US spies and diplomats accuse Trump administration of cover-up after mysteriously getting sick in Cuba, China and Russia

Cases of a mysterious illness were first reported in Cuba in 2016

Danielle Zoellner@dani__zoellner
Wednesday 21 October 2020 02:28
Secretary of State Mike Pompeo was the director of the CIA in 2018 when diplomats were reporting cases of a mysterious illness while in China
Secretary of State Mike Pompeo was the director of the CIA in 2018 when diplomats were reporting cases of a mysterious illness while in China

United States spies and diplomats have accused the Trump administration of refusing to investigate mysterious illnesses that happened to officials while abroad in Cuba, China and Russia, with some calling it a cover-up, the New York Times reported.

Cases of a mysterious illness among Americans first were reported in Cuba in 2016. Officials reported hearing strange noises and felt symptoms of nerve damage and headaches. Doctors later determined the symptoms were caused by mild traumatic brain injuries, later called the Havana Syndrome.

Then reports started up in Guangzhou, China, in 2018 from several US officials hearing strange noises and also feeling symptoms of nerve damage and headaches.

The cause of these illnesses are unknown, but studies have pointed to microwave radiation as the main suspect. Experts have also cited the potential it’s a psychological illness that develops in stressful environments, like working abroad as a government agent. 

In Cuba, the Trump administration withdrew most of its staff members from the embassy and issued a travel warning, stating that officials were experiencing “targeted attacks”. Additionally, the Trump administration went as far as to expel 15 Cuban diplomats from Washington DC and opened up an independent investigation into the attacks, all of which Cuba denied.

But the reaction to cases in China starkly differed from the response to Cuba, according to the New York Times.

Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, who was the director of the CIA at the time, told lawmakers in May 2018 that what the officials were experiencing in China was “very similar and entirely consistent” with the Cuba cases, the newspaper reported.

More than a dozen federal employees and some of their family members were evacuated by the Trump administration, but then the government reversed its course. The State Department labelled the problem as “health incidents” and reportedly never opened an investigation into China’s involvement.

Six US officials told the New York Times that the State Department realised it could not take the same action against China as it did with Cuba due to the impact it might have on economic and diplomatic relationships between the two countries.

Interviews by the publication with more than 30 government officials, lawyers and doctors revealed that the personnel impacted in China, who have since fled the country, “have spent more than two years fighting to obtain the same benefits given to the victims in Cuba and others attacked by foreign powers.”

This fight has reportedly prompted retaliation by the government that potentially permanently damaged their careers.

One State Department employee went on the record with the newspaper and said he filed a disability-discrimination lawsuit against the State Department.

“This is a deliberate, high-level cover-up,” employee Mark Lenzi said. “They have hung us out to dry."

Additionally, officials have reported similar attacks while in Moscow, Russia.

Former CIA officer Marc Polymeropoulos told the publication he thought he experienced an attack in December 2017 while in Moscow. His symptoms included experiencing vertigo and nausea while in his hotel room, which later escalated to migraines that forced him into an early retirement.

When speaking to GQ, Mr Polymeropoulos said the CIA refused to give him and other CIA agents the medical attention they needed. He said another colleague also got sick while with him in Moscow, and his symptoms included losing the hearing in one ear.

According to the New York Times, officials with the CIA and in the State Department believe Russia was involved in these attacks, but the country has denied these claims.

The State Department has not opened an investigation into Russia.

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