Congress Members Introduce Legislation to Tackle ‘Havana Syndrome’

Liz Carey

Washington, DC ( – For five years, government personnel, mostly stationed abroad, have experienced strange, often debilitating symptoms, prompting Congressmembers to take action.

Recently, Sens. Susan Collins, R-Maine, and Jeanne Shaheen, D-N.H., introduced legislation that would improve how government employees access care if they have been the victim of a suspected directed energy attack, also known as “Havana Syndrome.”

“Havana Syndrome” is the term for illnesses and injuries that first surfaces in government personnel in 2016. That year, U.S. embassy staff in Havana, Cuba, reported unusual and unexplained medical symptoms including severe headaches, dizziness, tinnitus, visual and hearing problems, vertigo and cognitive difficulties after hearing strange high- and low-pitched sounds. More than 40 employees were affected. Some have reported feeling as though they’d been hit by an invisible blast wave. Some of the injured employees have not been able to return to work.

Since then, U.S. diplomats at the U.S. consulate in Guangzhou, China, reported similar symptoms, and more than 130 cases have been reported elsewhere, including some on U.S. soil.

Officials say the symptoms are “consistent with the effects of directed, pulsed, radio frequency energy.” No indication has been given as to who or what is responsible for the attacks. Officials suspect that the syndrome could be caused by intense electromagnetic energy waves from devices used by foreign entities attempting to access intelligence on U.S. government employees’ cellphones and other devices. But a recent intelligence report said there no consensus amongst the intelligence community on “the technique, the purpose, who is targeted,” or whether the incidents are just coincidence.

Most recently, a CIA official traveling with CIA Director William Burns on a trip to India reported symptoms consistent with the syndrome. The employee was immediately tested according to CIA protocol established to deal with the Havana Syndrome and is receiving treatment, officials said.

And just last month, two U.S. diplomates were medically evacuated from Vietnam when the reported Havana Syndrome-like symptoms ahead of a visit by Vice President Kamala Harris.

On Sept. 20, Collins and Shaheen introduced the “Directed Energy Threat Emergency Response (DETER) Act”, which would reform how federal employees access care if they develop the syndrome, as well as improve how the U.S. government investigates suspected directed energy attacks, provide education about Havana Syndrome to federal employees.

“The injuries that many victims of probable directed energy attacks have endured are significant and life-altering. I have talked with many of these victims about the debilitating symptoms they have experienced. While they are focusing on their health, they should not have to battle the bureaucracy in order to receive the support they deserve,” Collins said in a statement.

The DETER Act would require the President to designate a senior national security official to organize and oversee the government’s response to the attacks. Additionally, all of the agencies involved in responding to the suspected attacks would also be required to designate a senior official within the agency to oversee their response and to coordinate with other agencies. The legislation also authorizes $45 million for the government’s response, $30 million of which would go toward improving care for federal employees who are victims of the attacks.

“U.S. public servants injured by directed energy attacks should be treated with the same urgency as any other American injured in the line of duty,” Shaheen said in a statement. “They shouldn’t have to jump through bureaucratic hoops to access the care they need, which compounds the suffering they’ve already endured. U.S personnel and their families who have been affected by these attacks should be able to seek the care they need as swiftly as possible – access to urgent medical services should not be adversely impacted by government holdups.”

Part of the legislation requires federal agencies to develop guidance to educate their employees about the attacks, their impact on employees, and what known defensive measures employees can take to protect themselves from attacks. The proposed legislation would also require the federal government to create a secure, interagency process through which employees could self-report exposure across agencies, if they are attacked.

Previously, Collins and Shaheen joined Sens. Mark Warner, D-Va., and Marco Rubio, R-Fla., chair and vice chair of the Senate Intelligence Committee to provide financial support to government employees with “Havana Syndrome.” The “Helping American Victims Afflicted by Neurological Attacks (HAVANA)” Act would give additional financial support for injured individuals. That legislation passed the Senate in June.

The HAVANA Act requires that the CIA Director and the Secretary of State to give employees injured in suspected directed energy attacks with additional financial support. Both the CIA and State Department would be required to create regulations on how they will determine payments in a way that is fair and equitable, as well as report to Congress what they are doing and whether or not any more legislation or administrative action is required to assist injured employees.

“There is no doubt that the victims who have suffered brain injuries must be provided with adequate care and compensation,” Rubio said at the time. “Further, it is critical that our government determine who is behind these attacks and that we respond.”

Shaheen said providing these employees with medical care was essential.

“It is shameful and unacceptable that so many American public servants and their families who are suffering from these mysterious brain injuries have gone without access to the medical benefits they need and deserve,” Shaheen said in a statement.

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