Senators on the Intelligence Committee were baffled that they had just learned of important developments for the first time, and they were also frustrated that they had not received more details. The classified briefing was one of the most controversial in the committee’s recent memory, according to the two sources familiar with the briefing.
The briefers made it clear they believed attacks on intelligence officials abroad were underway and discussed previously unreported suspicious cases that emerged in a European country this year, according to two sources familiar with the cases. .
U.S. officials believe symptoms affecting U.S. personnel overseas could be the result of an attack by a type of weapon that targets pulsed radio frequency energy at its victims.
President Joe Biden’s new CIA director Bill Burns has pledged to prioritize an investigation into the attacks, but the extraordinary briefing revealed that a lot of work needs to be done on this complex and disturbing issue – in particularly in terms of accountability for how the agency was initially mismanaged cases, including failing to properly provide medical care to affected officials and to coordinate the investigation across government, according to sources close to the government. briefing.
The briefers – who were members of the CIA’s task force to examine the attacks – did not provide a clear timeline of when certain information was discovered and why it was then only shared with anyone. senators, which has led some members to believe the agency previously withheld this information from Congress, the sources said.
The tense briefing underscores the frustration lawmakers have expressed over the alleged mysterious energy attacks on U.S. personnel across the world in recent years, which the U.S. government has struggled to respond to.
“Our committee will continue to work with him, and the rest of the intelligence community, to better understand the technology behind the weapon responsible for these attacks,” said President Mark Warner, a Democrat from Virginia, and the senator from Florida. Marco Rubio, the committee. top Republican. “We will focus on ensuring that we protect our personnel and provide the medical and financial support that victims deserve. Ultimately, we will identify those responsible for these attacks on American personnel and hold them accountable.”
A spokeswoman for the Senate Intelligence Committee declined to comment on the briefing, pointing to the committee’s Friday statement.
Senators made it clear that those who mismanaged the response should be held accountable
Senators made it clear during the briefing that agency officials who mismanaged the agency’s response to the attacks from the start should be held accountable, one of the sources said. Stakeholders said they would report these feelings to the agency, the source said.
Some senators specifically criticized CIA medical office officials, who initially doubted intelligence officials who said they were subjected to the mysterious attacks.
Burns told the House Intelligence Committee last month that he had appointed a senior officer to report directly to them on the matter. He also said he met people who had been affected by the alleged attacks.
“I met three different groups for several hours with my colleagues back in Havana who were affected by these incidents just to make them understand not only my personal priority, but also that we take what they have very seriously. lived and have tremendous respect for their sacrifice and dedication and that we will get to the bottom of it, ”Burns told the committee.
The CIA pointed to Burns’ testimony on this matter but declined to provide anything more.
Senator Susan Collins, a Republican from Maine on the Senate Intelligence Committee, said on CNN’s “State of the Union” Sunday that it was “scandalous” that officials struggled to obtain medical care.
“There is a mysterious direct energy weapon being used. And it causes, in some cases, permanent traumatic brain damage. And yet the personnel involved – there have been other attacks around the world – have struggled to get both the medical attention and the financial aid they need from the CIA. And it’s outrageous, ”Collins said.
Senator Jeanne Shaheen of New Hampshire, a member of the Senate Armed Services Committee, pressed National Intelligence Director Avril Haines on possible attacks during a hearing last week, urging Haines to declassify information about the incidents and to “share them with members of Congress. in a way that allows us to better respond.”
“Our concern with classification is obviously because we believe that it protects sources and methods, and that it is essential for our national security, and we will have to resolve this with you,” Haines replied. “But you should definitely have access to classified information. And we should determine if there is a way to help you resolve these issues more generally.”
A spokesperson for the House Intelligence Committee declined to comment on specific briefings, but said the committee “has been working quietly and constantly behind closed doors on this critical issue since the first reports.”
“The committee will continue to organize events and briefings on this topic and we will follow the evidence wherever it may lead and ensure that anyone responsible is held to account,” the spokesperson said.
The first symptoms appeared in Cuba
The United States has struggled to understand these attacks since 2016 and 2017, when diplomatic and intelligence personnel in Cuba began reporting alarming symptoms that seemed to appear out of the blue. It was then that the attacks became known as “Havana Syndrome”.
The perpetrator of the attacks has not been identified by the US government, which is still investigating the incidents, but many current and former US officials believe Russia is to blame.
A State Department-sponsored study found that the attacks were likely carried out using directed microwave energy. But U.S. officials continue to stress that they have more questions than answers regarding these incidents.
Intelligence and defense officials have been reluctant to speak publicly about the mysterious incidents, and some who have been affected have publicly stated that the CIA did not take the matter seriously enough from the start.
The Biden administration has said it will take a whole-of-government approach to get to the bottom of the incidents. The pledge comes as a recently declassified report from the 2018 State Department Accountability Review Committee, obtained by the National Security Archives, said there had been a delay in responding to attacks by 2018 during the Trump administration due to “excessive secrecy” and “serious deficiencies in the Department’s Response in the areas of accountability, interagency coordination and communications, at all levels” in Washington and Havana.
But questions remain about the effectiveness or efficiency of the task force, the level of information sharing between agencies, and how the Biden administration provides all of this information to oversight committees.
Both the Senate and House armed services committees have received information about the Pentagon’s efforts to track and investigate these mysterious incidents in recent weeks. Christopher Miller, then Acting Defense Secretary, who served as Acting Defense Secretary in the final weeks of the Trump administration, also set up a task force inside the Pentagon to follow up. the cases, telling CNN last month that it didn’t think other agencies were doing enough. about that.
CNN’s Katie Bo Williams and Jennifer Hansler contributed to this report.