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A task force aimed at finding the cause of the mysterious “Havana Syndrome” that has plagued numerous agency personnel and US government diplomats around the world will be led by a senior CIA officer who played a key role in locating Osama bin Laden.
CIA director William J Burns has selected the officer, who is undercover and a veteran of counterterrorism and counternarcotics operations, US media organisations reported, quoting unnamed sources within the agency. The officer has spent more than a decade on intelligence analysis and targeting focused on Bin Laden and his al Qaeda network.
“Director Burns is personally engaged with personnel affected by anomalous health incidents and is highly committed to their care and to determining the cause of these incidents,” a CIA spokesperson was quoted by The Washington Post as saying.
The task force was reportedly formed in December and comprises specialists from across the agency including intelligence analysts and officers, the Wall Street Journal reported, quoting a US official familiar with the issue.
The formation of the task force and selection of the officer is part of the CIA’s efforts to accelerate the investigation into the mysterious illnesses that have affected scores of US officials in the last five years, leading to serious brain illnesses and hearing loss resulting in their early retirement. Some have also been reporting symptoms such as dizziness and headache.
The syndrome was first reported in 2016 by diplomats at the US embassy in Havana, leading to it becoming known as the Havana Syndrome.
The State Department also recently acknowledged that it was investigating complaints of similar ailments reported by American diplomats in Vienna.
There has been intense speculation about the origin of the syndrome, including some who point to Russia’s involvement. Russia, however, has denied the accusations. No proof of the country’s involvement has emerged in the public sphere either.
Mr Burns, who became CIA director in March, has said that identifying the source of the attacks and getting treatment for affected agency personnel are among his top priorities.