Joe Biden's administration is determined to unravel the episodes that affected at least 130 diplomats, soldiers, spies, and others in various countries, including China and Cuba.
For five years, the diplomatic headquarters of the United States began to register mysterious episodes that caused brain injuries in spies, diplomats, soldiers, CIA personnel, the State Department, the Defense Department, and other places. According to current and former officials, the total confirmed cases so far total more than 130, far more than he knew so far.
The first publicly confirmed cases were concentrated in China and Cuba and amounted to about 60; this is not including a group of injured CIA officers whose number is not publicly known. The new total adds confirmed cases in Europe and other parts of Asia. It reflects the administration's efforts to further review other incidents that have occurred amid concerns about a string of them in recent months.
Since December last year, at least three CIA agents reported serious health episodes abroad. One of them happened in the last two weeks. All of them are required to undergo outpatient treatment at the Walter Reed National Military Medical Center or some other institution.
While no military personnel was injured in combat zones, several were affected in Europe and Asia.
Some suffered long-term brain injuries, including debilitating headaches. According to the National Security Council, the episodes involved personnel serving abroad who experienced "sensory phenomena" such as sound, pressure, or heat, along with or followed by physical symptoms, such as sudden vertigo, nausea, headache, or neck pain.
The mystery first came to light when diplomats and CIA officers working in Havana fell ill in 2016 and experienced bruising, nausea, and headaches. Similar episodes began to occur the following year in Guangzhou, China. Last October, The New York Times reported that as early as 2017, another set of CIA officers traveling to various countries, including Russia, had reported that they were the likely victims of attacks and displayed similar symptoms.
In a previously unreported case in 2019, a military officer serving abroad stopped his car at an intersection and suffered nausea and headaches while his son in the back seat began to cry. According to officials, after he walked away from the intersection, his nausea stopped, and the boy stopped crying.
Both received immediate medical attention from the government. However, it is not yet clear whether they suffered long-term debilitating effects. Officials suspect the officer may have been attacked. They were so upset by the incident that both administrations, former President Trump and that of current President Biden, began to investigate further.
The Biden administration has yet to determine who or what is responsible for the episodes or whether they constitute attacks. Some Pentagon officials believe that Russia's military intelligence agency, the GRU, is likely behind the case of the boy and his father. In addition, evidence has emerged pointing to Russia in other cases. The intelligence agencies, for the moment, did not conclude any cause or put aside the theory that some foreign power is involved.
At this time, we do not know the exact cause of these events, and it is premature and reckless to consider.," said Amanda J. Schoch, spokeswoman for the Office of the Director of National Intelligence.
Moscow repeatedly denied any involvement.
The Biden administration is trying to strike a fine balance between showing officials that it is taking the issue seriously and trying to prevent panic, whether within the government or among the public. The National Security Council began an intelligence review to discover whether additional unreported incidents fit the pattern, a spokeswoman said.
"We are leveraging the resources of the United States government to get to the bottom of this," said Emily J. Horne, spokeswoman for the council.
In a report released last December, the National Academy of Sciences said a microwave weapon likely caused the injuries. Several officials believe that microwave or a directed energy device was the most likely culprit.
The severity of brain injuries varied widely. But some victims have chronic, potentially irreversible symptoms and pain, suggesting a brain injury that could become permanent. Walter Reed's doctors warned government officials that some victims are at risk of suicide.
New CIA director William J. Burns wants to change the agency's response, current and former officials said. Mr. Burns met with victims, visited doctors who treated injured agency officers and assigned his deputy, David Cohen, to oversee the investigation and the healthcare response. Mr. Cohen will meet monthly with victims and conduct regular briefings for Congress. The agency also doubled the number of medical personnel treating and handling injured officer cases.