|CIA agent has a mysterious syndrome|
Citing the New York Times, some of the recipients were former CIA agents who were injured while serving in Havana in 2016 and 2017. However, payments are also being processed for current and former officers who were injured elsewhere. The United States Central Intelligence Agency (CIA), recently began making compensation payments to officials and former agents who suffered traumatic brain injuries from a series of mysterious syndrome incidents. "About a dozen people who suffer from the debilitating symptoms known as Havana syndrome, have received payments or have been approved to receive them," said people familiar with the program.
What is Havana Syndrome? The mysterious illness, which has affected military officers, CIA personnel and diplomats around the world, manifests in a number of symptoms such as chronic headaches, vertigo and nausea. What is the source of the disease? Some officials believe the symptoms are caused by Russian microwave attacks, but so far there is little evidence to support this theory. Outside experts also suggest that the condition could be a psychosomatic reaction to stress. President Joe Biden's administration, Congress and other agencies have taken steps to investigate the episode and provide support to the victims. Biden raised the issue with Russian President Vladimir Putin at a summit in 2021.
Some former government officials say the phenomenon has been going on for decades, but the first victims in a spate of these incidents were a group of Americans who worked at the US Embassy in Havana in 2016. Since then, US government employees and their family members in China, Austria, Serbia and other locations around the world have also reported symptoms. One victim who has received payment credits the CIA with making the claims process easier, but lawyers for other officers have expressed concern that later cases may be more difficult to prosecute.
In contrast to those injured while serving with the CIA in Havana, some of the officers injured had shorter medical histories and were potentially less well documented, which may have made filing for payments more difficult. Officials briefed on the pay program said the CIA sought to be compassionate, not stingy, in making decisions, something the lawmakers who designed the program wanted.
Several officials and former officials who discussed the program did so on the condition that their names not be used because elements of the program, and the injured officials who worked for the agency, were kept secret.
The Havana Act, passed by Congress last year, provides compensation of up to $187,300 for each victim. The CIA's Director of Public Affairs, Tammy Kupperman Thorp, said the law gave the agency authority to make payments to CIA-affiliated employees, family members and other individuals who qualify as "brain injuries". "The guidelines in place were developed in partnership with interagency and clearance payments wherever the incident occurred," Thorp said. "As we have said before, this authority is an important part of the agency's commitment to support its workforce," he said. The US State Department has yet to make a payment. But a spokeswoman for the department said officials were carefully considering the parameters for the program and would start processing payments soon.
The law gives government agencies some latitude in deciding who should receive payments and does not limit eligibility by location. Victims can qualify for compensation in a variety of ways, and it's not just those injured in an unnatural health incident that can be compensated. Under rules established by the State Department and the CIA, victims must demonstrate that they suffered brain injury in connection with a "war, insurrection, hostile act, terrorist activity or other incident" designated by the secretary of state or CIA Director. Victims must also have received active treatment for their injury for at least 12 months.
Many victims were disappointed by CIA findings announced this year, which said the disease could not have been caused by a hostile foreign nation targeting agency officers in a global campaign. "Many of the 1,000 cases examined by the agency were explained by previously undiagnosed health problems or environmental factors," officials said. Some may be psychosomatic or so-called functional illnesses. But the agency said that about two dozen cases remained unexplained and needed further evidence.
Another report by a panel of experts convened by the Biden administration found that pulsed radio energy can cause head injuries and other symptoms reported by diplomats and CIA officers. The report also said that stress reactions could contribute to continued symptoms but rejected the idea that mass hysteria, psychosomatic responses, or other functional illnesses could explain the initial injury. Mark S. Zaid, a national security attorney who represents nearly two dozen people suffering from the health anomaly, said it was difficult for some victims to apply for compensation. Others have struggled to be officially diagnosed by government doctors as required for approval of benefits or medical treatment.
"While it is relatively easy to get treatment immediately after an incident, setting up follow-up care is more difficult," Zaid said.
According to him, government officials have also seen reports of domestic anomalies of incidents skeptically. "They don't want to admit to a domestic incident," Zaid said. Yet another victim said the CIA had reached out to help them apply for the Havana Act compensation. Current and former agency officials who are already part of the government's expanded care program, which helps pay for medical expenses, have provided much of the documentation needed to obtain compensation approval. One victim in Havana who received the maximum payout said that while the compensation wasn't life-changing, it could help. "More importantly, is the official acknowledgment that an incident has occurred and caused permanent brain injury," he said.