on the number of incidents believed to be attributable to a foreign actor, officials said.
Yet the report marks a marked shift in tone from the Biden administration, which has made an effort to demonstrate that it takes the incidents more seriously than the Trump administration did, and has repeatedly stressed the need to take the victims seriously. Foreign Minister Antony Blinken recalled in comments on MSNBC last week that he had met with Foreign Ministry employees who have come forward and reported incidents.
"I have heard them. I have listened to them. One cannot help but be struck by how these events disrupted their lives and their well-being," Blinken said. "We do everything we can to take care of them. "
The State Department had no immediate comment Tuesday.
U.S. officials said the CIA report does not change the Biden administration's broader approach to Havana syndrome, including its emphasis on eliminating stigma, encouraging employees with suspected incidents to step forward and providing proper medical care to those affected.