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Thursday, March 30, 2023

Intelligence Community Agencies Find It Unlikely That Foreign Adversary Caused ‘Havana Syndrome’ Cases

IC agencies assess that medical analysis of AHIs has evolved since the first reported incidents in ways that point away from adversary involvement.

ODNI published the Intelligence Community Assessment, “Updated Assessment of Anomalous Health Incidents,” which includes information on the Intelligence Community’s targeting and investigative efforts on Anomalous Health Incidents.

Since US officials first reported Anomalous Health Incidents in Havana, Cuba in late 2016, the IC has sought to understand whether these events can be attributed to a foreign actor and a deliberate external mechanism. The IC pursued three separate lines of inquiry: the first encompassed work determining whether available data points to the involvement of a foreign adversary in the incidents; the second focused on the feasibility and existence of deliberate mechanisms that an adversary might use against US personnel to cause AHIs; and the third evaluated whether medical analysis can help determine if an outside actor is involved in the broad range of phenomena and symptoms associated with AHIs. Based on the results of these three lines of inquiry, most IC agencies have concluded that it is “very unlikely” a foreign adversary is responsible for the reported AHIs. IC agencies have varying confidence levels, with two agencies at moderate-to-high confidence while three are at moderate confidence. Two agencies judge it is “unlikely” an adversary was responsible for AHIs and they do so with low confidence based on collection gaps and their review of the same evidence.

  • Five agencies judge that available intelligence consistently points against the involvement of US adversaries in causing the reported incidents. Agencies employed an array of collection and investigative efforts that spanned hundreds of reported incidents—within the United States and abroad—and explored a range of potential indicators of hostile activity, from identifying suspicious persons near incident sites to searching for a pattern among affected personnel. These efforts could not identify an adversary as being responsible for any incident and in some key cases, IC agencies and partners had comprehensive information on the location where an AHI occurred but found no evidence of adversary activity. Most IC agencies judge it is very unlikely a foreign adversary played a role, although confidence in the judgment related to this line of inquiry varies, with two agencies having moderate-to-high confidence; three agencies having moderate confidence; and one agency abstaining. One agency judges it is only unlikely a foreign adversary played a role and has only low confidence in this judgment. This reflects its view that the evidence is less compelling because the IC has failed to detect some adversaries’ activities.
  • A review of intelligence reporting, open-source information, and scientific and medical literature about foreign weapons and research programs, as well as engagement with researchers inside and outside the US Government have led IC agencies to judge that there is no credible evidence that a foreign adversary has a weapon or collection device that is causing AHIs. As a result, most agencies assess that deliberate causal mechanisms are very unlikely to have caused the sensory phenomena and adverse symptoms associated with AHIs but with varying confidence levels. Two agencies have high confidence in this judgment while three agencies have moderate confidence. Two agencies judge that deliberate causal mechanisms are unlikely to have caused AHIs and have low confidence because they judge that radiofrequency (RF) energy is a plausible cause for AHIs, based in part on the findings of the IC Expert Panel and the results of research by some US laboratories. All agencies acknowledge the value of additional research on potential adversary capabilities in the RF field, in part because there continues to be a scientific debate on whether this could result in a weapon that could produce the symptoms seen in some of the reported AHI cases.
  • IC agencies assess that medical analysis of AHIs has evolved since the first reported incidents in ways that point away from adversary involvement. While initial medical studies concluded AHIs represented a novel medical syndrome or consistent pattern of injuries similar to traumatic brain injury (TBI), a combination of medical and academic critiques pointed to methodological limitations in that work. Furthermore, the JASON panel’s review of preliminary data from a National Institutes of Health (NIH) longitudinal study on AHIs in 2021 does not convey a consistent set of physical injuries, including neurologic injuries such as TBI. This shift is notable because the initial medical opinions formed a central part of the IC hypothesis that US personnel had sustained injuries that were unlikely to be explained by natural or environmental factors and shaped the IC’s approach to AHIs. Medical research is ongoing but currently appears consistent with the conclusions emerging from the IC’s analysis of foreign involvement and potential causal mechanisms. Five agencies have moderate confidence in this judgment while one agency abstains. One agency has low confidence because the NIH findings have yet to be published.

As part of its review, the IC identified critical assumptions surrounding the initial AHIs reported in Cuba from 2016 to 2018, which framed the IC’s understanding of this phenomenon, but were not borne out by subsequent medical and technical analysis. In light of this and the evidence that points away from a foreign adversary, causal mechanism, or unique syndrome linked to AHIs, IC agencies assess that symptoms reported by US personnel were probably the result of factors that did not involve a foreign adversary, such as preexisting conditions, conventional illnesses, and environmental factors. IC confidence in this explanation is bolstered by the fact that we identified medical, environmental, and social factors that plausibly can explain many AHIs reported by US officials. Three agencies have high confidence in this portion of the assessment while three other agencies have moderate confidence. One agency has low confidence because it judges that it is unclear how many reported incidents were influenced by dynamics not directly related to adversary activity such as hypervigilance. All IC agencies agree that US personnel sincerely and honestly reported their experiences, including those that were painful or traumatic, particularly given the framing of AHIs as possible attacks by an unknown mechanism that could cause permanent harm such as brain damage.

The IC considered a range of other possibilities we deemed less likely, and identified types of information that, if found, would prompt us to revisit our assessment, such as new medical analysis that identified a syndrome linked to affected personnel or the identification of a specific device that both caused the harmful effects described in AHI reports and was fielded by an adversary during the timeframe of the incidents.

Read the National Intelligence Council assessment

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