US defense official had 'Havana syndrome' symptoms during a 2023 NATO summit, the Pentagon confirms

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FILE - NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg, right, speaks with United States President Joe Biden during a meeting of the NATO-Ukraine Council during a NATO summit in Vilnius, Lithuania, July 12, 2023. The Pentagon confirms that a senior Defense Department official who attended last years NATO summit in Lithuania had symptoms similar to those reported by U.S. officials who have experienced Havana syndrome." (AP Photo/Pavel Golovkin, File)

WASHINGTON – A senior Defense Department official who attended last year's NATO summit in Vilnius, Lithuania, had symptoms similar to those reported by U.S. officials who have experienced “Havana syndrome," the Pentagon confirmed Monday.

Havana syndrome is still under investigation but includes a string of health problems dating back to 2016, when officials working at the U.S. Embassy in Havana reported sudden unexplained head pressure, head or ear pain, or dizziness.

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The injuries to U.S. government personnel or their families were part of a “60 Minutes” report Sunday that suggested Russia is behind the incidents, one of which took place during the 2023 NATO summit in Vilnius.

“I can confirm that a senior DOD official experienced symptoms similar to those reported in anomalous health incidents,” deputy press secretary Sabrina Singh told reporters Monday. Singh referred questions on whether Russia had a role to the intelligence community, which is still investigating.

The official, who was not identified, was not part of Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin's official traveling delegation to Vilnius, Singh said, but was there “separately, attending meetings that were part of the NATO summit."

Singh did not say whether the affected defense official had to seek further medical care, retire or cease performing duties, citing medical privacy.

In February the Office of the Director of National Intelligence in its 2024 threat assessment found that it was “unlikely” that a foreign adversary was responsible for causing the mysterious ailments but noted that U.S. intelligence agencies had varying levels of confidence in that assessment.

State Department spokesman Matthew Miller told reporters on Monday the department has confidence in that assessment.

“It has been the broad conclusion of the intelligence community since March 2023 that is unlikely a foreign adversary is responsible for these anomalous health incidents,” Miller said. "It’s something that the intelligence community has investigated extensively and continues to look at. We will look at new information as it comes in and make assessments inside the State Department and with our intelligence community.”

The foremost Cuba-based researcher of the incidents, Mitchell Valdés-Sosa, told The Associated Press that the “60 Minutes” report had failed to provide any scientific basis to substantiate the existence of the Havana syndrome. Valdés-Sosa, director of Cuba’s Center for Neuroscience, is the de facto spokesperson on the issue for the Cuban health ministry, which arranged the interview.

“I think that this journalistic investigation does not provide serious elements, especially that there is a new illness caused by a mysterious energy,” he said. “The symptoms are very varied: balance problems, sleep problems, dizziness, difficulties concentrating, and many diseases can cause them.”

In the past, Valdés-Sosa hasn’t disputed that diplomats become ill, but suggested that many of the cases consisted of ordinary illnesses that were erroneously blamed on the supposed phenomenon due to the high degree of public attention.

The Pentagon's health care system has established a registry for employees or dependents to report such incidents. In March, however, a five-year study by the National Institutes of Health found no brain injuries or degeneration among U.S. diplomats and other government employees who had Havana syndrome symptoms.


Andrea Rodriguez contributed from Havana and AP Diplomatic Writer Matthew Lee contributed from Washington.

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