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The suspected directed-energy attacks on U.S. government personnel worldwide are “an act of war,” said former acting Defense Secretary Christopher Miller, who launched an initiative to investigate the incidents during his time at the Pentagon last year and is urging the new administration to stay on the issue.
“If this plays out and somebody is attacking Americans [even] with a nonlethal weapon … we owe it to our folks that are out there,” Miller, who served as former President Donald Trump’s acting defense chief from November until January, told POLITICO. “We owe it to them to get to the bottom of this.”
Miller’s comments come as U.S. officials increasingly sound the alarm about the suspected attacks, which cause symptoms similar to those reported in recent years by American spies and diplomats in Cuba affected by the so-called “Havana syndrome.” Victims report lasting headaches, loss of hearing and balance, ringing and pressure in the ears, fatigue, and sometimes long-term brain damage.
POLITICO first reported that Pentagon officials last month briefed lawmakers on the “urgent” and growing threat to U.S. government personnel, including troops. The Senate Intelligence Committee has since vowed to “get to the bottom” of the issue.
The suspected attacks also include ongoing incidents involving military attaches at embassies around the world, a former official and a congressional source briefed on the incidents told POLITICO. Officials are focusing their investigations on suspected incidents near U.S. embassies in South America, the congressional source said.
This suspected attack, which has not been previously reported, joins a growing list of incidents. Others have allegedly occurred in the U.S., including in Miami, Alexandria, Va., and the Ellipse in Washington. Both sources asked not to be named in order to discuss the investigation.
Defense officials who briefed lawmakers last month said Russia was likely the source of the attacks, but did not have a smoking gun.
A White House spokesperson declined to comment on the specifics of the investigation, but said the Biden administration has taken the reports “very seriously since day one.”
“The investigation into the cause and culprit of the unexplained incidents is ongoing and a top priority for the Biden administration,” said the spokesperson, noting that the White House is coordinating the effort with departments and agencies across the federal government, as well as with experts in academia and the medical community.
“This concerns the health and well-being of American public servants from across the government, and we will continue to act with urgency to bring a whole of government response to these issues," said the person, who spoke on condition of anonymity to discuss a sensitive issue.
A Defense Department spokesperson did not respond to a request for comment.
Miller established an effort to investigate the incidents late last year. Shortly after he assumed the role of acting defense secretary in November, he met a Defense Department official who was seeking medical treatment for a mysterious attack that left him temporarily incapacitated.
As soon as the official described his symptoms, Miller knew right away that they had been caused by a directed-energy weapon.
“He wasn’t a histrionic-type person, so when he described the attack it was like, ‘yeah, you got hit with this weapon,” Miller said. “There was no way to deny it.” CNN first reported the interaction between the two.
The goal of the effort was “to create a bureaucratic momentum to get the interagency to take this more seriously,” Miller said.
Now, Miller said he is “gratified” to see that the Biden team is keeping it in focus. The CIA recently launched a task force of its own to look into the issue, and CIA Director William Burns told senators during his confirmation hearing before the Senate Intelligence Committee that getting to the bottom of the Havana attacks was a top priority.
In a statement on Friday, Sens. Mark Warner (D-Va.) and Marco Rubio (R-Fla.), the chair and vice chair of the Intelligence Committee, said they welcomed Burns’ “renewed focus” on the matter and said they will continue to investigate.
“This pattern of attacking our fellow citizens serving our government appears to be increasing,” Warner and Rubio said. “The Senate Intelligence Committee intends to get to the bottom of this.”
Representatives for the Senate and House intelligence committees declined to comment on the suspected incidents at U.S. embassies.
A House Intelligence Committee spokesperson said on Friday that the panel has been “working quietly and persistently behind closed doors on this critical issue since the first reports,” vowing to “follow the evidence wherever it may lead and ensure anyone responsible is held to account.”
Doctors and scientists say the Havana attacks, which started in 2016, may have been caused by microwave weapons, which use a form of electromagnetic radiation to damage targets. While U.S. officials have not publicly blamed Russia for the events, Moscow is known to have worked on microwave weapons technology.
Simone Ledeen, a former Pentagon official overseeing Middle East policy under Trump who worked on directed-energy attacks in a previous position at DoD, also called on the new administration to continue looking into the incidents.
“This was one of the missions that absolutely needed to continue,” Ledeen said. “I hope the new team picks this up — it is actually very important as Americans are clearly being targeted.”