Vienna has joined forces with Washington in a probe into the mysterious outbreak of the so-called ‘Havana syndrome’ among American diplomats in the Austrian capital.
“We take these reports very seriously and in line with our role as host state we are working with the US authorities on jointly getting to the bottom of this,” the Austrian Foreign Ministry told various media in a short statement.
The mysterious illness first came to light back in 2016 at the American embassy in Cuba and has since been known as ‘Havana syndrome’. It includes headaches, dizziness, tinnitus, hearing and vision impairment, vertigo and memory loss that apparently come as a result of some brain injuries of unknown origin.
The US authorities have since recorded more than 130 instances of the mysterious disease among officials stationed overseas and stateside. Some cases were reported among the US officials in China and even in Washington, DC, not far from the White House.
The cause of the illness remains unknown. Various unproven theories about its origin include possibilities of directed microwave radiation attacks by US adversaries, infectious diseases, exposure to fumigation pesticides and even noises made by a species of cricket.
In December 2020, the US National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine (NASEM) concluded that “directed, pulsed radio frequency energy” was the “most plausible” explanation behind the onset of illness. The report commissioned by the State Department did not rule out other possibilities, though.
US diplomats in Vienna have been reporting the mysterious symptoms since almost as far back as President Joe Biden’s inauguration. Washington opted to keep the matter secret, supposedly to not impede an ongoing investigation. The Vienna cases were first reported by the New Yorker magazine on Friday.
According to the New Yorker, CIA director William Burns is “highly committed to their care and to determining the cause of these incidents.”
The US State Department then confirmed that a probe has been launched into the matter and that American and Austrian officials are working together to clear things up.
“In coordination with our partners across the US government, we are vigorously investigating reports of possible unexplained health incidents among the US Embassy Vienna community,” the State Department said, adding that all those affected have received “immediate and appropriate attention and care.”
The US embassy in the Austrian capital did not provide any comment on the issue.
The New Yorker, meanwhile, could not help but entertain the idea that the traditional boogeyman – Russia – might very well be behind the series of unexplained incidents affecting the US diplomats. The magazine said that both administrations of Joe Biden and his predecessor, Donald Trump, believed that it was Russian military intelligence operatives “aiming microwave-radiation devices at US officials” who are to blame for all of this.
The New Yorker then admitted, however, that US intelligence has found no evidence to support such a hypothesis.
Austrian media like Der Standard pointed to the fact that Vienna was seen as a sort of “global espionage capital” ever since the Cold War. Austrian authorities have a reputation for noninterference as long as foreign spy games do not affect the Alpine nation.
Unlike the New Yorker, the Austrian newspaper did not point a finger at any particular US adversary but mentioned instead that America has one of its largest CIA offices in Vienna.
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