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Blinken to diplomats on 'Havana Syndrome': 'I wish we had more answers'

Government workers have been found to have mild traumatic brain injury and hearing, balance and cognitive changes after having experienced odd sounds and sensations.
Image: Blinken makes address on Afghan refugees
Secretary of State Antony Blinken during a briefing at the State Department in Washington on Monday.Brendan Smialowski / Pool via Reuters

WASHINGTON — Secretary of State Antony Blinken sought Thursday to reassure U.S. diplomats alarmed about "Havana Syndrome" that the U.S. is doing all it can to investigate unexplained health incidents, but he conceded in an email that the government still doesn't know what's happening or how to stop it.

In a message to diplomats and other State Department staffers obtained by NBC News, Blinken said he'd been hearing "growing concerns" about the incidents, which he said date to "at least 2016." He said those affected by the incidents want clarity urgently.

"Employees going abroad are anxious about whether they or their families are at risk," Blinken wrote. "That's completely understandable, and I wish we had more answers for you."

Blinken said he would soon speak personally with staff members and their families affected by Havana Syndrome "to hear what they experienced and how they're doing."

A copy of the email was provided to NBC News by an employee who received it.

So-called Havana Syndrome first came into public view in 2017 after U.S. diplomats and other government workers stationed in Havana reported feeling odd symptoms, often after hearing strange high- and low-pitched sounds and feeling unusual physical sensations. The victims were found to have hearing, balance and cognitive changes, along with mild traumatic brain injury, also known as concussion, that physicians were able to confirm through advanced imaging. The U.S. later confirmed that at least one person in China was affected, and the reported incidents have since multiplied, even including potential incidents in the U.S.

Although Blinken pointed to an investigation involving the White House, the Defense Department, spy agencies and top scientists, the lack of answers more than four years after the incidents were first reported has fueled growing frustration among government employees potentially at risk around the world, especially as the list of potential cases keeps growing.

Last month, NBC News reported that as many as 200 Americans have come forward to describe possible symptoms of Havana Syndrome, part of a wave of news reports that includes numerous incidents in Western Europe. Officials with direct knowledge said there are possible cases of the unexplained health incidents on every continent except Antarctica, which the U.S. believes most likely were caused by directed energy attacks.

"We'll continue to seek answers, do our utmost to protect our people, and make sure everyone gets the care and treatment they need. You deserve nothing less from your State Department and your secretary," Blinken wrote. "You have my word that your and your families' health and safety is my number-one priority."