WASHINGTON — The leader of the CIA’s task force on the Havana Syndrome is a veteran officer who was instrumental in the successful hunt for Osama bin Laden, according to an official familiar with the matter.
The officer’s role was first reported by The Wall Street Journal.
The official familiar with the matter told NBC News that the intelligence veteran heading the task force was “intimately involved in the hunt for Bin Laden and will bring that same intensity and rigor to the hunt for the source of the unexplained health incidents” that have involved diplomats, intelligence officers and other U.S. personnel and their families around the world.
The task force head, a 10-year counterterrorism veteran, is still undercover.
NBC News reported Tuesday that as many as 200 U.S. officials or family members have reported possible symptoms. About two dozen cases were reported in Vienna alone.
The mysterious syndrome was first reported at the U.S. Embassy in Havana in 2016. In the following years, cases were reported at U.S. posts in China and Russia and now in a number of European capitals, as well as Central Asia. In December, a scientific study from the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine zeroed in on a form of directed energy emissions from microwaves as a possible source.
NBC News first reported in 2018 that Russia was suspected of being behind the attacks because it had long experience in the technology dating to the 1970s, but an official said this week that “there is still no smoking gun.”
The National Security Council is coordinating two administration task forces on the syndrome, including the task force at the CIA, as the administration says it is committed to an all-out effort to find the cause and protect personnel posted overseas.
The task force ordered by CIA Director William Burns includes intelligence analysts, clandestine officers, clinicians and specialists from across the agency. A senior official said outside experts are also being brought in for additional technical and medical expertise.
Andrea Mitchell is chief Washington correspondent and chief foreign affairs correspondent for NBC News.