CIA officers among 200 Americans afflicted by 'Havana Syndrome'

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The mystery illness was first reported in the US embassy in Havana - YAMIL LAGE /AFP
The mystery illness was first reported in the US embassy in Havana - YAMIL LAGE /AFP

A CIA officer who helped lead the search for Osama Bin Laden will head an investigation into "Havana syndrome" as America steps up efforts to confront the mysterious ailment.

More than 200 US officials and their families have been affected by unexplained illness and the CIA's director William Burns has made identifying its source one of his top priorities.

To underscore his concerns, Mr Burns has announced a taskforce investigating the syndrome will be led by a veteran of the near decade-long campaign to find and kill Al-Qaeda leader Osama Bin Laden.

"We're throwing the very best we have at this issue," Mr Burns told NPR in an interview on Thursday.

The officer, whose identity remains under wraps, has spent more than a decade working on intelligence analysis but now faces a far more mysterious target.

William Burns - Tom Williams/REUTERS
William Burns - Tom Williams/REUTERS

US officials have speculated that Havana Syndrome, so named because it was first reported by staff based in the US embassy in Cuba in 2016, may be intentionally caused by a foreign actors such as Russia. Moscow has denied any involvement.

Cases have also been reported by US officials in China, Russia, Austria and Washington, DC.

The condition's symptoms include nausea, migraines and dizziness.

This week US officials reported a steady flow of new potential cases were being reported from staff in overseas posts.

They included a recent and previously unreported incident in Berlin which cut short at least one diplomat's term, according to NBC News.

A report from the National Academy of Sciences, Engineering and Medicine last December suggested a form of microwave radiation was the most plausible explanation for the symptoms.

In first interview since being appointed CIA chief, Mr Burns said the evidence pointed to the "very strong possibility" that the syndrome was the result of intentional attacks.

He added that there were very few "potential suspects" with the capability to carry them out in so many countries.

The CIA director said he had also tripled the number of full-time medical personnel at the agency who are focused on Havana syndrome.

"I am absolutely determined — and I've spent a great deal of time and energy on this in the four months that I've been CIA director — to get to the bottom of the question of what and who caused this," he told NPR.

"It's a profound obligation I think of any leader to take care of your people and that is what I am determined to do."

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