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U.S. turns to military, medical research to solve diplomats’ ‘health attacks’

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U.S. turns to military, medical research to solve diplomats’ ‘health attacks’

U.S. turns to military, medical research to solve diplomats’ ‘health attacks’
December 31
19:18 2018

WASHINGTON — In the waning days of summer, Deputy Secretary of State John Sullivan was quietly dispatched to a Pennsylvania brain clinic to investigate for himself what government doctors had described: American diplomats and spies suffering from a mysterious set of ailments.

For two years, the U.S. intelligence community and FBI investigators had tried and failed to solve an astonishing international mystery about who or what is attacking its diplomats overseas.

What researchers presented to Sullivan in late August didn’t answer that question. But over four hours and a working lunch, neurologists and researchers showed Sullivan how they were tracking water molecules traveling through the central nervous system to create computerized maps that confirm that the damage to the U.S. workers’ brains is real.

Medical experts in four states and officials from at least seven U.S. federal agencies are now actively on the case, including the Navy, the National Institutes of Health and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. They join other officials from the CIA, the State Department and allied governments who have been hunting for a culprit since U.S. diplomats and spies serving in Cuba and later in China started hearing strange sounds and falling ill in late 2016.

Now that the government is deploying its military and medical research arms, costs for research and treatment have run into the tens of millions of dollars, U.S. officials tell NBC News.

The mystery has weighed heavily on the patients, unsure if and when they’ll fully recover and how their health might be affected long term. Some still spend much of their time shuttling between doctors and rehab appointments as they struggle with visual, hearing and cognitive problems. Others have tried to move on with their lives or started new posts overseas, even while they demand information and accountability from the U.S.

The lack of answers has also had a profound effect on U.S. ties to Cuba, which were just starting to mend in 2016 after half a century of estrangement, and has put the U.S. on high alert for similar attacks elsewhere.

With the U.S. Embassy in Havana operating at only partial capacity, the CIA has had to shut down its station there, officials said, depriving the U.S. of a key source of information just as the island is in the throes of a historic change in leadership.

And half a world away, in China, about 70 U.S. diplomats and their families serving in China have undergone testing in the last few months amid concerns they could have been affected by health attacks, too, State Department officials said.

They join another 300 who were tested in China earlier this year after the U.S. disclosed that one of its workers in Guangzhou was “medically confirmed” to have the same symptoms as the Cuba cases.

In additional countries where U.S. diplomats serve, a few dozen more have also been tested. They’ve been given the Acquired Brain Injury Test, or ABIT, developed by the U.S. to test for health attacks. But officials wouldn’t name those countries or say what prompted the concerns.

“To date, each report has been carefully evaluated and there have been no new incidents that are cause for concern,” the State Department said. “Medical screening is available around the world for embassy personnel who may raise a concern.”

Since the incidents started in 2016 in Cuba, 26 U.S. workers who served there and about a dozen Canadians have been confirmed to have been affected by what the U.S. calls “targeted health attacks” from an unknown source. Cuba adamantly denies any knowledge or involvement in the attacks. One U.S. diplomat in China who reported strange sounds and sensations was confirmed in 2018 to have the same symptoms. The incidents caused hearing, balance and cognitive changes along with mild traumatic brain injury.

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