Biden signs bill to support victims of mysterious "Havana Syndrome"

U.S Embassy in Havana. Photo: Emily Michot/Miami Herald/Tribune News Service via Getty Images

President Biden signed a bill on Friday that will authorize additional support for diplomats and government officials who have suffered brain injuries overseas in a series of unexplained health episodes dating back to 2016.

Why it matters: As many as 200 Americans have come forward with symptoms associated with the so-called "Havana Syndrome," which was first experienced by U.S. diplomats in Cuba but has since been reported in China and Europe. Some officials have complained that they have not received adequate treatment from the State Department.

What they're saying: "Civil servants, intelligence officers, diplomats, and military personnel all around the world have been affected by anomalous health incidents. Some are struggling with debilitating brain injuries that have curtailed their careers of service to our nation," Biden said in a statement.

  • "We are bringing to bear the full resources of the U.S. Government to make available first-class medical care to those affected and to get to the bottom of these incidents, including to determine the cause and who is responsible."
  • The bill was authored by Sen. Susan Collins (R-Maine) and co-sponsored by Sens. Mark Warner (D-Va.), Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) and Jeanne Shaheen (D-N.H.), who each attended Friday's signing ceremony at the White House.

Driving the news: On Monday, just hours before Biden signed the bill, German newspaper Der Spiegel reported that police had opened an investigation into alleged cases of Havana Syndrome among U.S. Embassy staff in Berlin.

  • A member of CIA director Bill Burns' staff reported symptoms consistent with Havana Syndrome during a trip to India in September and had to receive emergency treatment, CNN reported.
  • Vice President Kamala Harris' trip to Vietnam in August was delayed for several hours after "unexplained health incidents" were reported at the U.S. Embassy in Hanoi.

The big picture: The cause of the brain injuries is currently unknown, but experts have floated the possibility of directed microwave radiation attacks by U.S. adversaries, infectious diseases, exposure to pesticides, specific cricket noises and mass psychogenic illness.

  • A scientific review commissioned by the State Department in 2018 assessed that the injuries were "most likely" caused by insects, not targeted energy attacks, BuzzFeed News reported this week. Dozens of more cases have been reported since that assessment.
  • Burns has tapped a senior CIA officer who helped lead the operation to find Osama bin Laden to head a task force investigating the causes of Havana Syndrome. But the U.S. government has so far produced no answers, Secretary of State Antony Blinken acknowledged in August.

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