CIA Vienna station head recalled over ‘Havana Syndrome’ response

The CIA recalled its chief of station in Vienna, in part over his alleged mishandling of reported cases of “Havana Syndrome” — a mysterious ailment that has struck US spies and diplomats worldwide and is suspected of being caused by radiation attacks.

The Austrian capital has seen a number of reports of “Havana Syndrome,” which the CIA officially calls “anomalous health incidents,” in recent months, according to The Washington Post, which first reported the station head’s recall on Thursday. Those affected include children of US government employees, the newspaper said.

The station chief, whose identity is highly classified, reportedly expressed skepticism that the reports of illness were genuine. Though the Washington Post reported that the station chief’s recall was not solely due to his handling of the “Havana Syndrome” cases, the shakeup at one of the CIA’s most prominent stations is being interpreted as a warning to other intelligence officials to take such reports seriously.

The name “Havana Syndrome” is a reference to the Cuban capital, where US officials reported unusual symptoms — ranging from headaches and dizziness to ear pain, fatigue and nausea — beginning in 2016.

Those who have experienced “Havana Syndrome” reported wide-ranging symptoms including nausea, fatigue and headaches.
Those who have experienced “Havana Syndrome” reported wide-ranging symptoms including nausea, fatigue and headaches.

Since then, reports of American representatives experiencing similar symptoms have come from countries like China, Germany and Russia — as well as inside the US. Earlier this month, a US intelligence officer suffered symptoms consistent with “Havana Syndrome” while traveling in India with CIA Director William Burns. Just a few weeks earlier, two possible cases of the mysterious ailment delayed Vice President Kamala Harris’ trip from Singapore to Vietnam.

CIA Director William Burns ordered a review to study incidents relating to “Havana Syndrome” amid potential attacks.
CIA Director William Burns ordered a review of incidents relating to “Havana Syndrome” amid potential attacks.

Following the India incident, Burns ordered an agency-wide review of potential attacks involving microwave radiation or similar forms of directed energy. During his tenure, Burns has tripled the number of medical staff studying incidents linked to “Havana Syndrome” and met with agency personnel who reported cases. At least 200 cases are under investigation, half of them involving intelligence personnel.

An unsettling 2019 study found that the brains of those who experienced “Havana Syndrome” symptoms underwent changes in structure and functional connectivity — though it was not immediately clear whether the changes would result in long-term illness.

While some believe the attacks to be the work of Russia, the US government has not publicly linked the incidents to any nation.

Meanwhile, the top State Department official assigned to handle the response to “Havana Syndrome” cases is leaving her post just six months after she was appointed.

Sen. Jeanne Shaheen (D-NH), a member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, described Pamela Spratlen’s departure from the position as a “firing” in an interview with MSNBC Thursday and called it a “positive sign that the State Department sees that there’s a problem and it intends to do something about it.”

Spratlen, a former ambassador to Uzbekistan and Kyrgyzstan, reportedly angered Havana syndrome victims when she declined to say whether she believed an FBI study that suggested the ailments were psychological in nature.

With Post wires