The CIA recalled its chief of post to Vienna this month, after agency executives concluded he had failed to take adequate action to deal with a series of mysterious health episodes in Austria. in which intelligence agents and diplomats fell ill with symptoms similar to Havana Syndrome, according to current reports and former officials who spoke on condition of anonymity to discuss staff movements. The names of agency station heads are highly classified.
As increasing numbers of intelligence officers, military personnel and diplomats have been injured in new incidents, frustration grows among victim groups and within the government. The Biden administration has so far been unable to determine the cause of the unexplained health incidents, which were first recorded in 2016 among diplomats and CIA agents stationed at the embassy. American in Havana.
The ouster of the station chief in Vienna came as Pamela Spratlen resigned this week as head of the State Department’s task force to study the episodes, diplomats said. Victim groups said Ms Spratlen viewed health incidents with skepticism, moved slowly to improve health care and did not meet with injured people on a regular basis. The State Department did not make Ms Spratlen available for comment and declined to comment on criticism against her.
Vienna has become the most recent concentration of wounded, with some US officials shot inside the embassy and others in their homes, according to former officials. The incidents in Vienna left more than 25 injured, according to former officials. The cluster of injuries in Vienna was reported earlier by The New Yorker; the station chief’s recall had previously been reported by the Washington Post.
Mysterious incidents often involve victims hearing a strange noise, feeling unexplained heat, or feeling pressure. This causes traumatic brain injury in which victims experience headaches, dizziness, nausea, and other symptoms that can last for years afterward.
William J. Burns, the director of the CIA, kicked out officials who were seen to be acting too slowly to respond to victims’ health concerns, putting in place a new chief of the Bureau of Medical Services. More than 200 U.S. officials have been injured in health incidents since 2016, about half of which are CIA agents traveling overseas.
The growing number of episodes is increasing pressure on the Biden administration to draw conclusions about the cause of the illnesses and whether a conflicting intelligence service is responsible. Mr Burns was angry after one of his close associates was injured and suffered symptoms of Havana Syndrome during a trip to India earlier this month.
The agency’s deputy director of operations carries out all the tasks for the best intelligence officers in each country, including the dismissal of the station chief in Vienna. Nonetheless, the move was approved by Mr Burns, according to former officials.
At the State Department, Brian McKeon, Assistant Secretary of State for Management, hosted a town hall meeting this summer to discuss health incidents with the department’s three missions in Vienna: the U.S. Delegation to the Organization for Security Cooperation in Europe, US Embassy staff in Austria and diplomats assigned to other international organizations there.
With Ms Spratlen’s departure, Mr McKeon is now effectively leading the task force, according to a senior State Department official.
The official presented Ms Spratlen’s departure as scheduled, claiming that she was only allowed to work for a specified period and had reached the limit of the assignment.
But victims have been critical of handling Havana Syndrome episodes for months, saying the State Department failed to take some of the steps the CIA took at the start of the Biden administration to improve care.
When Ms Spratlen met wounded diplomats, one victim said, she treated the calls as a “check mark exercise” and did not seem interested in ideas on how to help injured people or improve protections. abroad.