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Lawmakers Support Changes At CIA For Dealing With Mysterious Health Episodes

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WASHINGTON — The House Intelligence Committee on Thursday approved a bipartisan proposal to provide additional funds to help find the root cause of the diseases of Havana syndrome and to take steps to review the CIA’s treatment of the mysterious episodes involving more than 200 government officials were injured.

The measure would overhaul the agency’s medical services office and create a voluntary system whereby CIA agents assigned abroad could first receive brain scans and lab work that would help doctors determine the extent of their injuries, should they later. exhibit symptoms consistent with Havana syndrome or report being victims of a health episode.

The move comes as some intelligence officers have expressed reluctance to accept foreign posts or take their relatives on tours in countries where the episodes took place, current and former officials said.

“I think as long as these incidents repeat themselves, with an apparent increasing frequency, without the identification of a perpetrator and without the ability to stop them, I think those concerns will continue,” California Democrat Adam B. Schiff said. and the chairman of the Intelligence Committee.

A US official said CIA agents had signed up in droves to work on the health issue, and they were eager to find answers.

Since 2016, diplomats, intelligence officers and military personnel in Asia, Europe and America have reported hearing strange noises, feeling unexplained heat or pressure, and then experiencing headaches, nausea, dizziness or other symptoms. In many cases, symptoms have been going on for months or years.

While some government officials believe a hostile intelligence agency using a listening device or a directed energy weapon is responsible for the injuries, CIA analysts have not reached a conclusion on the cause of the episodes or whether a hostile force is responsible.

While the agency’s director, William J. Burns, has been commended for the attention and resources he has devoted to the victims of Havana syndrome, Congress has been critical of the way the CIA and the larger U.S. government are handling matters. treated this year.

The intelligence commission is conducting its own investigation, and the bill passed Thursday requires an inspector general to review the performance of the CIA’s medical department, and appoints an outside advisory board to examine its work.

“We want to be accountable,” said Mr Schiff. “It has taken too long to get to where we are today. Too many people suffered, didn’t get the help they needed and weren’t believed. So we are still catching up.”

Marc E. Polymeropoulos, a senior CIA officer at the time, was wounded in Moscow in 2017 but did not receive effective treatment until after he retired and began visiting doctors at Walter Reed National Military Medical Center this year.

“The bottom line is that traumatic brain injuries don’t get better over time, so I and others have suffered needlessly,” said Mr Polymeropoulos. “We made a pact with the CIA: if we did difficult things and got stuck, they would have our backs.”

Doug Wise, a former top intelligence official who criticized the CIA’s handling of health episodes during the Trump administration, said it was important for assessments to look at how top CIA officials handled the episodes and why. the officers’ reports initially were not taken seriously.

“I think it is important that the committee imposes a review. For whatever reason, the agency is unable to do their own look as they are unwilling to hold their own leaders accountable,” said Mr. wise. “All the victims asked for was respect, compassion and medical treatment.”

This year, Mr Burns removed the head of the medical services office and replaced him with a doctor who deals with patient care. Former intelligence officials have said the office has been more focused on victim support since that change.

The House move aims to further improve the care of intelligence officers by increasing wages for the agency’s physicians, mandating outside clinical training and establishing an advisory board appointed by Congress and the director of the national intelligence service.

The Senate version of the bill does not contain the precise provisions of the House measure, but the Senate Intelligence Committee is likely to support the measure, congress officials said.

Asked about the House’s measure, a CIA spokeswoman said the agency recognized the committee’s work and was looking forward to final determinations.

This month, Congress overwhelmingly approved a measure drafted by Maine Republican Senator Susan Collins to provide additional resources to victims of Havana syndrome, a sign of broad bipartisan support for bills that address the problem. . Still, House and Senate leaders will need to find a legislative vehicle to pass a final intelligence consent bill by the end of the year.

At least 100 CIA agents have been injured and have had symptoms consistent with Havana syndrome since 2016, when diplomats and intelligence officers in Cuba reported hearing strange noises or feeling pressure before developing headaches, nausea and other symptoms.

Those episodes were followed by others in China and elsewhere in the world.

In many cases, doctors who treat people who show symptoms of Havana syndrome have trouble determining the extent of the injuries because they don’t have pre-episode brain scans as points of comparison.

Getting a brain scan or doing medical lab work before being sent abroad would be voluntary under the measure approved by the House committee. Collecting such before-and-after information could be critical to both improving treatments and identifying the cause, Mr Schiff said.

“The absence of baseline knowledge impairs diagnosis,” said Mr. Schiff. “People have different baselines and it would be helpful to know what those look like, to see how things have changed.”

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