CIA Director William J. Burns warned Russian intelligence officials that they would face “consequences” if they are behind the rash of unexplained health incidents known as “Havana syndrome” plaguing U.S. spies and diplomats around the globe.
The remarks came as the spy chief met with Russia’s Federal Security Service and Foreign Intelligence Service leadership during a visit to Moscow earlier this month, according to U.S. officials familiar with the talks, The Washington Post reported Tuesday.
Mr. Burns did not directly blame Russia for the “anomalous health incidents,” which many suspect are the result of directed energy attacks, but stated that such attacks would be unacceptable and out of bounds for a “professional intelligence service,” The Post reported.
The warning comes amid a growing consensus among some lawmakers that the episodes are being perpetuated by a hostile actor, although efforts to identify the attacker have proven futile so far.
Victims, which include diplomats, intelligence agents and high U.S. government officials says the attacks can cause debilitating, and in some cases prolonged, symptoms such as disorientation, nausea and cognitive impairment. NBC News, citing internal documents, said Wednesday the FBI is dealing with at least one case of an agent reporting Havana syndrome symptoms as well.
The Kremlin has repeatedly denied knowing anything about the attacks, and reportedly told that to Mr. Burns on his recent trip to Moscow.
Last month, Rep. Eric Swalwell, California Democrat, pressed U.S. intelligence officials to acknowledge that the unexplained health incidents are the result of targeted attacks and called for an effort to hunt down those behind the suspected attacks, on par with the mission to track down Osama bin Laden.
“The most urgent and important issue facing the workforce today are the terrorizing attacks that are happening globally, which are referred to as ‘anomalous health incidents,’” the California Democrat, a member of the House Select Committee on Intelligence, said.
He asked Mr. Burns, given the severity and increasing frequency of the attacks, if U.S. officials should “stop calling them incidents and call them attacks.”
Mr. Burns didn’t answer directly, but agreed that “real harm is being done to real people and we take each report very seriously.”
Top Biden administration officials have ramped up efforts to treat those with the mysterious symptoms, which a National Academy of Sciences report from December said, “are consistent with the effects of directed, pulsed radiofrequency energy.”
Congress, too, has stepped up its efforts, passing legislation this month to provide financial assistance to victims.
But as for definitively pinning down the source and who may be responsible, the U.S. officially remains baffled. Senior officials commonly refer to the episodes as “anomalous health incidents,” rather than referring to them as attacks, to the chagrin of some in Congress.
“It took about 10 years to find and hunt down Osama bin Laden with … a workforce that was dedicated to it,” Mr. Swalwell told Mr. Burns. “I hope the same effort is being made to find out who does this.”
“And when we do find out who does this, I think you’ll find bipartisan support that this is going to be a response that is beyond, if it’s a foreign country, just closing down a couple of consulates,” he said. “That it is going to have to be a very, very severe response.”