The CIA removed its Vienna, Austria station chief recently amid criticism the person did not take seriously a surge in mysterious “Havana syndrome” cases, the Washington Post reported Thursday. Dozens of cases affecting embassy staff and Central Intelligence Agency officers and family members have been reported in Vienna recently, but the unnamed station chief expressed skepticism and showed insensitivity, the Post said, citing intelligence sources.
A CIA spokesperson declined to confirm or deny the report but said the agency takes seriously scores of possible incidents of the mysterious ailment in US diplomatic missions around the world.
The cause and source remain enigmatic, CIA Deputy Director David Cohen said last week.
“Have we gotten closer? I think the answer is yes — but not close enough to make the analytic judgment that people are waiting for,” he said.
The US government, including the CIA and Pentagon, has ramped up staff to investigate and provide treatment for the cases.
Dubbed “Havana syndrome” because reports of the condition first showed up in the Cuban capital, the ailment is marked by bloody noses, headaches, vision problems, and other symptoms that resemble concussions.
Some people experiencing it have reported hearing focused, high-pitched or sharp sounds that left them nauseated.
The incidents are little understood and have sparked theories that they were caused by a weapon that used focused microwaves, ultrasound, poison, or are even a reaction to crickets.
But for several years, senior government officials dismissed the complaints, judging them to be the symptoms of people under stress or reacting with hysteria to unknown stimuli.
The administration of Joe Biden has geared up the investigation into what has been renamed anomalous health incidents, or AHI.
If the cases are caused by something like a directed energy attack, US officials suspect Russia could be behind it.
The Post called Vienna, where the United States has a large embassy and intelligence collection operation, a “hotbed” of AHI incidents, with dozens of people reporting unexplained symptoms.
The issue has US officials around the world jittery. In August Vice President Kamala Harris delayed by several hours a visit to Vietnam after the US embassy there reported a possible case involving “acoustic incidents.”
And during a visit to India by CIA Director William Burns in early September, an official in his retinue reported symptoms and sought medical assistance, according to the Post.