WASHINGTON — The State Department on Friday released its rules and guidelines for providing financial support to victims of Havana Syndrome, the mysterious illnesses that have plagued U.S. diplomats, CIA agents and others since 2016.
Payment for a confirmed brain injury will be $140,475, according to State Department regulations. Public servants and seriously injured family members who prevent them from working or maintaining relationships will be entitled to $187,300.
CIA guidelines for paying its wounded officers will be kept secret. But US officials said the agency’s rules are broadly similar, using the same definitions for brain injury and the same payment schedule.
The cause of Havana Syndrome, a set of symptoms first seen in CIA officers and diplomats serving in Cuba, remains a mystery, and even the number of people injured in possible “health events abnormal”, the bureaucratic term favored by the government, is disputed.
While dozens of reported cases have been attributed to other medical conditions, some have defied explanation and experts have ruled out the possibility that they may be forms of “functional illness” or psychosomatic symptoms.
The CIA and other agencies continue to investigate, focusing on a handful of incidents in Havana, Vienna, Belgrade and Hanoi. Officials, lawmakers and victims’ groups have grown frustrated that an explanation remains elusive.
An interim CIA report earlier this year found no evidence that the injuries were caused by a hostile foreign actor, such as Russia. A panel of experts working for the Director of National Intelligence released a summary of another report that pulsed energy may be responsible for the injuries.
While the two reports aren’t contradictory, some lawmakers and victims said the implications were quite different.
CIA Deputy Director David S. Cohen briefed lawmakers on various committees on the investigation during a closed-door Senate briefing on Thursday.
Some senators asked about the differences between the two reports, according to several people briefed on the meeting, who spoke on condition of anonymity to discuss the secret session. Mr. Cohen told lawmakers that the CIA was aware of the panel’s findings when its interim report was written and maintained that the efforts were not contradictory. The expert panel was looking at plausible means of injury, and the CIA was looking for evidence of what was responsible and by whom.
Mark Lenzi, a State Department official injured in China, said the investigation remained inadequate. “The state and the CIA will continue to give Congress an incomplete and misleading picture of what the US government knows about the pulsed microwave attacks that injured me, my family and my US Foreign Service neighbor and members of his family in China,” he said.
In a rare bipartisan action, Congress last year approved the Havana Act, legislation originally drafted by Senator Susan Collins, Republican of Maine, to compensate government officials weakened by Havana syndrome.
According to State Department rules, victims must prove they have a brain injury related to “war, insurgency, hostile act, terrorist activity, or other incidents designated by the Secretary of State” to benefit from the aid. The injury cannot have occurred due to any fault on the part of the individual and must have occurred after January 1, 2016. Victims must also show evidence of active treatment for their injuries for at least 12 months.
The mystery of Havana Syndrome
What is Havana Syndrome? The mysterious illness, which has affected military officers, CIA personnel and diplomats around the world, manifests in a host of ailments such as chronic headaches, dizziness and nausea.
The victims said on Friday they were studying the rules. Marc Polymeropoulos, a former senior CIA official who suffered from headaches and dizziness following an incident in Moscow in 2017, said implementing rules should be consistent across government and should not exclude injured people.
“We need to make sure the criteria are broad enough to ensure that all injured US government personnel receive compensation and that some are not left behind,” he said.
For the past two years, CIA Director William J. Burns has worked to improve health care for agents who reported injuries. Tammy Thorp, the agency’s spokeswoman, said the law would now give the CIA the authority “to make payments to employees, eligible family members and other CIA-affiliated individuals who are determined to have a qualifying brain injury”.
“As Director Burns pointed out, nothing is more important to him and the leadership of the CIA than taking care of our people,” Ms. Thorp said.
The compensation rules were coordinated by the White House, which worked with the Office of Management and Budget, the State Department and the CIA to develop regulations that could be applied consistently and compassionately, said said a spokesman for the National Security Council.
US officials stressed that victims who are not eligible for payments could still receive government medical assistance and may be eligible for other types of financial support.