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Response to Judi Lynn (Original post)

Fri Feb 12, 2021, 03:37 AM

2. U.S.-Cuba: Secrets of the 'Havana Syndrome'

Published: Feb 10, 2021
Briefing Book #740
Edited by Peter Kornbluh

Declassified State Department review faults “lack of senior leadership,” “systemic disorganization” in response to unsolved health episodes

Tillerson State Department failed to conduct risk/benefit assessment before reducing Embassy staff

Report of Accountability Review Board confirms CIA closure of its Havana Station in September 2017

ARB investigation cited similar health incidents involving U.S. personnel in China and two other countries

Intelligence and Espionage
Science and Technology
Cuba and Caribbean

Washington D.C., February 10, 2021 – The Trump administration’s response to the mysterious health episodes experienced by intelligence and diplomatic personnel in Havana, Cuba, in late 2016 and 2017 was plagued by mismanagement, poor leadership, lack of coordination, and a failure to follow established procedures, according to a formerly secret internal State Department review posted today by the National Security Archive. “The Department of State’s response to these incidents was characterized by a lack of senior leadership, ineffective communications, and systemic disorganization,” states the executive summary of the report, compiled by an internal Accountability Review Board (ARB) after a four-month investigation in 2018. “No senior official was ever designated as having overall responsibility,” the report noted in a thinly veiled indictment of then-Secretary of State Rex Tillerson’s role, “which resulted in many of the other issues this report presents.”

The report, stamped SECRET/NOFORN, was provided to Tillerson’s successor, Mike Pompeo, on June 7, 2018. A full eighteen months after the unexplained afflictions were first reported, the ARB conceded that what happened in Havana remained shrouded in mystery. “The mechanism for the cause of the injuries is currently unknown. We do not know the motive behind these incidents, when they actually commenced, or who did it,” the report states. “We do know that USG, and Canadian diplomatic community members, were injured, but we do not know how. We do not know what happened, when it happened, who did it, or why.”

The National Security Archive obtained the heavily redacted ARB report, titled “Havana, Cuba,” via a Freedom of Information Act request. The State Department has been processing and periodically releasing records related to the so-called “Havana Syndrome” pursuant to a FOIA lawsuit filed by the James Madison Project, a public-interest firm representing a group of Embassy officials and family members who were posted in Havana.

“The ARB report sheds considerable light on the ‘Havana Syndrome’ history,” said Peter Kornbluh, who directs the Archive’s Cuba Documentation Project. “But it does not solve the enduring mystery of what happened in Cuba.” The clues to resolving that mystery, he noted, are likely to be found in still-secret State Department, CIA, FBI, and Pentagon records, which remain immediately relevant as the Biden administration considers restoring Embassy staffing to full operations.

. . .

** Embassy Staff Reduction: Secretary Tillerson’s dramatic decision in late September 2017 to reduce the Havana Embassy staff by more than 60 percent and effectively shutter the U.S. Consulate appeared to have violated normal operating practice, the Accountability Board concluded. “The decision to draw down the staff in Havana does not appear to have followed standard Department of State procedures and was neither preceded nor followed by any formal analysis of the risks and benefits of continued physical presence of U.S. government employees in Havana,” according to the report. The Board tried, and failed, to obtain an explanation for why the basic risk/benefit analysis was not conducted. In a heavily censored section titled “Risk Benefit Analysis or Lack Thereof,” the report states: “The State Department has had such a process for a number of years, however, no such analysis has been done to date (June 7, 2018) for Cuba. Of the many Department leaders interviewed by the Board, no one could explain why this has not happened, except to suggest that [redacted]”—a possible reference to the influence of the CIA’s withdrawal on Tillerson’s decision to reduce the embassy to a skeletal staff, or to political pressure from Florida Senator Marco Rubio on President Trump to seize the opportunity to roll back the Obama administration’s opening of full diplomatic relations with Cuba.


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