WASHINGTON – The House Intelligence Committee on Thursday approved a bipartisan proposal to provide additional resources to help find the cause of Havana Syndrome illnesses and take action to examine the CIA’s treatment of the mysterious episodes that have injured more of 200 government officials.
The measure would reorganize the agency’s medical services office and create a voluntary system where CIA agents posted overseas could first receive brain scans and lab work that would help doctors determine the condition. extent of their injuries if they later presented with symptoms compatible with Havana syndrome or claimed to have suffered an episode of health.
The move comes as some intelligence officials have expressed reluctance to accept overseas positions or bring family members on tour to countries where the episodes have taken place, current and former officials have said.
“I believe that as long as these incidents recur, with a frequency that seems to increase, without the identification of a perpetrator and without the possibility of stopping them, I think these concerns will continue,” said Representative Adam B. Schiff, Democrat of California and Chairman of the Intelligence Committee.
A US official said CIA officers had volunteered in large numbers to work on the issue of health episodes, eager to find answers.
Since 2016, diplomats, intelligence officers and the military in Asia, Europe and the Americas have reported hearing strange sounds, felt unexplained heat or felt pressure, followed by headaches, nausea, dizziness or other symptoms. In many cases, the symptoms lasted for months or years.
While some government officials are convinced that a hostile intelligence agency using a listening device or directed energy weapon is responsible for the injuries, CIA analysts have not come to a conclusion on the cause of the episodes or whether a hostile power is responsible.
While the agency’s director, William J. Burns, has been praised for the attention and resources he has devoted to victims of Havana Syndrome, Congress has criticized the way in which the CIA and the US government as a whole have dealt with the cases before this year.
The Intelligence Committee is conducting its own investigation, and the bill approved Thursday requires an inspector general to review the performance of the CIA’s medical division and sets up an external advisory board to review its work.
âWe want accountability,â Mr. Schiff said. âIt’s taken too long to get to where we are. Too many people were suffering, not getting the help they needed, and were not being believed. So we are still making up for lost ground.
Marc E. Polymeropoulos, a senior CIA officer at the time, was injured in Moscow in 2017, but did not receive effective treatment until after his retirement and began seeing medics this year at Walter Reed National. Military Medical Center.
âThe bottom line is that traumatic brain injury doesn’t get better over time, so I and others have suffered needlessly,â Polymeropoulos said. âWe made a pact with the CIA: when we did difficult things and trained, they supported us. “
Doug Wise, a former senior intelligence official who criticized the CIA’s handling of health episodes during the Trump administration, said it was important for reviews to examine how senior CIA officials handled the episodes and why officers’ reports were not initially taken seriously.
âI think it’s an important thing for the committee to mandate a review. For some reason, the agency is unable to make its own look because it doesn’t want to hold its own leaders to account, âMr. Wise said. âThe only thing the victims asked for was respect, compassion and medical treatment. “
This year, Mr Burns removed the chief of the medical services bureau, replacing him with a doctor focused on patient care. Former intelligence officials said the office has been focusing more on victim care since the change.
The House measure aims to further improve care for intelligence officers by increasing the salaries of the agency’s doctors, making out-of-office clinical training mandatory, and creating an advisory board appointed by Congress and the director of national intelligence.
The Senate version of the bill does not contain the specific provisions of the House measure, but the Senate Intelligence Committee is likely to support the measure, congressional officials said.
Asked about the House’s measure, a CIA spokeswoman said the agency recognizes the committee’s work and looks forward to seeing the final provisions.
This month, Congress overwhelmingly passed a measure drafted by Republican Senator Susan Collins of Maine to provide additional resources to victims of Havana Syndrome, a sign of broad bipartisan support for bills dealing with the question. Still, House and Senate leaders will need to find a legislative vehicle in which to include a final intelligence authorization bill by the end of the year.
At least 100 CIA agents have been injured and exhibited symptoms consistent with Havana Syndrome since 2016, when diplomats and intelligence officers in Cuba reported hearing strange sounds or felt pressure before feeling ailments. headache, nausea and other symptoms.
These episodes were followed by others in China and elsewhere in the world.
In many cases, doctors treating people with symptoms of Havana Syndrome have struggled to identify the extent of the injuries because they do not have brain scans from prior to the episodes as a point of comparison.
Obtaining a brain scan or performing medical laboratory work before deployment overseas would be voluntary under the measure approved by the House committee. Collecting such before and after information could be critical both in improving treatments and identifying the cause, Schiff said.
âLack of knowledge of the baseline impairs the diagnosis,â Mr. Schiff said. âPeople have different baselines and it would be helpful to know what they look like, to see how things have changed. “