Vice President Kamala Harris’ visit to Vietnam on Tuesday was interrupted by a report of an “anomalous health incident,” the U.S. embassy in Hanoi said in a statement — the latest case of the mysterious onset of medical symptoms more commonly referred to as “Havana syndrome.”
This is the first report of an incident in Vietnam and the first case involving a senior U.S. leader’s travel overseas that has been publicly confirmed.
The source of the unexplained health incidents, which now number over 130 possible cases, remains unknown, vexing U.S. officials amid multiple investigations and task forces by the CIA, State Department, and National Security Council, which is leading a government-wide probe.
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It’s been nearly five years since State Department, CIA, and other personnel at the U.S. embassy in Havana first reported strange experiences, like feelings of pressure or vibration and a screeching sound, and debilitating symptoms, including headaches, nausea, cognitive deficits, and trouble with seeing, hearing, or balancing. Several officials have been diagnosed with traumatic brain injuries.
Evelyn Hockstein/POOL/ReutersVice President Kamala Harris waves as she departs Singapore for travel to Vietnam, Aug., 24, 2021.
Since then, cases have been reported in several other countries, including China, Uzbekistan, Russia, Austria, Germany, and the United States, although it’s unclear how many U.S. officials have confirmed medical symptoms.
Harris was set to arrive in Hanoi Tuesday during a tour of Southeast Asia. But her departure from Singapore was delayed by over three hours.
“The Vice President’s office was made aware of a report of a recent possible anomalous health incident in Hanoi, Vietnam. After careful assessment, the decision was made to continue with the Vice President’s trip,” the U.S. embassy said in its statement.
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There were no other details available immediately, including who was affected and when.
“She is well. All is fine,” Harris’s spokesperson Symone Sanders told reporters before departure from Singapore.
Last week, the State Department confirmed that it was aware of reported cases at the U.S. mission in Germany. Spokesperson Ned Price told reporters that they “vigorously investigate” all “unexplained health incidents and provide “immediate and appropriate attention and care” to employees who report one.
Bloomberg via Getty Images, FILEThe U.S. Embassy, center, stands in Hanoi, Vietnam, on Feb. 17, 2019.
Many U.S. officials have grown frustrated with leadership, during both the Trump and Biden administrations, for a lack of information about reported cases or for not being proactive enough in providing treatment and care.
In his first note to all staff about the issued, Secretary of State Antony Blinken acknowledged the administration “can and will do a better job keeping you informed of our efforts to get answers, support those affected, and protect our people,” according to the note, obtained first by ABC News.
But the lack of information stems in part from how little the U.S. government knows about what was once referred to as “health attacks,” including what is causing them.
MORE: US botched initial response to diplomats' brain injuries in Cuba: Declassified report
Last December, the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine issued a report that concluded that “directed, pulsed radio frequency energy appears to be the most plausible mechanism in explaining these cases, especially in individuals with the distinct early symptoms.”
The CIA, State Department, and Pentagon all have their own internal task forces to address cases among their personnel and search for possible clues into the causes. The State Department’s is overseen by Pamela Spratlen, a two-time ambassador, while the CIA assigned a veteran officer critical to the agency’s efforts to find Osama bin Laden to now head its cell.
In addition, the State Department started a pilot program to begin recording baseline medical information of personnel and their adult family members before they move to U.S. diplomatic posts overseas.
Similarly, the CIA has tripled the number of full-time medical personnel focused on the issue, according to its director Bill Burns. He told NPR last month that while the symptoms are “real, and it’s serious,” the agency still has no definitive answers on the cause.
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