At least two U.S. diplomats will be medically evacuated from Vietnam after “Havana Syndrome” incidents were reported over the weekend in the capital city of Hanoi ahead of Vice President Kamala Harris’ arrival, according to two senior U.S. officials.
The cases caused a brief delay in Harris’ scheduled trip to Vietnam late Tuesday evening local time. The vice president’s office said Harris’ delegation was delayed from departing Singapore because of the report of a “recent possible anomalous health incident” in Hanoi.
The two officials confirmed that Harris’ office was referring to the so-called Havana Syndrome, the term used for a rash of mysterious health incidents that have afflicted U.S. personnel in Cuba and elsewhere.
Just hours before Harris arrived in the country, U.S. personnel in Hanoi were informed by the U.S. chargé d'affaires in Vietnam, Christopher Klein, that people had “experienced anomalous acoustic incidents here in Hanoi” over the weekend, the officials said. Klein also told the staff that the health unit and regional security officer are following up.
The description of the incidents as “acoustic” indicates that the affected diplomats heard strange sounds. That was also the case with many of the original Havana Syndrome cases in Cuba, but there have been other incidents that did not involve sound.
The weekend incidents in Hanoi occurred at the staffers’ homes, not at the U.S. Embassy, the official said. Much of the U.S. staff in Vietnam is currently working from home due to the southeast Asian nation’s current Covid-19 lockdown.
The senior official said the recent cases are not the first time Havana Syndrome incidents have been reported in Vietnam. The previous ones also involved sound, the official said. Those incidents were investigated but nothing was able to be confirmed, the official said.
The 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 United States 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.
NBC News reported last month that as many as 200 U.S. officials or their family members have reported possible symptoms.
The CIA’s internal watchdog is conducting a review of how the agency first handled reports that some of its officers suffered the neurological symptoms known as Havana Syndrome, amid concerns the matter was not taken sufficiently seriously at the highest levels, NBC News also reported in July.
In a statement released Tuesday, Sen. Jeanne Shaheen, D-N.H., said the incidents in Vietnam illustrate the "serious, ongoing threat posed to American personnel and their families overseas.”
“Continued reports of anomalous health incidents requires the full attention of the Biden administration and a coordinated interagency response," said Shaheen, who is among a group of senators who sponsored a bill to authorize additional compensation for Havana Syndrome victims.
"We must determine what malign actors are perpetrating these attacks, provide impacted personnel with the medical care they need to recover, and issue clear workforce guidance on the threat and how to mitigate it."