Blinken says U.S. still probing 'Havana syndrome' attacks on diplomats

Secretary of State Antony Blinken testifies about the State Department budget before the Senate Appropriations Committee on Capitol Hill in Washington, U.S. June 8, 2021. REUTERS/Jonathan Ernst

WASHINGTON, June 8 (Reuters) - The United States is conducting a government-wide review to get to the bottom of who or what caused the suspected "directed" radio frequency attacks that on U.S. diplomats that resulted in various neurological ailments known as "Havana syndrome", U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken said on Tuesday.

If Washington would have suspicions that a state actor including Russia or others are involved in this, it would bring it up with them, Blinken said but added that the United States at this point still does not know what or who is causing these incidents.

"We are in the midst, at the President's direction, with the National Security Council in the lead, of coordinating a government-wide review, including the intelligence community, the State Department, the Defense Department, to try to get to the bottom of what caused them, who did it, if anyone did, and of course care for any people who may have been victimized by it," Blinken said.

It was not clear when the review would conclude.

Starting in 2016, dozens of staff in Cuba reported symptoms including hearing loss, ringing ears, vertigo, headaches and fatigue, a pattern consistent with mild traumatic brain injury and initially described as the result of “sonic” or health attacks of some sort.

Dozens of U.S. government employees were affected by the incidents, with New York Times reporting last month that the mysterious injuries had afflicted more than 130 people, far more than previously known, and to civil servants in locations such as Europe and elsewhere in Asia, with some episodes having taking place as recently as this year.

In April, the Democratic and Republican leaders of the U.S. Senate Intelligence Committee said the incidents appeared to be increasing and the committee was investigating.

Asked if President Joe Biden would raise the issue with Russian President Vladimir Putin in their planned meeting in Geneva next week, Blinken repeated that Washington still did not know the root cause or the perpetrator, if any, of these incidents.

"So certainly if we have concerns, suspicions or beliefs that any state actor, Russia or otherwise was involved ... you can be sure that we will take it to them. But right now, we simply do not know," he said.

On Monday, Senate unanimously passed additional financial support for care of U.S. diplomats who have suffered from these syndromes.

The State Department said in June 2018 it had brought home diplomats from Guangzhou, China, over concern they were suffering similar symptoms.

Reporting by Humeyra Pamuk, Daphne Psaledakis and Patricia Zengerle; Editing by David Gregorio

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